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What to Do in Washington, DC

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Updated: March 19, 2024

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. 

Why trust us? DC by Foot has been the leading walking tour company in Washington, DC for over a decade.

In addition to our best-rated walking tours, we take visitors to museums, and attractions, through security at federal buildings and more.

There is not a site (off the beaten path or on the Mall) that one of us has not been to!

Our Washington, DC Travel Tips Facebook group has over 45,000 members who rely on our advice to plan their trip to DC.

Similarly, we'll be relying on their tips and suggestions at various moments throughout this post!

Top Things to Do in DC

There is enough to fill your time in DC no matter how long you're here, so deciding the best things to do also depends on what kind of things are you looking for.

What is the number one attraction in Washington DC? Well, that depends on who you ask!

Whether you're visiting with kids, looking for things to do at night, or just want to know all the free things in DC, we have a travel guide specific to that type of travel.

You can also find our suggested itineraries based on our years of experience in planning trips for families, corporate groups, schools, and more!

NOTE: We have updated this list as of November 2023 to include a number of activities you can enjoy for the holidays!


Below is our list of the top 20 attractions, landmarks, and things to do in the nation's capital.

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. See Spring Blooms & Cherry Blossoms

The Cherry Blossoms are in peak bloom, but even if you miss this- DC in Spring is a beautiful place.

The Cherry Blossom Festival lasts for weeks - with or without the flowers so there are events through mid April celebrating Spring in DC.

Our Cherry Blossom Guide has everything you need to know - plus advice on where to see early and late blooming trees if you miss peak bloom.

TIP: You can see the blooms on our Blossoms on the Basin Tour!

2. Get Outside in one of the Outdoor Museums

The number of free museums in DC isn't limited to the Smithsonians. DC also has museums of nature:

3. Avoid Spring Showers & School Groups at Unique Museums

The good thing about DC spring showers is they don't last long, and some of the best times to visit main outdoor attractions are on dreary days. Clouds and fewer people make watching the Changing of the Guards at Arlington Cemetery much more moving.

Many tourists (and school groups) will head to one of the Smithsonian Museums on a rainy day so miss them and head to one of the lesser visited museums:

  • Mansion on O
  • Phillips Collection (Contemporary Art)
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts
  • Capital Jewish Museum
  • National Building Museum

4. Babies at the National Zoo

Much like other zoos around the world, the Smithsonian National Zoo welcomes new additions in the Spring - you may not be able to see the newest ones as they are cared for in private at first.

Even if there are no baby animals in the public viewing areas, the National Zoo is a great place to visit in the Spring

5. Go International at Embassy Row

You can visit Embassy Row at any time of year with our Embassy Row Guided Walking Tour, but if you're in town in May, there are special events and open houses.

Every May, many of the Embassies in DC open to the public with art, dance, and displays of local culture.

Passport DC 2024 will be May 01- May 31, 2024

6. Honor our Past on Memorial Day

With the National Memorial Day Concert, the Flags In at Arlington National Cemetery, and special events at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, there are many ways to honor those who have served and gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Previously known as Rolling Thunder, the bike (as in motorcycle!) ride around the National Mall is a moving sight to see.

Every Memorial Day, you'll also see members of the 3rd Regiment at Arlington National Cemetery put flags in front of each headstone.

memorial day in dc

7. Tour the National Mall

This is the highlight of most visits to DC.

Make sure you read our Guide to the National Mall for the best information on the most FAQs about the National Mall:

  • what to see
  • which museums are on the National Mall
  • where to eat

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 Vietnam Wall, and the Washington Monument (just to name a few).

We cover the memorials on our National Mall walking tours. 

If you'd rather go out on your own, we have a self-guided National Mall tour! and a GPS-enabled audio 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.

Continue the trip to tour the Tidal Basin to explore the MLK, FDR, and Jefferson Memorials (and if you're in town in the spring, this is where you'll find the most famous Cherry Blossoms!)

8. Explore the 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!) 

For our definitive guide to all the best museums in DC, visit our post.

Most Smithsonian Museums do not require tickets! Only the National Zoo, National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Air and Space Museum (Mall) require tickets.

We have guides to make the most of your visit to some of the most popular Smithsonian Museums

We offer guided tours of many of the Smithsonian Museums!

While the Smithsonian Museums may be the most popular, there are dozens of museums in DC from the National Gallery of Art (where you can find the only Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas to the International Spy Museum where you can assume a false identity as you visit.

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

9. Visit Capitol Hill

The three main buildings on Capitol Hill cannot be experienced anywhere else:

We offer guided walking tours of Capitol Hill that include tickets to take a docent-led tour of the Capitol and entrance into the Library of Congress.

If we don't have a tour that fits into your schedule, tickets are available to the public! Use the links above to find out how to explore Capitol Hill on your own.

10. Walk down Embassy Row

You can only find Embassies in Washington, DC - the official representation of a foreign country.

There are over 200 embassies spread around the city, but many are concentrated on one section of the city, what we call Embassy Row.

Join our guided walking tour to learn about the people, places (and international intrigue) on our Embassy Row tour.

11. Witness the Changing of the Guard

Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most honored military cemeteries in the US.

It is the final resting place of over 400,000 and where we honor our unknown soldiers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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.

12. 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 are recommended and free.

We also offer guided tours of the National Archives.

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. 

Visiting the National Archives

13. Go Inside the White House (or see it from outside!)

The home of the U.S. President is open to all. Tickets are free but extremely limited.

Read our post on how to get White House tour tickets.

We provide 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.

If you don't want to pop inside, you can always visit the White House Visitor Center or find the Best Views of the White House.

14. Visit Ford's 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.

Our popular Lincoln Assassination Tour runs nightly and some dates have tickets included!

15. 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 explore Georgetown on your own.

There is a variety of architecture, small-town charm in a big city, and Rock Creek Park for those looking for a bit of outdoors.

While Georgetown is one of the most visited neighborhoods, it is not the only place to explore:

16. 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.

How to get a pentagon tour

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.

17. Cheer on the "National" Teams

There is no shortage of sports teams in DC for you to root for!

You might also find that Baltimore games are just as easy to get to thanks to the MARC trains between DC and Baltimore!

The benefit of so many of our stadiums being centrally located is the number of restaurants and other attractions nearby.

18. Ride the Metro

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.

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.

19. See the Cherry Blossoms

While Washington, DC is obviously not the only place you can find Cherry Blossoms, it is one of the most magical spots.

The famed pink and white trees bloom in Spring reflecting along the Potomac River and Tidal Basin providing a beautiful backdrop to the memorials.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place from mid-March to Mid-April, though the trees bloom based on weather and can sometimes be before or after the festival.

We have the best guide to the Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC to help you plan your trip!

20. Take in the Art, Music, and Theatre Scene of DC

If you follow us on Instagram (@topthingstododc) you know we love the DC arts scene!

Love Art? Check out one of the many art museums:

Want to check out some music?

Did you know the DC area is home to the only National Park for the Performing Arts?

Wolftrap is just outside the city of Virginia and is an amazing family-friendly venue.

Other venues to look into:

  • The Anthem
  • The Atlantis
  • 9:30 Club
  • Blackcat
  • Creative Cauldron
  • FedEx Field, Capitol One Arena and Nationals Park also host some of the larger acts that come into town.

There are over 90 theatres in Washington, DC to see Broadway tours, operas, ballet, and plays:

More Things to Do in DC...

There is so much to do in Washington DC that they cannot all fit into a top 20 list.

Click on the links below for our guides to visiting a few more of the top places to visit in DC.

And much, much more

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