Washington DC, there is so much to do, so much to see, so much to experience, so much to witness. The Smithsonian museums and of course the US Capitol stand as must-visit attractions from your travel to Washington DC. You could find yourself blissfully entertained by contemporary exhibits or simply catch the breathtaking scenery at the Lincoln Memorial. Regardless of what you choose to do, you would find yourself pleasantly surprised and delightfully entertained.
Washington has so much to offer travellers and wanderers. From the fresh food to the art and nightlife, whether you are travelling in a pack or simply by yourself, you are sure to have a wonderful time exploring the capital.
If you haven’t previously visited Washington, you may be wondering about the various things that you could do during your visit. What are the best attractions the capital city has to offer? If you were restricted on the amount of time at hand, what are the attractions that you should squeeze into your itinerary?
With ample attractions catered for by the city, you are sure to find something that appeases you. Hence regardless of whether you are planning your trip, or are in search of some attractions for your short visit to the city, here is our list of the best things to do in Washington; attractions of historic and cultural significance.
1. Smithsonian Museums
With 19 world-class museums, galleries, gardens and a zoo, the collection of attractions at the Smithsonian places this on the top of our list of places to visit in Washington. If you are strapped on time and are looking for one such place to make your visit worthwhile, a visit to any of the various museums would make for some great conversation.
In order to visit any of the attractions on location, you would require a free timed entry pass. Not to worry, this isn’t hard to attain. The entries can be reserved 30 days in advance. You can reserve your entry online or via phone. For more information, visit the official Smithsonian website. Click here.
The museums cover a range of topics from American History to African Art. The National Air and Space Museum is a must-visit for any space enthusiasts out there. There is so much to see and so much to cover, that you won’t simply be able to visit all the museums on the same day. On top of that, the galleries and gardens including the zoo make for some memorable sightings from your visit to Washington.
Though covering all the sites is not possible on the same day, you can take your pick from the list of attractions. For more information on the various museums and attractions, visit the official Smithsonian website. Click here.
2. Georgetown Historic District
With origins in the 1700s, the neighbourhood between Rock Creek Park and K Street NW comprising of streets from the 27th to the 37th is the city’s oldest neighbourhood. You would even find the nation’s oldest Roman Catholic and Jesuit College, Georgetown University, nestled within this historic district.
There are various cafes and restaurants and a few small museums which make it a popular destination for history buffs. You would find yourself pleasantly charmed by the historic homes and the tidy streets of Georgetown.
The C&O Canal located in Georgetown is a 184-mile waterway that runs parallel to the Potomac River. If you are looking for a scenic location to relax, walk or cycle, this would be a great place to go.
Definitely on the quieter side of life, this attraction would be more appealing to older generations and even families who are looking for a quite charming break from the norm. For instance, Dumbarton Oaks has a nice collection of Christian Art. You would find places like the Kreeger Museum which displays a brilliant collection of art from the 1850s to the 1970s. Also suitable for couples, Georgetown offers a tranquil gateway in a historic setting, allowing for the cultures of the past to live on.
3. Washington National Cathedral
Following the Gothic building style and techniques, the Neo-Gotic National Cathedral is an English-style building that took nearly 83 years to build. The masonry work at the Cathedral is simply awe-inspiring and you are sure to have your breath taken away by the magnificent artistic detail that you would note. From the stained glass windows to the hand-embroidered kneelers, the site is majestic in its own right.
If you book a special tour in advance, you have the chance to take a glimpse at the hidden parts of the building and art. If you are travelling in a family, be sure to ask for the Explore the Cathedral with Children brochure which enlists a scavenger hunt. You would be on the search for wrought-iron animals, tiny carvings and gargoyles.
Carillon recitals are held each Saturday at 12:30 pm. The peal bells are heard on Tuesday evenings from 7 to 9 pm and after Sunday services. There are also mini-recitals which you can catch on Mondays and Wednesdays at 12:30 pm.
4. Arlington National Cemetery
If you would like to take the visit to Washington to pay respect to the men and women of American history, then you should consider visiting the Arlington National Cemetery. Located in a beautiful hillside close to the Potomac River, the cemetery is a landmark for men and women of American History who passed.
It is the gravesite of President John F.Kennedy. The cemetery also houses the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial.
The cemetery is located outside the city, however, you can easily take the city Metrorail and Metrobus services to the location, which stops close to the gate.
With respect to all those who lost their lives in battle to protect this great nation, this impressive cemetery is unlike any other cemetery you may attend. Though unorthodox to mention a cemetery in a list of things to do in a city, though many readers may shy away from the idea, we chose to include it in our list as a sign of respect to inform the reader.
5. International Spy Museum
You didn’t know they had such a thing, did you? This is probably more up the alley of those 007 fans who rage at the thought of spies and their cool gadgets. The museum is a great spot if you are on the lookout for the history, technology and even the techniques of espionage.
There is a collection of historic spy artefacts from the Revolution and Civil War with numerous concealed and disguised cameras and weapons that were used in the times of World War II.
There is a great mix of real-life and movies at the museum with a whole top floor dedicated to real-life spies such as John Walker. There are videos of their quests, how they were caught and so and so forth. The lower floor on the contrary takes a more fictional approach with the exhibits full of actual movie props such as those used in the James Bond Movies.
All in all, it can be an exciting and educative tour, not just for children, but for those adults who simply cannot get enough of spy novels.
6. National Zoological Park
The National Zoo though another part of the Smithsonian, had to mentioned separately considering we had mentioned very little about the zoo earlier. If you are an animal lover or are travelling as a family, this would be an ideal gateway. It is in fact one of the more popular attractions in Washington when visiting with kids.
There are nearly 2,000 different animals who live in habitats that replicate and serve a close resemblance to their natural environment. About a quarter of the species that are on exhibit are endangered. The National Zoological Park is one of the best zoos in the world, not just because of visitor satisfaction, but the overall care and sustainability of the zoo.
You have the chance to catch the giant pandas. There are also red pandas, Sumatran tigers and western lowland gorillas. Exotic animals such as Asian elephants and cheetahs are too on exhibit at the zoo. The Amazonia exhibit is another key attraction boasting a range of colourful underwater life of the Amazon.
You can check the day’s schedule for feedings times, demonstrations, educational games and talks. If you are travelling with children, this is one of the most favourite places to visit.
7. Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin
The only place where you can find a 19-foot statue of Jefferson. This domed shaped memorial to Thoman Jefferson is based on Roman Pantheon. The low dome is supported by 54 ionic columns and inside you would find engraved excerpts of the Declaration of Independence and other writings.
The monument is situated at the far end of the Tidal Pool which reflects the monument on its surface. There are cherry trees all around the memorial, which was actually a gift from Japan. Hence, if you are travelling in the spring, you are sure to catch a beautiful glimpse of the monument, with a view of the beautiful pink flowers which blossom during the season.
History deeply routed into the monument, a trip to the memorial would be exciting for school children and patriotic adults alike. If you are travelling in the spring, you should try visiting the memorial, for the blossoming flowers and the monument as it stands is a beautiful sight to witness.
8. The Washington Monument
The 555-foot white shaft is a familiar icon in the National Mall and a majestic sight, especially when reflected on the long Reflecting Pool at the foot of the monument.
For any American visiting the capital city, a glimpse at the Washington Monument is something they would cherish. There is a lot of history behind the construction of this monument which was stopped and hampered by the civil war. In fact, the monument was not capped until 1885, when it was finally completed by the Army Corps of Engineers.
There are engraved stones from states, cities, foreign countries and donors who helped in the private funding stages of building the monument. You can catch a bird’s eye view from the top after taking an elevator. You would be able to catch a glimpse of aerial views over the mall and see much of Washington.
9. The White House
The official residence of the President of the United States, a visit to the White House would be something to tell the classmates for any school goer.
You can take a tour of the White House which takes you through the East, Blue, Green and Red rooms, the State Dining Room and the Ballroom, however can only do so with advance reservations through your Congressional office or embassy. Hence plan ahead of time if you are looking to have a glimpse of the inside of the White House.
Nonetheless, if you are unable to partake in a tour, you at least get to see the White House from the outside, which is a majestic sight on its own.
The free White House Visitor Center is a short distance away and has a brilliant number of exhibits that show details about the White House and the presidential families. Hence, be sure to drop by at the Visitor Center, especially if you are unable to partake in the tour to see the inside of the White House.
10. The Lincoln Memorial
Probably the most loved of all Washington’s memorials, the Lincoln Memorial stands at the far end of the National Mall. At the centre is the 19-foot marble statue of the seated President Abraham Lincoln. The statue is surrounded by 36 columns, one for each state that existed during President Lincoln’s time.
This is a popular destination for many visitors who simply take this monument to be an integral part of a tour of Washington.
There is a lot of history shared at the monument. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous speech “I have a dream…” from the memorial steps in 1963. Hence visiting this iconic landmark has historical and cultural significance.
The landmark is especially beautiful when it is powerfully lit at night inside the darkened interior of the temple. For any American, a visit to the Lincoln Memorial is something they would cherish, hence it was integral that we add it to our list of things to do in Washington.
11. United States Capitol and Capitol Hill
The seat of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the U.S. Capitol is a landmark recognised around the world. The huge dome makes it one such building that makes it stand out from all other landmarks in the city.
Over the years, the building has grown with the central portion built between 1793 and 1812. The last addition to the landmark was made in 1958-62 which enlarged the main facade where the presidents take the oath.
Free tours can be reserved online. The tour allows you to explore the ornate paintings on the walls and ceilings of the corridors in the Senate wing. However, in order to visit the Senate or the House in session, you would need to contact your Senator or Representative for a pass. Foreign visitors can arrange for visits through the visitors centre.
12. National Mall and Veterans Memorials
The Veterans Memorials at the National Mall include war memorials for veterans who gave their lives during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is one of Washington’s most visited memorials. The site also has the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the newest, American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which was dedicated in 2014.
The National Mall is the place to be for the annual Independence Day celebration with fireworks around the Washington Monument. It also houses the Smithsonian American Folk Life Festival in July, when the Mall is filled with music, crafts, performances, storytelling, cultural programmes and food from various parts of the country. The Smithsonian Kite Festival is also held in the months of March and April.
Things to Do in Washington DC
Though there is plenty of avenues to check out the nightlife and the various other attractions the city has to offer, Washington has more to do with culture and history as you may have noticed from our selection of the list of attractions.
It is a city that is entrenched in history and has so much to offer as of cultural and historic insight. Hence if you are planning a trip with children, you should make it a point to include as many of these educational attractions into your itinerary. It will surely provide for some memorable experiences from your trip to the capital of the United States.