The Best Things To Do In Washington, D.C.

Written By: Kristen Cook

Whether you want to spend the day walking around museums or you plan to venture beyond some of America’s iconic points of interest, there are a variety of things you can do in Washington DC that will entertain and enlighten every step of the way. From unique shops and restaurants, eclectic bars and numerous public events, the nation’s capital is livelier than you can imagine!

The best times to visit the city are late summer to early fall — the changing leaves and cool breeze provide an exceptional backdrop to the many monuments and memorials. During springtime, cherry blossom trees are in full bloom, enticing visitors from all around to capture a glimpse of their fresh beauty. Visiting Washington DC during winter is hit or miss, as snowstorms have been known to plague the area from time to time.

There are many famous points of interest to visit during a trip to the city — most notably the White House. Home to the United States president, the White House is considered the most prominent residence in the entire country. You’ll have to settle for outside views only, as tours are limited and often require permission by a local congressman or embassy — if you can manage, it’s worth the effort! For those who can’t get inside, there is still plenty to see and do.

Many monuments and memorials are located within the vicinity and can be visited within a day by walking the National Mall — iconic sites include the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, just to name a few. Once you’re done walking the expansive mall, be sure to head over to The Capitol Building, which is another major feature in American government. Guided tours are available, but be sure to make reservations ahead of time — especially if you are visiting during a peak travel time.

There is a vast number of museums to visit which will entertain the entire family — from the iconic Smithsonian to the Air & Space Museum to the Newseum and beyond, there is something for all ages and interest levels!


Capitol Hill

A visit to Washington just wouldn’t be complete without a trip to explore Capitol Hill. Take in the majesty of the US Capitol, and the buildings that house the Senate and House of Representatives. Go beyond the political grandeur and see how people go about their daily lives with a trip to the Eastern Market, which sells food during the week and crafts on the weekend.


Washington Monument

For a great way to get your bearings in Washington DC, head to the Washington Monument. Constructed to honour George Washington – standing 170 metres tall – the monument is the highest building in the city! Take the elevator up to the observation deck and you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent 360 degree view of the city, where you can relax for a while and map out an itinerary for your visit.


Arlington National Cemetery

Millions of visitors come to Arlington National Cemetery each year to pay respects to those who have fallen in the wars since the American Revolution. It has a profound impact on people, as the history held by the cemetery unfolds. As you wander the beautiful grounds and monuments, visit the Tomb of the Unknowns, watch the ceremonial changing of the guard each half hour, and see the graves of famous leaders such as John F Kennedy.


Potomac River

As you explore Washington you will certainly come across the Potomac River; historically an important contributor to the growth and vitality of the towns and cities along its 405 mile length. Stroll along the banks and you will come across many of the city’s landmarks, with Potomac Park housing memorials to the wars and leaders of the country, including the Reflecting Pool. Once you have finished exploring, join the locals for a picnic in one of the parks adjacent to the river – it’s a beautiful location!


US Capitol

You would expect a country with the history of the USA to have a grand centre of politics, and the US Capitol will not disappoint. With the Statue of Freedom standing atop an eighty-six metre high dome, the building is awe-inspiring. Explore the history with a visit to the Exhibition Hall, and take a guided tour, then meander through the beautiful gardens and admire the fountains that grace the grounds!


National Mall

If you stand at either end of the National Mall – at the Capitol or the Lincoln Memorial – the immediate impression you will get is one of space – wide, open, tree lined space, right in the hub of the city. This open area – which is the National Mall – is surrounded by important museums such as the Smithsonian, and landmarks such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Reflecting Pool. It’s a great place to explore so give yourself plenty of time here!


The White House

The iconic home of US Presidents since 1800, the White House has become a symbol of the country, and is also a living museum of American History. Viewed from a distance, admire its architecture and soak up the atmosphere of the crowds. It is possible to request a guided tour, for US citizens through their member of Congress, and for foreigners through their embassy.


The Smithsonian

The Smithsonian is so much more than the 19 museums and 9 research centres under its brand – it is a call for learning and curiosity. Enjoy several of the museums located in the city, including the Air and Space Museum on Independence Avenue, and the American History Museum on Constitution Avenue. You can spend an entire trip exploring the Smithsonian Museums, so get started today and marvel at the wonders of history!


Lincoln Memorial

A highlight of any trip to Washington is to visit the Lincoln Memorial. Simple but grand, its Greek Temple design and majestic steps provide an aura that permeates throughout. Take time to read the speeches of this great leader, and absorb the calm dignity of the statue of Abraham Lincoln. When you’re finished exploring, sit for a while on the steps and look over the Reflecting Pool, while you give thought to the history of this great nation.


Jefferson Memorial

As you approach the stairs leading up to the Jefferson Memorial, its impressive design – based on the style of the Roman Pantheon – is a fitting tribute the third president, Thomas Jefferson – himself an avid student of architecture. Located in the Tidal Basin, take time to enjoy the six metre statue, the excerpts from his works, and the tribute to those who drafted the Declaration of Independence.


Library of Congress

Located in the Thomas Jefferson Building, the Library of Congress is a living display of magnificent architecture and history. Take a free guided tour of the building – which houses over 120 million items (over 20 million books) – and explore the Great Hall, decorated with marble and stained glass. There is so much to see here! It’s also possible to organise tours that target specific interest such as early America!


U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial

At the entrance to the Arlington National Cemetery, you will find the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, honouring all U.S. Marines that have served their country since 1775. This magnificent bronze memorial is based on the famous 1945 photograph taken at the battle of Iwo Jima, and shows the raising of the US flag on Japanese soil.


Washington National Cathedral

The stunning Washington National Cathedral welcomes all faiths, and is often used for State funerals. Its architecture is magnificent, with a “Rose Window” made up of over 10,000 stained glass pieces, and sculptures that depict several of the saints. Traditional and modern, the church honours many famous Americans, including astronauts and early political leaders, and is a must for anyone interested in beautiful architecture and history.


The US National Archives

Normally the haunt of researchers and history buffs, the U. S. National Archives on Pennsylvania Avenue holds crucial documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Visit the public vaults to observe fascinating historical records and enjoy the interactive exhibits on offer. Sometimes it’s the “off the radar” attractions that are the most memorable – this could be one of those for you!


Union Station

Union Station was born in 1907 and has played an important role in the country’s transport ever since, peaking in WWII. Today, it remains a busy station, but also offers an array of boutique shops to enjoy as you take in the magnificent architecture of the building. Sit for a while and people-watch as the locals go about their busy day.


The Pentagon

Surrounded by 200 acres of parkland, and home to the Department of Defence, the Pentagon is an iconic building, so big it houses over 30,000 employees! It is possible to join a 60 minute tour that explains the role of the various arms of the service, but you do need to book this at least 14 days in advance. While you’re there, take time to visit the memorial to that tragic day – September 11, 2001 – and pay respect to the fallen.


Dupont Circle

Dupont Circle lies at the intersection of several major thoroughfares, including Massachusetts Avenue and Connecticut Avenue. Take in the fountain, and stroll around the surrounding neighbourhood to explore the boutique shops and restaurants. Sit for a while and enjoy some people-watching, as what can appear to be an eclectic mix of people, go about their day!



More than 50,000 soldiers died in the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil. About 150 years later, the national park land is a memorial to the lives lost during those three fateful days of the American Civil War. The battlefield draws history buffs, patriots and curious tourists who come in droves to pay their respects and learn more about this landmark event in America’s history.

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