20 Must-See Attractions in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. National Arboretum | © Nicolas Raymond / Flickr
The U.S. National Arboretum | © Nicolas Raymond / Flickr

With so many things to do and see in Washington, D.C., including historical monuments, government buildings, free museums, and more, it can be overwhelming to narrow down a list of must-visit places. To make it easier for you, Culture Trip has come up with a list of 20 must-see attractions in the nation’s capital.

Washington Monument and the National Mall

Memorial
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Washington Monument
The National Mall is one of the most picturesque areas of the city, highlighted by the towering Washington Monument in the center, and lined with several commemorative monuments. Even if you are in town only for a short trip, this is a must-visit stop for any first-time visitor.

Library of Congress

Library
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Library of Congress
Library of Congress | © Powhusku / Flickr
The largest library in the world and one of the most prestigious, the stunning Library of Congress sits in three buildings and houses over 160 million items. It is also the oldest federal cultural institution in the U.S.

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Memorial, Museum
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U.S. Holocaust Museum
U.S. Holocaust Museum | © NCinDC / Flickr
Adjacent to the National Mall, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum provides somber and deep documentation and interpretation of Holocaust history. View photographs and various artifacts and learn personal stories from this period of the Nazi regime.

Supreme Court of the United States

Building
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U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court | © Ted Eytan / Flickr
Tour the Supreme Court and attend a free lecture about the building’s history and the proceedings of the court. If the court is in session (Monday–Wednesday during the months of October–April), arrive early to get a free spot to watch a case being argued.

Georgetown and the Waterfront

Park
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Georgetown Waterfront
Georgetown Waterfront | © Angela N / Flickr
Stroll through the bustling streets of Georgetown, filled with shopping destinations and restaurants, and then make your way to the Georgetown Waterfront to take in views of the Potomac and enjoy a meal at one of the dining venues overlooking the water. Wander off the main area to look at some of the most expensive real estate in the city.

National Zoo

Park, Zoo
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Mei and her popsicle at the National Zoo | © Brian Gatwicke / Flickr
Mei and her popsicle at the National Zoo | © Brian Gatwicke / Flickr
The expansive and free National Zoo is a fantastic place to walk around with or without kids. Make sure to see the giant pandas, the big cats, and the great apes! It is also a great spot for a morning run before the crowds arrive.

Lincoln Memorial

Memorial
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Lincoln Memorial | © Dan G / Flickr | © Dan G / Flickr / Derivative from original
The neoclassical Lincoln Memorial is a tribute to America’s 16th president and is best seen at night. Located at the western end of the National Mall, the views from the memorial are nothing short of spectacular. Walk around all sides to get the perfect shot!

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Building, Memorial
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Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Thomas Jefferson Memorial | © Geoff Livingston / Flickr
With marble steps and iconic columns, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial is a smaller version of the Roman Pantheon, and its interior walls contain inscriptions from the Declaration of Independence. It’s especially spectacular during the spring cherry blossom season but is still a must-stop year-round.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Museum
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National Air and Space Museum
National Air and Space Museum | © Sean Silverthorne/Flickr
Take a look at historic aircraft and space vehicles including the Apollo Space Module, see how an actual space toilet looks, and peer through a giant telescope at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. With lots of interactive exhibits and fascinating pieces to learn about, this stop will leave you in awe.

National Gallery of Art

Art Gallery, Building
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National Gallery of Art
National Gallery of Art | © Ken Lund / Flickr
Browse through the National Gallery of Art’s exhibits, featuring works of art from numerous countries, artists, and historical eras. Go up to the rooftop to get a fabulous view of the Capitol, and also make sure to take the groovy tunnel between the East and West Building.

The Kennedy Center

Theater
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The Kennedy Center at sunset
The Kennedy Center at sunset | © Steve / Flickr
Visit The Kennedy Center, a performance arts space, to see a free show (daily at 6 p.m.) or one of their current performances, and make sure to stop by the rooftop terrace for panoramic views of D.C. and the Potomac River. The nine different performance stages present the best in music, dance, theater, international, and children’s programs.

World War II Memorial

Memorial
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WWII Memorial
WWII Memorial | © Gary Bembridge / Flickr
Flanked by the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, the beautiful World War II Memorial, complete with bronze sculptures and stone architecture, pays tribute to the Americans who served in the war, honors those who fell, and recognizes the victory of freedom over tyranny.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Memorial, Park
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MLK Jr. Memorial
MLK Jr. Memorial | © m01229 / Flickr
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial pays tribute to the best-known leader in the civil rights movement—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Located next to the National Mall, this beautiful stone sculpture contains a number of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quotes engraved in the memorial.

Newseum

Museum
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The Newseum
The Newseum | Copyright Josh/ Flickr
As the name suggests, Newseum is an engaging and dynamic museum of news and is a must visit, even if it’s one of the few ticketed museums in the city. See a piece of the original Berlin Wall, the 911 Gallery, Pulitzer Prize photographs from over the years, and finish with fantastic views from the rooftop terrace.

Ben’s Chili Bowl

Diner, American, $$$
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Ben's Chili Bowl | © SchuminWeb / WikiCommons
No trip to D.C. is complete without the iconic half-smoke at the original location of Ben’s Chili Bowl. For extra oomph, order it as a “chili half smoke”—a half smoke sausage smothered in chili and topped with onions and mustard.

U.S. National Arboretum

Park
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Fall foliage at the U.S. National Arboretum
Fall foliage at the U.S. National Arboretum | © Jennifer Boyer/Flickr
Commune with nature at the U.S. National Arboretum, which houses multiple gardens, a gorgeous bonsai exhibit, a koi pond, and even some original columns from the Capitol building. Away from the tourist crowds, this is a local favorite—pack a picnic if it’s a lovely day outside.

National Cathedral

Cathedral
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View of the Twin Towers from the National Cathedral
View of the Twin Towers from the National Cathedral | Courtesy of National Cathedral
This Gothic-style cathedral is a majestic building decorated with over 200 gargoyles and grotesques. The National Cathedral, architecturally and visually striking, also features over 200 stained-glass windows, mosaics, artistic metal work, wood carvings, and more.

Arlington National Cemetery

Cemetery
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Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery | Courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery
The final resting place for thousands of service men and women, the Arlington National Cemetery is also where President Kennedy is buried. The white headstones that seem to stretch to the horizon are a striking and somber tribute. It also houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded uninterrupted since 1937.
These recommendations were updated on July 9, 2019 to keep your travel plans fresh.