Incredible Architecture in Washington, D.C.

Our nation’s capital is full of spectacular and historical design.

101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540, USA
Established in 1800, the Library of Congress is the oldest federal institution in the United States. The library was destroyed by British troops just 14 years after its conception, and Congress used Thomas Jefferson’s collection of 6,487 volumes to replace it. Today, the collection of the Library of Congress—housed across three buildings—grows by approximately 12,000 items a day and is the second largest library in the world with 164 million items and 838 miles of shelves (that’s farther than the distance from Washington, D.C. to Chicago!). The library holds the world’s largest collection of comic books and one of only three remaining Gutenberg bibles. The Library of Congress offers daily guided tours to explore its historic collection and famous Beaux-Arts architecture.—Miranda Smith
8th St NW & F St NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
An undulating steel and glass canopy wows visitors who enter the Kogod Courtyard. Inside you’ll find diners from the museum’s café, tourists soaking their weary feet in the shallow fountain running across the space, and students taking advantage of free Wi-Fi in the light and airy setting. The modern roof seals the center of the old Patent Office Building, currently shared by the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum. Architect Norman Foster designed the roof to have minimal impact on the building by creating a support system that prevents direct contact and weight placement on it. Unlike most of the other Smithsonian Museums located on the Mall, this gem is found in the busy Penn Quarter of downtown D.C. It is my favorite place to bring visitors, not only for the impressive courtyard space, but also for the preserved architecture of the patent offices on the top floor. Check the Smithsonian’s website for special courtyard workshops, concerts, or events. The museum is right near the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro on the green, yellow, and red lines.
16 E Basin Dr SW, Washington, DC 20242, USA
Every spring, usually from late March to early April, Washington is blanketed in a sea of pink and white blossoms that herald the arrival of springtime and the start of prime sightseeing season. The National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the gift of more than 3,000 predominantly Yoshino and Akebono cherry blossom trees in 1912 from the mayor of Tokyo, Japan, as a sign of friendship to the citizens of Washington, D.C. For more than a century, the city’s biggest festival continues to honor that gift with special events and activities, including walks along the Tidal Basin to get those iconic shots of the Jefferson Memorial through the trees, the Blossom Kite Festival, fireworks, the Cherry Blossom Parade on Constitution Avenue, and the Sakura Matsuri Street Festival on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Capitol Driveway Northwest
The U.S. Capitol Building is the epicenter of all D.C. political action—this is where the country’s most important battles are fought. Home to the House of Representatives and the Senate’s meeting chambers for more than two centuries, it’s also an art gallery in its own right, with priceless paintings and murals adorning the walls and ceilings. Take the free guided tour and marvel at the parade of political heroes and villains who have roamed its halls during pivotal moments in U.S. history. The Capitol is located within easy walking distance of the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the U.S. Botanic Garden.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks