Our nation’s capital offers plenty of wonderful things to see and do in addition to its many museums, monuments, and memorials. The historically rich district revels in culture with live music venues, funky art galleries, and cool shops; it’s no wonder people are constantly moving to DC. The city indulges in fantastic eateries, bars with great happy hours, wineries, and cool coffee shops. Plus, there are plenty of parks and fun shopping!?
We could dedicate an entire list to the dozens of DC museums. The Smithsonian alone has 19 in the area, including the newest addition, The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), the National Air and Space Museum, and The National Museum of Natural History.?
Art enthusiasts will enjoy exploring modern and older works at the gargantuan National Gallery of Art and its sculpture garden. Visit the International Spy Museum, located in L’Enfant Plaza. The museum features the largest collection of espionage artifacts on public display. In Dupont Circle, The Mansion on O Street is made up of five interconnected townhouses with 70 secret doors hidden in its 100+ rooms. Check out its quirky museum, O Museum in the Mansion, or stay there—the mansion is also a hotel.?
Head to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, a somber tribute to the victims of the Holocaust atrocities during World War II. Don’t tell Nic Cage, but the National Archives Museum is home to the Declaration of Independence, as well as other founding documents like the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, a copy of the Magna Carta, and the Emancipation Proclamation. Choose a few museums to visit and get there first thing in the morning, preferably on a weekday to avoid throngs of 8th graders.?
Monuments and Memorials
During the evening, DC’s monuments and memorials are beautifully lit. The best way to hit all of them is on a guided tour. If you’re doing a self-guided tour, don’t miss the larger-than-life Honest Abe at the Lincoln Memorial. Another can’t-miss marbleized symbol of the free world, the Washington Monument, stands 555’ 5” tall. Ride a glass-encased elevator to the observation deck for 360-degree views.?
While you’re there, you might as well visit its neighbor to the north, the White House. If you want a tour, keep in mind you have to contact your state senator or House representative at least 21 days in advance to ensure entry.
Don’t miss the heartbreaking, thought-provoking, and powerful Vietnam Veterans Memorial, aka “the Wall”. The long black granite wall lists the names of more than 58,000 Americans who perished. Also located on the eastern side of the mall, the Korean War Veterans Memorial pays tribute to the 1.5 million who served in “The Forgotten War” and features 19 stainless steel statues of soldiers in combat.?
Next to the National Mall, beside the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, you’ll find the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Standing 30 feet tall, the towering Stone of Hope sculpture pays homage to the Civil Rights Movement leader, honoring Dr. King’s legacy and the struggle for freedom, equality, and justice. All of the aforementioned memorials are free to explore.?
See what congress is up to at the U.S. Capitol on the eastern end of the National Mall and tour the Rotunda. In addition to its 150-year-old cast-iron dome, the iconic hall houses frescoes, paintings, and sculptures that depict famous American history scenes. Venture through the?Capitol’s tunnel or walk down East Capitol Street to nerd out at the largest library in the world. The oldest federal cultural institution in the country, the Library of Congress houses more than 164 million books, manuscripts, sound recordings, pieces of sheet music, maps and photographs. Tour the Thomas Jefferson Building’s Main Reading Room to see its grand domed ceiling.
Live Performance Venues
Capital One Arena hosts sporting events and big-name bands. For smaller acts, head to the iconic 9:30 Club. Named one of the 10 best live music venues in America by Rolling Stone, the club is located near northwest Washington’s bustling U Street corridor. A rather new addition, The Anthem hosts headliners on the waterfront.
For a more intimate experience, check out Sixth & I, a historic synagogue than now showcases arts and culture programming—including talks, concerts, and comedy shows. A staple of Washington DC’s H-Street Corridor, the Rock & Roll Hotel features indy rock/underground concerts. The ex-funeral-parlor-turned-lounge also features a covered and heated rooftop bar.
For finer performing arts, see what Broadway play, National Symphony concert, or ballet is happening at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Located on the river, the iconic Kennedy Center is one of the premier performing arts centers in the country.?
Culture it up at one of the District’s funky art galleries. Formerly known as Blind Whino, Culture House exhibits works by international and local artists in a psychedelic-colored church. Located underneath Dupont Circle, the aptly named Dupont Underground is an art and performance space housed in a former streetcar station. For more 21st century art, head over to ARTECHOUSE. The innovative art space showcases immersive and interactive art exhibitions that fuse art, science, and technology.
Eat & Drink
There are a TON of fantastic DC eateries. Check out our guide to guide to cheap eats, which includes Ben’s Chili Bowl and Amsterdam Falafelshop. See our guide to DC bars for fabulous finds like Churchkey, a beer bar in Logan Circle that serves 555 labels. Post-work, suits and ties flood happy hour havens such as Commissary.?
Did you know that DC residents drink more wine per capita than any other state or district in the US? Do like the locals and visit one of the area’s many wineries, like the hip District Winery. DC also has a happening coffee bean scene, with several indie artisanal coffee shops like Compass Coffee.
DC offers plenty of outdoor activities when weather permits. Run, go for a walk, or picnic at one of the District’s many parks, trails, and outdoor recreation areas like Rock Creek Park, the National Arboretum, or Congressional Cemetery. The Tidal Basin is beautiful in spring when it bursts with pink and white blossoms—catch the Cherry Blossom Festival in March or April. Warmer months allow paddle-boating around the two-mile-long pond. Also, you can visit the animals of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo at no charge.
Locals kayak and hike around Kingman Island. The man-made island in the Anacostia River offers 40 acres of nature trails—complete with wooden bridges, mural-covered overpasses, and 100 species of birds. Home to the previously mentioned performance venue, The Anthem, The Wharf is Southwest DC’s cool new waterfront development near Navy Yard. Have a bite to eat, shop, and stroll while enjoying views of the Potomac.
While DC offers many places to shop name brands you can find in other major metropolitan areas, it has much more unique shopping experiences to offer, as well. Shop used books at the quirky Capitol Hill Books. Head to the NoMa neighborhood to peruse food vendors and boutique shops in the warehouse-style Union Market. Wander through Eastern Market, the longest continuously operating market in the city. Centered in the historic Capitol Hill ‘hood, the market’s stalls overflow with fresh produce, baked goods, flowers, and fish. The last stall, The Market Lunch is known for its buckwheat pancakes. On the weekend, the historic Eastern Market hosts a large farmers/flea market outside on the streets.