Top Attractions in Washington, D.C.
You simply can’t visit D.C.’s best attractions without zooming back in time, from the ghosts roaming the U.S. Capitol to the sobering and triumphant stories revealed in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
2700 F St NW, Washington, DC 20566, USA
Overlooking the Potomac River, the Kennedy Center stands as a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy and an iconic landmark for arts in America. Its marble facade, sky-high ceilings, and crystal chandeliers exude grandeur, not to mention the central eight-foot bronze bust sculpture of JFK. With its Opera House and seven other stages presenting a variety of musical and theatrical performances—as well as a free event every day at 6 p.m. at the Millennium Stage—there’s no excuse not to enjoy the artistic expression of the human spirit while visiting D.C. As quoted by JFK and inscribed in the walls along the River Terrace, “This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor.”
1145 17th St NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., National Geographic has been funding research and exploration since 1888. Visit its museum, which brings the pages of the iconic magazine (and posts from its impressive Instagram feed) to life in exciting and educational exhibits. A permanent installation across the courtyard showcases the history of the yellow border through a multimedia experience, including video from the top of Mount Everest, artifacts recovered from a shipwreck by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, and an illuminated, ceiling-high display of its noteworthy magazine covers. For an even more immersive experience, check its calendar for a variety of events such as monthly “Nat Geo Nights” happy hours and National Geographic Live! talks from today’s most prominent explorers.
16th St NW &, W St NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
Once an encampment for Union troops during the Civil War, 12-acre Meridian Hill Park is now a central gathering space for friends and fitness enthusiasts. Running groups, yoga classes, and personal training sessions all meet at this urban hilltop park, no matter the season. Stroll around the perimeter to admire the 13-basin, Italian-style cascading fountain—the longest in North America—as well as statues commemorating figures such as Joan of Arc. In fair weather, join the hundreds who flock here over the weekends for picnics, impromptu sporting matches, and dog walking (and watching), as well as the Sunday drum circle whose rhythms have been sounding into the night since the 1950s.
Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20565, USA
With two buildings and a sculpture garden, the National Gallery of Art is a treasure-filled trifecta where each person’s gems will only be uncovered through an immersive day (or more) of cultural exploration. The West Building is a chronological history lesson of Western art that showcases masters including Leonardo da Vinci, Monet, and van Gogh. Continue through time by taking the moving walkway under the 41,000-LED Multiverse light installation to the contemporary East Building. Here, Alexander Calder’s largest mobile hangs from the atrium roof, works from Warhol and Pollack are featured, and Katharina Fritsch’s 15-foot blue rooster sculpture stands proud on the rooftop terrace. Back on the ground, the Sculpture Garden is the perfect place to reflect on the day.
555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
The Newseum is an interactive, ever-evolving tribute to our First Amendment freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Powerful exhibits such as eight sections of the Berlin Wall (the largest display outside Germany) provide historical context for the importance of free press, while timely exhibits about the civil rights movement provoke reflection on the progress of achieving equality. The daily-updated “Front Pages” gallery of local, national, and international publications is a comparative study on current events, while the archive of headlines highlighting momentous events from the 1400s through today is an engaging history lesson. Peruse Pulitzer Prize–winning photography, enjoy panoramic views down Pennsylvania Avenue, and test your journalistic skills with a recorded mock-broadcast—reading a teleprompter is not as easy as you may think!
3015 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
When the powers of a pattern designer, fiber artist, and terrarium specialist combine, you get the cutest, coziest DIY space in D.C. Three kickass female creators revamped a former deli in the Park View neighborhood to launch the Lemon Collective (formerly known as the Lemon Bowl DC) as a shared workspace for artists. Luckily for the rest of us, it is also a shared workshop space where rotating artists from all trades host intimate classes, events, and conversations. Check their calendar and sign up for something new. Whether vision boarding, block printing, or the Japanese “moss ball” gardening art of kokedama, your inner creator will be inspired to break free and play. Keep what you create—there isn’t a better souvenir.
1238 Maryland Avenue Southwest
Artechouse is D.C.’s newest and most innovative gallery space, where technology takes center stage—the floor, walls, ceilings, and everywhere in between! Its seasonal, interactive installations allow the audience to become the artist. From movement to touch, augmented reality projections algorithmically react to your reactions, creating a mesmerizing feedback loop that is unique to each person. Whether you’re bringing the family or letting out your inner child, Artechouse is a playground for all ages (including bar service in the evening hours). Reserve a ticket in advance to ensure a spot in the ever-evolving experience.
2475 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
Songbyrd is a one-stop destination for the multidimensional music lover in us all. Part record shop, part music venue, and part DJ-spinning restaurant/bar and café, this space is for musicians, music fans, and those who simply want a good sound track with their cup of locally roasted Swings coffee. Only a few years old, Songbyrd feels like it’s been here for ages and embodies the retro funkiness of the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Concert posters line the walls, microphones act as tap handles at the bar, and there’s even a vintage Voice-O-Graph you can use to record and press your own record.
3500 Water St NW, Washington, DC 20007, USA
Key Bridge Boathouse is the go-to launching point for paddlers of all skill levels. Whether you’re in a kayak or a canoe or on a stand-up paddleboard, time on the water is transformative. Its classes, tours, and rentals offer a unique perspective of D.C.’s cityscape, where you can skip the crowds and glide past iconic sights like the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Tidal Basin. Head north to soak up the serenity of the Potomac’s tree-lined banks, or south to circle Theodore Roosevelt Island, one of the city’s nature and wildlife refuges. Farther downstream, the river flows into the Chesapeake Bay, whose oysters find their way to some of the city’s best restaurants. After hours on the water, a dozen of these salty treats are well deserved.
1600 20th St NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA
There’s no better way to experience the seasons of the Mid-Atlantic than through the samples offered by local farmers and producers at the FreshFarm Dupont Circle Market. This vibrant community gathering brings together up to 50 local vendors every Sunday with their fresh bounty of produce, meats, eggs, cheeses, and more. Artisans, including local coffee roasters, brew masters, picklers, and bakers, share their specialties with warmth even in the cold winter months. Bring a reusable bag and fill it with the day’s finds, then fill yourself up with a huge pancake from S&S Maple Camp, topped with their local maple syrup.
1625 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
From painted ceramics to patterned throws, screen printed bags to small-batch foods, Salt & Sundry’s assortment of artisanal treasures inspires the creator and designer in us all. Its curated boutique on the bustling 14th and U Street Corridor is a welcome opportunity to slow down, pick up, flip through, and try on. All the items in the store have a story, and the thoughtfulness that goes into making, selecting, and presenting each one will emanate tenfold in its new home. Whether shopping for yourself or someone else, a gift from Salt & Sundry is an original accent to the home or outfit. Check its calendar for events with local chefs, mixologists, authors, and more.
Water St NW, Washington, DC 20007, USA
The Capital Crescent Trail is the main artery of D.C.’s network of walking, jogging, and cycling routes. Built on the former rail bed of the Georgetown Branch of the B&O Railroad, the 11-mile trail connects the Georgetown neighborhood of D.C. with the Maryland suburb of Silver Spring. Traveling along the Potomac River and through the wooded parks of Little Falls and Rock Creek, the path is a dynamic adventure that goes over bridges, under tunnels, and past Civil War forts and batteries. Depending on the amount of time you have, shorten the route with a loop along the C&O Canal Towpath, or lengthen it by returning on the Rock Creek Park trail to create a 22-mile circuit. Note: There is a street detour from Bethesda to Silver Spring due to construction.
1661 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20006, USA
The phrase “Dedicated to Art” is engraved in stone over the entrance of the Renwick Gallery, a reminder of its rich history as the nation’s first building created expressly as an art museum. More than a century and a massive renovation later, this mission continues to hold true. The Renwick celebrates contemporary craft and decorative arts through immersive installations, special exhibitions, and impressive collections of jewelry, wood art, and studio furniture. The curated works are both elegant and innovative, much like the Second Empire architecture of the building when it was first designed by Renwick in 1859. As with all Smithsonian Institution museums, admission is free.
3101 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016, USA
The Washington National Cathedral stands high over D.C. as a beacon of faith for the nation. The impressive Gothic architecture evokes comparisons to Notre-Dame (despite being built more than half a millennium later). Flying buttresses, spires, and stained glass windows inspire heavenly awe, while statues of modern missionary and civil rights figures such as Mother Teresa, Helen Keller, and Martin Luther King, Jr., ground us in earthly good works. The stained glass Space Window includes a lunar rock donated by the crew of Apollo 11, reminding us of our small place in the universe. Bring binoculars to scan the gargoyles for a Star Wars surprise, and climb the steps to the towers for panoramic city views. While overseen by the Episcopalian church, the cathedral welcomes all people.
400 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA
From the hilltop of the U.S. Capitol to the riverfront behind the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall is “America’s Front Yard.” Lined with museums and accented by monuments and memorials, the 1.9-mile stretch of green space is also a destination for public gatherings. Spend a day (or more) celebrating cultural breakthroughs at the National Gallery of Art and the Air and Space Museum, as well as reflecting on our more somber legacies at the Holocaust Museum, the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Korean War Memorial. From presidential inaugurations to protests, a pickup sporting match, or a simple picnic, no matter your reason for visiting, you’ll leave with more reasons to return. Note: The Washington Monument is closed until spring 2019 for renovations.
3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, USA
The 163-acre National Zoo is cradled by D.C.’s wooded Rock Creek Park, providing a protected, dynamic habitat for more than 1,500 animals. From the micro-world of insects to the larger-than-life world of elephants, the exhibits are engaging and educational, especially if timed with a training or feeding demonstration. Highlights include orangutans swinging overhead as they traverse the O-Line cable between enclosures; a charismatic family of otters that swirl through a waterfall-fed stream and scurry over rocks; and, of course, the famous giant pandas, which are just generally adorable as they eat, sleep, climb, and play. Admission is free, but donations are recommended to support the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to research and conserve these species for generations to come.
400 Michigan Ave NE, Washington, DC 20017, USA
Since its dedication in 1959, this Byzantine-Romanesque shrine to the Virgin Mary has welcomed over one million visitors a year, among them Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Mother Teresa. At more than 77,500 square feet, it is the largest Catholic church in the Western Hemisphere and the eighth-largest church in the world. Walking through the basilica, 70 ornate chapels, oratories, and sacred images like the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel flank the sides of the upper church and crypt, and the shrine’s gorgeous ceiling bears one of the largest and most intricate mosaic renderings of Jesus. Named “Christ in Majesty” (some have humorously nicknamed it “The Scary Christ” due to his stern look), it’s made up of over three million tiles.
3501 New York Ave NE, Washington, DC 20002, USA
Whether you have a green thumb or just love to bask in nature, you’ll want to check out the National Arboretum before you bid D.C. adieu. Spring is one of the best times to visit, when the azaleas, rhododendrons, and native trees are in full bloom. Summer visitors will enjoy beds of colorful annuals and perennials. And any time of year, be sure to stroll through the Bonsai Pavilion, where you can see an amazing collection of Japanese and Chinese bonsai plants, some more than 400 years old. Bring along a picnic lunch and head to the spot where the original columns from the U.S. Capitol are located—you’ll never forget the view.
225 7th St SE, Washington, DC 20003, USA
The Eastern Market, now a National Historic Landmark, opened in 1873 to serve the Capitol Hill neighborhood (an 1805 version, located down by the Navy Yard, was a casualty of the War of 1812). The brick market hall, packed with butchers, bakers, vegetable markets, cheese vendors, flower kiosks, and a lunch counter, is bright and charming. Under the shed roof outside, additional local produce is displayed and sold. On weekends, booths selling vintage goods and handmade jewelry, housewares, and clothing do a brisk business down the center of 7th Street. Crowds spill out of the cafés, taco joints, and bagel shops occupying the first floors of the row houses along the block, adding to the lively mix at the market.
Washington, DC, USA
From mid-March to mid-April, thousands of crab apple and Yoshino cherry trees explode into bloom, surrounding this 2.1-mile path with tunnels of white petals. But that’s just one reason to walk (or run!) the paved trail encircling the Tidal Basin reservoir: The string of monuments you’ll pass along the way of Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson aren’t bad, either. Want to extend your blossom tour? Walk west from the Tidal Basin to Ohio Drive, where the sidewalk sandwiched between Ohio Drive and the Potomac River meanders beneath the branches of Usuzumi, Fugenzo, and Akebono cherry trees.
1517 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA
One of Washington’s most beloved independent bookstores, Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café is just as much a D.C. institution as the city’s historic monuments. Opened in 1976, Kramerbooks was the first bookstore/café in the United States to feature espresso, cappuccino, a full bar, and food. Popular with students and other assorted night owls, it’s open all night on Friday and Saturday, and late into the evening during the weekdays (there’s often live music). This is the place to savor the final pages of that new book you don’t want to end—and maybe a glass of red wine or a slice of one of their decadent cakes. Check out the events calendar before you go to catch a reading from a political big shot or your favorite new fiction writer.
1400 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20560, USA
This extraordinary collection encompasses the dark and the light of our nation’s racial history, from the shackles, shacks, and whips of slavery to an exuberant lemon-yellow costume worn onstage by Bootsy Collins when playing bass for the funk band Parliament. The story begins several floors below ground-level with information about the early days of the African slave trade. Visitors follow the exhibits through the subsequent floors, climbing ramps as the story progresses through the colonies, the Constitution, the Civil War, Jim Crow and carpetbaggers, the civil rights movement, and up to the present. The exhibits on the upper floors, covering arts and sports and cuisine and community, are a joyous celebration of ongoing history and culture. The crowds who sign up for entry tickets months in advance, and who stand in front of displays and share their stories with complete strangers, are testimony that it’s high time this history was honored with its own museum.
5200 Glover Rd NW, Washington, DC 20015, USA
Rock Creek Park is the main stretch of woodland that runs through the city’s northwest corridor. If you want to escape the mob of tourists on the Mall, or you just want to spend time in an urban oasis, head to Rock Creek Park. Any section between the Kennedy Center and Pierce Mill has features aplenty—running/biking trails that follow the twists and turns of the creek, tennis courts, idyllic scenery, and the occasional distraction like the National Zoo. On weekends, Beach Drive, located just north of Pierce Mill, is closed to vehicular traffic, transforming into an ideal trail for running or biking. To enter the park at Pierce Mill, take the Metro to Van Ness/UDC and head down Tilden Street. It will be about a 15-minute walk to the mill. For those looking for a more strenuous workout, a hike or a run on the Western Ridge Trail might just fit the bill.
600 Independence Ave SW
Opened to the public as part of the country’s bicentennial celebration in 1976, this is the largest of the Smithsonian Institution’s 20 museums. It is the most-visited museum in the U.S. (and the second-most-visited museum in the world behind the Louvre), containing the world’s largest collection of air and space craft, as well as interactive flight simulators, an IMAX theater, and the Einstein Planetarium. More than 60,000 objects connected with aviation and human flight are housed here, including the Wright brothers’ 1903 Wright Flyer; Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis; Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1, the Glamorous Glennis, which broke the sound barrier; astronaut John Glenn’s Friendship 7 Mercury capsule; the Apollo 11 command module Columbia, which carried the first men to the moon; the Apollo-Soyuz Hook-up; and Skylab. As immense as the museum may seem, you are looking at only 10 percent of the entire collection. The remaining 90 percent is located at the Steven Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, the largest air and space museum building in the world.
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.
355 Water Street Southeast
Named for the mythical dragon-like beast said to terrorize the region at the turn of the century, Snallygaster is DC’s largest beer festival. It features a beastly display of over 250 unique craft beers, sourced from the best local, domestic, and international craft breweries along with food trucks, live music, entertainment, and games. As you walk around, choose and taste from a overwhelming array of autumn seasonals, German and Belgian-style beers, pumpkin ales, cask ales, barrel-aged brews, craft cans, new releases from the nearby local brewery Bluejacket, as well as artisanal ciders.
100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW, Washington, DC 20024, USA
The Holocaust Memorial Museum is a living memorial to the more than 11 million victims who perished at the hands of the Nazis before and during World War II. Built in 1993, the permanent exhibition tells the Holocaust’s full story through real belongings rescued by survivors and Allied concentration camp liberators, as well as oral histories, films, photographs, music, and artwork created in the camps. (A must-see: the sobering display of thousands of pairs of shoes.) There is also a Children’s Wall, a children’s exhibit called “Daniel’s Story,” and rotating temporary exhibits. Designed by Holocaust survivor James Ingo Freed, the architecture is symbolic of the ghettos and concentration camps—notably Auschwitz-Birkenau.
2 Lincoln Memorial Cir NW, Washington, DC 20037, USA
The Lincoln Memorial has the hushed and solemn air of a sacred place, and indeed, many of its six million annual visitors behave like pilgrims arriving at a shrine. They linger in the soaring marble space, contemplating the 19-foot tall statue of the seated Lincoln, or silently reading the inscribed words of the Gettysburg Address or his second inaugural address, which famously ends: With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. The legacy of the 16th president and his measured words in times of strife—as well as the monument’s dramatic setting at the end of the National Mall—have made the site the natural gathering place for vigils, protests, and marches through the years since its 1922 dedication, including African-American singer Marian Anderson’s 1939 Easter radio broadcast, and most notably, the 1963 march that culminated in Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.