This post list of the top outdoor activities in Washington, D.C. contains some of our favorite outdoor activities, including family, evening, and budget-friendly things to do.
TOP 10 EVENTS AND OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES IN DC
This section covers our top ten things to do outdoors in DC. Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast or just want to enjoy the sunshine on a great day, we have something for everyone listed below. For more ideas of things to do in DC, check out our Top Things to Do in DC post.
For more ideas on popular things to do in DC, check out our other posts:
Some of the items listed in this post are included for free with the purchase of a tourist discount pass.
1. Walk the National Mall
The best part of DC is outside! The National Mall is a free national park that extends from the Capitol Building all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial, just over 2 miles. It's an expanse of grass fields for recreational sports, picnics, and visiting our memorials and monuments.
The Washington Monument is also on the National Mall, which you can go up into and get an incredible view of the entire city!
We recommend exploring the National Mall on a free walking tour so that one of our expert guides can tell you the history and stories behind the memorials you can find there.
2. Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park is the largest green space in DC! It's a great (and free!) place to hike, wander, bike, and climb. You can also find the National Zoo there! It's open all the time, but we recommend going during daylight house.
There are multiple access points to the park, it is North of Georgetown and West of Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan.
3. Theodore Roosevelt Island
Theodore Roosevelt Island is what's called a "living" presidential memorial and is a great place to hike and picnic at. It's free to enter and is open from sunrise to sunset every day.
How to get there: The nearest metro stop is Rosslyn (check out our DC Metro riding guide here). Exit metro and turn left on Wilson Blvd, then an immediate left onto Moore St. Make a right onto US-29, then left to Lynn St. Signs will point you down Mount Vernon Trail and a small footbridge and it's a 15-minute walk.
Parking is also ample at the Island.
3. Visit an Outdoor Market
There are a number of markets throughout DC. We have two permanent markets, Union Market and Eastern Market, of which we offer an Eastern Market History & Desserts Tour. We also have farmers markets that pop-up throughout the year:
- Located at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Capital Harvest on the Plaza is open from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Fridays from May-November.
- There are two FRESHFARM markets in DC: Dupont Circle and Mount Vernon Triangle, which is open on Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. from May-November.
- Since 2010, the Columbia Heights Farmers Market has taken place from 9am – 1pm on Saturdays (April-December) or from 4pm -7pm on Wednesdays (May-October).
- The 14&U Farmers' Market shows off the goods every Saturday from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. from May through November.
- For something year-round, there's the Palisades Farmers Market in Upper Northwest open on Sundays year-round from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m
If you're coming in the winter, there are a number of holiday markets in DC. For more things to do in DC in the winter, check out our winter guide.
4. United States National Arboretum
If you love trees, you can't miss the United States National Arboretum! There's the National Grove of State trees, you can walk around the Bonsai tree collection, and check out the original columns from the Capitol.
It's a great place to lay out a blanket, have a picnic, and even fly a kite! It's great for wandering even for those who simply enjoy the company of beautiful trees.
Admission is free and the arboretum is open Monday-Friday from 8am-5pm.
Parking is ample there and is a short drive from the Capitol Building.
To get there by Metro can be a bit tricky, but here are the directions: the easiest metro stop is Stadium-Armory (orange/silver/blue lines). Once you exit the metro, take the B2 bus toward Mt Ranier. Get off at Bladensburg Rd and Rand Pl.
5. Kayaking on the Potomac
For those more adventurous, we suggest kayaking the Potomac. It's a great way to exercise and see the sites of DC from a boat! There are also paddle boards and canoes available for rent.
There are a number of places to rent from, and prices vary but start at around $22/hour.
When to do it: depending on the season and weather permitting, most places start at around 9am and end around 7pm.
For more information, check out boatingindc.com.
6. Wander Around Historic Georgetown
Georgetown is an incredible place to spend the afternoon wandering and exploring. Older than the city itself, Georgetown is DC's oldest neighborhood, full of shopping, food, and incredible desserts, which you can experience on our Georgetown Cupcake & Desserts tour.
You can find the oldest unchanged building in DC, the Old Stone House, there. There's also Georgetown University, which you can take a self-guided tour of. You can visit Georgetown any time of the day or year and learn more about it on our Historic Georgetown tour.
For those brave of heart, we recommend coming back after dark for our Ghosts of Georgetown tour.
Unsure where to start? We recommend starting at the Old Stone House, at the corner of M Street and Thomas Jefferson. From there, the neighborhood extends behind you, so make a left on M, and then an immediate left onto 30th street.
To get to the Old Stone House, take Metro to Foggy Bottom, make left out of the station. At the circle, keep going left until you get to Pennsylvania Ave. Walk down Pennsylvania Ave until it turns into M Street. The Old Stone House is 3 blocks on the left.
7. Smithsonian National Zoological Park
Spend the day at the Zoo! It's free and a great way to get kids outside and burn some energy off. There's the must-see panda exhibit and plenty for all ages to enjoy.
The National Zoo is open daily from 8am-5pm. We recommend checking them out online too since they have a number of fun events year-round, not just for little ones! We personally love some of the boozy events they host for adults.
How to get there: the Zoo is midway between the Cleveland Park and Woodley Metro stations on the red line.
Pro tip: Arrive via Cleveland Park, and walk downhill to the zoo. When leaving the zoo, continue to walk downhill to the Woodley Metro.
There is a parking lot at $25/car. If you get a zoo membership parking is free!
8. Biking the Mount Vernon Trail
DC is a bike-friendly city, with lots of trails to explore. We recommend biking the Mount Vernon Trail, an 18-mile scenic route from DC to George Washington's Mount Vernon home.
We recommend checking out our Guide to Visiting Mount Vernon to make the best of your trip now that you've arrived.
You can rent a bike from a number of places, like Capital BikeShare, which is just $8 a bike for 24 hours. Biking the trail itself is free! The trail is open daily from 6am-10pm.
How to get there: the Mount Vernon trail starts near Theodore Roosevelt Island, so the easiest way is to Metro to Rosslyn and rent a bike near there.
9. Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park
Explore Meridian Hill Park, a hidden gem in Washington, DC. It was once a private estate, now made into a lovely public park.
It boasts the longest cascading fountain in the United States and is home to the only female equestrian statue in DC (Joan of Arc!). It's free to go there and is located near Adams Morgan, a fun neighborhood to explore. The park is open during daylight hours.
How to get there: The closest Metro is U Street. Take the 13th Street exit and make a left onto U Street. Walk toward 16th street, making a right onto 16th. 2 blocks up 16th will be the south end of the park.
10. Stroll up Embassy Row
Change countries without leaving DC by going on a stroll on Embassy Row! While there are over 180 embassy's scattered around DC, many are in a charming area known as Embassy Row.
A stroll up Massachusetts Ave will take you through the heart of the area. We recommend learning about a few on our Embassy Row tour, but you can check out which embassies you can walk by on their website and follow along on a self-guided tour.
It's free to just walk around, and daytime will allow you to get the best views of the homes and statues.
How to get there: Take Metro to Dupont Circle (red line). Get off either exit, and head toward the circle. Once you are in the circle, look for the PNC bank. That is Massachusetts Ave. Start walking up and the embassies are on either side of the street for blocks. You can see many all the way up to the Naval Observatory, where the Vice President lives.
THINGS TO DO OUTSIDE IN DC AT NIGHT
There are a number of outdoor things to do in DC at night. We mentioned visiting the National Zoo in the top 10 section above, which hosts some after-dark events. For more, check out the list below.
For a complete list of things to do in DC at night, check out our master post here.
Outdoor Cocktails at the Watergate Hotel
The Watergate is a pretty well-known hotel for scandalous reasons but is today a thriving residential building. Their rooftop features a bar with great cocktails and an incredible view of the city that the public can enjoy.
Getting up there is free, though cocktail prices can sometimes get expensive. In the winter, they occasionally host ice skating up there! The rooftop is open daily from 5pm-midnight.
How to get there: Take Metro to Foggy Bottom (orange/silver/blue lines). immediately upon leaving the station, turn right until you are facing away from the street. walk through the park, make a left onto New Hampshire Ave. When you get to the circle, make the first right onto Virginia Ave, the Watergate is in front of you. The main entrance is slightly to your right down Virginia.
Two other rooftop bars worth mentioning:
- VUE Rooftop at Hotel Washington, overlooking the White House.
- Whiskey Charlie at the Wharf.
Kennedy Center Roof
Head to the top of the Kennedy Center for great rooftop views of the city. Bonus, the Kennedy Center has a free concert every day at 6pm on the Millennium Stage!
Admission is free, just go inside the elevator and hit the Terrace button. You might even catch a proposal up there, it's one of the most romantic places in DC.
Hours: Monday-Saturday: 10am - 9pm, Sunday: 12pm-9pm
How to get there: There is a shuttle from the Foggy Bottom metro (orange/silver/blue lines). The shuttle signs are to the left as you exit the Metro. There is a paid parking lot at the Kennedy Center as well.
Gravelly Point Park
Gravelly Point Park is a great park for hanging out, playing bocce ball, and just relaxing. But the main reason people go out there is to see the planes take off and land since it's located near Reagan National Airport!
Gravelly Point Park is just off the main runway at the airport and has picnic tables and ample parking to enjoy seeing the jets soaring overhead. And it's free!
The park is open all the time but places stop at the airport around 10pm.
How to get there: It's difficult to get to the park via Metro, so a car is probably the easiest option, and there is plenty of parking. You can also bike there on the Mount Vernon Trail (see above).
DC offers a lot of family-friendly activities and attractions any day of the year. Here are a few more family-friendly ideas.
For a more complete list of things to do with kids in DC, check out our master post here.
Mini Golfing at East Potomac Park
You can mini-golf within sight of the monuments on the National Mall at East Potomac Park. This is a great activity for the whole family! There's also a regulation course and a driving range.
Hours: Generally 10am-sundown, weather permitting. During the winter months, the course is closed on weekdays.
How to get there: The closest public transit would be the Circulator city bus, the National Mall route, which can be boarded in a number of places, especially Union Station. Once on the Circulator, exit at stop 6, and continue along 15th Street, over the bridge. Immediately on the other side of the bridge, make a left onto Ohio drive, walk down Ohio until you come to the entrance.
Metro: Using the Smithsonian stop (orange/silver/blue), take the 12th street/Holocaust Museum exit. Walk along Independence Ave, making a right on 15th street. Follow 15th street over the bridge, making a left on Ohio drive. There is also ample parking, though it can get crowded in the busy season.
Peddle the Tidal Basin
You can go paddle boating on the Tidal Basin! This beautiful pool of water is surrounded by our famous Cherry Blossom trees, making it the centerfold for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
You can choose from regular paddle boats or swan-shaped ones for a more romantic experience. You also get a great view of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, MLK Memorial, and the Washington Monument, all of which we talk about on our All-in-One tour!
Great Falls Park
Great Falls Park is a 15-mile drive from DC, which can be tricky for those without a car, but absolutely worth it to go out of your way to explore.
This is kid-friendly, and a lot of families driving into DC with cars can take a little excursion to see these incredible waterfalls. There's hiking and biking trails, places fish, and even to go horseback riding!
The park is open year-round and parking is $15/per vehicle.
FREE THINGS TO DO IN DC OUTSIDE
There are a ton of free things to do in DC, and a lot are outside! We have a number of things mentioned in our other sections, like taking a free walking tour on the National Mall. For more, check out our list below.
For more free things to do in DC, check out our master post here.
Find the DC Boundary Stones
For those with a sense of adventure, hunting down the boundary stones of DC is like a true treasure hunt! Back when we decided on the original boundaries of Washington, DC, we set out these boundary stones to mark the district.
There a few still around, and you can go find them and see what are now the country's oldest federal monuments. They're free to find, and sometimes you can find them in unlikely places, like someone's front lawn!
How to get there: See this website for a printable map of the 36 remaining boundary stones throughout DC.
Visit a Cemetery
DC has some incredible historic cemeteries. These are great places to visit to pay respects to loved ones who might be buried there, learn the history of the area, and spend the day out and about.
For example, not only is Arlington National Cemetery the final resting spot of over 400,000 heroes, it's actually an arboretum! The cemetery offers horticulture tours for whose interested.
Two other great cemeteries to visit while in DC are Oak Hill Cemetery which we offer tours of and Congressional Cemetery located on Capitol Hill. All of these cemeteries are free to visit.
The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
The Sculpture Garden is a great outdoor place to explore for those who love art. It's also a great place for taking pictures, hanging out and reading, and attending one of the events they host throughout the year like their summer Jazz in the Garden series. They also have ice skating in the winter!