There are hundreds of things to do in Washington DC and everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime to experience it all. Not only is it the historical center of the United States, it is one of the most interesting and fascinating places to visit in the country.
This list only covers favorite things to do in Washington DC. Some of these things are very touristy, some are local favorites that are slightly off the beaten path, and some are just plain required for any trip to the capital. And the best part is that many of them are completely free!
- Explore the Smithsonian Museums
There are 21 Smithsonian Museums and the National Zoo – and you’re likely not going to have time to explore them all (but try if you want!). Most Smithsonian Museums are reopened! Only the National Zoo and National Museum of African American History and Culture require tickets.
- Witness the Changing of the Guard
Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most honored military cemeteries in the US. It is the resting place of over 400,000 and where we honor our unknown soldiers at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Dozens of times each day, you can witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
- Explore the Library of Congress
While you are on Capitol Hill, you shouldn’t pass up this true DC gem. And like the Capitol Building.
- Visit the National Archives
The original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights are all on display at the National Archives. There is even a copy of the Magna Carta. Reservations are not necessary but are recommended and free.
- Tour the White House
In order to request tickets for a White House tour, you must contact your member of congress. Requests can be submitted up to three months in advance and no less than 21 days prior to the desired tour date.
White House tours are typically hosted on Fridays and Saturdays from 8:00AM to 11:00AM (excluding federal holidays). Be advised that there are limited tickets available, so you need to start trying for them as soon as possible.
- Visit Ford’s Theater
Our 16th President loved the theater and it was at Ford’s Theater where he would meet his tragic end.
- Explore Historic Georgetown
The oldest neighborhood in Washington DC is older than the city itself. This residential neighborhood is full of history, shopping, and great food. It is a unique part of the city and a great place to wander.
- Tour the Pentagon
As the headquarters of the Department of Defense for the United States, you may not think the building is open to the public. However, with advance planning and some background checks, you can take a Pentagon Tour for you and your family.
- Grab a bowl of chili at Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street
Even former President Obama loves a bowl of chili from Ben’s Chili Bowl. It’s practically a city landmark by now. It opened in 1958 in the U Street neighborhood and has been growing in infamy ever since. Now there are a couple of additional locations in case you don’t make it to U Street – one on Wilson Blvd in Arlington and one in Reagan National Airport.
- Go on a Washington DC Food Tour
There’s no better way to get acquainted with a new city than to go on a food tour. There are a bunch of different tours through the area’s neighborhoods. They’ll show you all the best places to eat while you’re in town and introduce you to a few specialties you can’t find anywhere else.
- See the United States Botanical Gardens
The U.S. Botanical Gardens, located just southeast of the Capitol Building, is a living plant museum where you can see all kinds of rare plants, flowers and exhibits.
A visit will introduce you to a world of plants and environments that are on display in indoor and outdoor settings. Admission to the U.S. Botanic Garden is free. The Conservatory and National Garden are open every day of the year from 10:00 AM until 5:00 PM.
- Visit National’s Stadium for a baseball game
Spend an afternoon at National’s Stadium cheering on the local team the Washington Nationals. Opened in 2008, the new stadium is located along the developing Capitol Waterfront in Southeast DC. the ballpark features a variety of entertainment and fan-interactive opportunities that make a day at the ballpark a fun and engaging entertainment experience.
- Enjoy a stroll through the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden
The Sculpture Garden is an outdoor area with walkways that lead through many inspiring and creative installations of art in the open air. Walk through the gallery, sit by the fountain, grab a coffee and just relax in the lovely outdoor space.
- Watch a performance at The Kennedy Center
Free performances at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts range from the National Symphony Orchestra to music and plays. Shows take place daily on the Millennium Stage at 6 p.m. You can also see the various rooms of the Kennedy Center during regularly schedule free tours.
- Take a walk, bike or kayak along the C&O Canal
The C&O Canal (the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal) offers 184 miles of pathways, canals and trails on which to run, walk, bike or kayak. It’s a great way to explore the historical, natural and recreational treasure the area has to offer.
- Walk around the Old Post Office Pavilion
While the Old Post Office Pavilion building is currently undergoing major renovations and the historic clock tower is not open to the public, the building itself is a historic treasure and is worth a stroll by to admire the architecture. The Tower is closed until 2016.
- Visit Union Market
One of the best indoor markets in the area, Union Market features a number of restaurants and food purveyors who are focused on high quality food in a fun and engaging setting.
Eat Korean-style tacos or sit down to a plate of incredibly fresh oysters. There are more than 100 businesses to choose from.
- Go on a tour of Washington DC craft breweries.
Washington DC is brimming with new breweries these days. You can take a guided tour to a few of them , or just hop around yourself and find new favorites.
Many of them give tours of the brewery operations as well as tastings. Make sure to stop by D.C. Brau, Chocolate City, Three Stars and Bluejacket. Book your Washington DC Brewery Tour here.
- Check out The Exorcist stairs in Georgetown
The movie The Exorcist was filmed in 1973, but people still flock to the narrow staircase alongside a building in Georgetown to see the stairs where Father Karras fell to his death in the movie.
- Watch a Washington Capitals Game
If you’re in to hockey, you should definitely plan to attend a Washington Capitals game (when it’s hockey season, of course). The DC professional hockey team plays at Capital One Arena in Chinatown. Check the official schedule of games.
- Run in a Scenic Road Race
Running is a huge activity in Washington DC, and you can find people running almost all hours of the day on the city’s sidewalks. If you’re a runner yourself, you can get to know the city by joining a road race! Races in DC (and in the DC area) happen very regularly, so you can almost always find one if you really want to.