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Angel Statue in Cemetery  in D.C. | ©Adam / Flickr
Angel Statue in Cemetery in D.C. | ©Adam / Flickr

The Top 10 Unusual Things to Do in Washington, D.C.

Picture of Summer Whitford
Summer Whitford
Updated: 3 March 2017

“It’s weird that apples bruise like humans. I’m glad they don’t scream when you bite into them.” –Phil Lester

People love weird. And the unusual. They tell ghost stories around campfires or seek out odd things to see and do when they travel. In Washington, D.C., a lot of the bizarre or unusual stuff happens in politics, which can be a dirty and dangerous game, but those in search of fascinating or out-of-the-ordinary adventures can find things to do that are a break from typical touristy options.

To help you discover weird Washington, Culture Trip has put together a list of 10 things designed to satisfy curious types, people in search of experiences exclusive to Washington, D.C. or visitors who love scary adventures.

Ghosts galore

Betrayals, conspiracies, and assassinations are part of the dark side of history in Washington, and this makes the city fertile ground for ghostly hauntings and sinister stories. People with paranormal obsessions come by the thousands to hear accounts of President Lincoln’s ghost and its White House vigils or discover the origins of the Demon Cat that haunts the basement of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Explore this side of D.C. by going on a nighttime ghost tour. These expeditions can be fun, don’t involve strenuous walking, are about one to two hours long, and are usually available year-round. Some of the most popular tours include Scary DC Tours, DC By Foot, Nightly Spirits, and Washington Walks. For a change of pace, try DC Ghost Tours, which are illuminated by lantern light and led by professional guides dressed in Victorian costumes.

Fly through the air with the greatest of ease

In the old days, kids in search of adventure dreamed about running away to join the circus. Today, taming lions might not have the same appeal, but you can still fly the high wire or learn to juggle at the Trapeze School New York’s location in Washington, D.C. They offer classes for every skill level. And depending on your fearless appreciation for heights, you can learn a range of aerial arts that include the silks, trapeze, and trampoline; you can also take a juggling class. Classes can be as small as two people or accommodate different group sizes – and there are classes for kids too.

Trapeze School New York, 1299 New Jersey Ave SE, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 479 6861

Gridiron gals score goals in D.C.

Football is exciting whether it’s the pros or college teams. But how about watching a professional team with a 120-36 record? That’s a rare stat in any league, which is why you should buy a ticket to watch a DC Divas game. They’re the capital city’s women’s professional tackle football team and have three national titles to their name. For 16 years, the team members have played for the sheer love of the sport, and their enthusiasm is infectious. The DC Divas’ games are full of energy, inspiring, and often turn skeptics into converts. One thing is certain: the games are always a crowd pleaser.

See how D.C. women roll

For an amateur contact sport with plenty of action, don’t dismiss roller derby, which is nothing like the matches featured in the infamous movie Kansas City Bomber. Roller derby today empowers women, encourages athleticism, and builds self-esteem, and few indoor sports match its speed and intensity. D.C.’s team is the DC Rollergirls, and they are fiercely competitive and utterly fearless as they whip around the flat track at breakneck speed. Modern roller derby teams attract women from all walks of life who share a common bond fueled by a passion for sport, charitable giving, and celebrating diversity, and this sport deserves a second look.

Hit the saddle in the heart of the city

Did you know you can go horseback riding right in the center of Washington, D.C.? Nature lovers and horseback riding enthusiasts will love exploring Rock Creek Park while sitting astride a gentle mount. What makes this sprawling 1,754-acre federal park special is it has been a refreshing sanctuary for Washingtonians since its founding in 1890, and within its green borders are miles of forests, hiking and bike trails, and 13 miles (21 kilometers) of dirt and gravel bridle paths. Sign up for a comfortable, walking-paced trail ride at the Rock Creek Park Horse Center, or take a riding class. The center offers a range of services that include guided trips that require no riding or riding lessons for every skill level from newbie to expert.

Rock Creek Park Horse Center, 5100 Glover Rd NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 362 0117

Be a spook

Television shows like MI-5 and The Americans are thrilling to watch, but they don’t compare to the real danger and intrigue that happens in D.C. on a daily basis. If you want to experience the shadowy underworld of spies in situ, Washington is ideal, and it’s as easy as signing up for a hard-boiled spy tour hosted by Spies of Washington Tour®. The tour guide for every tour is a real-life spy whose career as an Air Force intelligence officer included field work in Saigon during the Vietnam War and classified operations in Washington, D.C. Her name is Carol Bessette, and she peppers her excursions with fascinating tales of the tools and tricks agents and double-agents have used to live double lives, hide in plain sight, and collect, sell, and exchange classified information.

Bullets and bravery

For visitors with a maudlin sense of history, there is the National Museum of Health and Medicine run by the U.S. military. This museum was started during the Civil War and was originally called the Army Medical Museum. Back then, its primary function was to serve as a center for military surgical and medical research, but over time, the mission changed, and army medical doctors and researchers studied infectious diseases and discovered the cause of yellow fever. Today, the museum focuses on pathology and the rotating exhibits. If you aren’t squeamish, you can tour exhibits that include the autopsy kit used to perform President Lincoln’s post-mortem, see the bullet removed from President Lincoln’s skull, and view Trauma Bay II from the war theater hospital in Balad, Iraq.

National Museum of Health and Medicine, 2500 Linden Ln, Silver Spring, MD, USA, +1 301 319 3300

Have a seat in the halls of power

Two things no other city in the world can offer visitors is a chance to see the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court in action, and both offer exciting experiences. For “C-Span” addicts, sitting in the galleries of the U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate while Congress is in session brings the political process to life like no broadcast ever can. And the same goes for a visit to the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments. During oral arguments, visiting members of the bar, media, special guests, and the public join the judges, clerks, and attorneys. To claim a spot, stand in line for a first-come seat, and who knows, you may just witness legal history being made.

Find your way out

For some, escape means flying off to a warm tropical destination for a relaxing break; others prefer to escape, literally, by using their wits to win a game of trivia or solve a mystery or puzzle, which is where Escape Room Live comes in. Part board game Clue combined with Trivial Pursuit, hide-and-seek, and a scavenger hunt, this interactive real-life escape game has three locations in the D.C. area, and each one has a different theme and range of activities. In Glover Park, you can make your way out of the three rooms by finding hidden objects, being an expert on trivia from the 1980s, or discovering the identity of a killer. At the Georgetown location, the games center around movies, movie sets and plots, and how they drive the game, while in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, the games are related to Sherlock Holmes, wizards, and the paranormal.

Multiple locations in and around Washington, D.C., USA

Visit Christian catacombs

Paris and Rome are famous for their extensive catacombs, but if you can’t make the trip, there is a facsimile at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, which is the American home of the Catholic Church’s Holy Land Franciscan friars. For 800 years, the Franciscans have cared for the Church’s holiest shrines and relics, and this monastery, located on 45 wooded acres in the Brookland neighborhood in Northeast Washington, D.C., contains replicas of churches, gardens, and shrines in Bethlehem, Nazareth, and other parts of the Holy Land. Beneath the monastery is a recreation of the catacombs in Rome, including the remains of two martyred former tenants from the second century: the body of a child called Saint Innocent, and the headless body of a man called Saint Benignus. To visit, sign up for a tour guided by one of the Franciscan monks, but be sure to book at least two weeks in advance; the monastery is visited by the faithful and is always busy.

Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, 1400 Quincy St NE, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 526 6800