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.
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.
Take a guided tour of the legendary building that houses the American legislature. The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center has a ton of information about the history and the operations of this house of government.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.