Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States of America, which means this city is one of the best places in the country to learn all about American history. So I’ve put together this Washington DC Itinerary so you don’t miss any of the top things to do!
Travel to Washington D.C. and you will easily find an overwhelming amount of things to do. There’s the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial, and the National Archives Museum. Besides this, the multiple Smithsonian Museums should have your time in the city completely packed out.
These are some of the things you should make sure you hit up in a three or more day itinerary.
But what about when you have more than a few days to explore the city?
I’ve listed just about all the best things to do in Washington D.C. to make sure your itinerary is the best it can be!
You definitely won’t be stuck looking for things to do in this great city. Beyond the monuments, there are historic neighborhoods to soak up, multicultural areas, and contemporary art galleries that make it a surprisingly diverse city.
Washington DC itinerary: The best things to do
Visit the National Mall
The National Mall is an icon. And it will probably be one of the first places you head to in the city, which is why it’s at the top of my list!
Nicknamed “America’s Front Yard,” this landscaped park in the Downtown area of the city is where you will find Washington D.C.’s most famous monuments.
Measuring 1.8 miles by 3 miles wide, the north side of the Mall is bordered by Constitution Avenue and the south by Independence Avenue. One half of the Mall is (mainly) home to memorials, the other to museums.
As it’s in the center of the city, it’s easy to reach the National Mall on foot from pretty much anywhere.
Cameras at the ready, people!
Go see the Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Though Washington is known for its namesake—George Washington, obviously—there are other famous presidents enshrined in the U.S. capital, not least the country’s third president, Thomas Jefferson.
He is remembered in style at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, a Neo-classical monument built to resemble the Pantheon in Ancient Rome.
Not only is the building impressive, but so is its setting. Located along the Tidal Basin, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial is a very scenic spot.
One of the best things to do in Washington D.C., apart from, you know, simply visiting the memorial, would be to sit on its marble steps and soak up the sun for a while, admiring the view across the water. Nice.
Explore Old Town Alexandria
A centuries-old neighborhood just seven miles south of Washington D.C. awaits curious travelers to the area.
Set in the state of Virginia, Alexandria’s Old Town is a charming historical neighborhood—complete with cobbled streets and storied businesses.
Famous not only for its (very!) pretty architecture but also for being George Washington’s hometown (and once part of Washington D.C. itself), there is a bunch of stuff to do here other than Insta the heck out of its buildings.
There’s a historic free trolley that runs along King Street, which is an awesome way to get around, and easier than a bus tour. I recommend wandering the side streets away from the sometimes super busy King Street, where you’ll find original old businesses still doing what they do. It’s a cool place!
Take flight at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Established in 1946, this is actually the second-most visited museum in the whole of the United States—and the fifth most visited in the world! Amazing.
Here is where you can learn all about aviation, space flight, and planetary science. Great for all you budding astronomers out there.
One of the coolest things about this museum is that you can actually see the Apollo 11 command module there—yep, that’s the same one they used in the 1969 Moon Landings!
There’s also a ton of other displays relating to the Space Race.
Bonus: It’s free to enter!
Time your visit for the National Cherry Blossom Festival
Cherry blossoms aren’t just something you see in Japan. In fact, Washington D.C. has it’s very own festival dedicated to seeing beautiful cherry blossom.
First started in 1935, it marks not only the changing of the seasons—and the start of spring—but also the friendship between Japan and America. Most of the trees were gifted to America in 1912 from the people of Japan as an act of goodwill between the two nations.
The sight of hundreds of pink cherry blossoms along the Potomac River is pretty awesome. You can even take a boat trip down the river to admire them from the water.
Don’t miss the opening ceremony, the Blossom Kite Festival, and the parade. It’s seasonal, so there’s no set date, but it often happens from late March to the start of April.
Rock Creek Park
There are a whole load of monuments to enjoy in Washington D.C., but if you are looking to get out of the city and into nature, then look no further than Rock Creek Park.
This 1,754-acre natural wonderland is a city park that makes for an actual oasis in the city. It was actually the third City Park to be designated (back in 1890).
Almost like a national park, Rock Creek Park is understandably popular with locals who want to get out into nature and take a hike along its many miles of trails, have a picnic with their friends, or even try out a bit of horseriding at the horse center.
There are actually 32 miles of trails, as well as paved running routes and even bike trails. So no matter how you like to enjoy nature, no doubt you will have a pretty awesome time exploring Rock Creek Park.
My recommendation? Start at the Rock Creek Park Recreation Center, where you can get all sorts of information, including maps and information about plants and animals that you can spot in the park.
Pay your respects at the Arlington National Cemetery
The USA’s largest military cemetery—over 600 acres of land—make up the final resting place for over 400,000 military personnel and their families. It is, of course, an important site.
This is the location of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier—a monument to unidentified fallen soldiers from World War I, World War II, and the Korea and Vietnam Wars. This tomb is guarded year-round by Tomb Guard sentinels; the changing of the guard happens every hour and is a somber but elaborate ceremony.
The Arlington National Cemetery is also where John F. Kennedy is buried.
It’s an important spot to visit in Washington D.C.
Mount Vernon, the historic home of George Washington, is located just 13 miles south of the American capital.
And what a home! It’s a sprawling mansion that was built from 1734 onward and was actually a former plantation.
Understandably an American landmark, it’s here where you should come to learn about the life of the first-ever American president.
You can go inside on a tour and explore the first and second floors, and also pay a visit to the onsite museum and learn all there is to know about George Washington himself.
Interestingly, tourists have actually been visiting Mount Vernon since 1878, when they would visit on steamboats, which is cool. No wonder this is one of the best things to do in Washington D.C.—it always has been!
Marvel at the Washington Monument
It’s a 169-meter tall obelisk or needle that rises up to the sky and is dedicated—as the name implies—to George Washington.
Construction of this huge memorial began in 1848 but was halted for 23 years because there was a lack of funding.
The tallest commemorative or memorial column in the world, the Washington Monument was once actually the tallest structure in the world, pipping Cologne Cathedral to the post in 1884, until the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889!
This amazing structure doesn’t just decorate the skyline of Washington D.C., soon you will actually be able to go up it for a view of the city—thanks to a new, state of the art elevator currently being installed.
Go Undercover at the International Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum, as you may imagine, is all about the world of espionage. So, if you want to learn all about that, and if you ever fancied yourself as a James Bond, you should definitely think about paying a visit.
This is where you can learn all about the art of spying!
There are many exhibits, including actual artifacts that reveal the inner workings of many famous spies, as well as strategies and techniques behind some very top-secret espionage missions.
It is actually the only museum in the United States dedicated to espionage! It is also located in a shiny new building, unlike many of the city’s museums.
It’s a good place to spend some time looking around, but I’d say it is one of the best things to do in Washington D.C. when it’s raining! A great way to spend a rainy day.
Catch a performance at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Putting on over 2,000 events each year, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is one of the best things to do in Washington D.C.—especially if you like, well, the performing arts!
Here, you can catch anything from a surreal play or a Broadway musical to a classical opera or contemporary musical performance. There’s a whole lot going on here.
You’ll most likely need a reliable transportation service to cover all that WA has to offer. Washington DC Limo Service would be the best choice – with stellar reviews, a high class fleet and truly professional chauffeurs you’ll have a trip to the capital worth remembering.
Getting there is half the fun. It’s actually set along the waterfront of the Potomac River, which means being able to soak up the evening ambiance of one of the bars or restaurants nearby before (or after!) the show. Super nice.
Bonus: There’s a rooftop terrace (FREE) with beautiful views of the city.
The Kennedy Center is also VERY big. There’s the Concert Hall, which holds almost 2,500 people; there’s the Opera House in the middle of everything, with 2,000 seats; and then there’s the smaller Eisenhower Theater, which mainly hosts plays and musicals.
There are also other performance venues inside, definitely too many to list!
For information about upcoming performances, check online.
Go for French food At Le Diplomate
If you are looking for something romantic to do in Washington D.C., and you don’t think monuments are going to cut it, then I recommend hitting up Le Diplomate.
Costing a huge $6 million to build, this French restaurant may not be set in a historic building, but it definitely feels authentic.
The interiors here glisten and sparkle, with attention to detail in everything from the tiled floors and colorful walls to the beautifully designed wicker chairs.
Unsurprisingly, it is super popular, so my tip would be to definitely book WAY in advance. Even though there are 300 seats, it can be really hard to get a table at popular times (in the evening).
The food matches the elegant interiors and is (of course) amazing. Try the seafood platters!
Warning: it’s not cheap!! (But it is VERY tasty!).
Check out the National Archives in Washington D.C.
Washington D.C. has no shortage of grand buildings—and the National Archives is one of them.
Located on Constitution Avenue, just north of the National Mall, this isn’t just an imposing structure for show! It is actually home to a massive three billion records, including three very important ones—The Founding Documents.
That’s right; the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are all housed in this very building! They can be viewed for free in the building’s Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.
It’s the place to go to learn about American history through the many documents which have made this country what it is today, with over 1,000 documents on display at any one time.
Get educated at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Free to visit, this imposing museum opened its doors in 1910 and has been educating visitors for over a century ever since.
With more than 145 million specimens inside, this amazing museum in Washington D.C. covers everything from plants, insects, and fossils to meteorites and a whole load of other interesting artifacts.
It’s a super interesting day out for all ages. The Hall of Dinosaurs alone is definitely one of the best things to do in Washington D.C.! You’d be surprised to see a T-rex, a triceratops, and the who’s who of the dinosaur world!
Eat Vietnamese food at The Eden Center
With 125 Vietnamese shops and restaurants, the Eden Center is often touted as Washington D.C.’s “Little Saigon.”
Set inside a strip mall, the Eden Center is definitely where you should head if you have a craving for pho, or if you need your banh mi fix. From the moment you arrive at the parking lot, the smell of barbecue pork wafting out will definitely entice you into this wonderland of food.
Vietnamese migrants settled in the city after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and gradually created a place to reflect their culture at the Eden Center. Not only is there a clock tower, said to be a replica of Downtown Saigon, but there are many cultural festivals held here throughout the year, including Tet and various Full Moon Festivals.
If you’re in town when one of the festivals is on, it’s even more reason to pay a visit to the Eden Center. But if you’re in town anyway, and you’re looking for Vietnamese food, this is where you should go.
Go for a stroll at the United States National Arboretum
For something to do for nature-lovers and Instagram enthusiasts, you should definitely head to the United States National Arboretum.
Established in 1927, this free of charge property spans 446 acres and is all about its captivating natural beauty.
You can actually find the original pillars that once made up the National Capitol Columns in 1828, installed here during the 1980s. It is a very popular spot to see the majestic pillars in amongst the green, leafy nature—a bit like an Ancient Greek ruin!
Another area in the garden that makes for a very cool thing to do in Washington D.C. is the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, where you can see a collection of Japanese (and Chinese!) miniature trees. What a cool art form, I just wish I had the patience!
Explore the Adams Morgan Neighborhood
Ok people, it’s time to check out yet another of Washington D.C.’s historic neighborhoods. But it isn’t just historic, it also happens to be culturally diverse.
With crazy creativity going on, and street art coexisting alongside old row houses and cool coffee shops and cafes, exploring Adams Morgan is definitely one of the coolest things to do in Washington D.C. My sister took me out here for a night out when I was visiting her (when she used to live in D.C.), and we had so much fun!
Focused on the intersection between Columbia Road and 18th Street, this neighborhood is known for its plethora of independent stores and hangouts. There are boutiques, cafes, restaurants, venues, bars—a whole manner of things to do here.
The annual Adams Morgan Day Festival, every September, is a street celebration that is all about parades, fun, and music that is nice if you happen to be in town then!
Every Saturday (except when there’s bad weather), local growers sell organic products and freshly made goods at the Farmers Market—and have done for over 30 years.
If you haven’t already got this place on your Washington D.C. itinerary, then definitely mark it on your map!
Discover Dumbarton Oaks
Dumbarton Oaks is a historic estate located in the Georgetown neighborhood of the city.
Donated to Harvard University—and still part of the Ivy League college—Dumbarton Oaks can be visited year-round for a unique thing to do in Washington D.C.
Here, visitors will find a sprawling set of gardens and an art museum, along with collections of rare books on show in its libraries. Simply strolling around this picturesque location makes for a good way to spend some time in the city, with all its passageways and leafy terraces.
It’s a great alternative to the “big” monuments of Washington D.C. and feels like you’ve stumbled on a secret. Very cool.
Take a snap of the Lincoln Memorial
Its 36 marble columns, representing the United States of America at the time of Lincoln’s death, are designed to resemble an Ancient Greek temple, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Here, you should climb the steps to find an inscription of an enigmatic quote, “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.”
Below the quote: the 19-foot statue of President Lincoln himself, looking out over the Mall. “Impressive” doesn’t do this place justice!
Wander around Capitol Hill
Washington D.C., being the capital city of the United States, of course, means there are some pretty important buildings to be found here. Not least is the United States Congress.
Located in Capitol Hill, the congress is an impressive domed building (also known as the Capitol Building), like a cathedral to democracy. Snap away and get your best photo.
You can also go on a guided tour of Congress—the visitor center is located on the east side of the building. Here, you can pick up a guide, who will take you on an in-depth walking tour of the important building.
The surrounding neighborhood is also very much worth your time. In fact, Capitol Hill is the largest historic residential neighborhood in the city. As such, you will find many pretty old houses crammed into its two square miles.
Simply wandering around the neighborhood is a portal back into time. Here, you’ll find old row houses, churches, and the Eastern Market.
Go for food at Eastern Market
Besides being part of the city’s history, it’s now very much part of Washington D.C.’s present.
It’s a lively marketplace that should be the go-to for foodie visitors to the city. You can pick up a whole load of produce here, from cheese and bread to flowers and seafood.
Not only can get produce, but you can also eat here. There are a ton of restaurants to choose from, so just take your pick!
The Eastern Market is also where a lot of events and live music takes place, so if you are looking for something fun to do in Washington D.C. at the weekend, I recommend making a beeline to this place!
See some modern art at Dupont Underground
For something a little more off the beaten track for your Washington D.C. itinerary, I recommend paying a visit to the Dupont Underground.
Located under Dupont Circle—a landmark circle of the city—this subterranean wonderland is an abandoned streetcar tunnel turned modern art gallery.
The former transit tunnel has been reimagined as a creative space and now plays host to contemporary art exhibitions, with projections and colorful wall displays, as well as sculpture and musical events.
It’s a super cool way to reuse a once abandoned, and unused, space, turning it into a cultural destination.
Check online for upcoming exhibitions and events.
Check out the International Embassies during Passport DC
If you find yourself in the city in springtime, not only are there cherry blossoms, but there is also the month-long festival of Passport DC to soak up.
What is that?
Well, it’s a cultural celebration that shines a spotlight on the international diplomatic community that calls Washington D.C. home.
During the festival, more than 70 international embassies open their doors like open houses and welcome visitors to explore the often historic buildings.
Not only is it cool to see inside each one of the mansions that line Massachusetts Avenue, but it is also a chance to soak up a little bit of international culture. There are performances of music and dance, as well as food and drink tastings.
The best bit? It’s all free!
Hit the streets of Georgetown
Georgetown is a historic neighborhood along the banks of Potomac River that is a favorite with locals and visitors alike—and it is easy to see why.
With its cobblestone sidewalks, tree-lined lanes, and historic homes, Georgetown is easy to get lost in. It is also a hotspot for shopping and dining and is the location of many luxury hotels in Washington D.C.
If you are into history, you can actually take a tour of the historic 18th and 19th-century mansions that are located in Georgetown. Or you can get your fill at one of the world-class restaurants, and walk it off in the charming Georgetown Waterfront Park.
As night descends, the bars along the river become lively with jazz shows, so if you’re looking for some upscale entertainment, this is definitely the place to come.
Get a selfie with The White House
You’re in Washington D.C. It’s the capital of the United States. Of course, one of the best things to do here is to pay a visit to The White House.
Ok, ok, so you may not actually be invited in—but don’t worry!
You can get close enough to the White House itself for a pretty good photo opp. Just north of the National Mall itself, you can easily get up close to the fence and get snapping!
First, you get to walk through the grassy park that makes up The Ellipse. Of course, the White House is a top security location, so you need to be careful about where you take pictures.
For a different view, head to the north side of the White House instead and take your photo from Lafayette Square. There’s often a heavy police presence, but that’s understandable since this is where the President lives, after all.
Catch a show and enjoy dinner at Arlington Cinema and Draft House
Wow—the coolest thing about this place, before you even step through the doors, is the 1930s Art Deco architecture, which makes it a must-visit for architecture buffs who find themselves in Washington D.C.!
Inside, it’s a movie theater, of course, but you can also enjoy some dinner (and drinks) here from the comfort of your very plush seat. Yep, that’s right; no popcorn here, it’s table service burgers and craft beers all the way!
It’s different from a regular restaurant, but it’s also different from your regular theater. Each seat has either a table or a counter so you can enjoy your meal comfortably as you watch whatever flick you’ve chosen to see.
So, if you are looking for something different to do in Washington D.C., and you’re stuck for ideas, heading out to the Arlington Cinema might easily become your evening plan!
There you have it people—those are all of the top things to do in the American capital that you should be adding to your Washington D.C. itinerary.
It’s not just about the National Mall and all those iconic, landmark sights. Ok, so you should probably check those out—and get a few snaps while you’re at it—but there’s actually so much more to this city than that!
Definitely be sure to check out all the museums around the city like the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and African American History Museum.
It would be a shame to only explore the big sites! There’s a coolness to be found in Washington D.C.—and I’ve given you an idea of where to find it!
You’ll love DC so much, you’ll be coming back for day trips all the time now that you have all the details on where to go. I’d also recommend venturing out to some of the other landmarks like Shenandoah National Park which is just 75 miles from DC.
When you’re in DC, don’t forget to tag me in your Insta pics and stories (I’m @wtfab btw). Let me know which cool neighborhoods you’ve discovered, or what hipster cafes you find yourself in.
It is recommended to spend at least 3 days in Washington DC to get a feel for what the city is about. But five days would be best to really explore the city!
The best time of year to visit Washington DC is from September to November and March to May since the weather will be at its best.
Rush hour in Washington DC tends to be from 6:00 am – 9:30 am and 3:30 pm – 6:30 pm.
Elise Armitage is an entrepreneur and founder of What The Fab, a travel + lifestyle blog based in California. At the beginning of 2019, Elise left her corporate job at Google to chase her dreams: being an entrepreneur and helping women find fabulous in the everyday. Since then, she’s launched her SEO course Six-Figure SEO, where she teaches bloggers how to create a passive revenue stream from their website using SEO. Featured in publications like Forbes, Elle, HerMoney, and Real Simple, Elise is a firm believer that you can be of both substance and style.