The vibrant and cosmopolitan capital of the USA, Washington DC is a political powerhouse that is also crammed with exciting things to see and do. There’s a wealth of cultural sites, including beautiful buildings and world-class museums (many of which are free!), along with terrific shopping opportunities, a global dining scene, and a thriving nightlife.
While many people know the highlights of Washington DC—seeing the White House, visiting the Smithsonian, and strolling along the National Mall, for example—there is much, much more to the capital city than may at first meet the eye. Many people skip over some of the city’s true treasures, which is a real shame!
Our expert team of travel writers has compiled a list of the best places to visit in Washington DC to help you to plan a diverse trip that really lets you get under the skin of the American capital city. From well-known hotspots to local secrets and hidden gems, we’ve covered all bases.
Add these fabulous places to your Washington DC itinerary and have a ball!
Table of Contents
Best places to stay in Washington DC
Need help choosing your digs? Well Set yourself up for success – read our insider’s guide on where to stay in Washington DC before starting your journey!
Best Hostel in Washington DC: Highroad Hostel DC
Thinking about where to stay in Washington DC? Looking for an affordable, clean, comfortable, and conveniently located base? The Highroad Hostel DC Washington D.C. Hostel is perfect! There are mixed and female-only dorm rooms as well as private rooms for two and three. The memory foam mattresses help you to get a great night’s sleep. The cool common areas include a homey lounge and a large well-equipped kitchen.
There are free-to-use computers, free Wi-Fi, a book exchange, laundry facilities, hairdryers, and luggage storage, and reception is staffed around the clock. Breakfast is included in the rates and the hostel sometimes offers a free and filling evening meal too! It’s located in Adams Morgan, one of the best neighbourhoods in Washington DC for nightlife and late-night dining.
Best Airbnb in Washington DC: Historic home in Urban Area
Start the journey of exploring DC at this cute townhouse. You can have the whole thing all to yourself in the heart of America’s historic districts. The home is sitting in the historic Mews located near most of DC’s major attractions. This home is expansive, and affordable accommodating up to 4 people if you wish. And hey, if couch snoozing is your thing, these couches are to die for they are, in fact, cuddle puddle material sofas. Bring your walking shoes —the metro is only 2 blocks away and 3 blocks from Whole Foods! Yes, that means you can explore and make time to grab some groceries to cook in the beautiful kitchen this home has.View on Airbnb
Best Budget Hotel in Washington DC: The Architect
Located in Northwest, The Architect is one of the best places to stay in Washington DC for budget travellers looking for a comfy and convenient hotel close to an abundance of sightseeing hotspots. The queen-sized rooms are en suite with A/C, a TV, a desk, a phone, a hairdryer, free Wi-Fi, and a wardrobe. The 24-hour business centre is ideal for catching up with work and staying connected.
The daily cleaning services keep the hotel spotless and reception is open 24 hours. The White House, McPherson Square, and Andrei Sakhorov Plaza are just a few of the points of interest in Washington DC that are within walking distance of the property.
Best Luxury Hotel in Washington DC: Kimpton Topaz Hotel
Another awesome hotel in Northwest, which is one of the best neighbourhoods in Washington DC for sightseeing, the Kimpton Topaz Hotel is a top accommodation choice for travellers who want to treat themselves to a luxurious stay in the US capital. There’s a wide selection of rooms and suites, including those that are suitable for families, and each room comes with a private bathroom, a minibar, free Wi-Fi, an iPod docking station, ironing facilities, and a hairdryer.
Guests can enjoy delicious in-room dining and mingle with others in the bar. Business-friendly features include meeting rooms, dry cleaning services, and a business centre. You can arrange a massage to help you unwind and really relax.
Need a place quick? Here’s the best neighbourhood in Washington DC:
- Tease your taste buds at Compass Rose, a restaurant whose dishes are inspired by the owner’s exotic travels.
- Catch a show at the Black Cat, a two-level music hall with pinball, pool tables, and a fantastic menu.
- Marvel at the detail of the National City Christian Church.
These are the BEST Places to Visit in Washington DC!
#1 – The National Mall
One of the most amazing places in Washington DC!
- Diverse monuments and memorials
- Lesson in US history
- Various events
- Many incredible museums
Why it’s awesome: A Washington DC must do, the National Mall is one of the most-visited places in the USA. Stretching around three kilometres (two miles) between the impressive Capitol building and the Lincoln Memorial, there are tons of monuments, museums, memorials, and statues that teach visitors more about the nation’s history and honour significant figures from the past.
There are regular events at the National Mall too, along with wide, leafy boulevards. Part of the National Park Service, the aims of the National Mall include to provide an elegant space for official monuments and structures, and maintain a historic landscape as well as a public park,
What to do there: Take a leisurely stroll along the National Mall and see the many historic monuments. Admire the Greek-style 1914 Lincoln Memorial and the incredible views of the striking monument from across the large reflecting pool. Remember those who served in conflicts at the large Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Three Soldiers Statue, and the District of Columbia War Memorial.
Walk through pretty gardens, like the Constitution Gardens, the Butterfly Habitat Gardens, the Mary Livingston Ripley Gardens, and the Kathrine Dulin Folger Rosa Garden. Gaze up at the soaring Washington Monument. Visit the many museums (most of which are part of the Smithsonian group and almost all of which are free!), including the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of African Art, the National Gallery of Art, the National Air and Space Museum, and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Pay a return visit in the evening time to see the setting beautifully illuminated.
#2 – The Capitol
One of the most incredible free places to go to in Washington DC
- Stunning piece of architecture
- Symbol of democracy and iconic landmark
- No admission fees or charges for tours
- Various programs and activities
Why it’s awesome: The United States Capitol is one of the most famous landmarks in Washington DC. Containing the US Congress and the government legislature, the iconic neoclassical building was constructed in 1800. Later changes included the addition of the grand and eye-catching dome. Flags fly proudly above the building. Inside, there is an impressive art collection, which includes statues, sculptures, paintings, and carvings.
It is a National Historic Landmark, a strong symbol of democracy, and a source of national pride. Visitors can register for free tours, learn more about the building and its functions at the Visitor Center, get a pass to watch senate in session, and visit various parts of the magnificent building.
What to do there: Join a free 45-minute tour of the Capitol, exploring the Greek Revival National Statutory Hall with its marble floor and columns, sculptures, large chandelier, sandstone relief, and other sublime details, the Crypt with its replica of the Magna Carta and distance-marker star, and the lavish dome-topped Rotunda. If they are sitting you can obtain a pass to watch Congress. Peek inside the beautiful Halls of the Senate, complete with gorgeous Italian art, hear historic tales in the Old Senate Chamber, and admire the overall beauty of the building both inside and out.
There are also special activities aimed at younger visitors; the Family Program details Congress’s support of space exploration missions. Remember to act respectfully inside the Capitol as it is, after all, still a place of work for many people, and don’t forget to take ID on your visit.
#3 – Rock Creek Park
A beautiful and scenic place to check out in Washington DC
- Popular place for leisure and relaxation
- Diverse outdoor activities
- Lots of wildlife
- Pretty views
Why it’s awesome: The large and attractive Rock Creek Park is one of the best outdoor attractions in Washington DC. Established in 1890, it was the USA third national park to be established. Covering 1,754 acres (710 hectares), the expansive park follows Rock Creek across the border with neighbouring Maryland. As well as walking trails, nature, and open areas, the park also has an equestrian centre, a golf course, sporting facilities, a small museum, play areas, a planetarium, and monuments. It’s a top place for walking, jogging, cycling, and skating, and a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
What to do there: Visit Rock Creek Park Horse Center where you can take riding classes and go out to explore trails on horseback. There are also trails that are great for strolling, running and biking. Play a round of golf, cross the various bridges that span the creek, and learn more about the area’s history at the museum inside Pierce Mill. Examine the skies at the planetarium and get to know the native wildlife at the Nature Center. Let kids cut loose in the play areas and take a picnic for a delightful outdoor lunch surrounded by nature.
#4 – Arlington National Cemetery
Possibly one of the most important places to visit in Washington DC
- Biggest military burial ground in the USA
- Moving memorials
- Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
- Scene of solemn ceremonies
Why it’s awesome: Although not strictly in the capital (it’s a short distance away in neighbouring Virginia), taking a trip to Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most popular things to do when visiting Washington DC. Founded during the Civil War, the military cemetery is the final resting place for people who lost their lives while serving the country in various conflicts. There are 70 sections, one of which is dedicated to former slaves. The well-ordered cemetery also has a number of memorials and monuments as well as the Tomb to the Unknown Soldier, which is always guarded by military personnel. There is no admission cost to enter the cemetery.
What to do there: Honour more than 400,000 veterans, with the graves of people who served in the Civil War, the Cold War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, and more. You can walk around the cemetery independently or join an informative tour. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes in any case as the complex is vast. Visit the hilltop Arlington House, the former home of Robert E. Lee and a building that has served as a memorial to George Washington, a plantation, a slave home, a burial site, and a home for freed slaves.
You can take a tour of the historic home and learn more about its past. See the large white Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, constantly guarded by members of the infantry. If you visit in the summer months you can watch the official Changing of the Guard ceremony. Other memorials throughout the cemetery include the USS Maine Mast Memorial, the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial, the Cross of Sacrifice, the Laos Memorial, the eternal flame to deceased president John F. Kennedy, and the Lockerbie Cairn.
#5 – United States Botanic Garden
One of the most underrated places to see in Washington DC
- One of North America’s oldest botanic gardens
- Located in the National Mall
- No admission fee
- Informative, educational, and beautiful
Why it’s awesome: The United States Botanic Garden is frequently overlooked by visitors to the National Mall. One of the oldest botanic gardens in North America, it can trace its roots back to the 1820s. There are various sections to the pretty complex, including a large conservatory, the serene Bartholdi Park, and the National Garden. The botanic garden is home to a huge selection of plant life from across the world and from different terrains and climates.
Some species are rare or endangered. It aims to showcase the diversity and importance of flora in addition to teaching people about the ecological, cultural, therapeutic, and economic benefits of various plants. Open every day of the year, there’s no charge to enjoy the beautiful gardens.
What to do there: Invoke different senses as you walk to explore the United States Botanic Garden, with eye-catching colours and forms and subtle and heady scents. Relax in the tranquil Bartholdi Park as you enjoy the different species and rest on one of the many secluded benches for a few moments of contemplation. Don’t miss seeing the striking Bartholdi Fountain, created by the same man who gave the world the Statue of Liberty.
Learn more about plants from the Mid-Atlantic region in the National Garden, which includes a garden that honours the nation’s First Ladies, a butterfly garden, and a rose garden. The large Conservatory is a show-stealer, with its diverse rooms that lead you through ancient terrains, the desert, the jungle, and more. You can join a free tour of the Conservatory each afternoon too. If you’re visiting with younger members of the family don’t miss the enchanting Children’s Garden. Kids can get hands-on as they use various gardening tools and smell and touch a selection of plants, and there’s also active play equipment.
#6 – Washington National Cathedral
One of the most religious places to see in Washington DC
- Glorious architecture
- Unusual features
- Active place of worship
- Stunning interiors
Why it’s awesome: Officially named The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington, the stunning religious building is commonly referred to as simply Washington National Cathedral. Although its sublime designs and architecture may lead people to believe the church is very old, construction only began in the early 1900s—and, it took many years until it was completed in 1990! Details are continually being added too.
One of the biggest churches in the USA, the spectacular church was designed to resemble the English Gothic style from the Middle Ages. From exquisite and colourful stained glass windows to detailed carvings and sacred chapels, there are many fine details to admire both inside and out. Attractive gardens surround the cathedral. It is an active place of worship, with regular religious services,
What to do there: Admire the magnificent cathedral from the outside, with its soaring Gothic spires, 112 grotesque gargoyles, bell tower, flying buttresses, ornate windows, carvings, and other fine details. Don’t miss seeing the unusual Darth Vader gargoyle! Stroll through the pleasant 59-acre (24-hectare) grounds, which include delightful gardens, places for reflection, a Norman archway from the 13th century, and walking trails through wildlife-rich woodland.
Enter the church and be dazzled by the grand designs, with a sweeping nave, side chapels, a grand altar, elegant arches, carved pulpit, vaulted ceilings, numerous pieces of art, stunning stained glass windows, wrought iron features, crosses, statues, and more. Of particular interest are the stones set in the ground in front of the altar; brought from the Chapel of Moses at Mount Sinai, the rocks symbolise the Ten Commandments.
As you view the spectacular stained glass windows look out for the fantastic rose window and the unusual Space Window—one of the most unusual things to do in Washington DC, the window commemorates the moon landings and is said to have an actual piece of lunar rock embedded within the glass. Descend into the Crypt where you’ll find several graves of prominent people, including Woodrow Wilson and Hellen Keller. You can also buy tickets to climb the soaring bell tower to admire terrific city views and get closer to some of the gorgeous windows and interesting gargoyles.
#7 – National Zoological Park
Awesome place to visit in Washington DC with kids!
- Part of the Smithsonian group
- Home to diverse creatures from around the world
- Free admission
- Centre for research and conservation
Why it’s awesome: Established in 1889, the National Zoological Park contains more than 1,500 animals from some 300 diverse species. Creatures come from across the globe, with a large number of rare and/or endangered species among the zoo’s inhabitants. Spread across 163 acres (66 hectares), the expansive zoo is divided into several cool zones. Part of the Smithsonian group of museums, the zoo isn’t just a place for people to see animals; it’s also a major conservation and research centre.
Visitors can meet keepers to learn more about specific species and their care, attend diverse presentations, and take part in a variety of activities and programs. The zoo also hosts child-friendly and adult-focused events throughout the year. There’s a good selection of places to eat and drink throughout the zoo. Open every day of the year (except Christmas Day), there is no charge to visit the impressive zoo. It’s one of the best attractions in Washington DC for families.
What to do there: Observe an array of animals from all corners of the globe in large, clean, and comfortable habitats. The giant pandas are incredibly popular and, if they are hidden from sight, there are cameras that let you still see the cute Chinese creatures. Other animals include elephants, lions, giraffes, tigers, kiwi, orangutans, sea lions, cheetahs, snakes, monkeys, and many, many more. Watch various species being fed, attend the informative and fun meet-the-mammal demonstrations, learn more at the Conservation Station, and book a guided tour with a zookeeper. Children (and adults!) can get up close and personal with tame creatures at the Kids’ Farm. Plan to spend several hours discovering the zoo’s many highlights and don’t forget to wear comfortable footwear.
Quick Note – Staying safe in Washington DC
Washington DC has come a long way since the times when it had a reputation for being one of the most dangerous cities in the USA. While there are still parts of the city that are more problematic than others, overall Washington DC is a reasonably safe city for tourists. As with most large cities, visitors are reminded not to stray down deserted, poorly lit side streets; muggings can occur. You should also be careful with your belongings in crowded places, including on the metro, and be cautious of pickpockets and snatch-and-run thieves. Mobile phone snatchings are fairly common, so be careful about using your phone in public.
Research common scams and tricks ahead of your visit, including seemingly kind offers to assist with carrying luggage, fake petitions, and “magic” tricks. While not normally a danger, keep in mind that the capital often sees protests and demonstrations and that these can increase your travelling time and make it more difficult to reach certain areas. But as anywhere else, as long as you apply travel safety precautions you should be completely fine.
Be sure to pack appropriately for the season, taking adequately warm clothes for the colder winter months, and to stay hydrated during the hot and humid summers.
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.
#8 – Fort DeRussy
One of Washington DC’s coolest historical sites!
- Old Civil War fortress
- Secluded and off the beaten track
- Great hiking opportunities
- Wild, rugged, and overgrown ambience
Why it’s awesome: Located within Rock Creek Park, the hidden-away Fort DeRussy dates back to 1861 when it was one of 60-plus fortresses built to protect Washington DC from attacks. Unlike many of the city’s other old fortifications, Fort DeRussy did see some action during the Civil War. Quiet for most of the time, in 1864 Confederate troops made their only attack on Washington DC, causing the fort’s guns to roar into life. Today, the ruins are in a good state of repair. Nature has, however, reclaimed its territory, with the surrounding area now an overgrown woodland filled with wildlife. The setting enhances the atmosphere and the area is great for keen hikers.
What to do there: Follow the short dirt track to reach the fortress remains and read information boards to glean greater insights into the area’s past. See the old dry moat, the remains of magazine storage areas, old trenches, mounds, earth walls, and the well-preserved parapet. Although the views are now obscured by woodland it is easy to see how the hilltop location was once a great vantage point. After soaking up the history, take a walk through the woods to spot an array of flora and fauna. If you’re hiking, cross the creek and you’ll find a small tucked-away log cabin that was previously owned by a 19th-century poet.
#9 – Eden Center
A must-see for foodies!
- Vietnamese-American strip mall
- Delicious Asian cuisine
- A major tourist attraction in Washington DC
- Wide variety of shops
Why it’s awesome: The Eden Center is one of the hotspots in Washington DC for food lovers. Although located in nearby Falls Church, Virginia, the strip mall is easy to reach from the capital and attracts many people, both locals and tourists, from the city. It’s the biggest Asian mall on the USA’s East Coast. There are more than 120 shops and dining establishments targeted at the large Asian American population and fans of Asian cuisine and goods.
In particular, there’s a strong Vietnamese flavour. In addition to shops and eateries, the mall has a gym, nightclub, travel agencies, and supermarkets. Popular since the mid-1980s, the centre hosts a variety of interesting cultural events too.
What to do there: Satisfy your hunger and let your taste buds lead you to some of the best places to eat in Washington DC! Get your fill of steaming hot bowls of pho, the tasty sandwich-like snack of banh mi, Vietnamese baked goods, spring rolls, stir-fried dishes, and more. Don’t miss trying a glass of tasty bubble tea too.
Whether you want something quick and easy to grab to eat on the go or somewhere a little fancier where you can sit down and enjoy a leisurely meal in a great setting, the Eden Center has something to suit all preferences. You can also enjoy great shopping, with shops that sell things like clothes, accessories, souvenirs, and traditional herbal remedies, and buy tasty treats and Asian ingredients to take home with you in the supermarkets and delicatessens.
#10 – Tregaron Conservancy
A nice non-touristy place to visit in Washington DC
- Peaceful and scenic
- Home to many birds and other wildlife
- Historic building
- Free to enjoy
Why it’s awesome: Located in Northwest, the Tregaron Conservancy is part of the larger Tregaron Estate. The estate was constructed in the first quarter of the 1900s and is today a national landmark. Covering a little over 20 acres (eight hectares), the country estate has a historic mansion, a Russian-style summer house (dacha), a greenhouse, a farmhouse, a school, and a carriage house. The estate is celebrated for its gorgeous and well-planned landscape architecture, with stone walls, bridges, old woodlands, walking trails, fields, ponds, gardens, and gaping ravines. The estate has featured in a couple of movies. There is no admission charge for visitors.
What to do there: Escape the busy city streets and enjoy quiet time in nature in the lovely Tregaron Conservancy. Explore the different landscapes, following various rugged trails, and spot an assortment of wildlife. Keen bird spotters are sure to be impressed; the estate is home to numerous bird species including robins, wrens, warblers, owls, sparrows, hawks, flycatchers, woodpeckers, mockingbirds, herons, and doves. Listen to the soothing sounds of twittering and bird song as you explore the natural areas. You can also see a variety of flowers in the wild gardens and meadows.
#11 – International Spy Museum
Cool place to see in Washington DC with friends!
- Terrific place to learn more about subterfuge and secrets
- Fascinating exhibits
- Interactive spy program
- Family friendly
Why it’s awesome: Open since 2002 and since moved to a different location, the International Spy Museum is a Washington DC must do for fans of espionage and things that are a bit different to the norm. It’s also one of the best places to visit in Washington DC for friends and families with older kids. The cool museum contains a large assortment of objects (both historic and modern) related to the spy industry, many of which are sure to surprise you! It contains the biggest collection of publically displayed spy memorabilia in the world. There are various immersive activities that take people right into the mysterious world of spies as well as a rooftop terrace and event spaces with great city views.
What to do there: Delve into the world of secret missions, espionage, and spies as you marvel at the museum’s wide collection of exhibits, some fairly well known (like hidden cameras) and others that defy belief! Items include tiny pistols designed to look like lipsticks, cameras hidden in the most obscure of places, ingenious listening devices, vehicles, code-cracking devices, transmitters, and much more. You can learn more about famous spies from throughout history and hear captivating real-life stories from former spies.
Discover how spies have helped in war efforts, to gather intelligence, and to overthrow mighty leaders, and travel back in time as you learn more about espionage in the Roman and Greek times, the Medieval Era, the Renaissance, the British Empire, the Civil War, the Cold War, World Wars I and II, and other epochs. Old documents, photographs, and films take you even further into the secret world and you can try your hand at being a spy at the fun interactive stations and via RFID experiences.
#12 – Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
A great place to see in Washington DC if you love architecture
- Stunning building
- Striking interiors
- Spiritual atmosphere
- Biggest Catholic place of worship in North America
Why it’s awesome: The beautiful Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the biggest Catholic church in North America. It’s also among the biggest churches in the world. A Washington DC must see for fans of religious architecture (and architecture in general), the foundation stone of the impressive building was blessed and laid in the year 1920. Construction took place over many years, with the church finally completed in 1959, though there were further internal additions with the last architectural element finished in 2017.
Inside, there are many chapels in honour of the Virgin Mary, striking mosaics, and many religious images. Outside, the appearance is like that of a medieval church, complete with a huge cross-topped dome and a tall tower. There have been several papal visits to the basilica and it’s a pilgrimage destination. It is an active place of worship as well as a popular landmark.
What to do there: Join an hour-long tour to learn more about the basilica, its significance, its art, its history, and religious details. Tours lead visitors through the main body of the basilica (the Great Upper Church) and into the smaller shrines. You can also visit independently. Admire the gorgeous facades and details of the Romanesque-Byzantine structure and appreciate the rich religious art inside.
Indeed, the church contains the biggest collection of modern ecclesiastical art in the world. Feast your eyes on ornate archways, intricately crafted sculptures, dazzling mosaics, delicately carved reliefs, marble cladding, and fabulous stained glass windows. Go down into the Crypt and you can follow the 14 Stations of the Cross.
#13 – Theodore Roosevelt Island
One of the nicer places in Washington DC to sightsee!
- Pedestrianised island in the Potomac River
- Dedicated to a former US president
- Walking trails and outdoor activities
- Nature and wildlife
Why it’s awesome: Covering 88.5 acres (35.8 hectares), Theodore Roosevelt Island is located in the Potomac River and connected to the mainland by a bridge. Previously known by other names, the river island is a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the USA and a keen lover of nature and conservation. Once wild and overgrown, it is today a popular place for outdoor activities and sports. No motorised vehicles or bicycles are allowed on the island. It’s also a top place for enjoying peace and quiet, admiring lovely views, and spotting an assortment of wildlife.
What to do there: Enjoy pleasant walks on the various nature trails, passing through patches of diverse vegetation and terrain, and stroll along the boardwalks for different perspectives. There are forests, woods, marshes, and swamps. Local plant life includes both native and non-native species and if you visit in the springtime you can see many colourful and pretty wildflowers in bloom. The island is also home to a large number of bird species, many of which are easy to spot as you explore.
Take part in various outdoor activities, including running, kayaking, and canoeing. Soak up nice views that include Georgetown, Key Bridge, the Kennedy Center, and the Potomac Gorge. See the memorial to the former president, complete with ornamental fountains, a statue of the previous leader, and large standing stones engraved by quotes made by the late president.
#14 – Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land
One of the more unique places to visit in Washington DC!
- Hilltop Franciscan complex
- Eerie catacombs
- Beautiful church
- Interesting religious artefacts
Why it’s awesome: Built between the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land is located at the top of Mount Saint Sepulcher in the Washington DC neighbourhood of Northeast. The complex, which was once home to friars, has a church (The Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulcher) that was built to resemble the famous church of the same name in Jerusalem and with neo-Byzantine elements that are reminiscent of the world-famous Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
There are also charming gardens, chapels, a grotto, and replicas of shrines from the Holy Land. One of the most unusual features, however, is the creepy catacombs that lie hidden beneath the ground. Built to replicate the holy catacombs in Rome, many of the graves are fake, though there are still some skeletal remains to enhance the eerie atmosphere. There is no fee to visit the complex.
What to do there: Book a free guided tour down into the spooky catacombs, where you can see replicated graves, statues of saints, and the bones of a Roman soldier (the head of the deceased soldier is still in Rome). There are also the remains of a child martyr. Experience the eerie vibe along the quiet and dark underground passageways and learn more about sacred saints.
Visit the 15 chapels of the Rosary Portico, built like a Roman site, and see the Hail Mary in various global languages. Step into the Lourdes Grotto, see various religious items in the Library, hear the soothing sounds of the organ, stroll through the pretty gardens, and enjoy the peaceful and spiritual air.
#15 – Madame Tussauds
Easily one of the most fun places to check out in Washington DC
- Family-friendly attraction
- Many wax models
- Great photo opportunities
- Learn how wax figures are made
Why it’s awesome: Open since 2007, Madame Tussauds in Washington DC was the franchise’s 12th wax museum to open. There are hundreds of realistic wax models in various themed rooms, with famous figures from the past and present. There are models of former US presidents and other political figures, famous faces from the civil rights movement, sports stars, actors and actresses, singers and bands, TV personalities, and other celebrities. The Behind the Scenes area shows visitors how wax models are crafted and gives the history of Madame Tussauds. There are many great photo opportunities and a visit is heaps of fun for old and young alike.
What to do there: Step into the Presidents Gallery to pose for selfies with life-like models of all of the USA’s former presidents, from George Washington up to Donald Trump, all in cool settings. You can also snap pictures with the nation’s poised and elegant First Ladies. Mingle with Hollywood stars, past and present, in the A-List Party room, with models of people like Marilyn Monroe, George Clooney, and Brad Pitt, and rub shoulders with big names from the big screen in the Media and Entertainment area. Figures include Tyra Banks, Larry King, Jimmy Fallon, and Washington DC-born Stephen Colbert.
Travel back in time in the Cultural Icons room, home to waxworks that include the Founding Fathers and people who were instrumental in the Civil Rights movement. Figures include Martin Luther King Jnr., Uncle Sam, Rosa Parks, Lord Baden Powell, and Frederick Douglass. In the Music area, you can get down with the likes of Beyonce, Marvin Gaye, Miley Cyrus, and Taylor Swift, while in the Sports section you’ll come face to face with models of people like Tiger Woods and Babe Ruth. Be sure to charge your camera before visiting as you’re bound to want to take lots of cool pictures!
#16 – Pentagon
A perfect place to visit in Washington DC if you are on a budget!
- Headquarters of the US Department of Defense
- Opportunity to visit somewhere mysterious and unique
- Free tours
- Gift shop
Why it’s awesome: The Pentagon is the name given to the iconic five-sided building that houses the headquarters of the US Department of Defense. The biggest office building in the world, it is a strong symbol of American military might. A National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places, construction began on the building in the 1940s. Today, it is one of the most major landmarks in Washington DC. While there is certainly lots of red tape and advance planning, it is possible to take a free tour of the highly guarded building. The onsite gift shop sells unique mementoes.
What to do there: Complete the application process for a free tour of the Pentagon well in advance of your visit to Washington DC. Applications need to be made a minimum of two weeks beforehand. Domestic visitors can arrange their free tour through the Pentagon, whereas international visitors should do so through their national embassy. If you know someone who works at the Pentagon, however, they are allowed to take family and friends on a building tour. You will need ID to check in for your tour.
Don’t try and move away from the guide at any point on your tour—they will be keeping a careful eye on the group at all times! Starting from the Visitor Center, you can use this time to purchase souvenirs from the gift shop. See the replica of the Press Briefing Room podium, learn more about all parts of the US military, see the indoor memorial remembering the September 11th tragedy, visit the 9/11 Memorial Chapel, and see the Hall of Heroes, which is dedicated to the 3,400-plus people who received the honorific Medal of Honor. When your tour of the building concludes, don’t miss seeing the outdoor National September 11th Pentagon Memorial.
#17 – Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens
Great place to visit in Washington DC for couples!
- Free admission
- Lesser-visited attraction
- Peaceful and scenic
- Diverse flora and fauna
Why it’s awesome: Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is located near the Anacostia River and close to the border with neighbouring Maryland. The area boasts the capital’s last remaining tidal marsh along with a pleasant area for recreation. There are also artificial ponds, water gardens, wetlands, and walking trails. Numerous plant and animal species call the area home. It’s among the lesser-visited points of interest in Washington DC, though the natural beauty and peaceful ambience make it a great place for couples and anyone who loves spending time in nature. Even better, there is no admission fee to enjoy the lovely gardens.
What to do there: Discover the delicate balance between nature and man-made beauty as you explore the picturesque Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. Take a stroll along the boardwalk and follow the River Trail to admire the views of the flower-filled ponds and eco-diversity of the marshes. Look out for various fauna too, including numerous types of birds, otters, foxes, reptiles, and minks. Do note that while summer is the best time to see flowers in their full glory the winter months are better for catching glimpses of wildlife.
#18 – Dupont Circle
An awesome place to visit in Washington DC for half a day!
- Varied landmarks and architecture
- Great shopping opportunities
- Lively nightlife
- Vibrant events
Why it’s awesome: The historic neighbourhood of Dupont Circle is one of the best places to visit in Washington DC for anyone interested in landmarks and architecture, shopping, dining, and nightlife. The fountain at the heart of the traffic circle dates back to the 1920s and the surrounding park is a popular spot for leisure and relaxation. Other landmarks include the Brewmaster’s Castle, Anderson House, Dumbarton Bridge, Paterson Mansion, the whimsical Mansion on O Street hotel, and the International Temple. There are stylish residential areas, with grand mansions and pre-1900 townhouses, several embassy buildings, and museums. The area hosts the yearly Pride Festival and the fun High Heel Race that sees glamorous drag queens racing through the streets.
What to do there: Take a walk around the neighbourhood, pausing to appreciate the many fine buildings. Don’t miss visiting the so-called Strivers’ Section, a small residential area that was once home to highly regarded and upper-class African Americans. Take a self-guided walking tour past many lavish embassy buildings, visit the USA’s first modern art museum at the Phillips Collection, peek inside the former home of previous US president Woodrow Wilson, sit on the charming hidden treasure of the Spanish Steps, and see the 1924 Nuns of the Battlefield sculpture.
Relax in the park on the traffic island, tour the Brewmaster’s Castle, and visit the National Museum of American Jewish Military History. You’ll also find one of the collect attractions in Washington DC in Dupont Circle—The Mansion on O Street and O Street Museum. The historic hotel has hidden doorways, weird and wonderful antiques, curious memorabilia, artworks, and many interesting exhibits. Indulge in some retail therapy along the bustling Connecticut Avenue, visit one of the many eateries for a delicious feed, and party the night away in a pulsating nightclub.
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More fantastic places to visit in Washington DC
There are plenty of excellent museums to add to your Washington DC itinerary, including the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Newseum, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Gallery of Art, the quirky Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. And, of course, no trip to Washington DC is complete without seeing the iconic White House!
Fans of nature and the outdoors won’t be disappointed by the large number of leafy parks in Washington DC, with highlights that include the off-the-beaten-track Kahlil Gibran Memorial Garden, the United States National Arboretum, Meridian Hill Park, and the hidden gem of Crispus Attucks Park. If you’re into places that are a bit different to typical tourist sights, pay a visit to Culture House (previously known as Blind Whino). Among the most unusual things to do in Washington DC, the building is a brightly and whimsically painted former church that now contains a cool artistic and cultural space.
Stroll through the historic area of Georgetown, visit Anderson House, step into the National Archives, see Fords Theater, and admire tons of cool art at The Fridge. Shop till you drop at places like Eastern Market, Union Market, Gallery Place, and Wisconsin Place.
Whatever your age or interests, there are many excellent places to visit in Washington DC!
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Writer and Editor, Ana Pereira is a California native, inspired by Earth exploration and introspection. Recently, she spent several months exploring Africa and South Asia. She spends most of her “down-time” out in the wilderness, climbing, hiking, and beyond, and is feverishly passionate about travel and health.