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17 Top Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Washington, D.C

17 Top Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Washington, D.C

Washington D.C., the capital city of the United States, offers an abundance of incredible sights and activities for you to explore. In addition to being a popular travel destination, this city is home to the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government. Visitors can explore numerous world-class museums and admire the many marble-clad monuments and memorials that line the National Mall.

Located on the east bank of the picturesque Potomac River, this bustling metropolis is a federal district in its own right. Nestled between the charming states of Virginia and Maryland, it offers a vibrant travel experience. When exploring Washington D.C., make sure to visit the vibrant dining and nightlife scenes that the city has to offer. However, the main highlight for many visitors is the National Mall, where you can find numerous top tourist attractions in the area.

The lush, green parkland is a must-visit destination for travelers as it is surrounded by iconic landmarks such as the White House, Capitol Building, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and several Smithsonian museums.

1. National Mall

National Mall

Visitors to Washington, D.C., should not miss the opportunity to take a leisurely stroll along the National Mall, a picturesque greenway that offers a glimpse of many of the capital’s significant landmarks. Situated in the heart of the city, the National Mall extends from the US Capitol building on the west to the Potomac River and from the Jefferson Memorial on the east to Constitution Avenue.

Adjacent to the mall, on its periphery, you will find an array of Smithsonian museums and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. To the east, in close proximity, you can explore attractions such as the memorials dedicated to Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and James Garfield, as well as the serene Reflecting Pool. With approximately 24 million visitors each year, it stands as the premier tourist destination in Washington, D.C.

2. Washington Monument

Washington Monument
Source: istockphoto

One of the most iconic and memorable sights in Washington, D.C., the Washington Monument stands tall and majestic, casting its brilliant white glow over the sprawling National Mall. Towering 555 feet in height, this colossal obelisk serves as a tribute to the First President of the United States, highlighting his remarkable military triumphs during the American Revolutionary War.

Located in the heart of a bustling city, the towering monument column stands as a magnificent spectacle, captivating the eyes of all who behold it. Rising above the tranquil Reflecting Pool and overlooking the iconic Lincoln Memorial, this remarkable structure is a must-see for any traveler. In addition to capturing breathtaking images of the magnificent marble structure, you have the opportunity to embark on a journey to its elevated observation deck. From this vantage point, travelers can indulge in breathtaking vistas of the city’s iconic landmarks, renowned museums, and poignant memorials.

3. United States Capitol

United States Capitol
Source: istockphoto

Congress meets at the United States Capitol. When the Senate and House of Representatives are in session, their sessions are open to the public. Visitors must get free permits from their congressman’s office. They may also receive permits to tour the Capitol building at the same time, although guided tours do not entail viewing senators in action.

The Capitol was one of the first structures built by the new United States government after the Revolutionary War. Construction started in 1793, and the first legislative session was held there in 1800. The rotunda, which is located under the dome, is central to the Capitol building. This is the location where esteemed citizens, such as presidents, are laid to rest.

4. White House

White House
Source: istockphoto

Traveling to the White House offers a multitude of experiences. It is a place where travelers can explore and experience the rich history and culture of the city. It is also a representation of the United States to the rest of the world through travel. White House is a place where the President travels to officially meet with leaders of foreign nations and hosts them at state dinners.

The location of the White House was chosen by George Washington, the inaugural president of our nation, while President John Adams had the privilege of being its first resident. It was damaged during a historical conflict, the War of 1812, but was later restored. Travelers who plan ahead can take advantage of self-guided tours. To embark on a memorable travel experience, it is essential to arrange a tour through their congressman’s office with a notice period ranging from 21 days to six months in advance.

5. Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial
Source: istockphoto

When visiting Washington, D.C., be sure to explore the magnificent Jefferson Memorial. This iconic landmark pays homage to the esteemed Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. Immerse yourself in the architectural brilliance of this memorial, which beautifully incorporates Jefferson’s profound ideas and philosophies. Its architectural design bears a striking resemblance to the iconic Pantheon in Rome. This destination sparked a debate as some travelers believed it bore a striking resemblance to the Lincoln Memorial. President Franklin D. Roosevelt embarked on a journey to settle the debate, as he laid the cornerstone in 1939.

Situated on the National Mall, this remarkable attraction showcases a magnificent statue of Jefferson gazing towards the iconic White House. Its purpose is to commemorate Jefferson’s profound perspectives as a distinguished statesman and philosopher. Due to the removal of Japanese cherry trees for the memorial, Washington now proudly hosts the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.

6. Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral
Source: istockphoto

When exploring the United States, it is interesting to note that the government prioritizes the separation of church and state. Consequently, there is no official national cathedral. However, if such a cathedral were to exist, it would undoubtedly be the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington. This remarkable structure is widely regarded as the spiritual center of the nation.

Often referred to as the Washington National Cathedral, this magnificent Neo-Gothic building stands as the sixth largest cathedral globally. This location has hosted memorial services for Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, and Ford. Explore the magnificent cathedral by purchasing admission tickets, while worship services remain free of charge.

7. Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial
Source: istockphoto

The Lincoln Memorial stands as a magnificent tribute to the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, who was tragically assassinated while attending a theater performance. Dominated by a colossal, seated statue of President Lincoln, the memorial is encircled by a Greek Doric-style temple. In 1922, the memorial was formally dedicated, and the ceremony was graced by the presence of Robert Todd Lincoln, the last surviving son of Abraham Lincoln.

Situated at the western end of the National Mall, this iconic memorial is the very spot where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. Furthermore, the Lincoln Memorial has served as a backdrop in numerous films, spanning from 1939’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” to “Nixon” and even an episode of “The Simpsons.” The memorial is accessible around the clock, with National Park rangers available from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

8. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Source: istockphoto

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, situated just south of the National Mall, is an extremely poignant yet profoundly significant destination to explore. This institution houses an extensive collection of historical artifacts, photographs, and oral testimonies, dedicated to enlightening visitors about the heinous crimes committed during World War II, confronting the issues of genocide and antisemitism, and honoring the memory of Holocaust survivors and victims.

As soon as you enter the museum, you are faced with the history, as you are given an identity card of a genuine Holocaust survivor. Visitors learn about everything from Hitler’s rise to power and Aryan philosophy to the horrors of Kristallnacht, ghettos, and the Final Solution while roaming through its well-designed halls full of horrific photographs and real objects. Its Tower of Faces and candle-lit Hall of Remembrance are particularly poignant.

9. Library of Congress

Library of Congress
Source: istockphoto

When it comes to libraries, the Library of Congress stands out as the largest one in the world. But it had more humble beginnings, being founded in 1800 during a thrilling travel adventure to explore early documents of the United States that were transferred from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. During the initial century, it primarily served as a library dedicated to Congress. However, at present, it has transformed into a repository of 158 million items, encompassing 36 million books in 460 languages and 69 million manuscripts.

It boasts the largest collection of rare books in North America, making it a must-visit destination for book enthusiasts. The travel destination is open to tourists, but potential travelers are advised to check the destination’s list of attractions online before they visit to make sightseeing spots more easily discoverable when they arrive. The primary reading area is famously referred to as the Sacred Room, and it is truly breathtaking.

10. Georgetown Neighborhood

Source: istockphoto

Georgetown is a historic area in Maryland that was created decades before the United States government was formed in Washington, D.C. When Congress established the District of Columbia in 1871, it became a component of the nation’s capital. Georgetown is become a fashionable destination to live, work, and play. It is home to a prestigious university, multiple embassies, and the Old Stone House, D.C.’s oldest standing structure.

The neighborhood, which is located in northwest Washington, D.C., has been home to notables such as Thomas Jefferson when he was vice president of the United States; Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star-Spangled Banner following a War of 1812 battle; and John F. Kennedy, who left his home there to move into the White House.

11. National Air and Space Museum

National Air and Space Museum
Source: istockphoto

Travelers of all ages can find themselves captivated by the wonders of the National Air and Space Museum. Located within the Smithsonian Institution, the National Air and Space Museum presents an array of captivating travel experiences for individuals of all ages, ranging from eight to 80. The museum is a captivating destination that showcases America’s remarkable air and space programs.

Travel through the exhibits and marvel at a wide range of captivating wonders, starting with the iconic 1903 Wright Flyer. Embark on a thrilling journey to the historic Apollo 11 moon-landing expedition, where humanity achieved an extraordinary feat. Immerse yourself in enlightening exhibits that showcase the cutting-edge advancements of scientists as they venture into the vastness of space today. What is the best part of traveling? Entry to the primary museum is complimentary, although additional charges may apply for attractions like IMAX.

12. National Museum of African American History & Culture

National Museum of African American History & Culture
Source: istockphoto

One of the most remarkable destinations to explore is the magnificent National Museum of African American History & Culture, which is part of the prestigious Smithsonian collection. Located in the heart of the National Mall, this remarkable travel destination invites visitors to explore a rich collection of artifacts, artworks, and immersive audio installations. Delve into the vibrant cultures and diverse communities of African Americans in the United States, gaining insight into the monumental obstacles they have encountered throughout history.

Located in the heart of the United States, this unique national museum offers an immersive travel experience. Its captivating and engaging displays revolve around various captivating travel themes, such as the rich African craftsmanship, the historical dismantling of segregation, and the inspiring struggle for equality. In addition to exploring the remarkable architecture inspired by Yoruban art, you can also immerse yourself in the world of travel by visiting the exhibits showcasing the belongings of renowned individuals like Muhammad Ali, Harriet Tubman, and Nat Turner.

13. National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery
Source: istockphoto

While it is most renowned for showcasing images of every previous president, the National Portrait Gallery also houses a vast collection of portraits, paintings, and photos of notable American citizens. The captivating displays and masterpieces of art can be discovered a brief stroll away from the iconic National Mall.

Founded in 1962, this extraordinary museum of art has become a must-visit destination for travelers. With its extensive collection of over 23,000 items, including captivating drawings, exquisite statues, and intricate engravings, visitors are immersed in a world of artistic wonder. While exploring the vibrant and spacious galleries, travelers can marvel at captivating portrayals of notable figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, Frida Kahlo, Benjamin Franklin, and Pocahontas. Additionally, visitors can enjoy the dynamic experience of temporary exhibitions and engaging talks that frequently occur.

14. National Gallery of Art

National Gallery of Art
Source: istockphoto

When traveling to Washington D.C., make sure to visit the National Gallery of Art, which is widely renowned as one of the top museums in the United States. It exhibits iconic landmarks from ancient ruins to modern skyscrapers, capturing the beauty created by renowned artists and architects throughout history.

Established in 1937 and prominently located on the National Mall, the museum comprises the neoclassical West Building, the architecturally striking East Building, and an enchanting outdoor sculpture garden. Each of these components is dedicated to various artistic mediums and historical periods. The museum’s comprehensive collection encompasses not only modern and contemporary artworks but also treasures from the medieval era, showcasing remarkable creations by both European masters and American artists.

15. International Spy Museum

International Spy Museum
Source: istockphoto

One of the most enjoyable activities in Washington D.C. is a visit to the International Spy Museum, where the secrets and strategies employed by spies across different eras are unveiled. Situated just south of the Smithsonian Castle, this museum boasts galleries filled with hands-on exhibits, historical artifacts, and various espionage equipment that spans thousands of years of covert history.

Popular among both adults and children, the museum was established in 2002 and now resides at L’Enfant Plaza. While perusing the world’s largest collection of international espionage artifacts, visitors will encounter concealed cameras, weapons, and ingenious gadgets and disguises. Guests can also test their code-breaking skills and engage in spy-themed activities, all while gaining insight into the lives of significant spies, scientists, and clandestine missions through captivating photographs and informative displays.

16. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Source: istockphoto

Located in close proximity to both the National Mall and Lincoln Memorial, travelers can discover the renowned Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. One of the top travel destinations in all of D.C. to experience a captivating performance, this state-of-the-art venue showcases over 2000 shows annually. Visitors can enjoy a diverse range of entertainment, including ballet, opera, concerts, plays, and dance shows.

Located alongside the picturesque Potomac River, the magnificent cultural center, which was established in 1971, bears the name of a former president. In addition to a stunning Opera House and Concert Hall, the campus also includes the charming Eisenhower Theater, along with a variety of other intimate venues. Moreover, there are also some incredible travel destinations and scenic viewpoints to explore.

17. Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery
Source: istockphoto

One of the most sought-after and scenic destinations to discover in the vicinity of DC is the captivating Arlington National Cemetery. Located amidst the rich history of the American Civil War, this destination serves as the ultimate resting spot for numerous esteemed military veterans and influential individuals who have shaped the nation’s past.

Located on the banks of the Potomac River, this picturesque destination offers a serene atmosphere with its vibrant landscapes and captivating landmarks, providing a breathtaking view of the cityscape from its elevated position. While many travelers choose to visit JFK’s grave to pay their respects, others opt to explore the poignant Iwo Jima Memorial or the majestic Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In addition to strolling along picturesque streets lined with charming buildings, you can also visit the captivating Arlington House or catch a glimpse of the neighboring Pentagon.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Washington: Best Areas & Hotels


Q: How do I book a White House tour? 

A: To book a White House tour, you must request it through your Member of Congress. It’s advisable to submit your request well in advance due to high demand.

Q: When is the best time to see the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin? 

A: The cherry blossoms typically bloom in late March to early April. The exact timing can vary, so it’s a good idea to check the National Park Service’s updates for the latest information.

Q: Are there any admission fees for the Smithsonian Museums? 

A: No, most of the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C. offer free admission to the public, making them accessible to all.

Q: What is the significance of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial’s design? 

A: The design of the memorial is inspired by the “Stone of Hope” and the “Mountain of Despair,” representing the struggles and triumphs of the civil rights movement.

Q: How can I get to The Wharf in Washington, D.C.? 

A: The Wharf is easily accessible by public transportation, including the D.C. Metro and water taxis. It’s also conveniently located near major highways for those driving into the city.