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National Shrine | © NCinDC / Flickr
National Shrine | © NCinDC / Flickr

Washington, D.C.'s Most Impressive Buildings You Need to See

Picture of Aparna Krishnamoorthy
Updated: 18 May 2017

Washington, D.C. is home to some magnificent architecture, much of which is historic and recognizable (the White House, U.S. Capitol). And while there’s also no shortage of cookie-cutter uninspired design in the city, it’s also home to some amazing modern masterpieces. This list could go on and on, but Culture Trip has narrowed it down to 10 of the most impressive buildings to see.

The Hirshhorn Museum

A cylinder with a hollowed out middle, the Hirshhorn Museum is a visually stunning building from the outside as well as the inside. Its location set amidst a number of more traditional buildings makes it stand out even more. The structure, housing an incredible modern art collection, should be on your list of places to see.

The Hirshhorn Museum, Independence Ave SW, Washington, D.C., USA+1 202 633 1000

Library of Congress

The Libray of Congress building speaks for itself. A magnificent structure on the outside, the intricate sculptures and artwork are extremely impressive. Inside, the reading room is breathtaking; it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.

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

Arena Stage

Architect Bing Thom’s building is unlike anything else that existed in the District when it replaced a 1950s theater-in-the-round back in 2010. The Arena Stage is a grand space that functions not just as a performing arts center but also as an example of modern architecture, sustainability, and preservation.

Arena Stage, 1101 6th St SW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 488 3300

Union Station

Train stations in many cities are the opposite of impressive, but that’s not the case in D.C., with the marvelous building that is Union Station. The Beaux-arts design, with grand statues, majestic arches, dramatic staircases, gold leaf ceilings, and a lovely plaza, is truly remarkable.

Union Station, Washington, D.C., USA

House of Sweden

This spectacular waterfront building in Georgetown is home to the embassies of Sweden and Iceland and is a prime example of contemporary Swedish design and architecture. Inaugurated in 2006, it has since won widespread recognition and the prestigious Kasper Salin Prize for best building in 2007. A number of exhibitions take place here, and the minimalist design and waterfront views are always incredible.

House of Sweden, 2900 K St NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 536 1500

National Museum of African American History and Culture

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is a newer attraction in D.C., having opened only in September 2016, and is a wonderful addition to the city. The exterior of the building is striking and stands out in bronze amidst a sea of limestone and marble on the National Mall. Designed by British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye, it succeeds in its aim to be a building that has its own significant identity.

NMAAHC, 1400 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 844 750 3012

Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Originally built for the State Department and the Navy and located next to the West Wing, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building houses a number of offices of the White House staff. Although many people consider it a monstrosity, it is an impressive building even from the street and is a good example of French Second Empire style of architecture.

Eisenhower Executive Office Building, 1650 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 395 5895

The Willard InterContinental Hotel

The Willard InterContinental Hotel is a historic luxury hotel and a Washington institution that has hosted dinners, meetings, and gala events for more than 150 years. Located a block from the White House, it has also hosted almost every U.S. president since 1853. An impressive building, the interiors are phenomenal too—for example, an elegant lobby with grandiose columns, carved ceilings, huge chandeliers, and a stunning staircase.

The Willard, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 628 9100

National Gallery of Art, East Building

When it opened in 1978, the National Gallery of Art, East Building was a flawless addition maintaining synchronicity with the surrounding buildings while preserving its uniqueness too. A 2016 expansion opened up gallery spaces in two of the building’s three towers and connected them with a rooftop terrace. The underground walkway to the West Building of the gallery is a fun experience, featuring light sculptures through the moving walkway.

National Gallery, 150 4th St NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 737 4215

National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Catholic church in the country and is one of the 10 largest churches in the world. Its Byzantine-Romanesque style and massive scale attract both believers and non-believers, and it is home to over 70 chapels and oratories. The shrines and mosaics inside the church are simply beautiful.