Washington DC is one of the most dynamic and exciting cities in the United States. This is a guide to the best things to do in Washington DC (for first-timers).
The city of Washington DC was purposefully built to be the nation’s capital and is based around the fundamental institutions that built America as a whole. While politics often creates a lot of noise in the capital, DC is still full of excellent places to visit and see.
This guide will take you through some of the best attractions in Washington DC. After visiting the places on this list, you will be sure to fall in love with the place!
If you feel something is missing from the list, please leave a comment below! Be sure to check out our guide to the best day trips from Washington DC if you have more than a few days in the city! Thanks!
- Best Things to Do in Washington DC
- The White House
- National Mall
- United States Capitol
- National Archives
- National Museum of African American History and Culture
- National Air and Space Museum
- Smithsonian American Art Museum
- National Museum of American History
- National Museum of the American Indian
- National Museum of Natural History
- National Portrait Gallery
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- Lincoln Memorial
- Washington Monument
- Arlington National Cemetery
- National Museum of Women in the Arts
- United States National Arboretum
- Hillwood Estate Museum & Gardens
- Washington National Cathedral
- Congressional Cemetery
- International Spy Museum
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
- Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- Fort Dupont Park
- Oxon Run National Parkway
- Rock Creek Park
- Play Mini Golf at Swingers
- Kingman and Heritage Island
- George Washington Memorial Parkway
- Kenilworth Park Aquatic Gardens Boardwalk
- The Dupont Underground
- The Brewmaster’s Castle
- Culture House
- Ford’s Theatre
- The Capitol Stones
- East Potomac Park Mini Golf
- Lincoln Book Tower
- Tudor Place
- Theodore Roosevelt Island
- Ruins of the Columbian Cannon Foundry
- Municipal Fish Market at The Wharf
- Old Stone House
- Holodomor Memorial
- A Clone of the Newton Apple Tree
- Navy Yard Railroad Gun
- Ben’s Chili Bowl & Mural
- Zodiac Intersection
- Howard Theatre
- The Fridge DC
- United States Botanic Garden
- Where to Stay in Washington DC
- Additional DC Travel Guides
- Pin this Washington DC Things to Do Guide
Best Things to Do in Washington DC
This list is not geared at someone who lives in Washington DC or has been there several times. It will contain the most popular Washington DC attractions, landmarks, and activities. But, the further down you scroll, the more ‘niche’ the list becomes!
So, if you’ve merely spent a short amount of time in Washington DC and are heading back, definitely scroll down to see some of the cool museums and DC sights on the guide!
The White House
A trip to the nation’s capital is not complete without visiting the White House. The grand building has been home to Presidents since the 18th-century, often finding itself at the center of major world events and the occasional controversy.
However, the building has changed drastically throughout the years, undergoing numerous renovations and restorations. The easiest way to see the White House is through the fence.
Tours of the White House are possible, but requests need to be made far in advance. Citizens should arrange a tour via their member of Congress, while foreign citizens should contact their embassy in Washington DC to help organize a tour.
Address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500
Run by the National Park Service, the National Mall is known as “America’s Front Yard.” The large park is home to some of the country’s most iconic sites and buildings, including the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol.
The park has also been host to some of the most critical events in history, from Presidential Inaugurations to momentous occasions in the Civil Rights movements, such as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
The National Mall is open 24 hours a day, and there is a ranger service throughout the day.
United States Capitol
The United States Capitol was built in the 1800s and is the US government’s legislative arm, housing both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Completed in 1800, the building design came from a competition where architects were invited to submit proposals. Unfortunately, most of the designs were not fit for purpose or ended up being too costly.
A late entry from an amateur architect won the competition. Unfortunately, 14 years after completion, the building was partially destroyed by the British. The building was rebuilt, and various parts have been rebuilt over the years, including a slightly disastrous remodel of the east facade.
You can visit the building and it has a number of exhibits and a gift shop. Tours run Mondays through to Saturdays and can be booked online or on the day.
Address: First St SE, Washington, DC 20004
The National Archives holds some of the most important documents in American and world history. The archives contain the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Magna Carta, and numerous other priceless documents.
The archives were built due to the need for a safe space to store documents after many of the papers in America’s formative years were lost in fires or amongst other paperwork.
Reservations are not needed to visit the archives but are recommended to avoid disappointment. I highly recommend booking a tour of the archives for those wanting to learn more about them.
Address: 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20408
National Museum of African American History and Culture
The National Museum of African American History and Culture is one of the best places in the country to learn about the complex (and often tragic) history of African-Americans.
Spanning over ten floors, the museum has a vast array of exhibits, both informational and interactive. The building the museum is housed in was explicitly designed to represent African-American history, and many of the little details have symbolic references.
The museum is free to enter. However, you will need to book a time slot due to the high volume of visitors who wish to visit each day.
Address: 1400 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560
National Air and Space Museum
One of the best Smithsonian Museums is the National Air and Space Museum. Dedicated to everything space and aviation, the museum has some fantastic items on display, such as Niel Armstrong’s spacesuit, spacecraft, and various historical planes. I visited here first on a school field trip!
The museum is split across two locations, with the main museum located right off of the National Mall, while the second site is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, where some larger planes are on display.
The museum is free to enter, but you will need to book a time slot before visiting.
Address: 600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560
Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the most extensive collection of American Art in the world. Covering just about nearly every aspect of visual art you can imagine, the museum successfully documents American life through the arts, from paintings and photography to video games.
The museum is split between two locations within Washington, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery. Both museums are free to enter.
Address: F St NW & 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20004
National Museum of American History
The National Museum of American History is a one-stop-shop for cataloging and preserving artifacts of the American way of life.
The museum boasts an impressive collection of historical items such as Lincoln’s Top Hat to more pop culture artifacts such as Julia Childs’s kitchen. It even has Dorothy’s shoes from the Wizard of Oz!
Each of the exhibits has a leading article or display that dictates the theme of that area. It truly is a beautiful place to learn about everything that has shaped the America of today and is one of my favorite Smithsonian Museums.
Address: 1300 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560
National Museum of the American Indian
The National Museum of The American Indian is dedicated to the history of Indigenous people throughout the Americas. The museum has an impressive range of artifacts, documents, and images that catalog the lives of Native Americans from the Arctic down to the tip of the South American continent.
The on-site cafe is classed as one of the museum’s highlights; it serves a range of Native American dishes from the five different geographical ranges, e.g., the Great Plains, South America, and the Northern Woodlands.
For those looking to learn more about Native American cooking, the museum has also published a cookbook.
Address: 4th St SW, Washington, DC 20560
National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum of Natural History is one of the most popular national history museums in the world. With over 140 million items in its collection, the museum does a fantastic job cataloging the Earth’s history, from dinosaurs to the emergence of humans and more modern mammals and creatures.
As our understanding and knowledge of the world changes, so does the museum. Researchers work around the world to paint the most precise picture of how the world came to be.
The museum is free to enter, but due to its popularity, expect large crowds on most days.
Address: 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560
National Portrait Gallery
From its formative years to its current standing as a world leader, America has been home to many inspirational people. The National Portrait Gallery aims to display and celebrate the people who influenced today’s America through its collection of portraits.
The gallery is the only place you will find a complete collection of American Presidents’ portraits outside of the White House. When it was established, the National Portrait Gallery focused solely on traditional painted portraits but has since grown its collection of other mediums, including digital images.
Address: 8th and G Streets, Washington, DC 20001
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum aims to teach the world about the atrocities that led to one of humanity’s most despicable acts.
Through documents and imagery, the museum details what life was like during the Holocaust, hoping that people will stand up to this hate and stop further genocides throughout the world.
While the museum is in the same area as many of the Smithsonian museums, it is not technically part of the group. The museum’s tickets are free, but there is a $1 transaction fee if you reserve online.
At the end of the museum, there is an educational center where you can learn about other genocides throughout history (and many of them are not even discussed in American schools – trust me, I was shocked and so saddened by it).
Address: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW, Washington, DC 20024
One of the most iconic sights in Washington DC is the Lincoln Memorial, a monument that honors one of America’s most beloved Presidents.
The site is historically significant as it has played host to many important events, such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have A Dream” Speech.
There are several curiosities about the statue; it is believed the sculptor may have purposely made the hands spell A and L in sign language. There was also a spelling mistake made during the Second Inaugural Speech carving when an E was mistakenly carved instead of an F, although it was since covered up.
The Lincoln Memorial is located on the National Mall’s western side is open 24 hours a day and is one of the city’s most popular tourist sites. It is especially beautiful during spring in Washington DC as the area is teeming with Cherry Blossoms.
Address: 2 Lincoln Memorial Cir NW, Washington, DC 20002
In the center of the National Mall is the Washington Monument, the world’s tallest obelisk. Dedicated to the memory of the first President, George Washington, the impressive stone structure was the tallest building in the world before being overtaken by the Eiffel Tower.
Visitors can visit the top of the monument via an elevator, where you will be able to spend ten minutes enjoying the observation deck. It is best to book tickets in advance; the lines are often unreasonably long.
Curiously hidden under a manhole cover close to the monument is a 12-foot replica of the monument used for mapping purposes. If you sweet talk a ranger, they may be willing to show it to you.
Address: 2 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20024
Arlington National Cemetery
The Arlington National Cemetery is a cemetery dedicated to those who have served in the Armed Forces. Since the Civil War, the cemetery has been in use and is the final resting place of many soldiers who lost their lives fighting for the country.
There are also other notable non-military burials within the cemetery, such as John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. One of the most famous tombs is that of the unknown soldier, dedicated to those that died during wars and could not be identified.
The cemetery costs $15 to enter, although there are concessionary rates for military personnel. There are many things to do in Arlington VA and this is a can’t-miss landmark.
National Museum of Women in the Arts
Throughout history, the art world has been dominated by male voices, and only a small number of pieces created by female artists were ever picked up by major galleries.
The National Museum of Women in the Arts is dedicated to celebrating female artists and giving them a platform to display their artworks. The museum has several rotating exhibitions, displaying various mediums of artistic expressions, from paintings and modern art to photography.
The museum costs 10$ to visit and is open every day of the week.
Address: 1250 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005
United States National Arboretum
The United States National Arboretum is an extensive collection of trees and wooded plants that aid research projects by the United States Department of Agriculture.
The arboretum is split into several outdoor gardens, including one dedicated to state trees. There is also a Bonsai and Penjing museum on site.
While the 446-acre site is mainly devoted to trees, there are also a few man-made items, including the National Capitol Columns and the ruins of the United Brick Corporation Brick Complex.
Address: 3501 New York Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002
Hillwood Estate Museum & Gardens
Owned by a wealthy businesswoman, the Hillwood Estate is a beautiful and unique place to visit in Washington DC. Throughout her life, Marjorie Merryweather Post collected a vast range of art, mainly from pre-Revolutionary Russia.
Throughout the house, there are many impressive paintings, including a full-size portrait of Catherine the Great. There are decorative art pieces throughout the home as well, such as Faberge Eggs.
The house’s beauty transcends outside, where there are several beautiful gardens, including a Japanese-style one. The admiration of pre-Revolution Russian culture continues outside with a traditional wooden Dacha built amongst the gardens.
Address: 4155 Linnean Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
Washington National Cathedral
The Washington National Cathedral is a Protestant Episcopal church that has been the site of many significant ceremonies, such as state funerals, Presidential prayers, and remembrance services.
The church was also where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his last sermon in the Cathedral days before his assassination. The church is a mix of classic architectural styles, although predominantly classed as Neo-Gothic.
There are gargoyles and grotesques on the church’s exterior- two of which were designed by competition winners. Spend time searching the building for one of the competition entries, a grotesque image of Darth Vader’s helmet!
Address: 3101 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016
The Congressional Cemetery is a historical cemetery, notable for being the final resting place of members of Congress who died while in office.
The funerals for several of the earlier Presidents were also held at the cemetery, and the format for these funerals became the basis of more modern-day state funerals.
The cemetery is still active, so while visiting, please be mindful of ongoing funerals. To help with the cemetery’s upkeep, members of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery can pay an extra fee to walk their dogs off-leash throughout the cemetery.
Address: 1801 E St SE, Washington, DC 20003
International Spy Museum
Dedicated to everything espionage, the International Spy Museum takes visitors through the history of spying. You will learn about assuming a new identity and the basics behind being a spy at the spy school exhibit through several interactive exhibits.
Learn all about how spying has evolved throughout history from ancient times to the modern digital era. The spies among us exhibit looks at well-known people who had careers in espionage, such as renowned chef Julia Childs.
Address: 700 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20024
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is located in West Potomac Park by the National Mall. The memorial’s centerpiece is a giant granite statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. called the Stone of Hope.
The monument is only the fourth dedicated to a non-president in the National Mall’s proximity and the only one honoring an African-American.
Address: 1964 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20003
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
One of the most imposing structures in Washington DC is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. One of the largest churches in the world, it took almost 100 years to fully complete the building, with the last pieces finished in 2017, 97 years after construction started.
The church’s interior is spectacular, with large mosaics adorning the ceilings. The mosaic in the trinity dome is of particular note as it is one of the world’s largest in that style.
The church is often referred to as “America’s Catholic Church” and is very welcoming to visitors of all denominations. Tours are available where you can learn about the artwork and architectural styling of the building.
Address: 400 Michigan Ave NE, Washington, DC 20017
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
The Jefferson Memorial is one of the most loved monuments in the country, located in West Potomac Park just south of the National Mall.
The circular building pays homage to Jefferson’s favorite architectural style and can be seen in buildings he designed, like the Rotunda at the University of Virginia.
Surrounding the monument, you’ll find a number of Japanese Cherry Blossom trees, and each year, the monument hosts the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The festival lasts for two weeks and celebrates the sakuras and the friendship between Japan and the US.
Address: 16 E Basin Dr SW, Washington, DC 20242
Fort Dupont Park
One of the largest parks in Washington is Fort Dupont Park, a large wooded area based around the remnants of a Civil War fort. There is a large hiking and biking trail that loops the park with many little small trails that wind through the interior.
While the fort is long gone, you can still see part of the earthworks close to Alabama Avenue. There is also an activity center in the park, and during the summer months, there is an outdoor theater that hosts regular concerts and performances.
Address: Minnesota Ave SE, Washington, DC 20019
Oxon Run National Parkway
The Oxon Run National Parkway is a thin park that stretches along the Oxon Run tributary. Along the water, wetlands have formed due to flooding over the years.
The area is home to McAteen Magnolia Bogs, the only ones still existing in the entire District of Columbia. The park is perfect for taking relaxing strolls or simply enjoy a little bit of nature before heading back into downtown Washington DC.
Address: 900 Mississippi Ave SE, Washington, DC 20032
Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park was the third national park to be federally designated by the government. Although years later, it moved to be under the National Capital Parks division, a separate unit of the National Park Service.
The large park is a great place to escape the noise and rush of city life, with a great network of hiking trails that carve their way through the park.
There are also several historical sites within the park, including the Pierce Mill. You’ll find various other sporting and leisure options including boating on the Potomac and horseback riding throughout the park.
Play Mini Golf at Swingers
Exploring museums and historical sights can get a bit tiring after a while and you will need something laid-back and fun to enjoy!
Enter Swingers Crazy Golf! This new mini-golf place in Washington DC is part of the successful entertainment venues throughout the UK that finally crossed the Pond and opened in the US.
Located in Dupont Circle, Swingers combines cocktails and gourmet street food with live DJs and ‘crazy golf’ (the British term for mini-golf).
At Swingers Crazy Golf in Dupont Circle, you will get a chance to enjoy some super delicious (and international) street food from vendors like Kneada Pizza, Mah-ze-Dahr Bakery, tuTaco, and Lil Succotash.
Check the website for Swingers Crazy Golf Washington for more information (and to book a tee-time)!
Kingman and Heritage Island
In the Anacostia River, you will find two artificial islands called Kingman and Heritage Island. The islands were created from silt that had formed in the river due to forestation by early colonizers.
For years, the islands were left unused as various plans were touted, from factories to theme parks, but none ever came to fruition. Today, the islands are maintained by the Living Classrooms National Capital Region and have formed into a beautiful nature reserve.
Using the boardwalks and hiking trails, visitors can explore the islands and look out for various birds that call the islands home, with over 100 resident and migratory species living on the island.
Fishing is also allowed, but fish should be released after catching them as they are generally not safe to eat due to poor water quality.
Address: 575 Oklahoma Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002
George Washington Memorial Parkway
Enjoy a scenic drive along the Potomac River as you cruise along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The 25-mile route between Mount Vernon (in Alexandria, Virginia) and McLean, Virginia passes just south of Washington DC.
As you drive, take time to stop and enjoy some of the fantastic sites that line the parkway, such as the US Marine Corp Memorial or the Arlington House.
Alternatively, you can walk 17 miles of the parkway along the Mount Vernon Trail that connects George Washinton’s Mount Vernon Estate and Theodore Roosevelt Island.
Kenilworth Park Aquatic Gardens Boardwalk
The Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is a stunning park dedicated to the wetlands around the Anacostia River. With over 4,000 years of history, the area before the arrival of European Settlers was a fantastic ecosystem that supported a variety of life and Indigenous people.
Sadly, as the modern farming practices and the industrial revolution took over the area, trees were cleared and it altered the ecosystem forever.
Today, there are several ponds full of lilies and lotuses that have grown in the ponds for hundreds of years. Use the boardwalks to walk over the marshes that stretch down to the Anacostia River. Along with beautiful flowers, the area is home to a vast number of birds and reptiles.
Address: 1550 Anacostia Ave NE, Washington, DC 20019
The Dupont Underground
Washington DC is known for its impressive museums and art galleries, although none are quite like The Dupont Underground art space. They are located in an abandoned trolley station under Dupont Circle.
For years after it was left deserted, the trolley station struggled to find a purpose, with many attempts to make it a commercially viable space failing due to the poor lighting and dingy atmosphere.
Thankfully in 2016, the area was opened for local artists to display and create incredible art installations, from epic graffiti work to more experimental installations using light and sounds.
Exhibitions change regularly, and tours can be booked via The Dupont Underground Website. The tunnel floors are covered in various debris, including old bits of metal and broken glass, so sensible footwear is a must. This is one of the coolest things to do in Washington DC!
Address: 19 Dupont Cir NW, Washington, DC 20036
The Brewmaster’s Castle
Heurich House Museum, or known more commonly as the Brewmaster’s Castle, is the 19th-century mansion of German Brewer Christian Heurich.
Christian Heurich arrived in America with the dream of starting up a brewery. He eventually found great success in brewing beer and built the lavish mansion with his second wife, who helped design much of the house’s interior.
However, tragically his wife died shortly after the house was complete. Christian threw himself in his work and eventually created the second largest employer in Washington DC.
The brewery closed its doors soon after Heurich died in the 1940s. Thankfully, his mansion has been preserved as a museum, with many of the original furnishings.
The museum also hosts many events that celebrate entrepreneurship in the US, especially when it comes to local craft beer.
Address: 1307 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036
In Southwest DC, you’ll find the Culture House, an incredible community art and performance space. Situated in a former African-American church, the building is historically important.
It is one of the last remnants of the original 19th-century predominantly black neighborhood built by formerly enslaved people. After a petition to save the church from being torn down in the 1950s, the church’s congregation eventually outgrew the church.
The building was passed between hands before eventually becoming derelict. Due to being added to the nation’s historical building register, the structure needed to be preserved, which gave the owner the idea to create an art space.
The art starts as you approach the building with the exterior painted by Hense, an artist from Georgia. There are rotating art exhibitions in the interior, along with other events celebrating everything from performance to culinary-based arts.
Address: 700 Delaware Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024
One of the most famous theaters in the world is the Ford’s Theatre, although not for its theatrical performances. The theater was the site of Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, one of the most significant events in American history.
Following the assassination, the theater was closed for public enjoyment and turned into offices and a warehouse, quickly falling into disrepair and partially collapsing.
After being repaired, the building continued having offices along with a small museum dedicated to Lincoln. In the 1960s, it was restored to be a theater once again.
Since reopening, it has continued to put on performances, although the Presidential box always remains empty. Visitors can tour the theater, along with the museum across the street and the Peterson House, where Lincoln eventually died.
The museum not only covers Lincoln but the Civil War and the conspiracy that led to his untimely death.
Address: 511 10th St NW, Washington, DC 20004
The Capitol Stones
Hidden in the depth of Rock Creek Park, you will find the remnants of the east facade of the Capitol Building. For a long time, the Capitol Stones were considered somewhat of an urban myth, but they are really there!
In the 1950s, it was decided to add an extension to the Capitol Building, much to the annoyance of many politicians who believed it was unnecessary and damaging a historically significant building.
The man assigned to the job of redesigning the building was a former Congressman and had no architecture experience. While the columns that lined the east facade were eventually rehomed in the National Arboretum, the building’s stones were harder to get rid of (partly due to their historical importance).
They were secretly piled up in Rock Creek Park. Neither the city nor the National Park Service maintains or acknowledges the stones, but they can be found around half a mile from the nature center. There are no markings pointing you to the stones but once found- they are a fantastic way to get up close to a strange bit of US History!
East Potomac Park Mini Golf
Strangely, the District of Columbia only has one outdoor mini-golf course. However, it just so happens to be the oldest continually used one in the country.
Built in the early 1930s, the East Potomac Park Mini Golf course is a true hidden gem. Located close to the Jefferson Memorial, it is often overlooked by the tourists who head to the area in their droves.
The course is the perfect mixture of fun and challenging, suitable for all ages. The course is open throughout the year, although only on weekends during the winter. After completing the 18 holes, you can pop to the clubhouse for a bite to eat and a drink.
Address: 970 Ohio Dr. SW, Washington, DC 20242
Lincoln Book Tower
Across from the Ford Theatre is the Peterson House, the building where Abraham Lincoln died after being shot. Inside the house is one of the more obscure memorials dedicated to the former President- a 34-foot tower of books.
The tower symbolizes the sheer number of books written about Lincoln and how there will likely never be a final word on the subject, with over 15,000 books written so far.
The books, however, are not originals and are made out of formed aluminum with their covers painted by artists. The tower only represents a small number of the books written, with only 205 published books included in the tower, some of which are available in the gift shop.
You can also visit the room where Lincoln died with numerous artifacts from the night itself contained within the room. The Peterson House is included with a Ford Theatre ticket.
Address: 516 10th St NW, Washington, DC 20004
Tudor Place is a large mansion built in 1805 by George Washington’s step-granddaughter. Using the money she and her husband inherited and gained from selling the enslaved people owned by Martha Washington, they built the house using the same architect that designed the Capitol Building.
The opulent home stayed within the family until the 1980s and during that time, had some rather unique renovations, such as a full nuclear bunker built under the garage.
Although the house has had a few aesthetic changes, there is still a fantastic collection of artifacts that belonged to George Washington and his family on display.
Visiting the museum is free, although regular tours do not include the bunker. If you wish to tour the bunker, Atlas Obscura offers occasional tours of the bunker.
Address: 1644 31st St NW, Washington, DC 20007
Theodore Roosevelt Island
In the middle of the Potomac River, you will find Theodore Roosevelt Island. The small island is managed by the National Park Service and has several trails running throughout it.
The island itself is natural, but the landscapes are man-made as much of the original forests were removed by European settlers. Roosevelt was a natural-born explorer and went on many safaris.
Roosevelt Island has three distinct terrains, swamp, forest, and uplands, to represent his love of adventure. Each area has been designed to look as natural as possible and has designated hiking trails through them.
The park is open all year and can be reached by foot from Arlington. There are no cars or transport options other than foot traffic.
Ruins of the Columbian Cannon Foundry
One of the latest discoveries in Washington DC is the Ruins of the Columbian Cannon Factory. Operational in the first half of the 19th-century, the foundry had great successes producing a large number of munitions for the Army.
The factory miraculously survived an assault by the British Redcoats, who set it alight, but an unseasonal downpour put out a fire that would have burnt it to the ground.
The foundry eventually became outdated, and while the buildings were used for other means, they were mostly destroyed with the construction of railroads and by time. All that is left today is the walls of outbuildings that can be found along the Capital Crescent Trail.
Municipal Fish Market at The Wharf
The Municipal Fish Market at The Wharf is the oldest open-air fish market still in use in the US. The vendors have been selling fresh fish and shellfish for generations from vibrant stalls and barges.
Along with selling their produce raw, many vendors offer a full service where they will cook up various dishes for you. The fish market is open every day into the evening, although the widest variety of seafood tends to be on the weekend.
Address: 1100 Maine Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024
Old Stone House
The Old Stone House is the oldest building in Washington DC. The house was built in 1766 and has survived due to an act of mistaken identity.
The house had belonged to John Suter, Jr., who made clocks and was the son of an inn owner. George Washington stayed at his father’s inn while surveying the area, and over the years, the locals confused the two buildings.
With a desire to preserve things linked to George Washington, the local community decided to save the building where he stayed but accidentally protected the clock shop rather than the inn.
In 1960, the National Park Service turned the house into a museum, which includes a clock made by John Suter, Jr. The house is one of the few places to see pre-revolutionary architecture in the whole of the country and it is one of the most obscure places to visit in Washington DC.
Address: 3051 M St NW, Washington, DC 20007
The Holodomor Memorial provides a stark reminder of the atrocities that humans can afflict on each other. The memorial is dedicated to the estimated four million people who lost their lives in the Ukrainian Genocide-Famine.
It is widely believed Stalin purposefully starved the Ukrainian population between 1932-33 to squash and desire for independence from the Soviet Union. The Memorial is one of three in the city to have been designed by women.
Address: 1 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
A Clone of the Newton Apple Tree
One of the most curious and interesting things to do in Washington DC is to visit an apple tree that is a clone of the apple tree that inspired the discovery of gravity.
The tree was grown from a cutting that was taken from the original tree in Cambridge, England. The tree was planted by the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) while they were researching gravity measures.
The NIST has since moved out of the city, but the tree remains there producing apples like the one that fell on Newton, although apparently, they do not taste very nice.
Address: International Park, Washington, District of Columbia
Machines of war can often be monstrous, and the Railroad Gun at the Navy Yard is a perfect example of this. The giant behemoth of a gun dates back to WWI, where it sat on train lines far away from the front line and rained shells down on the German forces from a distance.
While this was in some ways effective, the gun was too modern at the time compared to military tactics that were in play. The Railroad Gun is part of the Navy Yards outdoor ordnance museum, which is open Mondays to Fridays.
However, the gun can be viewed through the fence along the Anacostia River Trail.
Address: 736 Sicard St SE, Washington, DC 20374
Ben’s Chili Bowl & Mural
Ben’s Chili Bowl has been a staple in Washington DC for over 60 years. It is located on U Street, which was historically known as “Black Broadway,” because it was the entertainment center for African Americans during the time of segregation.
Although the city was segregated, Ben’s Chilli Bowl lived by the ideology of inclusivity. Everyone was welcome to eat and enjoy their incredible food, such as the famous half-smoked sausage.
The restaurant is so renowned that ten days before his inauguration, Barack Obama ate there. On the side of the building, you’ll find a stunning mural dedicated to famous and influential black people. The mural is often updated and changed to reflect different people.
Address: 1213 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009
Intersections are typically pretty dull places with little excitement. However, the Zodiac Intersection at 7th and H Street NW in the capital’s Chinatown is something to be admired.
The Barnes Dance style of crosswalk has been decorated to represent the Chinese New Year with signs of the zodiac painted between the standard dull black and white stripes.
At the same time, the diagonal crossing points are adorned with colorful dragons. Given Barnes Dance crosswalks’ complex nature, there is still some trepidation to cross using the diagonal dragons, especially if you have never seen this type of crosswalk before.
Howard Theatre has been historically one of the most influential venues for launching African-American performers’ careers. The Theatre opened in 1910 and experienced years of success.
Unfortunately, it was severely damaged due to rioting that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The theater was repaired but sadly, despite being the oldest theater that celebrated black artists, it closed in the 1980s.
Thankfully, in the early 2000s the building was renovated and reopened. Today it is a great place to watch incredible black artists and celebrate the world of performance arts.
Address: 620 T St NW, Washington, DC 20001
The Fridge DC
The Fridge DC is an epic gallery dedicated mainly to street art. The contemporary gallery looks to support up-and-coming artists on the scene, as well as various community projects.
While the gallery primarily focuses on street art, it often will host other events, including performance-based arts like concerts. The gallery’s opening hours can be somewhat erratic, and it is best to check in advance if they are open or not.
The Fridge’s entrance is hidden down an alley, but luckily, the alleyway has been beautifully adorned with murals so it is fairly easy to find.
Address: 516 1/2 8th St SE, Washington, DC 20003
United States Botanic Garden
The National Mall is known for its historical sites and museums, but one of the best and less well-known sites is the United States Botanic Garden.
The botanical garden is the oldest botanical garden in the country and George Washington’s brainchild, who wanted the growing nation to be educated on the natural world.
The gardens are home to a fantastic array of plants, including some of the world’s rarest plants. One of the most unusual plants is the Amorphophallus Titanum, known commonly as the corpse flower.
The humongous flower blooms every few years, and the flower lasts up to 2 days before collapsing. However, the flower’s most distinguishing feature is the putrid smell it creates, which has been likened to that of a rotting corpse. The gardens are open year-round.
Address: 100 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, DC 20001
Where to Stay in Washington DC
If you’re looking for a place to crash while you’re visiting Washington DC, here are some of our top hotel picks:
⇒ Hotel Lombardy (on Pennsylvania Avenue)
⇒ Embassy Suites by Hilton Washington D.C. Georgetown (near Dupont Circle)
⇒ Washington Court Hotel (near the US Capitol Building)
⇒ Grand Hyatt Washington (close to center and metro)
What are your top things to do in Washington DC? Let us know your favorite Washington DC landmarks and attractions in the comments.
We will have more specific guides in the near future – this one is mainly geared toward first-time tourists looking for an overview of the city’s history, etc. Thanks!
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