Washington D.C. is full of sights, attractions, museums, experiences, and monuments that you can’t miss.
But unless you’re planning on moving here, it’ll take much too long to do and see it all while you’re here (if you also want to sleep).
So to help you narrow down your wishlist, these are 15 sights you should include in your trip—and how to most efficiently visit them.
1. The White House
This may very well be the most famous political site: the official residence of the President of the United States. The White House Visitor Center has interactive exhibits and includes furniture of past presidents and videos with insights about the presidents.
To take a free self-guided tour of the White House, requests must be submitted to your Member of Congress between three months to 21 days in advance. Foreign citizens should contact their embassy in DC.
Book the Discover DC Day Tour, DC Highlights, Best of DC VIP Tour, DC at Night, Arlington Cemetery Tour, or our seasonal Cherry Blossom Festival Tour to see the White House from the outside. Our Glass-Top/Open-Top Convertible Bus Tour also goes by the White House! Please make sure to check out the rest of our popular Washington, DC Tours as you set out to visit the U.S. capital!
2. The Capitol and Capitol Hill
The Capitol is the seat of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the building can be seen from afar, thanks to its impressive dome.
Unfortunately, at this moment the Capitol remains closed to the public. When it opens again, you can reserve free tours online. To see the Senate or House in session, US citizens can contact their Senator or Representative for a pass, foreign visitors should arrange visits through the visitor center.
3. National Archives
The National Archives is where important documents are held, such as treaties, proclamations, and other historically significant American artifacts. This is where the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are kept and displayed.
Admission to the National Archives is free and reservations are not required. Our Best of DC VIP Tour includes priority entrance into the National Archives building.
4. The Supreme Court
This is my personal favorite: you can watch the Supreme Court in session! Oral arguments are open to the public and free to attend (on a first-come-first-serve basis). All you have to do is make sure the Court is in session and show up early enough.
Historical and Cultural Hotspots
5. National Mall
No, the National Mall is not a big shopping center: It’s a large park containing numerous museums and monuments. And with over 24 million visitors every year, the National Mall is one of the capital’s most important highlights.
The National Mall is situated between the Capitol and Lincoln Memorial, and it’s a popular location for exercising, concerts, festivals, and protests—the most famous protest probably being the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his I Have a Dream speech.
Thanks to the numerous monuments, memorials, and museums honoring the legacy and history of the United States, you’re at the right place for your dose of culture and history.
You could probably spend a couple of weeks at the park if you wanted to see everything. Some of the most important sights are:
- Washington Monument
- National Museum of American History
- National Gallery of Art
- United States Botanic Garden
- National Air and Space Museum
- Lincoln Memorial
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- U.S. Navy Memorial (Plaza)
- Korean War Memorial
- World War II Memorial
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Most guided DC tours visit the National Mall, including the African American History Tour, DC Highlights Tour, Best of DC VIP Tour, National Cherry Blossom Festival, Open Top Convertible Bus Tour, and the Women in Military Tour.
I also recommend visiting the National Mall when it’s dark! It’s less crowded and the lights make it a magical experience. Join the guided night bus tour to see it for yourself.
6. Arlington National Cemetery
The main attraction in Virginia’s Arlington is the Arlington National Cemetery. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a very emotional place to visit. Witness the Changing of the Guards at the cemetery, every half hour from April through September and every hour from October to March. Don’t miss a thing with this fully guided walking tour of Arlington Cemetery.
See the City
7. Potomac River Cruise
D.C. is a waterfront city, and river(side) activities are popular during the warmer days of the year.
Walk along the Potomac’s riverside in Georgetown and check out the neighborhood’s views and events while you’re there. Book our Best of DC – VIP Tour, which includes a Potomac Riverboat cruise (seasonal: Apr 1 to Oct 15) to see a whole different side of the city. Enjoy water activities like kayaking or stand-up paddling.
Other waterside activities in DC include the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, which runs along both sides of the Anacostia River and has undergone significant upgrades, and the Wharf’s Recreation Pier, a lovely place to lounge and admire the breathtaking views.
8. Cherry Blossom Festival
One of the biggest attractions in spring: DC’s cherry blossoms! Welcome the long-awaited warmth of spring with us with our National Cherry Blossoms Festival tour. The festival happens from the end of March until early to mid-April. There’s no exact date for the blossoming of the cherry trees, but calculations show that (around) April 4th is your best bet.
9. DC’s Holiday Lights
Looking for that holiday atmosphere? Throughout the city, businesses have holiday displays and some residential streets are breathtaking. A local favorite is the Parade of Lighted Boats on the Potomac River. The Southwest Waterfront also has live music, hot chocolate, Christmas tree lighting, and more.
Our Holiday Lights Tour shows you the best lights and some of the sights mentioned above, including the U.S. Capitol, the White House, and the National Mall.
Day Trips From Washington, D.C.
10. Old Town Alexandria & Mount Vernon
Discover the colonial streets of Old Town Alexandria, George Washington’s hometown. It’s one of the oldest historic districts in America and you’ll be able to discover its many restaurants and bistros on King Street, as well as the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, the Torpedo Factory Art Center, and the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum. Our Old Town Alexandria tour includes a walking tour of the historic Mount Vernon Estate—from the mansion’s interior to the President’s beloved gardens.
11. Colonial Williamsburg
Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, Virginia are living representations of Colonial America. Together, these towns form the Historic Triangle, scenically connected by the 23-mile Colonial Parkway.
Observe the remnants of Fort James as you journey through Historic Jamestown, walk through the world’s largest living history museum in Williamsburg as costumed reenactors bring the revolutionary town to life, and observe the battlefield where General George Washington led the Continental Army to defeat British General Cornwallis and his troops during the Revolutionary War in Yorktown.
Our Colonial Williamsburg Private Tour will pick you up and drop you off right at your accommodation. No need to worry about rental cars and navigation!
12. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Discover the grounds that inspired our divided nation to reunite; In the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate and Union soldiers brutally fought across more than 10,000 acres of grassland for three days. The catastrophic encounter played a pivotal role in the outcome of the American Civil War and resulted in roughly 51,000 casualties—more than any other domestic battle in the nation’s history.
Explore the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center before proceeding to the battlefield to learn about the history behind the battle and monuments. Our expertly guided private tour includes a delicious meal at Dobbin House Tavern or General Pickett’s Buffet.
13. Historical Winery Tour and Tasting
Savor Northern Virginia’s beautiful countryside and visit one of the region’s most remarkable vineyards. Enjoy a walking tour of the winery at Bull Run’s historic grounds (it lies adjacent to Manassas National Battlefield Park) before tasting the vineyard’s palatable selection of wines.
The historic winery tour is a great outing to see more of DC’s surroundings and taste some local specialties and delicacies.
14. Luray Caverns, Shenandoah Mountains
As the capital region transforms into a spectacular fall landscape, it’s an incredible time to head to Shenandoah National Park for some hiking and taking in that fall foliage (but honestly, it’s beautiful any time of year).
Explore the caves of the Shenandoah Mountains on a day trip from Washington, D.C., and learn about natural wonders and the American Revolution. Inside the caves, ceilings can be as tall as 140 ft (43 meters)! Outside the caverns, visit the Luray Valley Museum or climb the Ropes Course and get lost in the beautiful Garden Maze, or learn geology and mining history at the Gem Sluice experience.
Our guided day tour to the Luray Caverns includes lunch, free time to experience all the activities on offer, a 1-hr guided tour of the caves, and transport to and from the region.
15. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and Charlottesville
Travel to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello; passing historic American Civil War battlegrounds as well as Quantico, Virginia – home to the FBI Academy. Explore the beautiful estate of the American Founding Father and third US president. Walkthrough the home skillfully designed by Jefferson himself and observe his beloved vegetable garden and enjoy the surrounding vistas.
Our knowledgeable guide will tell you everything they know about Monticello and show you the best place for lunch on your private guided tour.
Of course there’s more
These are some of the most popular sights for guided tours and day trips in and around Washington, D.C.
But there’s much more. If we ever write a book, we’ll make sure to talk about those as well. For now, some other favorites in the city are:
- Georgetown (included in the Discover DC Tour)
- Embassy Row (included in the Open Top Convertible Bus Tour)
- The National Museum of African American History and Culture (included in the African American History Tour)
- Any of DC’s 17 Smithsonian museums and zoo, including the National Air and Space Museum (most popular), the Anacostia Community Museum, National Museum of American History (with exhibitions on more recent history).
What’s this about guided tours?
A guided tour is the most efficient way to see most (if not all) of the sights on your wishlist. Tours have been carefully put together to include as many hotspots and info as possible, without it being overwhelming, taking up all your time, and being as stress-free as possible.
Here at USA Guided Tours, we personally curate our itineraries to include the best attractions and most interesting facts and plan them so you can get the most out of your stay in the capital.
And if our pre-planned tours don’t fit your planning or wishlist, we’re happy to create a tailor-made itinerary just for your group.
Ready to see Washington D.C.? Get in touch now and let’s start planning.