A Guide to DC in the Summer

Washington DC is a fun and family-friendly city to visit this summer. There are plenty of tun and free things to do all around the city, and this is your guide to enjoying the best of DC this summer.

TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN DC IN SUMMER

This is a Top 10 list of things to do in DC this summer. For more ideas on popular things to do in DC, check out our posts on bus tours and walking tours of the city.

Some of the items listed in this post are included for free with the purchase of a tourist discount pass
 

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1.  Take a Tour!

The best way to get out and enjoy the sunshine in DC this summer is to take a tour. Free Tours by Foot offers walking tours of DC all around the city, including the National Mall, Arlington Cemetery, and specialty tours like an evening DC Ghost Tour.

Explore DC by Boat, Bus, Segway, and Bike

If you’re not up for walking, there are many ways to explore the city.


2. Check out a Market 

DC has some wonderful markets, like Eastern Market and Union Market. There are plenty of local artists, crafts, and food kiosks in these.

If you want to know more about the history, we offer a Eastern Market Dessert tour to guide you through all the delectables in the neighborhood so you can enjoy the tastings without the stress.

One of the stops is District Doughnuts, which has locations on not just in Eastern Market but at the Nats Stadium, so you can enjoy the sweets while cheering on your favorite baseball team.


3.  Explore Georgetown

Georgetown is the oldest neighborhood in Washington, DC. Step back in time with a walking tour or grab a cupcake on the Desserts tour. There is plenty of shopping to do there and great restaurants along the river once you’re done walking.

If you’re not sure where to start, we have a guide to Georgetown with all the highlights you can’t miss.

 


4. Catch a Concert

Summer is concert season, and there are plenty of great shows coming to DC this summer. There are venues all around the city- like the Capitol One Arena to the Anthem on the Wharf. Some big names coming to DC this summer:

For a list of more things to do at night in DC this summer, check out our Things to Do at Night post.

DC also has some free and family-friendly concerts and festivals, which you can check out in the Festival section below.


5. Visit Old Town Alexandria

  

 
Like Georgetown, Alexandria was an established neighborhood when we first designated this area as our nation’s capital. In the original land grant, Alexandria was apart of DC before Virginia took their land back in 1846.

Although it’s technically no longer part of DC, it’s still full of rich history and close enough to make it an easy visit. Usually Metro is the easiest way to get there, but there are some Metro closures happening this summer. We’ve made a post of alternative methods to get to Alexandria so you can enjoy all the city has to offer.

There is so much to do!

During the King Street Metro Closure, we offer our  Old Town Alexandria Guided Walking Tour as a private option. We hope you’ll still explore Old Town Alexandria on your own!

You can use the Atlantis Audio tours app for a GPS Enabled self-guided walking tour of Alexandria that covers the historic sites and museums. The Old Town Alexandria tour is currently text only with no audio.

Or you can visit Mt. Vernon, or just walks around and shop!

If you’re bringing kids along we have a guide to visiting Alexandria with kids and a whole section below of family-friendly activities to do in DC this summer.


6. Enjoy a Baseball Game

Washington, DC has a number of great sports teams so there’s one to cheer on no matter when you come to visit. Summer means baseball, and we take it pretty seriously here in the district. The Washinton Nationals play at Nationals Park all summer long.

Come out to the Wharf for the great food before catching a game that the entire family is sure to enjoy.

To get tickets, click here.

Washington Nationals Baseball Game

For more ideas on family-friendly things to do in DC, check out the section below.


7. Visit the Capitol

While there’s plenty to see and do outside in Washington, DC, the summer can get pretty hot and humid. To escape the heat, you can pop into the museums as mentioned in our Free section below, or you can take a tour of the Capitol.

Tickets are free and a great way to learn all about the history of the building.

If you’re wanting to explore not just the Capitol building but all of Capitol Hill, we offer great walking tours that also take you inside of the Library of Congress, arguably the most beautiful building in the nation and the largest library in the entire world.

 

 


8. Visit the New Spy Museum

While most museums in DC are free, there are a few that do have entry frees. One of them is the Spy Museum. The museum has just moved from its old location near the Portrait Gallery to L’Enfant Plaza. The new location is bigger and boasts interactive exhibits and installations, and the most impressive collection of spy artifact in the world.

Admission for adults(13-64) is $24.95, children(7-12) is $14.95. Children under 6 is free.  Senior/ Military/Law Enforcement/College Student (with valid ID) is $19.95. There are also membership options if you plan to visit often!

The Spy Museum is included for free on many tourist passes.


9. Have a drink

After a long day of walking under the hot sun, cooling off on a rooftop bar is a great way to end the day or catch a drink before an evening tour. There are a number of great bars all around the city, depending on where you end up in the evening:

  • POV Bar and Lounge at the W Hotel has a great view of the White House and National Mall. Be sure to dress up for this one!
  • For the whiskey lover, Jack Rose Dining Saloon has over 2,600 types to choose from.
  • Roofers Union has something for everyone: a wine bar on the ground floor, a casual dining restaurant on the second floor, and a rooftop bar for those who like to lounge.
  • If you’re looking for something cheaper, Red Derby has cheap craft beers out of the can and boardgames.
  • Hawthorne was named one of the best in the city and boasts a great view of the Washington Monument and Capitol.

 

 

For more things to do at night in DC, click on our post.


10. Look into a Tourist Discount Pass 

Even though there are so many free things to do in Washington DC, some of the highlights do have admission costs.

But you can save time and money on these with a tourist discount pass.

 

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Some of the best things to do in this summer are included in at least one if not more of the passes:

  • Take a tour of Nats Park
  • Hillwood Estate & Gardens
  • Potomac River Cruise
  • Mount Vernon
  • Bike Rentals

Get free admission to our tours and many top DC attractions with a Tourist Discount Pass.


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THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN SUMMER

Many of our Top Ten are great activities for children, like going to the Spy Museum, but check out our post about Family Friendly Activities in DC for a more complete guide.  Below you will find a couple of other options to keep your children entertained this season!

 

 


See an Outdoor Movie

Don’t be discouraged once the sun goes down- there’s still plenty to do in DC after dark! One fun thing to do it attend an outdoor film.

Neighborhoods all over DC are hosting these movie nights, and you can look at the schedule here to decide where to go and what to see. This is great for the whole family or a date night for just the two of you. There’s even a drive-in movie at Union Market! Bring blankets and snacks and enjoy a show under the stars.

You can even watch a movie at the MLK memorial! Film at the Stone is the first and only film series at a memorial and is also free. Movies start at 8:15 pm and you can view the movie schedule here.

For a complete guide to things to do in DC at night click here.


Visit Mt Vernon

Visiting the home of George Washington is a must on your visit to Washington, DC this summer. Ticket prices are cheaper online, so if you know what day you are going to go, it is definitely worth it to book in advance, though generally, this isn’t necessary, unless you want to be certain of the time you can visit the main mansion.

  • Adult (ages 12-61): $20 ($17 online)
  • Youth (ages 6-11): $10 ($9 online)
  • Child (ages 0-5): FREE
  • Senior (62+): $19 ($16 online)

Military members and veterans and their families are eligible for $4 off the admission price.

Mt Vernon

Price includes the mansion tour so you can see the original home where the Washingtons lived. There’d plenty more to see while there, from the farm to the education center that included a 4D movie.

If you want to prepare yourself before you get there, we have a guide you can review before you go.

Mount Vernon is included for free on many tourist passes.


Paddle Boat

The Tidal Basin is the centerfold for annual cherry blossom festival in the spring but is still beautiful year-round. Walking around the perimeter you will discover three memorials- the MLK, FDR, Jefferson.

You can also learn about these memorials on our All in One tour. But did you know you can also go paddle boarding there?

Choose from either a regular paddle boat or a swan boat (if you’re looking for something a bit more romantic) and enjoy the view from the water.


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FREE THINGS TO DO IN SUMMER

There are many free activities to take advantage of in DC during every season of the year.  Many of our Top Ten are also free to explore, like the number of parks all around the city, but below you will find a couple of other free options this month. Check out our comprehensive post about the Top Free Things to Do in DC for more ideas.


National Arboretum

On days with great summer weather, make the most out of being outside by visiting the National Arboretum, which is basically a giant park for plant and tree lovers.  

  • National_Capitol_Columns_-_Washington,_D.C.Highlights: The beautiful Bonsai collection, various aquatic plants, and the National Grove of State Trees. 

  • Admission: FREE!

  • Hours: Friday through Monday, 8am to 5pm

  • Getting there: The easiest Metro stop is Stadium Armory Station (Orange/Blue/Silver  lines). Once you exit Stadium Armory Metro, take B2 bus toward Mt. Rainier and get off at Bladensburg Rd and Rand Pl. The NOMA Metro and Rhode Island Metro are also nearby, but you will need to use 2 different bus lines. There is also ample parking at the Arboretum.


Sunset Parade at Lincoln Memorial

Starting June 12, every Tuesday you can watch musical performances by “The Commandant’s Own,” the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, as well as a precision drill by the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon.

Due to the construction at Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial this year, the 2019 parade will be at the Lincoln Memorial.

Read more about the Sunset Parade here


Visit a Museum

Museums are great places to go to escape the summer heat and cool off a bit while still having plenty to see and do. Read our guide to the best museums in DC.

There are the free Smithsonian Museums on the National Mall like the Air and Space and American History.

But there are some less visited ones, like the National Building Museum, which has some really interesting exhibits. It also has a really cool installation coming this summer.

From July 4- September 2 there will be the LAWN installation (tickets required) which features a green expanse with lounging areas, including interactive hammocks as the centerpiece fitted with hidden speakers that tell summertime stories.  There will be activities held here all summer long, including movie nights, meditation, and yoga.

For more information on the Building Museum click here


Visit a Cemetery

Washington DC has some very special cemeteries, such as the well-known Arlington National Cemetery which is also an arboretum. It is beautiful to visit any time of the year but in the summertime can be extra special.

 

 

There is another cool cemetery to visit, Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown. It’s lesser known but also boasts some prominent figures, such as Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War and was the temporary resting place of Willie Lincoln.

In summers, we offer a guided tour you can take and learn some more about this location’s rich history. 


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PACKING GUIDE FOR SUMMER IN DC

Packing to go to a city you’ve never been to can feel daunting- how much is too much? There’s also the fear of meeting unexpected weather and not having packed something essential. Below are some FAQ about packing we want to answer for you:
  • Does it rain a lot in the summer? Summer is prone to thunderstorms, so bring a light jacket if you’re coming in early June and definitely an umbrella if you’re coming in mid-late summer.
  • What to pack: Summer in DC can get very hot and very humid. While we encourage light, breathable clothes, locals tend not to show too much skin. Shorts and tank tops are fine but forego the spaghetti straps and gym shorts. You might want to bring along a cardigan or light sweater you can easily slip on if you’re going into museums or restaurants, as it might be a bit chilly coming into the air-conditioned buildings. Comfortable shoes are a must, as you’ll be doing plenty of walking! We have a post on weather in DC if you’d like to read more in depth.
  • Be sure to bring a reusable water bottle with you. Most memorials on the National Mall have bathrooms and water fountains that are perfectly safe to drink. Museums also have special fountains to make filling up reusable bottles easier. This is a much cheaper alternative to buying bottles of water wherever you go, as sometimes the kiosks on the Mall charge up to $3/bottle!
  • Going out for a drink or nice restaurant in the evening? If you’ve been walking around outside all day it might be best to pack along a nice change of clothes, although most dining establishments DC are pretty casual. Still, if you’re going to a more swanky place, dressing up a bit is best.

We have a monthly post section below if you want to read up more on the specifics of the weather to better decide what clothes to bring on your summer trip to DC.


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HOLIDAYS & FESTIVALS

Summer in DC is full of festivals and holiday celebrations. There’s a festival for everyone, for all interests and ages. Below are a list of our most popular summer festivals as well as links to Things to Do for summer holidays:


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MONTHLY POSTS

To learn more about what do to in specific months here in Washington, DC, click the links below:

About the author

Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with three published books about the city. She has traveled extensively and lived in London, UK where she attended University College London for a Masters in History and in Seoul, South Korea where she taught English. While her family is now based in DC, she still explores the world. Her two children (both under the age of 3) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts. She has been a part of the Free Tours by Foot team since 2011.