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

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

Picture of Aparna Krishnamoorthy
Updated: 9 May 2017

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

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.

Washington Monument, 2 15th St NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 426 6841

The U.S. Capitol

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 Capitol, East Capitol St NE & First St SE, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 226 8000

Library of Congress

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.

The Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 707 5000

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

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.

Holocaust Museum, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 488 0400

Supreme Court of the United States

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.

Supreme Court of the United States, 1 First St NE, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 479 3000

Georgetown and the Waterfront

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.

Georgetown Waterfront, Water St NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 895 6000

National Zoo

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.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park, , +1 202 633 4888

Lincoln Memorial

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!

Lincoln Memorial, 2 Lincoln Memorial Cir NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 426 6841

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

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.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial, 

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

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.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, 600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 633 2214

National Gallery of Art

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.

Smithsonian National Gallery of Art, 6th & Constitution Ave NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 737 4215

The Kennedy Center

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.

John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 467 4600

World War II Memorial

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.

World War II Memorial, 1750 Independence Ave SW, Washington, D.C., USA

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

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.

Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial, 1964 Independence Ave SW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 426 6841

The White House

You can tour the White House, the iconic home of America’s president, by scheduling a visit in advance. Even if you are unable to schedule a visit, walk around to the back to get a closer view of the building.

The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 456 1111

Newseum

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.

Newseum, , +1 202 292 6100

Ben’s Chili Bowl

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.

Ben’s Chili Bowl, 1213 U St NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 667 0909

U.S. National Arboretum

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.

U.S. National Arboretum, 3501 New York Ave NE, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 245 2726

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.

National Cathedral, , +1 202 537 6200

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.

Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA, USA, +1 877 907 8585