What to Do in Washington, DC

This post covers the best things to do in DC, including top attractions, museums, points of interest, kid-friendly activities, food, things to do at night and much more. Be sure to consider one of our pay-what-you-wish tours to explore these neighborhoods.  

 

 



TOP 10 THINGS TO DO (ONLY IN DC)

Below is our list of the top 10 things to do in DC. In each listing, we add links for more in-depth looks at each choice and related items. 

For more ideas on top popular attractions, check out our comparison guide on tourist discount passes, which could help you save money on entry fees. 


1 Tour the National Mall

This is the highlight of most visits to DC. There are dozens of memorials to visit, but many of the most popular are all on or around the National Mall, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Jefferson Memorial (just to name a few).

 

 

We cover the memorials on our National Mall and our All in One Walking tours. If you’d rather go out on your own, we have a self-guided National Mall tour!

Or if you’re looking for less walking and more hop-on/hop-off style touring, check out our Bus Tour page to find the best bus tour.


2 Explore the Smithsonian Museums

There are 21 Smithsonian Museums and the National Zoo – and you’re likely not going to have time to explore them all (but try if you want!) 

 

 

We have guides to make the most of your visit to three of the most popular museums: the Air and Space Museum, Natural History Museum and the American History Museum.   

You should also visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It requires tickets during the busier months and these sometimes book up quickly. Use our guide to help make sure you have a chance to visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

You’ll also find a number of private museums that are absolutely worth the ticket price. We recommend the International Spy Museum and the Newseum.

Some of these museums are also included on various DC Discount Tourist Passes.


3 Tour Capitol Hill

We offer tours of Capitol Hill that include tickets to take a docent-led tour of the Capitol. If we don’t have a tour that fits into your schedule, tickets are available to the public – learn more here.

 

 

While you in the area, we recommend also visiting the Supreme Court.


4 Explore the Library of Congress

While you are on Capitol Hill, you shouldn’t pass up this true DC gem. And like the Capitol Building, the LOC is a stop on our guided tour of Capitol Hill.

 

 

Our guide to visiting the Library of Congress offers tips on when to come, how to tour the buildings, as well as explaining the exhibits and highlights. We also tell you how to get a library card.


5 Witness the Changing of the Guard

Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most honored military cemeteries in the US. It is the resting place of over 400,000 and where we honor our unknown soldiers at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Dozens of times each day, you can witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony.

 

 

Be sure to read our guide to Arlington National Cemetery for a self-visit or join us on one of our Arlington National Cemetery tours.


6 Visit the National Archives

The original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights are all on display at the National Archives. There is even a copy of the Magna Carta. Reservations are not necessary but recommended and free.

 

 

We’ve prepared a guide to help you plan your time here, including tips on how to get here, security, what you will see as well as concessions. 


7 Tour the White House

The home of the U.S. President is open to all, including visitors to the U.S. Tickets are free, but extremely limited. It’s recommended that you order tickets 3 months in advance.

 

 
Read our post on how to get White House tour tickets, with advice on where to apply for tickets, tips on planning your visit, such as getting through security, as well as a virtual tour to show you what you will see.


8 Explore Fords Theater

Our 16th President loved the theater and it was at Ford’s Theater where he would meet his tragic end. Read our guide to tickets and tours of Ford’s Theatre as well as offer a preview of what’s to see in the museums.

 

 

To complement a visit to the theater, we highly recommend taking our Lincoln Assassination Tour!


9 Explore Historic Georgetown

The oldest neighborhood in Washington DC is older than the city itself. This residential neighborhood is full of history, shopping, and great food. It is a unique part of the city and a great place to wander.

 


We offer a variety of walking tours and you can use our guide to exploring Georgetown on your own.


10 Tour the Pentagon

As the headquarters of the Department of Defense for the United States, you may not think the building is open to the public. However, with advance planning and some background checks, you can take a Pentagon Tour for you and your family.

 

 
You got that right. We have a post for this too. Be sure to read our guide to visiting the Pentagon, which covers how to visit the Pentagon on a guided tour, with tips on how to get here, where to park, and other nearby attractions.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Admittedly, this isn’t an attraction or tour, but for many people, a visit to DC offers a rare chance to ride a world-class subway. DC has a well connected public transportation (WMATA) system and difficult to understand parking regulations.

 

 

For this reason, it is best to park your car for the day in a garage, at your hotel or even at one of the suburban Metro stations and use public transportation to get around the city.

Getting to the National Mall: Parking, Metro, Bus

Using Public Transportation in DC:

Use Hop On Hop Off Tours: You can use a Big Bus Tours ticket to get around town via their hop on hop off tours.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

There is so much to do in Washington DC that they cannot all fit into a top 10. Click on the links below for our guides to visiting a few more of the top places to visit in DC.

 


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EVEN MORE FREE THINGS TO DO

Few cities can boast a top 10 list like D.C. that includes only free things to do. There are even more free things to do in Washington DC.  

From world-class concerts to the top museums, you could keep yourself occupied for several days and only spend money on accommodations, food, and transportation – unless you like to walk.  

 

Free Things to Do in DC

 

Below, we have listed more than you can do in any one trip. For an even longer list, check out our master post on free things to do in Washington.

Free Museums in DC

Memorials

Historic Sites

Government Buildings

 


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THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS

Our top things to do in DC with kids blog post goes over our suggestions for what to do with younger visitors, including free things and things to do in the evening. You’ll find more about the bullet points below in the post.

  • Visit the monuments and memorials.
  • Explore the kid’s sections at the Smithsonian Museums
  • Watch money being made at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing
  • Assume a new identity at the Spy Museum
  • Take the Paddle Boats out on the Tidal Basin
  • Run around Mount Vernon
  • Attend a Sports Game
  • Take one of our pay-what-you-like tours (see below).

Below are the most satisfying and kid-friendly experiences, just click on the links below to be taken to our posts on that specific attraction and you will find useful information about these attractions such as best times to go, prices and hours, discounts, directions to get there and other nearby activities. Visiting the National Mall with Kids


FREE TOURS BY FOOT KIDS TOURS

With the exception of our Adults Only tours, ALL of our walking tours are great for families. But we do offer a popular National Mall for Kids Scavenger Hunt for younger guests with shorter attention spans.

Other popular family-friendly tours include:

 


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THE BEST THINGS TO DO AT NIGHT 

You may have already thought that many of the items in other sections of this post are also great night options, and you would be correct. 

 

 

Our top things to do in DC at night post offers suggestions of not just what to do, but the best places to do it, and describes in more detail our bullet list below.

  • Visit the monuments and memorials.
  • Take a night bus tour.
  • Explore the late hours at certain museums.
  • Eat. DC has some of the best restaurants in the country.
  • Watch seasonal parades and musical performances.
  • Attend a major sporting event.
  • Catch a free nightly performance at the Kennedy Center.
  • Eat, shop, and play in Georgetown (or any other neighborhood).
  • Enjoy an evening dinner or cocktail cruise on the Potomac River.
  • Take one of our pay-what-you-like tours (see below).

FREE TOURS BY FOOT NIGHT TOURS

Seeing specific parts of DC at night with a guide to point out things you might not have otherwise noticed can make for a great and inexpensive way to spend an evening.

 

 

Our pay-what-you-wish night tours cover several different neighborhoods, each beautiful at night in its own way. There is no cost to take our tours, and you have the option to pay what you like, or can afford, only after the tour is over.

Our most popular evening tours are Memorials and Moonlight (National Mall) and our Lincoln Assassination Walking Tour.

We also offer Adults Only tours – we don’t set an age limit, but you’ve been warned about the content – from Haunted Georgetown to White House at Night. Or explore the Dark Side of Dupont Circle & Embassy Row.

 


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WASHINGTON DC NEIGHBORHOOD GUIDES

One way to organize your trip to DC is by neighborhood. DC and the surrounding areas unexpectedly have many unique neighborhoods. You can explore on your own and we’ve created many self-guided tours, many of which also provide tips on things to do, restaurants and places to stay, as well as several GPS audio tours. Of course, you can join us for one of our many pay-what-you-wish walking tours for deeper insight into the neighborhoods shared by one of our knowledgeable and personable guides. 

Top Three Neighborhood GuidesThings to do in Washington DC

Washington DC Attractions By Neighborhood

Day Trips from DC:

National Mall & Tidal Basin

Smithsonians & Museums near the Mall: Not sure what to see in the museum? 

Capitol Hill: We offer a Capitol Hill & Library of Congress

A tour that guides you inside the library, talks about the history of the Supreme Court and offers tickets for guided tours inside the Capitol Building.

Downtown DC (Chinatown & Penn Quarter)

Northwest DC

Virginia

 


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BY MONTH AND SEASON

When is the best time to visit Washington DC? 

Spring:

You have the benefit of Cherry Blossoms and all the spring flowers, but you also have all the other tourists who came to see them. Expect long lines and crowded museums. This is also the time of year the school groups come and the city is filled with 8th graders.

In early spring, the weather fluctuates frequently. You should expect periods of rain and potential heavy jacket weather. However, by mid-April, the weather stabilizes and much more pleasant. 

Summer:

As a southern city with a marshy feel (it wasn’t actually built on a swamp, though!), our Summers can be hot and humid, particularly in late June and early August.

The lines are a little less long but the museums will still be crowded, especially on the hottest days. Plan to hit off the beaten path sites during the heat of the day and you’ll learn something new and avoid the crowds!

Autumn:

This is empty-nesters paradise. We have autumn-blooming flowers and trees so Fall is just as beautiful as Spring here in DC. If you wait until school is back in session, you’ll find gorgeous weather and smaller crowds.

Winter:

You’ll have a lot of places for yourself! Sun-filled afternoons can be enjoyable if dressed properly. After a snowfall (which we get usually get a few times a year), you can get some amazing photos of the National Mall.

Below are annual events that occur during the 12 months of the year, and if you click on the link you will be taken to our detailed posts of these events and more. We have also included links to the typical weather for each month so you know what to expect and pack accordingly.

Winter Holiday Season (Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb)

Springtime (March, April, May)

Summer in the City (June, July, Aug)

Fall (Sept, Oct)

 


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SAMPLE ITINERARIES

For those looking for some structure planning a short stay in DC, we’ve created several different itineraries so that you can hit the road running. There’s no need to spend your time figuring out how to squeeze it all in. Our itineraries take care of that for you.

These itineraries can also be used enhanced with our pay-what-you-wish two hour guided walking tours or enhanced with our self-guided tours or download our free DC walking tour app on (iTunes) or (Android)

 


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