Washington, D.C., is one of the most iconic and historic cities in the United States. Its rich history encompasses pivotal moments in American politics to groundbreaking cultural achievements. With so much to see and do, this vibrant city is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in exploring America’s past and present. Check out our favorite things to do in Washington D.C., while visiting.
Things to Do in Washington D.C.
America’s capital city is brimming with rich culture and history, world-renowned landmarks, beautiful nature escapes, fine art, mouthwatering food, fun attractions, unique experiences, and a vibrant nightlife scene that will keep everyone entertained. Plus, D.C. is easy to navigate, is a great place to visit in any type of weather, and has plenty of free things to do every day of the week.
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1. Tour the White House for Free
It’s not only the world’s most secure building—It’s also one of the planet’s most recognizable places. Welcome to the White House, America’s home of U.S. presidents and a prominent gathering spot for the world’s most powerful politicians.
Did you know that you can visit the White House for free? That’s right! Step into the East Room, roam famous corridors, marvel at the State Dining Room, and discover the fascinating history and secrets behind rooms that have hosted presidents, dignitaries, and officials from around the world.
Visitors should also be sure to visit the President’s Park, which is located on the White House South Lawn. Fun Fact. Did you know that the South Lawn is listed as a National Park? President’s Park hosts events and free activities for kids and adults throughout the year!
2. Visit the Iconic Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial
Recognize this place? Sure you do. The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and Reflection Pool, together, form one of the most popular places to visit in Washington, D.C. The iconic landmark served as the site of Martin Luther King’s illustrious “I Have a Dream” speech, and it’s been featured in dozens of entertaining spy thrillers and political dramas.
Step into Lincoln Memorial, a Greek-inspired, etched marble hall featuring a 19-foot-tall statue of Abraham Lincoln, America’s 16th president. Afterward, stroll alongside the gleaming reflection pool, and finally, head inside the Washington Monument to experience breathtaking bird’s eye views of D.C. from atop its 500 ft. tall observatory.
3. Learn About Espionage at the International Spy Museum
If you’re a huge fan of secret agents, cool spy gadgets, intelligence debriefs, and harrowing stories of top-secret espionage missions in history, then the International Spy Museum is one place in D.C. you don’t want to skip. There are interactive exhibits to test your spy skills, collections of donated artifacts and technology used in the world of spying, and displays providing in-depth coverage of covert missions and real-life tales in the field from actual spies.
4. Explore Any One of the 19 Smithsonian Museums
Washington, D.C., is home to 19 Smithsonian Museums and a National Zoological Park, also under the umbrella of the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian Institution is the largest group of museums in the world, and its brand is globally recognized as a top-tier educational institute that shares and promotes art, history, culture, and design with the world.
I highly recommend visiting the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, the National Air and Space Museum, or the National Museum of Natural History.
5. View Historical Documents at the National Archives Museum
You’ve read and heard about them since you were a kid, but now it’s your chance to see them. D.C.’s National Archives Museum is the permanent home of America’s original founding documents: The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution. I repeat, the original documents were written in the 1700s!
Plus, the museum hosts several exhibits highlighting the people, historical events, and powerful ideals that have shaped America. If you’re as much of a U.S. history buff as I am, you can’t leave D.C. without paying a visit to the National Archives Museum.
6. Feel Inspired at the Martin Luther King Memorial
He’s one of the most influential men in history, not because of the power he held in office but due to his courageous ability to lead a powerful social movement. Martin Luther King is a renowned figure of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. His revered speeches, tenacious protests, and peaceful, non-violent approach to battling America’s racial inequalities—which ultimately cost him his life—make him one of the most admired historical figures worldwide.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, located in downtown Washington, D.C., is a 30-foot-tall statue of Dr. King that honors his legacy and tireless pursuit of freedom and equality.
7. Go Inside the United States Capitol Building
The U.S. Capitol Building is another prominent landmark of Washington, D.C., and is a staple building of U.S. politics. It’s the site of presidential inaugurations and, most significantly, the U.S. Congress meeting place.
You can also go on a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol Building for free. You’ll have the opportunity to see the Crypt, Rotunda, and National Statuary Hall and view informative exhibits and displays in the visitor center. Don’t forget advanced reservations are required!
8. Go on a Guided Tour of the Pentagon
The Pentagon is America’s most interesting building. Well, outside of Area 51, that place technically doesn’t even exist, right?. Headquarters for the U.S. Department of Defense, personnel from the Air Force, Navy, Army, and other various branches of the military, conduct everything from military operations to developing strategies that aid our efforts to maintain and embolden America’s security.
You can take a free, 60-minute guided tour of the Pentagon with a reservation. Security won’t let you in with any type of electric device, so don’t even think about bringing your cellphone, smartwatch, or camera.
9. Find Out How U.S. Currency is Made at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing
U.S. currency has seen a wealth of transformation since its origins, and D.C.’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing is the perfect stop to learn how U.S. money was and is designed, printed, and circulated in society from the past to the present. Remember all those times you’ve held a $20 or $100 bill up to a light to check to see if it’s real? Well, now’s the time to discover all the finite details that go into legitimizing real cash.
According to the BEP website, the museum is closed, and no time has been posted when it will re-open.
10. Catch a Ride on a Hop-On, Hop-Off City Bus Tour
One of the best and most convenient methods to explore Washington, D.C., is by way of the Big Bus Tour, a hop-on, hop-off style tour that takes passengers along three different themed routes across the city. Don’t worry; you’ll make stops at D.C.’s most famous landmarks, and along the way to each, you’ll have the opportunity to survey D.C.’s incredible landscape from the top of an open-aired bus. You just can’t beat that!
11. Ride Heart-Pumping Rollercoasters at Six Flags America
So, what else is there to do in Washington, D.C. besides visiting museums and buildings? Well, get out and enjoy some outdoor fun with thrill rides, towering rollercoasters, family-friendly rides, water rides, and live entertainment at Six Flags America.
Located in Bowie, Maryland, Six Flags America is a mere 45-minute drive from downtown Washington, D.C., making it the perfect escape for an adrenaline-filled day trip out of the city.
12. Take in the Beautiful Sights at Jefferson Memorial
One of the best scenic getaways to explore in Washington, D.C., can be found at Jefferson Memorial. Built to honor Thomas Jefferson, 3rd American president and co-author of the Declaration of Independence, the memorial consists of a 19-foot tall statue of the president housed in a circular, neoclassical-styled hall surrounded by water.
Japanese cherry trees line the Tidal Basin surrounding Jefferson Memorial, so if you wish to see their beautiful blossoms in full—which you really should—you’ll find it best to visit in March.
13. Enjoy Leisure Activities at National Harbor
When you’re ready to swap out exploring D.C.’s historical landscape for some modern-day fun, head over to National Harbor, where you’ll find lavish hotels, a variety of restaurants, over 65 shops, an MGM resort and casino, and a 180-foot-tall Ferris Wheel perched right on a stunning waterfront.
You can rent kayaks, paddle boats, and yachts for use on the Potomac River. Watch a movie outdoors on the plaza or visit a popular festival. There are plenty of bars and pubs of all types, and viewing sunsets from National Harbor might be one of the top activities to do in the city.
14. Watch a Live Sports Game
Washington, D.C., is jam-packed with professional sports teams, so watching an exciting live sports game at any time of year is possible. Check out the professional sports teams in D.C.:
- Washington Commanders (NFL, FedExField)
- Washington Capitals (NHL, Capital One Arena)
- Washington Nationals (MLB, Capital Riverfront)
- D.C. United (MLS, RFK Stadium)
- Washington Wizards (NBA, Capital One Arena)
- Washington Mystics (WNBA, Entertainment and Sports Arena)
- Washington Kastles (World Team Tennis, Kastles Stadium)
15. View D.C. From a Sightseeing Cruise on the Water
One of the best ways to experience Washington, D.C., is aboard a scenic cruise along the Potomac River, and fortunately, there are plenty of options to choose from. Go on a sightseeing tour of D.C.’s most iconic landmarks by water taxi or narrated cruise. If you prefer an illuminated tour in the evening, hop aboard a 2-3 hour dinner cruise with live music and dancing.
16. Unwind Around Nature at the U.S. National Arboretum
Washington, D.C., isn’t necessarily known as a sprawling natural paradise, but there are a few great nature escapes you’ll be able to enjoy. The best nature-themed attraction to visit is the U.S. National Arboretum. Explore over 400 acres of plants, flowers, and trees from around the world. You’ll also find a beautiful collection of sculptures, gazebos, and decorative floral displays. It’s simple—the National Arboretum is a fantastic place to slow down, unwind, and appreciate your trip while surrounded by nature, especially after a few long days of exploring D.C.’s endless attractions.
17. Overlook the Nation’s Capital From 387 Feet Up at the View of D.C.
You’ve planned to see D.C. from the water, and now, it’s time to arrange a bird’s eye view of the nation’s capital city from 387 feet up. The View of D.C., located in Arlington, Virginia, and 15 minutes from the White House, provides a 360-degree, panoramic view of Washington, D.C. You’ll have the chance to see the Washington Monument, Pentagon, Washington National Cathedral, and more. And best of all, admission to The View of D.C. is free!
When visiting Washington, D.C., there is no shortage of things to see and do. Whether you’re interested in exploring world-famous museums, touring iconic monuments and memorials, or simply wandering through the vibrant streets of the capital city, there is something entertaining for everyone to do.
The history and culture of this bustling metropolis are on full display everywhere you turn, from the National Mall to Capitol Hill to the Smithsonian National Zoo. Whatever your interests may be, you can be sure that a visit to D.C. will be an unforgettable experience filled with plenty of excitement, adventure, and discovery.
Donovan is a freelance travel writer based in Kansas. He’s taught English in China and Korea as an ESL Teacher for over 7 years, and used his time abroad to go on life-changing adventures around the globe. Today, he continues to work with kids and loves spending his free time inspiring curious adventures of all ages and backgrounds to travel and experience the world.