The District of Columbia is in the middle of the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. It was picked as the nation’s capital so that the federal government would not be in any one state. Pierre-Charles L’Enfant was commissioned to design the city, which is why you can see his street grid and broad avenues.
The most important of these is Pennsylvania Avenue. It connects two iconic buildings: the White House and the impressive domed Capitol Building. Maintaining L’Enfant’s vision of an open and spacious city, Pennsylvania Avenue stretches alongside the wide National Mall with its museums and monuments.
The United States Capitol and the White House are two of the most well-known national symbols. There are many other monuments, museums, and attractions that are open to the public, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the US Capitol Visitor Center.
The DC area is a walker’s paradise. The best way to see it all is on foot. The mall, the monuments, and the museums are all within walking distance. And if you can’t walk, take a cab or Uber or Lyft. The summer is hot and humid, so visit in spring or fall when it’s more pleasant.
Washington, D.C. is a wonderful city with all sorts of attractions. If you’re dreaming of a trip to the area, our list of the top places to visit can serve as a helpful guide.
1. United States Capitol and Capitol Hill
The United States Capitol is an iconic building, the headquarters of the U.S. government. The center of American politics, it stands out as a symbol of the nation’s power and influence. It was designed by Thomas Jefferson after the Pantheon in Rome, and is modeled on a similar structure from ancient Greece.
Since the building was built, it’s grown and evolved into a great structure that has served its purpose. The last addition in the 1950s expanded the main façade where presidents take their oath of office. On the other side is a marble terrace with stunning views of the mall and city.
The inside of the Capitol rotunda is depicted with frescoes, reliefs, and paintings. The most popular painting is of the dome under great cast-iron. The ceiling painting depicts the battle for independence and the history of America.
And a little further down, the old House of Representatives Chamber. The House met here until 1859, and the Senate until 1935. In the chamber is a statue of George Washington, as well as statues of other famous Americans.
When tours resume, visitors can book them online and begin at the visitor center on the lower floor, where there is an interesting exhibition on the history of the building. Free tours on weekdays explore the ornate paintings on the walls and ceilings of the corridors in the Senate wing. These paintings were designed by Brumidi between 1857 and 1859.
In order to visit the House of Representatives or Senate in session, you must contact your representative or senator for a pass. If you are a foreign visitor, you can arrange a visit through the visitor center.
A passageway with historical exhibits leads from the Capitol to one of Washington’s best-kept secrets, the Library of Congress. The world’s largest library, modeled after the Opera House in Paris, it contains millions of books and recordings, as well as free educational programs. You can take a self-guided tour, but a free guided tour will reveal even more of its beautiful interior.
The Library of Congress is so much more than books. It’s also a museum, a library, and a memorial. Who knew you could get so much from one building? The library holds the only surviving complete Gutenberg Bible printed on paper that is still white after centuries. It also has Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, his personal library of 6,487 books, galleries filled with exhibits focusing on the Gershwins’ music and the work of editorial cartoonists and graphic artists.
2. The Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial is the most beloved monument in Washington, DC. It stands alone at the end of the National Mall, away from the Washington Monument. At its center is an impressive 19-foot marble statue of President Abraham Lincoln. Surrounding this statue are 36 columns, one for each state in America at the time of Lincoln’s death.
Daniel Chester French is one of the most famous sculptors. He created the Lincoln Memorial. Inside, Jules Guerin painted a mural on the wall that shows Lincoln’s life story. It includes important events that happened in it.
The Lincoln Memorial is located in Washington D.C. It was built in 1922, but it has been the scene of many historic events since then. One of those events occurred in 1939 when the all-white DAR refused to let black singer Marian Anderson perform at Constitution Hall.
President Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor arranged for her to give a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, attended by 75,000 people. It was broadcast on radio to millions of listeners.
The late Martin Luther King Jr. made history by delivering his famous “I have a dream…” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.
The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most popular monuments in Washington, D.C. at night. Its beautiful lighting and open hours make it a popular activity for tourists and locals alike. The lighting makes the white columns glow and frames the statue of Lincoln perfectly.
3. National Mall and Veterans Memorials
The wide lawns and pools that form a greenbelt from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial are also home to many of Washington’s landmark buildings and monuments. The most prominent landmark here is the Washington Monument, and other war memorials include those to veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam.
A moving tribute to all those who lost their lives or are missing during the Vietnam War, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is one of Washington’s most visited memorials.
The Vietnam Women’s Memorial contains a bronze sculpture of three servicewomen helping a wounded soldier. The Korean War Veterans Memorial has 19 steel sculptures depicting soldiers. The newest memorial, the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, was dedicated in 2014 and is located in Washington, D.C.
If you look at the map of Washington, D.C. attractions, you’ll see that many of them are on the National Mall because it’s a big open space for walking, running, and picnicking. The Mall is also an important place for celebrations and festivals. The biggest one is the annual Independence Day celebration with fireworks around the Washington Monument.
The Mall is home to many different festivals that celebrate American culture. One festival in particular is the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which celebrates American culture through music, crafts, storytelling, and much more. The Smithsonian Kite Festival is another festival in Washington, D.C., that occurs in March or April.
On summer evenings, you can find military bands performing on the Mall. The US Navy Band will be playing here on Mondays. They’ll also be at the Capitol steps where they’ll perform on Tuesdays. You can also see the US Air Force Band on Tuesdays. They’ll be at the Capitol steps where they’ll perform on Fridays.
4. The White House
The White House is a building in the United States that the president lives in. Originally built by James Hoban in 1792, it was burned down by British soldiers in 1814. It was rebuilt in 1818, except for George Washington who preferred not to live in a mansion.
Be sure to check out the White House, because it’s a famous tourist attraction. The White House is located in Washington, D.C. and is an iconic building. It’s very important and must be booked in advance through your Congressional office or embassy.
A few blocks away is the White House Visitor Center, which has interactive exhibits showing the furniture of past presidents, models of the residence, historical changes, and videos with insights from presidents. It was built to give the public a better idea of what it is like to live in the White House.
The Ellipse is a 54-acre stretch of lawn stretching to Constitution Avenue where the US Army Band performs concerts in the summer. Next door to the White House is the elaborate 1833 Greek Revival Treasury Building and the 1871 Executive Office Building, one of the most striking old government buildings in Washington.
One of the best-known neighborhoods in the city, Lafayette Square is home to many statues, including one of Lafayette. The neighborhood overlooks the White House.
5. The Washington Monument
The 555-foot white shaft of the Washington Monument is a familiar icon of the National Mall. It is an impressive sight, especially when mirrored in the Reflecting Pool at its foot. The Monument was built to honor the nation’s first president. Construction did not proceed smoothly. Groundbreaking took place in 1848, but major problems delayed construction for decades.
The Washington Monument was designed to be a towering 555 feet, but it was only completed after more than 30 years of construction. The monument was originally built in 1848, but it took a few years before its completion due to political disputes and lack of funds. It didn’t reach its full height until 1885, when the capstone was finally added.
The building is still evident today by its three different colored stone facades. The interior has many engraved stones from different states, cities, foreign countries, individuals, and civic groups, many of which donated to the private fundraising stages.
You can now take an elevator to the top of Washington Monument. An aerial view from the top will give you a great overview of the city and the Mall. As a bonus, 50 American flags surround the base of this monument.
6. National Air and Space Museum
The National Air and Space Museum is considered one of the most popular museums in the world. It has a collection that includes the original Wright Brothers Flyer and Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, which were used to change history.
A permanent and changing exhibition of the Apollo 11 command module, the first manned lunar landing mission, represents more recent history. The science, history, and technology of aviation and space flight are also covered. Flight pioneers, use of air power in both world wars, and the space race are some of the topics of discussion.
History is more than just facts. It’s about how things were, why they happened, and how they changed the world. This museum uses actual objects to illustrate history. You can touch a moon rock, see the Wright Brothers’ plane, and learn about jet engine technology. The museum also teaches you how things fly, what keeps the International Space Station in orbit, and how technology has evolved over time.
The Museum of Natural History is more than just a collection of artifacts. It is also home to the Albert Einstein Planetarium, an IMAX theater, and the Public Observatory on the east terrace. You can see planets, stars, and other astronomical features through telescopes.
Flight simulators let people experience aerial combat. They can fly fighter jets and perform 360-degree barrel rolls or experience naval aviation from the cockpit of an F-18 Super Hornet.
The National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., is the largest in the world. However, it’s not the only museum in the Smithsonian collection. The National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is in Virginia, and houses even more planes and spacecraft, including a Concorde and the space shuttle Discovery. You can watch experts restore these aircraft from observation walkways inside the hangars.
The Air and Space Museum is undergoing a series of renovations. During that time, it will be closed for a few years. However, if you’re interested in learning about the history and science of flight, you can visit their website to find out which exhibits are open.
7. National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art is a world-class art museum housed in two buildings. It is one of the most popular museums in the United States, and it boasts a large and diverse collection. The National Gallery of Art was founded on the enormous private collection of Andrew Mellon, a financier and later Treasury Secretary. Its many masterpieces include European and American paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts.
The museum has a terrific permanent collection, but it also hosts frequent temporary exhibitions. One of the most popular is Ginevra de Benci, the only Leonardo Da Vinci painting in the United States. Other highlights include masterpieces by French Impressionists like Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Also on display are works by Rembrandt, El Greco, and Johannes Vermeer.
Inside the newer East Wing of the National Gallery is a sculpture by Henry Moore, a mobile by Alexander Calder, and other modern works. On Sundays from fall to spring, the gallery holds free concerts.
Also part of the Smithsonian Institution and located on the mall is the Freer Gallery of Art, which houses more than 30,000 works of art. The collection is comprised of Asian art, including Buddhist sculptures and Persian manuscripts. It’s one of the largest collections in the world.
The Freer is more than just a museum. It is a collection of art that spans several centuries, including 19th-century and early 20th-century American art, particularly the work of James McNeill Whistler.
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery was built to house over 1,000 pieces of ancient Asian art. It is one of the first museums in the U.S. to exclusively exhibit ancient Asian art. The Sackler Gallery’s collection includes Chinese jade and bronze, Chinese paintings and lacquerware, and ancient Near Eastern ceramics and metalware.
One of the most popular art museums in the U.S. is the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. It has 12,000 pieces of modern art in its collection, including The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin. The sculpture is made up of six people who are protecting a gate, and it was originally created in 1884.
The National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC, houses thousands of African art objects from across the continent. These include sculptures, masks, household objects, and ceramics. All of these Smithsonian museums are among the many free things to do in Washington, D.C.
8. National Museum of Natural History
In Washington, a museum that explores the natural world is a popular destination for children. The Natural History Museum hosts permanent and changing exhibits that children of all ages will enjoy.
The Hope Diamond is the most famous exhibit in the Smithsonian American Museum of Natural History. The collection of gems and minerals around it are also incredibly impressive. And Ocean Hall is a favorite for many, with its beautiful photographs of marine life and replica whale.
The Hall of Human Origins, a permanent exhibit in the American Museum of Natural History, has been made possible by a $10 million gift from David H. Koch. The exhibit is a chronological story about the evolution of humans over six million years and how we interacted with the world around us. The exhibit features touchable displays and items that children can play with.
9. National Museum of American History
One of the most popular museums in Washington DC, The National Museum of American History is a Smithsonian museum that traces the history of the U.S. since the Revolution. It explores the political, cultural, scientific, and technological history of America.
The museum displays some of the most important pieces of Americana, including Thomas Jefferson’s desk, one of Edison’s light bulbs, and the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words to The Star Spangled Banner.
Not only is the Smithsonian one of America’s most treasured national heritage institutions, but it is also an important resource for understanding how people from different times lived, worked, and played. Through its exhibits, it tells us much about what they ate, where they worked, how they played, what they wore, how they traveled, how they worshiped, and how they governed themselves.
From the Smithsonian’s collection, here are some of the most important artifacts that tell the story of the First Ladies. These include Julia Child’s kitchen, the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz, and the Muppets.
It might seem like you’ve already seen enough history, but the Smithsonian American History Museum has some engaging exhibits that will appeal to all ages. The museum has many fascinating artifacts of our collective past that will leave you taking more snapshots than selfies.
10. National Museum of African American History and Culture
The newest Smithsonian museum looks at what it means to be an American. The museum focuses on the changing definitions of citizenship and equality throughout history, all while highlighting African American culture. It also explores the culture of the entire African diaspora.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a museum that focuses on the struggles, triumphs, and influences of African Americans. It has many exhibits that center around these themes. Some of these exhibits are about the food traditions of African Americans, the influence of their sports stars on segregation, and their craftsmanship.
The museum has a few exhibits that will really blow your mind. One of them is a section of the original lunch counter that was the site of the Greensboro sit-in in 1960. It was used to train African American pilots during World War II, who were instrumental in desegregating the military.
11. Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin
The design for the Jefferson memorial is similar to the Roman Pantheon. The low dome is supported by 54 Ionic columns. Inside, a 19-foot statue of a standing Jefferson appears in a dramatic silhouette, and around it are engraved excerpts of the Declaration of Independence and other writings.
At the end of the Tidal Basin is a monument that stands alone. The Tidal Basin reflects the monument in its surface, and all around the edge of the water are cherry trees. These are a gift from Japan and one of Washington’s greatest attractions when they bloom each spring, surrounding the basin with a cloud of pink flowers.
The FDR memorial is a place to remember the president’s four terms of office. Each of the four outdoor rooms represents one of his terms, guiding the country through the Great Depression and World War II.
12. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Kennedy Center is the national center of the performing arts. It is dedicated to the memory of President John F. Kennedy and opened in 1971. It overlooks the Potomac River and was designed by architect Edward Durell Stone. It is home to the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington National Opera, two of the nation’s leading performing arts companies.
The Fringe Festival is a series of theatre and music performances that takes place over three to four weeks, with over 2,000 shows happening during that period. There are hundreds of free shows among the hundreds of paid shows. All types of shows are performed, from classical to contemporary, including music.
The Kennedy Center is among the most important performance venues in the United States. It welcomes foreign operas, ballets, and dramas on tour. The Kennedy Center is an important stop for visiting companies on tour along with the Los Angeles Music Center and Lincoln Center in New York.
13. National Zoological Park
The National Zoo is another property of the Smithsonian Institution. It is home to 2,000 animals, birds, and reptiles that live in environments that replicate their natural settings. About a quarter of these species are endangered.
This zoo is one of the best in the world. Not only is it a wonderful experience for visitors, but it’s also a leader in animal welfare and environmental sustainability.
In this zoo, pandas are extremely popular. They’re part of a major project that began in 1972. The panda program has been going strong ever since. Other attractions at this zoo include red pandas, Sumatran tigers, Western lowland gorillas, Asian elephants, cheetahs, white-naped cranes, and North Island brown kiwis.
Amazonia, a large aquarium, houses the Amazon’s colorful underwater life. It is one of the world’s largest freshwater habitats. One of the Amazon’s largest fish swims in this environment, along with tropical plants and animals.
The Cincinnati Zoo has a wide variety of animals, including cheetahs and zebras. The Cheetah Conservation Station, where the cheetahs live, is highly popular — and for good reason. You can see Grevy’s zebras, dama gazelles, vultures, and red river hogs there. At the Elephant Trails exhibit, you can see the multigenerational herd and learn about the elephants’ life at the zoo and in the wild.
You’re busy with your schedule. Make sure you check it. The zoo is a fun place for children to visit, and they love it. The schedule is full of interesting educational games, talks about the animals, and demonstrations of feeding times.
14. International Spy Museum
The British Secret Service (MI6) is an incredibly interesting topic. The museum not only covers the history of espionage, but it also showcases real examples of espionage equipment used throughout the world. A few of these interactive exhibits are movie props from James Bond movies. One of them is a poison dart umbrella, designed by the KGB.
Photographs, video, and sound come together in this exhibit to tell the story of how soldiers in war use espionage to accomplish their missions. The exhibit includes historic spy artifacts from the Civil War and Revolutionary War, along with information about how many different types of cameras and weapons were ingeniously concealed. It also includes a famous cipher machine that broke the codes of the Nazis in World War II.
The most stunning floor is dedicated to real-life spies, who can teach us about the methods they used for their espionage. Videos show Ames, Hanson, and Walker in action, while the lower floor moves from fact to fiction. It’s filled with props that were actually used in James Bond movies.
The film Goldfinger featured a car that was outfitted with machine guns, oil jets, a dashboard radar screen, ejector seat, tire slashers, bulletproof shield, and rotating license plate. The car was so impressive that it inspired intelligence agencies to add similar features to their own vehicles.
15. Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place of many famous people. It is most famous for its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, President John F. Kennedy’s gravesite, and the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, which depicts the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima in World War II. Arlington National Cemetery is filled with memorials to American history and the men and women who were part of it.
The Welcome Center is a great place for tourists to gather information about the general layout of Arlington National Cemetery and its monuments. It also has a plethora of maps, exhibits about the cemetery’s history, and a location finder.
Memorials to nurses, the Iran Rescue Mission, and many other things are here. Among these are memorials to Roger B. Chaffee and Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, who were killed in a fire aboard their Apollo spacecraft. One is dedicated to the seven Challenger astronauts.
At Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier changes every hour on the hour from October through March. From April through September, it changes every half hour. The cemetery is not in the city, but both the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metrorail system and Metrobus have stops close to the gate.
16. Washington National Cathedral
A cathedral is a church for praying and worshiping. It is a place of solemnity and contemplation. The National Cathedral is a great example of this style and one of the largest cathedrals in the world. It took 83 years to build, from 1907 to 1990. It follows the Gothic style and techniques of medieval Europe, with flying buttresses and solid masonry construction of Indiana limestone.
The cathedral is filled with artwork. The stained-glass windows and hand-embroidered kneelers are especially notable. Both commemorate war heroes and tell the history of the church.
The cathedral has special tours for families. You can see hidden parts of the building that are normally inaccessible. Ask for the brochure Explore the Cathedral with Children for a scavenger hunt to find small carvings and gargoyles. Darth Vader is high up on the northwest tower.
The Washington National Cathedral is a central focus of Washington, D.C. It is a place of many important funerals and memorial services. It’s also the final resting place for several famous figures in American history, including President Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller. The highest point in Washington is at the top of the central tower.
This garden is in the south of the cathedral, and it is based on medieval gardens, plants in the Bible, native ones in the area, and a fish pond. This beautiful garden is part of a larger yard designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. in the early twentieth century. It is modeled after the walled grounds of medieval cathedrals.
On Tuesdays at 7pm, the bells are rung. At the same time, the Great Organ is played by an organist, who speaks beforehand about how it is used. On Mondays and Wednesdays, 12:30pm features mini-recitals.
17. Georgetown Historic District
Washington DC is a city with a rich history. Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic and Jesuit college in the city, is located there. The oldest neighborhood in Washington DC is centered on 27th to 37th streets between Rock Creek Park and K Street. It was founded in 1732.
Every day, more and more people decide to spend their time and money in Georgetown, a district in Washington DC. It’s a lively and hip place with a ton of history. The C&O Canal, which is 184 miles long, begins here. It’s also a great place to see nature and walk or cycle.
A 16-acre estate with beautiful formal gardens and a collection of valuable art, Dumbarton Oaks is one of the most unique sites in the D.C. area. If you like history and art, you will love Dumbarton Oaks. It features Federal-style furniture, paintings, textiles, silver, and ceramics. The estate also includes the historic Federal period Dumbarton House which is home to one of five known original copies of the Articles of Confederation.
One of the most recognizable homes in Washington, D.C., Tudor Place was built by Martha Washington’s granddaughter and her husband. Under the ownership of the Custis family, it was a center for high society in the city and an important stop on the Underground Railroad.
The estate of George Washington, the man who led the colonies to independence, is a well-known tourist destination. It contains many objects, paintings, and gardens. The Federal-period gardens are filled with plants and trees from the early 19th century. The Kreeger Museum holds art from the 1850s to 1970 by well-known artists such as Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Chagall, Gauguin, and Picasso.
To find places to eat and things to do in Washington, D.C., you can visit this area. Here, you can eat and listen to music. It is filled with restaurants and cafes, as well as live music venues.
18. Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is a museum in Washington, D.C. It is the only art museum on the National Mall that is both a Smithsonian museum and a national art museum. The museum houses one of the world’s largest and most inclusive collections of American art. It represents over 7,000 artists from the colonial era to the present.
The art in the museum is a visual record of the expansion of America, and it also captures the changes to American cities and towns in the 20th century. The special collections contain more than 200 works by African American artists, Latino artists, and contemporary American craftspeople.
The National Portrait Gallery showcases American history. It has the only complete collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House. The gallery focuses on famous Americans from the time of the first colonies. It includes political leaders, sports heroes, movie stars, national heroes, and other important public figures.