22 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Washington, D.C. (2024)

Written by Becca Blond and Barbara Radcliffe Rogers
Updated Mar 21, 2024
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Whether you are marveling at its white marble monuments and memorials, learning about history in one of its free museums, or getting a feel for how locals live in one of its vibrant neighborhoods, Washington, D.C. emits a pulsating energy not found anywhere else in the U.S. The District of Colombia is a city you can explore dozens of times and have a completely different experience with each visit.

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Designed by Pierre-Charles L'Enfant at the request of George Washington, America's capital city sits on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. It is located on land specifically set aside after the Revolutionary War to keep the federal government from being in a single state.

L'Enfant planned D.C. to feel larger than life with its wide avenues, inspirational marble buildings, public squares, and a magnificent "public walk" that is the National Mall. The city is split into four quadrants: NW, NE, SW, and SE and its layout is a street grid intersected by avenues.

First-time visitors flock to its list of must-see attractions like the White House, Capitol Building, and museums, monuments, and memorials, perfectly spaced along its park-style National Mall. But beyond these famed attractions, you will find another DC. One ruled by locals and influenced by the host of long-term international residents, that is filled with eclectic neighborhoods including U Street, Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, and Georgetown.

This is a city where you can eat your way across the world's food scene in the space of a few miles. It is also a city that boasts a world-class arts scene and outdoor experiences from paddleboarding on the Potomac River to walking or biking along the C&O Canal towpath.

If you can avoid visiting DC in the summer, do so. Besides being unpleasantly hot and humid, summers are when you'll see the biggest crowds. The best times to visit Washington are spring and autumn.

Plan your trip to the nation's capital with our list of the top attractions in Washington, D.C.

On This Page:

  • 1. United States Capitol and Capitol Hill
  • 2. The Lincoln Memorial
  • 3. National Mall and Veterans Memorials
  • 4. The White House
  • 5. The Washington Monument
  • 6. National Air and Space Museum
  • 7. National Gallery of Art
  • 8. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • 9. Library of Congress
  • 10. National Museum of Natural History
  • 11. National Museum of American History
  • 12. National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • 13. Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin
  • 14. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
  • 15. National Zoological Park
  • 16. National Archives
  • 17. International Spy Museum
  • 18. Arlington National Cemetery
  • 19. Washington National Cathedral
  • 20. Georgetown Historic District
  • 21. Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery
  • 22. U.S. Botanic Garden
  • 23. U Street Corridor
  • 24. The Wharf
  • Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Washington, D.C.
  • Best Time to Visit Washington, D.C.

1. United States Capitol and Capitol Hill

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Recognized around the world as a symbol of the United States, the Capitol is the seat of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The huge dome, based on the dome of St. Peter's in Rome, stands out above all other Washington buildings.

Like Washington itself, the building has grown over the years since the central portion was built between 1793 and 1812. The last addition, in 1958-62, enlarged the main façade where presidents take the oath. On the other side, a marble terrace offers beautiful views over the mall and the city.

The interior is resplendent with frescoes, reliefs, and paintings, especially the rotunda under the great cast-iron dome with a ceiling painting by Constantino Brumidi and huge paintings of scenes from American history on the walls. Beside it is the former Chamber of the House of Representatives, with statues of leading historical figures. The small Senate Rotunda leads into the beautifully restored Old Senate Chamber, where the Senate met until 1859, and the Supreme Court until 1935.

When free tours resume, they can be reserved online and begin at the visitor center on the lower floor, where there is an interesting exhibition on the building's history. Free tours on weekday afternoons explore the ornate paintings on the walls and ceilings of the corridors in the Senate wing, designed by Brumidi between 1857 and 1859. To visit the Senate or House in session, you need to contact your Senator or Representative for a pass; foreign visitors can arrange visits through the visitor center.

East of the Capitol are the Supreme Court Building; the Library of Congress; and Folger Shakespeare Library, home of the world's largest collection of the printed works of William Shakespeare.

The Capitol Hill neighborhood extends southeast, with the lively Eastern Market, a farmers market with craft vendors, as well.

2. The Lincoln Memorial

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The best-loved of all Washington's memorials, the Lincoln Memorial stands at the far end of the mall, separated from the Washington Monument by the Reflecting Pool. At its center is a 19-foot marble statue of a seated and pensive President Abraham Lincoln surrounded by 36 columns, one for each of the states that existed at the time of Lincoln's death. This is the most famous work designed by noted sculptor Daniel Chester French. Jules Guerin painted the murals on the inside walls, showing important events in Lincoln's life.

Since its completion in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial has been the scene of a number of historic events. In 1939, when the all-white Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to let celebrated African American singer Marian Anderson perform at a concert in nearby Constitution Hall, President Franklin Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for her to give an open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, attended by 75,000 people and broadcast to millions of radio listeners.

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Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I have a dream..." speech from the memorial steps in 1963, again making history here.

Visiting this and other Mall monuments is one of the favorite things to do in Washington, D.C. at night. The monuments are all lighted, and many, like the Lincoln Memorial, are open 24 hours. The statue of Lincoln is especially powerful lighted at night inside the darkened interior of the temple and framed by the floodlit white columns.

3. National Mall and Veterans Memorials

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The spacious swath of lawns and pools that form a wide greenbelt from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial is also the site of many of Washington's landmark buildings and monuments. Most prominent at its center point is the Washington Monument, and war memorials include those to veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a poignant wall inscribed with the names of all American servicemen and women who lost their lives or are missing, is one of Washington's most visited memorials. The nearby Vietnam Women's Memorial has a bronze sculpture of three servicewomen helping a wounded soldier. The Korean War Veterans Memorial contains 19 steel sculptures of soldiers. The newest, American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial was dedicated in 2014.

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If you look at a Washington, D.C. attractions map, you'll notice that many of them line the National Mall, so you're likely to spend a lot of time here. Along with providing a park for walking, running, and picnicking, the Mall is a place for celebrations and festivals. Best known of these is the annual Independence Day celebration with fireworks around the Washington Monument.

Also in July, the Smithsonian American Folk Life Festival fills the Mall with music, crafts, performances, storytelling, cultural programs, and food from various regions around the country. The Smithsonian Kite Festival is held here in late March or early April.

On summer evenings, you can often find military bands performing at venues along the Mall. The US Navy Band has concerts at the Capitol steps overlooking the Mall on Mondays and on Tuesdays at Navy Memorial. The US Air Force Band performs on the capitol steps on Tuesdays and at the Air Force Memorial on Fridays.

Location: Between Constitution Avenue and Independence Avenue, Washington, D.C.

4. The White House

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The White House is the official residence of the President of the United States. The home of every president except George Washington, it was originally built by James Hoban in 1792, and after being burned down by British forces in 1814 was rebuilt in 1818.

Although tours of the interior that include the East, Blue, Green, and Red Rooms; the Ballroom; and the State Dining Room must be reserved well in advance through your Congressional office or embassy, every tourist to Washington will want to see this iconic building, at least from the outside.

The free White House Visitor Center, a short distance away, has excellent interactive exhibits, which show details about the White House and the presidential families. It includes furniture of past presidents, a model of the residence, historical changes, and videos with insights from presidents about their time living there.

The Ellipse, a 54-acre stretch of lawn stretching to Constitution Avenue, hosts summer concerts by the US Army Band. Next door to the White House are the elaborate 1833 Greek Revival Treasury Building and the 1871 Executive Office Building, one of the most striking old government buildings in Washington. From Lafayette Square, one of the city's best-known, statues of Lafayette and others overlook the White House.

Address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

Official site: http://www.nps.gov/whho/index.htm

5. The Washington Monument

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The 555-foot white shaft of the Washington Monument is a familiar icon of the National Mall, and a beautiful sight, especially when mirrored in the long Reflecting Pool at its foot. Construction of the obelisk to honor the nation's first president did not proceed smoothly. The plan was approved by Congress in 1783, but ground wasn't broken until 1848.

When the tower reached 156 feet in height in 1854, political wrangling and lack of funds stopped the project for several years, and the Civil War caused further interruption so that the tower was not capped until 1885, when it was finally completed by the Army Corps of Engineers.

You can still see the separate stages of its building by three changes in the color of its facing stones; inside are engraved stones from states, cities, foreign countries, individuals, and civic groups, many of them donors who helped in its private funding stages. You can take an elevator to the very top for aerial views over the mall and much of Washington. The base of the monument is surrounded by a circle of 50 American Flags.

Address: 15th & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

6. National Air and Space Museum

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The National Air and Space Museum is one of the world's most popular museums, with a collection of history-making air and spacecraft that includes the original 1903 Wright Brothers Flyer and Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, the first plane to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

More recent flight history is represented here by the Apollo 11 command module, part of the first manned lunar landing mission. Permanent and changing exhibitions illustrate the science, history, and technology of aviation and space flight, covering topics like the use of air power in both world wars, the space race, flight pioneers, and up-to-the-minute flight and space technology.

Many of the exhibits are interactive, and all contain actual historical objects, such as a moon rock you can touch. Not only do permanent exhibits illustrate the history, they show the how and why of flight and space science, explaining how things fly, how jet engines work, and what keeps the International Space Station in orbit.

In addition to the exhibits, there is the Albert Einstein Planetarium, an IMAX theater, and the Public Observatory on the east terrace, where you can examine lunar craters and see planets and other astronomical features through telescopes. Flight simulators (fee charged) allow kids and adults to fly combat missions with aerial maneuvers like 360-degree barrel rolls or experience naval aviation in an F-18 Super Hornet.

The museum is also the home of the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, adjacent to Dulles Airport, and has even more historic aircraft and space exploration artifacts, including a Concorde and the space shuttle Discovery. You can watch from observation walkways through the hangars where experts are restoring historic aircraft.

The Air and Space Museum is currently undergoing a seven-year makeover that will transform not only the arrangement of 23 galleries, but the way it interprets the history and science of flight. During renovations, a number of the exhibits will be closed, so if particular exhibits are of special interest, you can consult the museum's website to find out if they are open.

Address: 600 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, D.C.

Official site: www.nasm.si.edu

7. National Gallery of Art

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Housed in two separate buildings connected by a tunnel, the National Gallery of Art is one of the world's premier art museums and one of the most popular in the U.S. Based on the sizable collection of financier and later Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, its large and diverse collection includes masterpieces of European and American paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts.

Frequent temporary exhibitions add to this outstanding permanent collection to highlight arts from cultures around the world. Among the highlights is Ginevra de Benci, the only Da Vinci painting in any American museum. Others include works by major French Impressionists - Monet, Degas, and Renoir -- and other masterpieces by Rembrandt, El Greco, and Vermeer.

The newer East Wing features sculptures by Henry Moore, a mobile by Alexander Calder, and other modern works. Free concerts are held at the National Gallery on Sunday evenings from fall through spring.

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Also part of the Smithsonian Institution and located on the mall are the two museums that comprise the National Museum of Asian Art. These are the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which houses more than 1,000 pieces, principally Chinese jade and bronze, Chinese paintings and lacquerware, and ancient Near Eastern ceramics and metalware.

The Freer collection includes nearly 30,000 pieces of Asian artworks, including Buddhist sculptures and Persian manuscripts, one of the most extensive collections in the world. The Freer also features 19th-century and early 20th-century American art, most notably a large collection of work by James McNeill Whistler.

The drum-shaped Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden traces the history of modern art from the mid-1800s, through more than 12,000 pieces of art and sculpture. One of the highlights of the garden is Rodin's Burghers of Calais.

The National Museum of African Art displays thousands of objects representing diverse artistic styles throughout the African continent, including sculptures, masks, costumes, household objects, and ceramics. All of these Smithsonian museums are among the many free things to do in Washington, D.C.

Address: 600 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

Official site: www.nga.gov

8. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

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Near the Smithsonian museums, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum documents, studies, and interprets the history of the Holocaust with the dual purpose of memorializing the victims and helping the world to confront hatred and prevent genocide.

Permanent exhibits examine the rise of the Nazis and the Aryan ideology, the ghettos, key events such as Kristallnacht, the concentration camps, and the Nazi atrocities. An exhibit on Americans and the Holocaust examines US reaction to Nazis, the war, and genocide, while another features personal accounts by US soldiers and citizens who witnessed the evidence of Nazi atrocities.

The presentations draw on the enormous collections of more than 12,750 artifacts, 85,000 historical photographs, 9,000 oral history testimonies, as well as archival footage and records of survivors and their families. A visit to the museum is a sobering experience.

Address: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW, Washington, D.C.

Official site: https://www.ushmm.org

9. Library of Congress

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An underground passage with historical exhibits leads from the Capitol Building to one of Washington's little-known places to visit, the Library of Congress. It's the world's largest library, modeled on the Opera House in Paris. You can visit portions on your own, but free tours disclose even more of its beautiful interior.

Displayed here are one of the three surviving complete Gutenberg Bibles, an earlier hand-printed Bible, Thomas Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson's personal library, and galleries filled with exhibits focusing on topics as varied as the musical careers of the Gershwin brothers and the work of editorial cartoonists and graphic artists.

Address: Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.

Official site: https://www.aoc.gov/

10. National Museum of Natural History

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One of the most popular things to do with children in Washington, the Museum of Natural History explores the natural world with permanent and changing exhibits to interest all ages. Favorite exhibits include the renowned Hope Diamond and the dazzling collection of gems and minerals around it, and Ocean Hall with its stunning underwater photography and replica of a 45-foot North Atlantic Right Whale.

The Hall of Human Origins follows human evolution over six million years in response to a changing world. Children will especially like the dinosaur exhibits and the interactive Discovery Room where they can touch and play with various artifacts.

Address: Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

Official site: http://www.si.edu/Museums/natural-history-museum

11. National Museum of American History

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One of the most popular of the Smithsonian's many museums that line the mall, The National Museum of American History traces the political, cultural, scientific, and technological history of the U.S. since the Revolution. It displays important pieces of Americana, including Thomas Jefferson's desk, one of Edison's light bulbs, and the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words to The Star Spangled Banner.

But beyond these treasured national artifacts, exhibits also examine how people lived, what they ate, where they worked, how they played, what they wore, how they traveled, how they worshiped, and how they governed themselves.

Illustrating these multiple themes are artifacts that include everything from gowns, work by First Ladies, and Julia Child's complete kitchen to the Muppets and the actual ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in the film Wizard of Oz. With all the historical things to do in Washington D.C., you might think your family has had enough history. But this engaging museum houses some fascinating exhibits and artifacts of our collective past that will appeal to all ages.

Address: 14th Street NW at Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

Official site: http://americanhistory.si.edu

12. National Museum of African American History and Culture

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Focusing on themes of history, culture, and community, the newest of the Smithsonian museums explores changing definitions of American citizenship and equality, at the same time highlighting African American culture and that of the entire African diaspora.

Various themes are covered in changing exhibits, which center on themes such as African American food traditions and chefs, the influence of African American sports stars on the breakdown of segregation, and African craftsmanship.

Historic artifacts on display include a section of the original Woolworth lunch counter that was the scene of the Greensboro, N.C. sit-in in 1960, and the aircraft known as the "Spirit of Tuskegee." In World War II, it was used to train African American airmen in the Army Air Forces, men whose work helped trigger the desegregation of the military.

Address: National Mall at Constitution Avenue, N.W., between 12th and 14th Streets

Official site: https://nmaahc.si.edu/

13. Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin

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The design for the domed white memorial to Thomas Jefferson, the third US president, is based on the Roman Pantheon, its low dome supported by 54 Ionic columns. Inside, appearing in a dramatic silhouette through the columns, is a 19-foot statue of a standing Jefferson, and around are engraved excerpts of the Declaration of Independence and other writings.

The monument stands alone at the far end of the Tidal Pool, which reflects the monument in its surface, and all around the edge of the water are cherry trees, a gift from Japan. These are one of Washington's greatest attractions when they bloom each spring, surrounding the basin with a cloud of pink flowers and celebrated with the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Along the Cherry Tree Walk around the Tidal Basin, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial reflects twelve years of American History through four outdoor rooms. Each one is devoted to one of FDR's terms of office as he guided the country through the Great Depression and World War II. Unveiled in 2011, the 30-foot-high Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is the newest along the Tidal Basin.

Address: 900 Ohio Drive SW, Washington, D.C.

14. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

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Opened in 1971 and named in memory of President John F. Kennedy, the National Cultural Center overlooks the Potomac River in a state-of-the-art building designed by architect Edward Durell Stone. It is home to the National Symphony Orchestra, which hosts some of the world's greatest guest artists each year, and the Washington National Opera, one of the nation's leading opera companies.

Its three main stages and several smaller stages present over 2,200 performing arts shows and events each year, about 400 of which are free. These represent all types of music and theater, both classical and contemporary.

Joining the Los Angeles Music Center and Lincoln Center in New York as one of the three most important venues in the United States, the Kennedy Center is a major stop for visiting overseas opera, dance, and drama companies on tour.

Address: 2700 F Street NW, Washington, D.C.

Official site: www.kennedy-center.org

15. National Zoological Park

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The National Zoo is another part of the Smithsonian, where nearly 2,000 different animals, birds, and reptiles live in habitats replicating as closely as possible their natural environments. Of the several hundred species represented here, about a quarter are endangered. This is one of the world's best zoos, not only for the quality of the visitor experience, but for its leadership in areas of animal care and sustainability.

By far the most popular animals here are the giant pandas, part of a major initiative that began in 1972 with the arrival of Hsing Hsing from the People's Republic of China. Other zoo highlights are red pandas, Sumatran tigers, western lowland gorillas, Asian elephants, cheetahs, white-naped cranes, and North Island brown kiwis.

In the Amazonia exhibit, you can glimpse the colorful underwater life of the Amazon, where one of the world's largest freshwater fish swims beneath a living tropical forest.

Along with the cheetahs at the Cheetah Conservation Station, you can see Grevy's zebras, dama gazelles, vultures, and red river hogs, and at the highly popular Elephant Trails, you can see the multigenerational herd and learn about the elephants' life at the zoo and in the wild.

Check the day's schedule for feeding times, demonstrations, educational games, and talks. As you might expect, this is one of Washington's favorite places to visit for children.

Address: 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

Official site: http://nationalzoo.si.edu

16. National Archives

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The National Archives holds permanent records of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, District of Columbia courts, and some federal agencies, as well as pre-World War I military service records for U.S. Army and Confederate veterans, and pre-1940 vessel and station logbooks for the U.S. Navy.

The records are open to researchers, and in the Rotunda, you can see the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Exhibition galleries feature a 1297 Magna Carta and a changing group of other historically significant documents. An exhibit, Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote, includes documents from the suffrage movement, and in other areas are interactive exhibits and hands-on activities for all ages.

Address: 701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

Official site: https://museum.archives.gov

17. International Spy Museum

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The place for 007 wannabes, the museum covers the techniques, technology, history, and contemporary role of espionage. Many of the exhibits are interactive, and throughout the building are actual examples of real espionage equipment (including a poison dart umbrella designed by the KGB), from declassified hardware and captured equipment to movie props used in the James Bond series.

Photographs, audio-visual programs, and special effects combine to give a picture of strategies and methods behind secret espionage missions. The collections include historic spy artifacts from the Revolution and Civil War, along with a wealth of ingeniously concealed and disguised cameras and weapons, even the famous Enigma cipher machine that broke the Nazi codes in World War II.

The top floor is dedicated to real-life spies Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanson, and John Walker, detailing the actual methods and tools they used to spy on the United States, with videos describing how spies were caught. The lower floor moves from fact to fiction, filled with information and actual props used in James Bond movies.

Highlighting these is the Aston Martin DB5 that first appeared in the 1964 film Goldfinger, equipped with machine guns, oil jets, a dashboard radar screen, an ejector seat, tire slashers, a bulletproof shield, and a rotating license plate. The car actually inspired intelligence agencies to add similar features to their own vehicles.

Address: 700 L'Enfant Plaza, SW; Washington, D.C.

Official site: www.spymuseum.org

18. Arlington National Cemetery

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On a hillside overlooking the city from across the Potomac River, Arlington National Cemetery is filled with memorials to American history and the men and women who were part of it. Its best-known landmarks are the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, President John F. Kennedy's gravesite, and the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial depicting the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima in World War II. The Welcome Center has maps, information (including the locations of specific graves), and exhibits telling the story of Arlington National Cemetery and its monuments.

Among these are memorials to nurses, Iran Rescue Mission casualties, and various battles and groups, including one at the graves of Lt. Cmdr. Roger B. Chaffee and Lt. Col. Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, who were killed in a fire aboard their Apollo spacecraft. Another commemorates the seven Challenger astronauts.

In a solemn and impressive ceremony, the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is changed every hour on the hour October 1 to March 31, and every half hour from April 1 through September 30. Although the cemetery is not right in the city, both the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Metrorail system and Metrobus have stops close to the gate.

Official site: https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil

19. Washington National Cathedral

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The English-style, Neo-Gothic National Cathedral, one of the world's largest cathedrals, took 83 years to build, from 1907 to 1990. It follows the Gothic building style and techniques, with flying buttresses and solid masonry construction of Indiana limestone. Throughout the cathedral are artistic details to see, from its stained-glass windows to the hand-embroidered kneelers that commemorate war heroes and historic events.

Special tours, reserved in advance, explore hidden parts of the building and its art; families should ask for the brochure Explore the Cathedral with Children for a scavenger hunt to find wrought-iron animals, tiny carvings, and gargoyles. Be sure to look for the gargoyle of Darth Vader high up on the northwest tower.

The cathedral is the burial place of President Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller, and state funerals for Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, and Ford took place here. The top of the 300-foot central tower is the highest point in Washington.

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The Bishop's Garden, on the south side of the cathedral, includes plants found in medieval gardens, plants mentioned in the Bible, and others native to the area, along with a fish pond. The 59-acre Cathedral Close, designed by the eminent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr in the early 20th century, is an urban oasis modeled on the walled grounds of medieval cathedrals.

Carillon recitals are held each Saturday at 12:30pm, and the peal bells are rung on Tuesday evenings from 7 to 9pm and after Sunday services. On Mondays and Wednesdays at 12:30pm, a cathedral organist discusses the Great Organ here, followed by a mini-recital.

Address: Massachusetts & Wisconsin Avenues NW, Washington, D.C.

Official site: www.cathedral.org

20. Georgetown Historic District

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The neighborhood from 27th to 37th Streets, between Rock Creek Park and K Street NW, is the city's oldest, with origins in the early 1700s, before Washington itself. Georgetown University, the nation's oldest Roman Catholic and Jesuit College, is located here.

Today, Georgetown's tidy streets of historic homes and its boutique shops, cafés, restaurants, and small museums make it a popular respite from lines at the mall attractions. The C&O Canal, the 184-mile waterway paralleling the Potomac River, begins here, and its towpath is a favorite place for walking and cycling.

Dumbarton Oaks is a 16-acre estate with formal gardens and a valuable Byzantine and Christian art collection. Federal period Dumbarton House features Federal-style furniture, paintings, textiles, silver, and ceramics, and is home to one of five original known copies of the Articles of Confederation.

Tudor Place is an early 19th-century mansion built by Martha Washington's granddaughter, Martha Custis Peter, and her husband. Items from George and Martha Washington's Mount Vernon home are shown here, and the Federal-period gardens contain plants and trees from the early 19th century. The Kreeger Museum displays a wide collection of art from the 1850s to the 1970s including paintings by Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Chagall, Gauguin, and Picasso.

If you're looking for places to eat in Washington or things to do at night, this is one of the places to visit. The neighborhood is filled with restaurants and cafes, along with live music venues.

21. Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery

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Sharing the historic Old Patent Office Building with the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum holds one of the world's largest and most inclusive collections of American art, representing more than 7,000 artists from the colonial era to the present.

The collections record the wonder of artists capturing the beauty of American landscapes as the nation expanded westward, and the changing face of American cities and towns. Special collections represent works by more than 200 African American artists, collections of Latinex works, an outstanding array of contemporary American craft and folk arts.

The National Portrait Gallery focuses on famous Americans, from the time of the first colonies to present day leaders and important public figures, including the only complete collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House.

Address: 8th and G Streets NW, Washington, D.C.

Official sites:

22. U.S. Botanic Garden

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At the foot of Capitol Hill, the U.S. Botanic Garden is an oasis of tropical gardens in the center of the city. Surrounded by outdoor gardens, the huge glasshouse is the hub of a museum of living plants. Permanent interior exhibits create environments for plants at home everywhere from the desert to rainforests, while outside is a showcase of plants that thrive in the Middle Atlantic states.

The greenhouse contains two courtyard gardens and 10 garden rooms, and the outside displays include a pollinator garden, rose garden, kitchen garden, and water garden. There's always something in bloom, and benches in the vast conservatory invite a stop to enjoy the fragrances and the lush green surroundings.

Address: 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C.

Official site: https://www.usbg.gov/

23. U Street Corridor

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D.C.'s U Street Corridor is one of the city's top historic neighborhoods and served as the epicenter of Black culture in America between 1862 and 1948. Designated a historic district in 1998, this neighborhood is filled with colorful buildings housing plenty of shops, restaurants, and theaters.

It is anchored by 14th Street on its west side and the recently renovated Howard Theatre on its east end at the edge of the Shaw neighborhood. Constructed in 1910, this was the center of Black Broadway for the first half of the 20th Century. It fell into decline but underwent a magnificent renovation and reopened a decade ago.

Duke Ellington was born in this neighborhood and a sculpture honoring the famed jazz musician can be seen at the intersection of Florida Ave and T Street. Also check out a concert at Lincoln Theatre, built in 1922, where Ellington and other jazz greats like Billie Holiday, Nat King, Cole, and Louis Armstrong all used to play.

U Street is known for its delicious food scene. Here you'll find the acclaimed Ben's Chili Bowl, which has served everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Barack Obama. Its restaurants span the globe, however. If you are craving authentic Ethiopian fare, head to "Little Ethiopia" on the east end of U Street.

24. The Wharf

22 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Washington, D.C. (30)

With its second phase only completed in 2002, The Wharf is D.C.'s hottest new waterfront neighborhood, home to more than 80 restaurants and shops, an iconic fish market, four hotels, and a popular live music venue. Running along the Potomac River for one mile, the neighborhood was created as part of a larger development plan for what had been a neglected portion of the SW quadrant.

Just about a 10-minute walk from the National Mall, The Wharf's waterfront location provides a totally different vibe than the memorial and museum area. The Municipal Fish Market is the country's oldest continuously operating open-air fish market, originally opened in 1805. Until the redevelopment of The Wharf, it wasn't really on the tourist map anymore. Today it is buzzing with hungry travelers and locals alike, who come here to dine al fresco on fresh fish.

If you want to get out on the Potomac River yourself, you can rent a kayak or paddleboard to explore. There are also seasonal water taxis running from The Wharf to Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, across the river. Alexandria is known for its stately 18th- and 19th-century buildings and brick streets. It's a great place to wander around for an afternoon. Water taxis also run to Georgetown.

Come evening, book a luxe riverboat dinner cruise on Potomac. These offer a wonderful way to relax after an action-packed day, and river sunsets can be phenomenal.

Official site: https://www.wharfdc.com/

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Washington, D.C.

Sightseeing by Day:

  • Washington, D.C. has so many famous sites that it's difficult to keep track of all there is to see and do. One of the best ways to explore this city is on a classic Big Bus Hop-on Hop-off Tour, seeing the sites from an open-top red bus and getting on and off wherever you choose.

Sightseeing by Night:

  • At night, Washington is transformed as the floodlights are beamed up the monuments, giving them a completely different look from their daytime appearance. The Washington, D.C. Monuments by Moonlight Night Trolley Tour is a 2.5- hour guided tour that provides an easy way to see the city at night.

Sightseeing by Bicycle:

  • Active travelers will enjoy the Washington D.C. Monuments Bike Tour to visit the Washington Monument, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Jefferson Memorial on a three-hour ride. Hybrid bikes and the relatively level terrain make this suitable even for those who are not avid cyclists. As many places to visit have security checkpoints and do not allow backpacks, it is wise to carry as little as possible while touring.

Best Time to Visit Washington, D.C.

Weather wise, the best time of year to travel to Washington, D.C. is between the months of March and May and September to November. You'll hit cherry blossom season (usually from late March to early April), ogle spectacular fall foliage (especially in October through November), and enjoy a long stretch of great weather free from frigid and sweltering temps.

Average minimum and maximum temperatures for Washington, DC in °C
6 -3 8 -1 13 3 19 8 24 13 29 18 31 21 30 21 26 17 20 10 14 4 8 0
Average monthly precipitation totals for Washington, DC in mm.
82 67 91 70 97 80 93 87 96 82 77 78
Average monthly snowfall totals for Washington, DC in cm.
16 16 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 8
Average minimum and maximum temperatures for Washington, DC in °F
42 27 47 30 56 37 66 46 75 56 84 65 88 70 86 69 79 62 68 50 57 40 47 32
Average monthly precipitation totals for Washington, DC in inches.
3.2 2.6 3.6 2.8 3.8 3.1 3.7 3.4 3.8 3.2 3.0 3.1
Average monthly snowfall totals for Washington, DC in inches.
6.2 6.3 1.6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.0 3.1

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

22 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Washington, D.C. (31)

Places to Visit Close to Washington: If you have time to explore outside the city, there are many easy Day Trips from Washington, D.C., and our page on Top-Rated Weekend Getaways from Washington D.C. can give you plenty of ideas for longer excursions.

22 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Washington, D.C. (32)

Exploring Maryland: There are a number of tourist attractions in Maryland, including those in historic Annapolis and Baltimore with its lively harbor area. The state is also famous for its beaches and oceanfront resorts, many of which are within easy weekend reach from Washington. You can learn more about these on our page Top-Rated Resorts in Maryland.

22 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Washington, D.C. (33)

Discovering Virginia: The District of Columbia lies between two states, and to its south, you can visit attractions in Virginia, including those in the capital city of Richmond. Or you could spend a weekend immersed in colonial history with the help of our page .

22 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Washington, D.C. (2024)


What is the most visited location in Washington DC.? ›

These Are The 10 Top-Visited Attractions In Washington D.C.
  • 8 World War II Memorial.
  • 7 National Gallery of Art.
  • 6 Lincoln Memorial.
  • 5 The White House.
  • 4 United States Botanic Garden.
  • 3 Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum.
  • 2 Smithsonian National Museum Of Natural History.
  • 1 Washington Monument.
Oct 28, 2022

What is Washington DC ranked in tourism? ›

The D.C. metro area was ranked No. 3 for best summer vacation spot, according to a study from WalletHub. You may see more and more tourists crowding the National Mall or taking in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, this summer.

Is there anything to see in Washington DC? ›

Touring the National Mall should top your list of must-do's when you visit the District. Free monuments, memorials and museums are all around, including the famous Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and the popular National Museum of African American History and Culture.

What is the big thing in Washington DC? ›

Built to honor George Washington, the United States' first president, the 555-foot marble obelisk towers over Washington, D.C. George Washington was perhaps the one indispensable man among the founders. You can't get to the top of the Washington Monument without a ticket. Learn how to get them here!

What food is DC best known for? ›

In Washington, DC, famous food options—such as mumbo sauce, half-smoke sausages, and Peruvian chicken—are worthy of wider recognition, not to mention all the fabulous Salvadorian and Ethiopian food scattered about the city. Here are five of Washington, DC's most iconic dishes to tickle your tastebuds.

Can you walk everywhere in Washington DC? ›

If you're still wondering if you really can walk everywhere in Washington DC, the answer is YES. You can experience the nation's capital on foot in many ways. Taking a walking tour is one such way!

What is the best day of week to tour Washington DC? ›

Other Considerations for Your Washington, DC Visit

Also, the popular sites are busier on the weekends than the weekdays (particularly Saturday). The slowest days for crowds tend to be Mondays and Wednesdays. It is also a good idea to visit museums after 2pm to avoid school crowds when necessary.

What city is the #1 US tourist destination? ›

New York

It's no surprise that the Big Apple is the #1 most visited city in the U.S. by foreign travelers.

What is the top 1% in Washington DC? ›

Using Bureau of Labor Statistics, financial website Smart Asset ranked states on the minimum household income required to be in the top 1% of earners as of 2023. In the District, it is now $1.014 million a year.

Is it safe to walk downtown Washington, DC? ›

Downtown DC is generally safe during the day and well-patrolled by law enforcement. However, it is advisable to remain cautious at night, especially in less crowded areas. Avoid walking alone on dimly lit streets and stay in well-lit and populated areas.

How many days is enough to see Washington, DC? ›

If you're only going to visit here once, either because you're from out of the country and don't think you'll ever be back, you should plan to spend five to seven days here. That amount of time will give you a chance to see and do most of what you really want and not feel like you missed out.

How to spend 2 days in Washington, DC.? ›

Washington D.C. 2 Day Itinerary – Must-Do Attractions & Museums
  1. National Archives Museum.
  2. Visit The Washington Monument.
  3. Abraham Lincoln Memorial & Reflecting Pool.
  4. Tour The National Mall At Sunset.
  5. Visit The Jefferson Memorial & Martin Luther King Memorial.
  6. Experience The Food Scene In Georgetown.

What is DC culture known for? ›

Cultural life

Scores of museums, galleries, and theatres are located in the city, many of which are internationally recognized. More money is spent per capita by the local government on the performing arts in D.C. than anywhere else in the United States. Cultural heritage festivals are held throughout the year.

What makes DC so special? ›

Founded on July 16, 1790, Washington, DC is unique among American cities because it was established by the Constitution of the United States to serve as the nation's capital.

What else is Washington DC known for? ›

10 Truly Awesome Things That Washington, DC Is Famous For
  • 3 Cherry Blossoms.
  • 4 See The World In A Single City. ...
  • 5 Three Branches Of Government Open To The Public. ...
  • 6 Music City. ...
  • 7 Food Traditions. ...
  • 8 The Weird (But Totally Cool) City Design. ...
  • 9 Museums For All. pinturastudio. ...
  • 10 Iconic American History. conexao.america. ...
Nov 4, 2022

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