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.
THINGS YOU CAN ONLY DO IN WASHINGTON 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! 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.
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!)
For our definitive guide to all the best museums in DC, visit our post.
Most Smithsonian Museums are reopened! Only the National Zoo and National Museum of African American History and Culture require tickets.
We have guides to make the most of your visit to some of the most popular museums: the Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum and the American History Museum, and the Museum of African American History and Culture.
We offer guided tours of many of the Smithsonian Museums!
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
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.
Join us on a walking tour of the exterior of the buildings (on select dates we also offer tickets to tour inside the Library of Congress and US Capitol.)
While you are 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 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.
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.
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.
8. 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 is running and some dates have tickets included!
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 explore 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.
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.
ANOTHER UNIQUE DC THING TO DO
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.
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.
- Play an Escape Game (Georgetown & Downtown DC locations!)
- Attend a Supreme Court Lecture
- Bureau of Engraving and Printing - closed
- Spy Museum
- Embassy Row
- National Cathedral
- Holocaust Museum
- Caisson Unit
- Tour the FBI Headquarters - closed
- National Portrait Gallery
- National Zoo
- Explore Old Town Alexandria
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.
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
- National Gallery of Art | Smithsonian Art Museums
- American History Museum
- Air and Space Museum
- Natural History Museum
- Smithsonian Castle
- Holocaust Memorial Museum
- National Zoo
- White House Visitor Center