A trip to Washington, DC, brings you to some of the world’s best museums, powerful government offices, incredible historical attractions, Presidential sites, and more. With so many options, it is hard to narrow down what to see and do. Here are ideas for 42 things to do in Washington, DC, (and surrounding neighborhoods) to see the sites and get the most of your trip. The Nation’s Capital is incredible in every way and one that will leave a lasting memory.
Concerts and Shows
#1 See a Concert at The Anthem
See big names in entertainment at The Anthem concert hall and auditorium, right on the southwest waterfront area. Concerts in the past have included Foo Fighters, Mumford & Sons, Eric Church, Bob Dylan, and Bon Iver. The premier venue cost $60 million to build.
#2 Catch a Movie
The AFI Silver Fox Theatre and Cultural Center is a retro jewel in Silver Spring, Maryland, that was saved by the wrecking ball from community efforts. You can see first-run movies, foreign, independent, and international films and documentaries, plus order cheese plates and paninis from the café menu.
#3 Attend the National Cherry Blossom Festival
See the thousands of Japanese Cherry Trees in bloom (which sort of kicks off the spring season for the whole country) throughout Washington, DC. Over 700,000 people visit each year (March to April) to see the photogenic event, which is enhanced with parties, a kite festival, parade, fireworks, and marching bands.
#4 Visit the District Wharf
The District Wharf (in the Greater Washington Metropolitan Area) is a brand spanking new riverfront complex encompassing restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues. Don’t miss the long-standing open-air Fish Market, which you are sure to smell before you see it, the oldest in the nation. You can take the water taxi at District Wharf for a quick ride to Georgetown, Old Town Alexandria, or National Harbor (MD).
#5 Enjoy a Redskins Game
The Washington Redskins NFL football team has been playing in the capital city since 1932. Games are played at FedExField in Landover, MD, five miles east of DC. In years past, you could have seen Joe Gibbs, Joe Theismann, John Riggins, and Champ Bailey play wearing the burgundy and gold uniform.
#6 Ride the Hop-On/Hop-Off Bus
Buy a ticket for the Big Bus, which takes you to a huge number of DC attractions. You can hop on and hop off at any time and spend as much time as you want at each place. You’ll spot the popular bus tours by its double-decker traditionally maroon color. Each tour is narrated by a guide or with prerecorded commentary. Simply plug in your complimentary earphones to hear it. Tours are offered in several different languages, as well.
#7 Take a Water Taxi to Georgetown
The Potomac Riverboat Company by Hornblower offers great views along the Potomac River as you navigate a shorter, and less congested route to Georgetown, Old Town Alexandria, or National Harbor from The Wharf in Washington, DC. Day ($31 for a single day/$40 for two days) and commuter passes are available.
#8 Play Mini-Golf
Besides learning about history in DC, you can also play a historic mini-golf course at East Potomac’s Miniature Golf, the oldest continually running in the United States. It is located inside the National Park System, offers 18 holes, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
#9 Take Me Out to the Ball Game
See a classic American baseball game at Nationals Park in the Navy Yard neighborhood of DC. The 2019 World Series Champion Washington Nationals play their 2020 season with matchups against the Mets, Astros, Yankees, and Marlins, to name a few.
Peanuts, popcorn, ice-cold beer, and baseball; it doesn’t get much more American than that.
Food and Drink
#10 Drink Local Craft Beer at True Respite
Rockville, Maryland, is where you’ll find True Respite Brewery. The brewery’s taproom is unpretentious, and even those not familiar with the craft beer scene will feel comfortable. You may want to take in a special event such as trivia, themed dinners, pop-up patisserie, happy hour flow yoga, or game night. Scrum & Hooker, True Respite’s nutty with a hint of chocolate brew, is delicious.
#11 Feast on a Fantastic Brunch
Go for a delicious brunch at Arlington’s Green Pig Bistro, where gourmet cinnamon rolls don nearly every table. The Fried Chicken Waffle with sausage gravy and onion jam is to die for, and the housemade andouille sausage Shrimp and Grits is another tasty dish to try.
#12 Dine in a Historical Tavern
Dine at Martin’s Tavern (circa 1933), a cozy and historic tavern with a retro vibe, dark woods, and tantalizing menu. Order the Hot Brown (sliced roast turkey on toast, bacon, tomato, smothered in rarebit sauce) or the Fish & Chips (fresh fried New England cod) for a meal you won’t soon forget. Ask to sit at Booth #3, which is where John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie Onassis. You can read about Martin’s other historical connections on laminated cards at the tables.
#13 Munch on Delicious Popcorn
Founded in 1949, Garrett Popcorn has satisfied salt cravings with light and super flavorful fresh-popped Chicago-style popcorn. Garrett’s CheeseCorn and CaramelCrisp are my favorites, or you can have the best of both worlds with the famous Garrett Mix.
#14 Test Your Inner Bravery
Hold a human heart at the Natural Museum of Health and Medicine at the US Army’s Forest Glen Annex. You’ll find bizarre and old medical instruments, human skeletons, organs, and even congenital anomalies preserved in this museum’s exhibits. The Natural Museum of Health and Medicine also displays the bullet that killed President Lincoln.
#15 Visit a Classic Museum
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is a place many school kids visit for field trips and have carried the memories for years to come. It is a museum that never loses its edge. From the moment you walk in the door of the Natural History Museum (the world’s most popular history museum) and see the huge dinosaur skeleton, you’ll be enthralled.
Explore an insect zoo, bone hall (skeletons from different animals), butterfly pavilion, ancient Egypt, and my favorite, the hall of gems, minerals, and minerals with the 168-carat Mackay emerald and 45.5-carat blue Hope Diamond.
#16 Be Spy-like
The International Spy Museum is a super fun place to visit. Channel your inner Mata Hari and learn about secret identities, counterintelligence, and espionage at this fan-favorite attraction.
#17 Admire Art
The Renwick Gallery is a fantastic National Historic Landmark and treasure trove just steps from the White House. Most of the works are 19th to 21st century, with a gorgeous Chihuly chandelier as the focal point above The Grecian Slave sculpture by Hiram Powers.
#18 Stroll Through History
The collection of artifacts at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, DC, is incredible. You could wander the halls and study the collections for days. Best of all, admission is free.
Inside, see kitschy things such as Archie Bunker’s chair, Fonzie’s jacket, Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, and the original Star Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired the song. The Food History exhibit is one of my favorites, thought-provoking, and educational.
#19 Visit a Castle
The Castle is one of the 19 free (yes, free) museums that make up the Smithsonian Institution. While the Smithsonian Castle is mentioned far less than its counterparts (Natural History, Air & Space, etc.), it is impressive and worth a visit.
The Smithsonian Gardens surround the castle and are an Instagram-worthy photo op.
#20 Learn about African Art in Washington, DC
Visit the African Art Museum (another installment of the Smithsonian entity) as you make your way into the Smithsonian Castle. This small, but powerful museum, has African art collections that are second to none in the country. The stately building is designed with the exhibits mainly in the basement.
#21 See Amazing Animals
The National Zoological Park, or National Zoo, is one of the world’s most beloved zoos, partially due to its Giant Panda residents. The conservation-forward zoo has free admission, nearly 3000 animals, a kid’s farm, and is open 364 days of the year. My favorite things to see are the orangutans, California sea lions, bison, and mole-rats.
#22 Glimpse the Nation’s Capitol
Not only is the United States Capitol one of the most recognized landmarks in the world, but it is also home to the government’s legislative branch. You’ll find the majestic icon on Capitol Hill surrounded by an impeccably groomed landscape. Fun fact: the statue sitting on top of the dome is called the Statue of Freedom.
#23 Photograph The White House
The White House is the most recognized site in Washington, DC, and associated with the power it exudes. While it is tough to land a tour, you can still take plenty of pictures. If you are lucky enough to land a visit, you can take photos with your cell phone or compact still camera.
Nature and Parks
#24 Walk the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park
Take a walk on the historic National Park that was created to preserve the country’s early transportation history. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal operated for 100 years and became the lifeline for towns along the Potomac River. Products transported on it were mostly coal, lumber, and agricultural items.
#25 Explore Arlington National Cemetery
This plot of land is the sacred ground to some 220,000 buried there. Tours are available and a smart way to see the cemetery.
One of the most popular sites is President John F. Kennedy’s Eternal Flame. Another is the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I remember seeing this during my 6th grade trip to DC with classmates and thinking about how amazing it was to symbolize all those that lost their life.
#26 Touch the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The moving, yet somber slab of black granite is etched with the names of the 58,000 soldiers who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was designed by Moya Lin and is stunning.
#27 Awe at the Korean Memorial
Lay your eyes on the powerful and haunting Korean Memorial. It is my very favorite memorial in Washington, DC, and what a tearjerker it is. The statues, depicting the troops living in the trenches, is so moving that it provokes the tears every time.
#28 Walk Up to the Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln, sitting in his chair overlooking the obelisk of the Washington Monument, is a visitor favorite in the nation’s capital. The walls show the famous I Have a Dream quote by Martin Luther King, as well as excerpts from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address speech. Climb the 58 steps to the top for the best views.
#29 Reflect at the Washington Monument
The Washington Monument, the tallest building in the DC skyline and most recognized monument, honors the first US President, George Washington. It is a 555 ft. tall marble obelisk that you can see from all around Washington, DC. The monument looks stunning in the reflection of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, nestled between the two giants.
The monument’s statuesque Obelisk has an elevator inside that takes you to the top for a bird’s eye view. Below, the reflecting pool gives one of the most coveted photo-ops of the city.
#30 Visit the Jefferson Memorial at Night
A beautifully designed tribute to 3rd US President and author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, is located on the banks of the Potomac River. The Jefferson Memorial, modeled after the Pantheon of Rome, is the perfect place for prime viewing of the cherry trees of spring and is even more stately and gorgeous at night.
#31 Stamp your National Park Passport
The 1766 Old Stone House is Washington DC’s oldest structure on its original foundation. It has recently become part of the National Parks system. The Old Stone House was built in the British colony of Maryland (at that time) and was already several decades old when the British invaded Washington, DC, in 1814.
#32 Soar through the National Air & Space Museum
Housing a massive collection of things related to aviation is the National Air and Space Museum. Its incredible collection includes the Spirit of St. Louis (the plane that Charles Lindbergh flew), the Wright Brothers’ original 1903 Flyer (that made the first flight across the Atlantic), and plenty of rockets, missiles, and aircraft.
Note: There is a massive renovation going on right now, so some exhibits may be off display.
#33 Pay Tribute at the FDR Memorial
The memorial to President Franklin D. Roosevelt (which took 40 years to complete) sits on the banks of the Tidal Basin and even includes his faithful dog, Fala, in the design. The memorial has a secluded location that adds to the somberness of its Fireside Chat, rural couple, and Breadline statues of The Great Depression that are depicted throughout.
#34 Peruse Exquisite Boutiques in Georgetown
Current trends and styles are in full force at the boutique shops of Georgetown. Shop high-end threads at Ella Rue, Bonobos, and Alice + Olivia, or visit the Shops at Georgetown Park for more affordable finds. Pick up something for your pet at Dog Tag Bakery, and eco-friendly, educational toys for tots at Tugooh Toys.
#35 Wait Out the Rain at Fashion Centre
An indoor shopping mall is always fun, but also a great back-up rain plan. If your visit to Washington, DC, gets rained out, find solace at Fashion Centre at Pentagon City. With four floors of shopping and dining options (164 stores), there is something for everyone at this attraction. A few of the shopping choices are Apple, J. Crew, Macy’s, and Nordstrom.
#36 Explore the Eastern Market
You’ll find Eastern Market in a historic brick building in the Capitol Hill part of DC. It is one of Washington, DC’s oldest markets and has a vast selection of farm-fresh produce, baked goods, flowers, cheeses, and thousands of other products. Live music, local artists, and seasonal vendors are some of the unique things you’ll find at the market.
A political hub and great place for books, readings, and seeing authors is Politics and Prose. It is DC’s premier independent bookstore with a jam-packed event calendar and four locations.
#38 Stay at a Historical Farm
The Inn at Tusculum Farm transports you to a gorgeous country setting with fresh air, stately art pieces, and picturesque heritage farmland in Gaithersburg, MD. Stay in the farmhouse, main carriage house, or The Coop, while enjoying the fantastic swimming pool and other property amenities. A farm-fresh breakfast is included with your stay and delivered every morning to your door.
I loved the petting farm with alpacas and sheep, as well as horseback riding.
#39 Treat Yourself
Get pampered head to toe at Ritz Carlton Pentagon City, a luxury hotel in the DC area. This beautiful hotel is attached to the Fashion Centre shopping mall, adding even more to do than the given amenities of the Ritz Carlton. A fashionable lounge and restaurant are on the property, and the hotel is on the metro line. Upgrade your stay to the club level for five unique food presentations each day, including beverages, wine, and beer.
#40 Bargain Shop
Enjoy a shopping spree at the Clarksburg Premium Outlets, a rustic-looking outdoor mall with an eye-catching natural setting. Here, you’ll find around 90 brand-name stores such as Nike, Under Armour, Tory Burch, and Tumi. The outlets also have a handful of restaurants.
#41 Pray at the Cathedral
Washington, DC, has one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the nation. Washington National Cathedral stands proud as a peacock among high-rises on Wisconsin Avenue. The stained-glass windows and Gothic spires add to the gorgeousness of the cathedral. The cathedral has been the place for four US Presidents’ state funerals: Ford, Reagan, Bush, and Eisenhower.
#42 Sail into Washington Harbour
Washington Harbour is a development that borders the Potomac River on the Georgetown waterfront and is one of the places the water taxi travels to. Outdoor cafes, luxury condos, and a public boardwalk afford spectacular river views and of Key Bridge, Kennedy Center, and the Washington Monument. During winter, the fountain turns into an ice skating rink.