Washington, DC is renowned for its rich historical and cultural significance, serving as the capital of the United States and housing a plethora of important landmarks, including museums, war memorials, and government buildings.
However, the city has much more to offer beyond these well-known attractions, with a diverse array of activities ranging from quaint boutiques to expansive nature reserves with stunning waterfalls and century-old oak trees.
For those seeking to explore the lesser-known gems of DC, here is a list of 68 of the best things to do in the city, encompassing a broad range of experiences beyond the typical tourist destinations.
1. National Mall
One of the must-visit places in Washington, DC is the National Mall, which has been immortalized in numerous films, TV shows, and art prints. However, nothing beats experiencing its grandeur in person.
The vast expanse of greenery is home to numerous iconic American institutions, such as the White House, which is perhaps the most renowned. The Washington Monument, on the other hand, stands as the tallest structure, while the Smithsonian Museums boast the most extensive square footage.
Located in the heart of Washington, DC, the National Mall offers stunning vistas of the U.S. Capitol Building in the east and the Lincoln Memorial in the west. The area is teeming with attractions, ranging from statues and memorials to museums, art galleries, and botanical gardens.
In the springtime, visitors can witness the magnificent cherry blossom trees blooming over ponds and reflecting pools, while the winter season blankets the lawns with snow.
As one of the most iconic landmarks in the United States, the National Mall transcends the boundaries of the District of Columbia and represents the entire country. A visit to this magnificent site is a must-do for anyone in the area, and the address to this national treasure is Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20565, United States.
2. Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is a vast repository of knowledge, housing over 167 million items and ranking as the second-largest library globally. The collection includes an impressive range of resources, from rare and delicate books to contemporary recordings of popular music, along with maps, manuscripts, photographs, paintings, murals, newsreels, sheet music, and countless other treasures for those seeking knowledge.
The Library of Congress is comprised of three magnificent buildings, each featuring stunning architecture that is as impressive as the contents held within. The Thomas Jefferson Building, with its grand central reading room and golden tones, is particularly famous, but all three structures are well worth a visit.
In addition to its vast collection, the Library of Congress hosts special events, such as live musical performances in one of the auditoriums, film screenings in the television and motion picture rooms, and theatrical productions in the performance theater.
The best part? Admission to the Library of Congress is entirely free, making it a budget-friendly and worthwhile activity for visitors to Washington, DC. With countless resources and events available, one could easily spend hours exploring this remarkable institution. The address for the Library of Congress is 10 First St SE, Washington, DC 20540, United States.
3. Eastern Market
Experience the sights and sounds of the bustling Eastern Market, where fresh fruits, fragrant flowers, sparkling jewelry, and buzzing woodworking stalls await. This hybrid indoor/outdoor shopping space is housed in a charming old brick building and is one of the oldest and most beloved markets in Washington, DC.
Visit the Eastern Market any day of the week (except Monday) to browse a diverse array of vendors, including farmers, florists, artists, butchers, blacksmiths, jewelers, booksellers, and more. If you’re feeling hungry, indulge in warm flatbreads or shaved ice cups with homemade syrups and candies. Support small businesses by shopping for shawls, necklaces, quilts, picture frames, seaglass gems, and other unique finds. You can even find specialty services for leatherworking and shoemaking. The Eastern Market is a must-see destination in Washington, DC, offering something for everyone at a lower cost than traditional retail outlets. Don’t forget to bring your shopping bag!
Address: 225 7th St SE, Washington, DC 20003, United States
4. Ford’s Theatre
Despite its dark history as the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Ford’s Theatre continues to operate today as a lively venue for plays, musicals, speeches, comedy shows and other live events in Washington, DC.
While maintaining its historical significance, the venue has been renovated and features modern amenities for a comfortable viewing experience. It is a small and intimate space, and many of its original 19th-century features have been preserved, such as the red carpets and golden railings in front of the balcony seats.
Ford’s Theatre is an iconic venue in Washington, DC that has a rich history dating back to the 1800s.
Despite being the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, it remains a popular destination for theatergoers, hosting plays, musicals, comedy shows and other live events.
The intimate theater features vintage decor, including red carpets and ornate balcony railings, that transport visitors back in time.
The museum located beneath the theater is a must-visit for history buffs, offering an unparalleled look at Lincoln’s life and presidency, as well as unique artifacts such as the bloodstained pillow used during his final moments.
Ford’s Theatre is a standout attraction in a city full of famous landmarks, offering a truly unique experience that can’t be found anywhere else.
Address: 511 10th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, United States
5. Washington Harbour
Washington Harbour is a year-round destination that offers activities for every season. Whether you prefer to shop, boat, bike, or ice skate, there’s something for everyone. The area is bustling and lively, and the river views are breathtaking. You can rent a canoe or jet ski and enjoy the water right from the harbor.
Washington Harbour is a year-round attraction that offers something for everyone.
During spring, visitors can enjoy shopping for fresh produce, while summer is ideal for boating and water sports.
Fall is perfect for biking, walking tours, or savoring a delicious meal in a seafood restaurant.
In winter, visitors can rent ice skates and glide along the ice rink while enjoying the beautiful views of the river.
The area also offers various entertainment options such as theaters, galleries, and lounges.
For those seeking accommodation, hotels are available along the shoreline.
Known as the “premiere waterfront destination of DC,” Washington Harbour is a great place to visit for travelers seeking fun and excitement in the area, especially after exploring the quiet museums and memorials.
Address: 3000-3050 K St NW, Washington, DC 20007, United States
6. Heurich House Museum
At first glance, the Heurich House Museum may appear as a grand palace once inhabited by the wealthy aristocrats of olden times.
The building boasts Victorian-style architecture with stone archways, spire-topped towers, wide windows, and a gothic-inspired layout complete with stairs and alcoves.
However, the real story behind the Heurich House Museum is that it was actually constructed by a European immigrant during the 1890s.
The Heurich House Museum in Washington, DC may appear to be an opulent estate designed for nobility, with its Gothic-style architecture, including stone arches, tall windows, towered spires, and intricate staircases and nooks.
In reality, the house was constructed by a European immigrant in the 1890s, who operated a thriving brewery several miles away and desired a taste of his homeland in the nation’s capital.
Although the brewery closed after the man’s death, his family’s careful preservation allowed the house to endure and now serves as a tribute to the turn-of-the-century lifestyle in Washington, DC.
The lower floors are still outfitted with their original furnishings and rooms, complete with boudoirs, parlors, fireplaces, spiral staircases, and servant’s quarters.
Guided tours are offered throughout the weekdays.
If you’re seeking a distinctive and enjoyable experience in Washington, DC, be sure to add the Heurich House Museum to your itinerary.
This historical gem is an unexpected delight, with its ornate Gothic design standing out amidst the city’s urban hustle and bustle.
Address: 1307 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036, United States.
7. National Gallery of Art
Located in the center of Washington, DC, the National Gallery of Art is widely regarded as one of the top art museums in the United States and has earned the moniker of “the nation’s museum.”
The museum consists of two buildings: the East Building and the West Building.
The East Building boasts pink marble and modern, angular design features such as open rooftop terraces and atrium galleries illuminated by natural light.
On the other hand, the West Building exudes a neoclassical architectural style, with white columns reminiscent of ancient Greece that offer a nod to the past while standing the test of time.
Located at the heart of Washington, DC, the National Gallery of Art is renowned as one of the finest art museums in the United States.
Comprising two distinct buildings – East and West, each with its own unique architectural style – the museum houses an incredible collection of paintings, sculptures, and portraits from all corners of the world.
The collections feature the works of numerous famous artists, making it a must-visit destination for art enthusiasts.
The museum’s exhibitions are awe-inspiring, and the institution holds significant cultural and historical value for the country.
Visiting the National Gallery of Art is an essential part of any trip to Washington, DC.
Address: Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20565, United States
8. Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park
Experience the ultimate thrill of hurtling down a mountain while strapped to a narrow cord between trees at Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park in Washington, DC. This exciting adventure park offers a range of activities that include ziplining, rope bridge crossing, and airborne obstacle courses.
Test your limits on the Tarzan Swings or take the Treetop Discovery Journey with your kids. You can even try the “Monkey Drop” if you’re feeling particularly daring. Beginners need not worry as the park has experienced instructors who will guide you through the basics while ensuring your safety.
Families are welcome to enjoy the adventure as long as they meet certain guidelines. Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park is located just outside Washington, DC, and can be reached in less than an hour if traffic is light. So why not sign up for an adventure today and experience the thrill of flying through the treetops as early as this weekend?
Visit the park at 7550 Reservation Dr, Springfield, VA 22153, United States.
9. Capitol Hill Books
Washington, DC is renowned as a city of book lovers, but Capitol Hill Books stands out from the rest. Unlike the fancy bookstores in the area, this shop offers a unique experience in a cluttered and unpretentious space, selling used and battered books at heavily discounted prices.
The store’s founder, a retired WWII veteran, is known for his gruff demeanor and dislike of millennial slang, but he still cares about his customers. In 2016, he sold the store to four of his favorite regulars who have stayed true to the store’s original spirit.
Although the new owners have upgraded to electronic cash registers, they have maintained the store’s quirky character. You’ll find handwritten signs banning smartphones and even a foreign language section stacked up in the bathroom!
For a fun and unconventional experience, head to Capitol Hill Books in Washington, DC, but be prepared to leave the slang at home. The store is located at 657 C St SE, Washington, DC 20003, United States.
10. Thip Khao
Washington, DC is a foodie’s paradise with a plethora of dining options to choose from, ranging from upscale Michelin-starred restaurants to food trucks and hidden gem eateries.
Among the many restaurants in the city, Thip Khao stands out for its unique and daring menu dedicated to Lao cuisine, featuring dishes like goat curry, fried duck head, blood sausages, fire ant eggs, and alligator tails served with mint and green apple.
Although these may sound unusual, locals and tourists alike rave about the exotic culinary experience at Thip Khao.
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and expand your taste buds with Thip Khao’s bold and delicious offerings.
You can find the restaurant at 3462 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20010, United States.
11. Old Town Trolley Tour
Washington, DC is home to countless tourist attractions, making it difficult to explore them all.
However, you can make the most of your visit by taking an Old Town Trolley Tour.
This tour allows you to explore the city at your own pace while still having the convenience of an informative guide and a chauffeur.
With 17 designated bus stops around DC, you can easily disembark at any location that catches your eye, whether it’s a store, restaurant, or landmark.
When you’re ready to continue the tour, simply hop back on the next bus and continue your journey.
The tour covers all of the best places in the city, including the world-renowned National Mall and a water taxi ride on the Potomac River.
If you’re searching for fun activities to do in Washington DC, consider an Old Town Trolley Tour as a great way to start your trip and see everything the city has to offer.
Address: 50 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002, United States
12. National Arboretum
The National Arboretum in Washington, DC is a stunningly beautiful and colorful destination that boasts an impressive collection of flowers, ferns, trees, shrubs, and succulents.
With well-manicured bonsai collections and overgrown willow trees framing fields of wildflowers, the arboretum is a feast for the eyes. The walking trails guide visitors through gardens and groves, while statues, fountains, and reflecting pools are interspersed with art collections.
In addition to the natural attractions, there are also arbor houses and nature museums to explore, along with a tribute to American history in the form of the National Capitol Columns standing in an open field. If you’re seeking a break from the hustle and bustle of DC or simply a fan of nature, culture, beauty, and history, the National Arboretum is a must-visit destination.
Address: 3501 New York Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002, United States
CityCenterDC is a sprawling mixed-use development located in the bustling downtown area of Washington, DC. The complex covers over five blocks and features a wide range of amenities, including shops, parks, restaurants, hotels, offices, and condos. With so much to offer, it’s no wonder that CityCenterDC is always teeming with crowds and traffic.
For those who enjoy the excitement of a busy urban landscape, CityCenterDC is an absolute must-visit destination. You’ll find countless shops and cafes at every turn, and there’s no need to venture beyond these five blocks to have a great time. Whether you’re here for the shopping, dining, or just to soak up the energy of the city, CityCenterDC is definitely one of the top tourist attractions in Washington, DC.
Address: 825 10th St NW, Washington, DC 20001, United States
14. The Pentagon
Visiting the Pentagon might come as a surprise, but it is a significant attraction in Washington DC for those interested in politics who want to see where important decisions are made.
Guided tours are available on weekdays from 10 AM to 4 PM and cover various front rooms, offices, and the Hall of Heroes, where you can view Medal of Honor recipients.
The displays showcase all four branches of the military, and visitors can also see photos, relics, and memorabilia from past conflicts.
Keep in mind that tours need to be scheduled at least two weeks in advance, and a government-issued photo ID is required to enter.
Access to the front doors is restricted, but for those who meet the requirements, visiting the Pentagon can be a rare and exciting experience.
It can also make for an impressive story to share with your friends when you return home, having walked the same halls as presidents, princes, and dignitaries.
Address: Washington, DC 22202, United States
15. National Zoo
The National Zoo is a must-visit destination in Washington, DC for animal and nature enthusiasts. With more than 2,000 animals, including a family of giant pandas, the zoo offers an impressive range of creatures to observe, from those that jump, fly, crawl, stalk, slither, to those that roll around in bamboo.
Apart from its diverse collection of animals, the zoo hosts a wide range of events and activities throughout the year, such as “Woo at the Zoo” on Valentine’s Day and “Boo at the Zoo” during Halloween, making it a fun-filled destination for visitors of all ages.
The best part? The National Zoo is completely free! You can visit any day of the year, except on Christmas Day, without paying a dime. The zoo is located on the National Mall in Washington, DC, so it’s easy to find.
Are you ready to witness the stunning beauty of the animal kingdom and enjoy a day full of fun and excitement? Head to the National Zoo and experience the magic for yourself!
Address: 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States
16. International Spy Museum
If you’re looking for an entertaining and educational attraction in Washington, DC, the International Spy Museum is a must-visit destination. The museum is dedicated to the world of espionage, showcasing the history, technology, and methodology of real-life spies. But it’s not just a serious museum; there are plenty of fun and exciting activities for visitors of all ages.
Interactive spy missions, trivia games, and movie nights are just a few of the engaging experiences offered. Fictional spies like James Bond also get their moment in the spotlight, as the museum recognizes their influence on public interest in the field of espionage.
As one of the only museums of its kind in the world, the International Spy Museum is a rare treat for anyone interested in the world of spies. Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for a fun and unique experience in DC, be sure to add the International Spy Museum to your itinerary.
You can find it at 700 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20024, United States.
17. Adams Morgan
Adams Morgan is a must-visit neighborhood in Washington, DC, especially for those who love vibrant and eclectic atmospheres.
This lively area is filled with colorful homes and a plethora of entertainment options, including shops, cafes, bars, bistros, lounges, clubs, and more.
There’s never a dull moment in Adams Morgan, with options to sing karaoke until the early hours of the morning and admire community art projects and graffiti.
The neighborhood’s diversity is also a standout feature, with a variety of international cuisine available.
From pizza and pasta to empanadas and gyros, there’s something for every foodie.
In addition to great food, Adams Morgan boasts a thriving music scene, with live performances at the neighborhood’s pubs and taverns.
Whether you’re looking for a night out or a more relaxed experience, Adams Morgan is a great place to explore in Washington, DC.
18. Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery, located in Arlington, Virginia, is a short drive south of Washington, DC, but it’s an attraction worth the visit.
This historic site is one of the most revered military cemeteries in the world, with a rich history dating back to the Civil War.
Initially owned by George Washington’s grandson, it was later acquired by the U.S. government and has since become the final resting place for thousands of soldiers.
The cemetery’s stunning grounds are particularly beautiful in the fall when the leaves change color, and they are adorned with elaborate statues, fountains, headstones, and memorial buildings scattered throughout the hills.
Although the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of the most popular attractions within the cemetery, there are many other notable sites worth seeing.
If you’re looking for something to do in Washington DC, a visit to Arlington National Cemetery is a must.
Address: Entrance at Arlington Memorial Bridge, Arlington, VA 22211, United States.
19. Capital One Arena
The Capital One Arena is a popular destination in Washington, DC and is known for revitalizing the surrounding neighborhood.
It’s not just a historical site, but also an incredible entertainment venue.
The arena hosts a variety of sporting events including basketball, hockey, and wrestling, and has been a venue for concerts, festivals, and family events.
Disney on Ice, for example, is one of the popular shows performed at this arena.
Additionally, there are amenities such as a lounge, salon, food court, and retail spaces featuring popular brands.
With all of these offerings, the Capital One Arena has everything you need for an enjoyable vacation experience.
Whether you’re looking for entertainment, food and drink, or a place to pamper yourself, this arena has got you covered.
Address: 601 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004, United States.
20. Odyssey Dinner Cruise
When you think of a three-hour tour, you might recall the old sitcom Gilligan’s Island, but in Washington, DC, it’s the Odyssey Dinner Cruise that comes to mind. Departing from the Potomac River, this luxurious dinner cruise will take you on a tour of the city’s top travel destinations.
Admire the towering monuments and memorials, drift along shorelines dotted with fountains, statues, museums, and naval piers. Indulge in a delicious three-course meal, complete with tableside service and classical music in an elegant setting.
Once you’ve finished your meal, you can hit the dance floor and show off your moves. If you’re looking for things to do in DC, don’t limit yourself to a small list of attractions; experience everything at once on the Odyssey Dinner Cruise. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy some buttered scallops in citrus sauce! Address: 580 Water St SW, Washington, DC 20024, United States.
21. Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens
For a unique and beautiful experience in Washington, DC, make sure to visit the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.
This park stands out from the rest due to its stunning water-based plant life, including rare species like waterlilies, lotus blossoms, and water hyacinths.
The park is also home to the Kenilworth Marsh, which is the only remaining tidal marsh in the city.
One of the highlights of this park is the annual Lotus and Water Lily Festival, a two-day event featuring tours, games, dances, cultural lessons, wildlife experiences, and more.
Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or just looking for a different kind of tourist spot, the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is a must-visit destination.
Don’t miss the chance to explore this hidden gem and discover the beauty of floating hearts and lotus flowers.
Address: 1550 Anacostia Ave NE, Washington, DC 20019, United States.
22. Theodore Roosevelt Island
Theodore Roosevelt Island, located just off the coast of Washington, DC, is a serene and picturesque sanctuary that can only be accessed by a pedestrian bridge. Cars and bikes are not permitted on the island, so visitors must explore on foot. Despite its small size, it offers stunning scenery with rolling hills, lush fields, and shaded tree canopies.
It’s an ideal spot to unwind and relax, lie on the grass, and gaze up at the sky. For more adventurous visitors, there are rugged trails to explore where you may hear the chirping of birds or the rustle of snakes. While it may not be as well-known as other tourist destinations in the region, Theodore Roosevelt Island is a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and immerse yourself in nature.
It’s a top recommendation for travelers who enjoy exploring by foot. Address: George Washington Memorial Parkway, Arlington, VA 22211, United States.
23. National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum of Natural History is an exceptional destination that should be on your must-see list when visiting Washington, DC.
Although you might have already seen it in movies, nothing compares to seeing its impressive collections in person.
As you step inside the museum, the first thing that catches your attention is a massive elephant statue in the center of an open-air rotunda.
From there, you can explore various galleries and halls, each with their own unique displays.
Some of the highlights include fossil exhibits, meteorite collections, butterfly gardens, and an insect zoo.
There is also a hall dedicated to bones and even the world-renowned Hope Diamond.
Regardless of your interests, whether it’s astronomy, oceanography, paleontology, or meteorology, you’ll find fascinating displays to learn from.
As part of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of Natural History provides an exceptional educational and entertaining experience.
It’s a must-visit destination that combines knowledge and fun, offering visitors an unforgettable experience.
Address: 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560, United States
24. Argentta Spa at the Watergate
For those who love indulging in bottomless mimosas, a luxurious afternoon at the Argentta Spa is a must-try. Located in the Watergate Hotel, the spa offers various services like massages, manicures, and mud masks that are open to everyone, regardless of whether they are guests or not.
Their amenities include a sauna, steam room, pool, and jacuzzi. Their services range from basic facials to lavish Icelandic moonflower scrubs.
At Argentta Spa, you can enjoy drinks with every treatment, including cocktails during cuticle treatments and wine after rooftop yoga classes, as long as you’re over 21.
If you’re looking for a place to treat yourself while in Washington, DC, the luxurious living at Argentta Spa is an excellent option. You’ll feel completely rejuvenated after experiencing a lavender-infused saltwater bath.
And if you find yourself too relaxed to move, you can book a room in the hotel and extend your stay!
Address: 2650 Virginia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20037, United States.
25. DC Improv Comedy Club
DC Improv Comedy Club is a hidden gem that offers a unique and intimate atmosphere for comedy enthusiasts visiting Washington, DC.
Located underground, the club’s dark walls and dimly-lit alcoves create a warm and cozy ambiance that’s perfect for enjoying live stand-up performances.
As a member of the audience, you can grab a drink or some food while watching the comedians do their thing, making for a relaxed and casual experience.
The club hosts weekly shows and also offers classes in improv, sketch, and stand-up comedy for those who want to hone their skills.
Additionally, if you’re looking for a fun team-building activity, the venue can be rented out for private events.
Whether you’re on a date or just need a good laugh, DC Improv Comedy Club is definitely worth checking out.
Address: 1140 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036, United States
26. Culture House
The Culture House is an eye-catching destination that’s hard to miss. The vibrant colors of the building stand out from miles away, especially since most of the neighboring area has been demolished.
Originally owned by the Friendship Baptist Congregation, a group that supported low-income families and encouraged creative expression, the Culture House was saved from destruction and continues to serve as a haven for art and self-expression.
The building is covered in hand-painted art and graffiti, including everything from cartoons to abstract designs and elaborate murals.
In addition to admiring the artwork, visitors can also attend exhibitions and shows hosted by various artists and musicians.
If you’re looking for a unique and off-the-beaten-path experience in Washington, DC, the Culture House is definitely worth a visit.
Address: 700 Delaware Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024, United States