View of the cityscape and The Washington Monument from the Capitol building during sunset, including several of the best things to do in Washington DC

41 Best Things to Do in Washington DC in 2023 (By a Local) 

👉 Jump to: Best Things to Do in DC | Sites & Attractions | Museums & Culture | Food & Drink | Free Things

I’m a Washington DC area local and in this guide, I share the best things to do in Washington DC. 

Washington DC houses a melding pot of cultures, a vibrant art scene, and a wealth of fascinating history. Add in some trendy restaurants and you’ll understand why I love DC so much!

I cover these interests and more in this comprehensive guide. Learn about popular must-sees and non-touristy hidden gems that you won’t want to miss.

Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support us by purchasing via the affiliate links on this page, which may earn us commissions. See our Advertising Policy for further explanation. Thank you!

Best Things to Do in Washington DC

National Mall

Stroll across America’s front yard to explore memorials, museums, and monuments. 

Aerial view of the cityscape, green space, and Museum of Natural History and Smithsonian Institution Building on a sunny day
An aerial shot of the National Mall

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 24 hours daily | Entrance: Free | 👉 Browse Washington DC Tours on Viator

On the National Mall, you’ll find every marble tribute that draws crowds to DC. Visit the reflecting pool, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian museums, the Capitol Building, and the White House. 

There are 1,000 acres within the National Mall with sites like the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial and The Martin Luther King Jr. Monument. The best way to experience the National Mall is by walking it. 

The National Mall is also a popular site for events and protests. Check ahead of time to avoid traffic delays and street closures. 

👉 Pro Tip: Don’t center your entire trip around the National Mall. There are many more things to do in Washington DC.

International Spy Museum

Take on a secret identity and discover the hidden world of espionage.

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Sun – Fri 10 am – 6 pm, Sat 9 am – 6 pm | Entrance: $28, adults, $19 7-12 years old. Children under 6 free | 👉 Save with the Washington DC Sightseeing Flex Pass

The International Spy Museum is arguably one of the best museums in Washington DC. It’s not free like many others, but the $28 fee for adults is money well spent. Taking on the secret mission is optional, but I’d highly recommend it as a glimpse into the world of espionage. 

Stories of the most famous spies are brought to life in the main exhibition room. You’ll also see real spy devices used to smuggle important secrets and collect information. 

There are tons of interactive exhibits at this museum. Throughout your secret mission, you’ll be putting your memory and code-cracking skills to the test! My personal favorites (because I’m a kid at heart) were crawling through air ducts as you see in movies and the Cyber Infinity Room. 

The Wharf

Enjoy a plethora of food options and live entertainment at this historic DC waterfront.

📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉 Browse Washington DC Food Tours

The Wharf is near and dear to Washington DC history. This waterfront location is home to the country’s oldest open-air fish market, which opened in 1805 [Source]. 

If you’re not in the mood for a trip to the fish market, there are tons of upscale options further down the pier. Grab light fare and drinks at Colada Shop or Grazie Grazie. For more luxe options, try the Mediterranean food at La Vie or modern Vietnamese cuisine at Moon Rabbit (my personal fave). 

Experience live concerts at The Anthem plus activities along the pier. Roast marshmallows at the firepit on brisk autumn nights. Catch live music at the floating stage, or strap on skates in the winter months and glide across the ice skating rink. 

National Cherry Blossom Festival

Celebrate the arrival of spring and see all of Washington DC decked out in pink.

Two red balloons at the crowd of the annual Kite Festival with Cherry Blossoms around the National Mall
Kites flying during the National Cherry Blossom Festival (photo: eurobanks / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | March 20th to April 16th, 2023 | Most events are free

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual spring celebration in Washington DC. It commemorates the 1912 Japanese gift of cherry blossom trees lining the Tidal Basin. Cherry blossoms are a popular attraction in DC, so the Tidal Basin gets packed during peak bloom. 

Walk or bike the Tidal Basin Loop of West Potomac Park for the best views of the delicate cherry blossoms. Skip the crowds by getting there early, ideally before 8 am. Fair warning–after everyone’s awake on a weekend, you’re in for elbow-to-elbow foot traffic. 

The festival lasts four weeks starting on March 20th. Most events like the parade and Petal Palooza for the National Cherry Blossom Festival are free. During the festival, bars, and restaurants in Washington DC celebrate with cherry blossom-themed decor and menus.

📚 Related Reading: 16 Best Day Trips from DC in 2023 (By an Area Local)

The Hirshhorn Museum

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 10 am – 5:30 pm daily | Entrance: Free

The Hirshhorn Museum is one of the nation’s premier art galleries. It features full-room installations dedicated to some of the most influential artists of this century. The most popular collection at the Hirshhorn lately has been One With Eternity by Yayoi Kusama. 

Her full-room exhibits immerse you in her artwork and her message. It’s only there for a limited time (until spring 2023). But there are other powerful works of modern art. These include Washington DC native artists and the fascinating history of feminism in the art world.

👉 Pro tip: Popular exhibits have lines wrapped around the building at 9 am. When I visit here again, I’m jumping in line 10 minutes early for free timed passes.

Lincoln Memorial 

This 100-year-old memorial to Abraham Lincoln is a stunning architectural masterpiece and moral reminder.

Façade of the architectural masterpiece of Lincoln Memorial with people strolling around reflected on the water at dusk
The Lincoln Memorial across the reflecting pool

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 24 hours daily | Entrance: Free 

A marble monument honoring Abraham Lincoln rests across the reflecting pool at the National Monument. Up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, you’ll find 36 towering marble columns representing the states within the U.S. during Lincoln’s presidency. 

The 19-foot-tall statue of Lincoln is surrounded by engraved quotes. This includes the entirety of his famous Gettysburg Address speech. 

Same as other monuments on the National Mall, this one is open 24/7. Visit the Lincoln Memorial in the evening to see spotlights illuminate the monument. This is one of several stops on the top-rated Moonlit Tour of the National Mall. Just hop on its comfortable coach bus to witness 10 different monument sites within 3 hours. 

Ben’s Chili Bowl 

Exterior view of the vibrant red and yellow Ben's Chili Bowl
The iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl (photo: Edward Fielding / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Mon – Wed 11 am – 9 pm, Thurs 11 am – 11 pm, Fri – Sat 11 am – 4 am, Sun 11 am – 10 pm | 👉 Harlem Renaissance in DC Historical Tour

This should be your first stop when you make it to Washington DC. I wouldn’t be a local if I didn’t suggest this to you. Ben’s Chili Bowl has a few locations now, but the original is located on U Street. That one’s been open since 1958. 

You have to try their Chili Half-Smoke. But you won’t be left out if you don’t eat meat. Ben’s also serves a great veggie dog with vegan chili. 

This Washington DC landmark has been visited by presidents, civil rights activists, musicians, comedians, and actors. Each one has a picture hanging on the wall of this time-honored establishment. On the outside of the building, you’ll find a mural with famous figures voted on by the community.  

Immigrant Food+ at The Planet Word Museum

Stuff your face in support of a good cause.

A gourmet with green sauce and a bowl of salad served on a wooden board
I love hitting up Immigrant Foods for their special events like their recent one-year anniversary

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Tue – Thur 11 am – 9 pm, Fri – Sat 11 am – 10 pm, Sun 11 am – 3 pm, closed Mon 

It’s impossible to visit DC without diving into socio-political matters. Immigrant Food+ is a unique “gastro-advocacy” restaurant that partners with the Planet Word Museum. They host dining experiences that celebrate immigrants, their cultures, and their experiences.

This restaurant is attached to a museum, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get lamp-warmed cafeteria mush. Quite the opposite. Explore an upscale fusion of cultures around the world with what’s affectionately called an “immigrant dim sum experience”. 

What’s interesting about Immigrant Food+ is that you’re not just getting a food menu—there’s an engagement menu, too. It provides ways to advocate for and support immigrants outside of dining at the restaurant. 

👉 Pro Tip: Immigrant Food+ switches up its menu constantly. Every time you visit, there’s a new experience! 

United States Botanic Garden

Cultivating your indoor jungle? Come get inspiration at the US Botanical Gardens.

Orchids hanging and on blue pots inside the orchid room at the United States Botanic Garden
The orchid room at the US Botanic Gardens (photo: Helen89 / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | Conservatory hours: 10 am to 5 pm daily | Entrance: Free 

Most of the people visiting Washington DC are surprised by how green the city is compared to other major cities. The US Botanic Garden is the embodiment of that. The botanical gardens here are the only certified living plant museum in the United States. It’s also the oldest botanic garden in the country.  

You’ll find the bigger (and perhaps less brown) version of your beloved houseplants. There are gardens, classes, and rare plants you won’t see anywhere else. Across the grounds, you’ll find different gardens that’ll inspire you to create your own. Garden varies include roses, aquatic species, pollinators, regional plants, and even kitchen gardens. 

My favorite parts of this Washington DC attraction are the orchid room along with the rare and endangered plant area.

DC In A Day Tour

Only in DC for a limited time? Take it all in on a day tour! 

Exterior view of the United States Capitol from a distance on a sunny day
An up-close look at the United States Capitol

📍 Google Maps | Hours: 9:45 am – 4 pm daily | Cost: $80-$88 per person | 👉 DC In A Day Tour

Not everyone has time to experience Washington DC across a week or a month. If you do, good for you! For everyone else, there’s the DC In A Day Tour. This top-rated, 6-hour tour of Washington DC visits over 30 sites. It even includes a seasonal boat cruise through the Potomac River from March through October. 

This tour stops at the United States Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and Korean War Veterans Memorial, to name a few. If you can’t make it during cruise season, you’ll get bonus stops at the Jefferson Memorial and the Eisenhower Memorial. 

History buffs will love the facts and knowledge shared by tour guides and you’ll see the best of the nation’s capital in one go.

DC Sites & Attractions

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

The architectural beauty of this marble memorial on the Tidal Basin is enhanced by blooming cherry blossoms.

A closeup look of the Cherry Blossoms with  the Thomas Jefferson Memorial reflected on the water in the background
The Jefferson Memorial during cherry blossom season

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 24 hours daily | Entrance: Free | 👉 DC Monuments and Memorials Night Tour

This white marble tribute to one of the founding fathers of the nation overlooks the Tidal Basin and is definitely a sight to behold. The sheer magnitude of this monument is astounding. What you might not like about it is the crowds. 

If you’re going to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial during mid-day, you’ll usually find swaths of people. They crowd the steps, snap pictures, and do all of the touristy things. This is especially true during cherry blossom season. 

If you have the chance, go during the week for a more spacious experience. Although the monument itself is beautiful, views of DC are framed perfectly from inside the marble columns. This is where a statue of Jefferson permanently stares across the Tidal Basin towards the Washington Monument. 

Tour The White House

Go beyond the gates and get a view of the White House from the inside.

View of the exterior of The White House with people walking around
Entering the Whitehouse (photo: Nicole Glass Photography / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Tues – Sat 8 am – 12:30 pm, closed Sun | Entrance: Free

An iconic stop for visitors to the nation’s capital is the White House. People outside the south lawn gates snap pictures from afar, but many don’t know there are tours inside. 

This attraction takes the most planning. Tours are highly coveted and scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s free, but you’ll only get tickets by contacting a member of Congress. If you snag tickets to the White House, be aware tours can be canceled at any time. 

Tour requests must be submitted at least 21 days in advance. Serious contenders request them 3 months in advance. The tour includes the Green Room, Blue Room, and East Room. Plus, you’ll get some background on the historic residence along the way. 

👉 Pro Tip: It’s the White House. Security is beyond tight. Get there 15 minutes early for security checks. 

Nationals Park

Take me out to the ballgame! Watch the 2019 World Series winners live and in action.

People watching the Nats vs. Astros game at Nationals Park
When I took my mom to a Nats vs. Astros game at Nats Park

📍 Google Maps | Website | Entrance: Starting at $9 per ticket 

Catching a game at Nats Park is the perfect way to watch a few innings in Washington DC. This stadium is well-organized and absolutely huge. Come prepared with your walking shoes. 

Stop by Ben’s Chili Bowl and grab a chili half-smoke for a classic Washington DC ball game experience. Tickets can be costly, but the stadium offers multi-game ticket plans for as little as $5 per game. 

On game day, parking is a pain and you’ll need to pay for it in advance. It’s best to take the metro there to avoid traffic. 

🚗 How to Get There: The Navy Yard station is a block away. You can also head to Capital South which is a 15-minute walk to the stadium. 

Witness the Changing of the Guard

Honor the men and women who’ve protected the country with a military tradition.

View of the changing of the Guard at Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery
The changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier (photo: Worawat Dechatiwong / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 8 am – 5 pm daily | Entrance: Free | Parking: $3 per hour for passenger vehicles, $10 per hour for commercial vehicles 

The tomb of the unknown soldier in Arlington National Cemetery is guarded around the clock by sentinels that change every hour. For many tourists, this is an essential part of paying your respects to the men and women who’ve served this country. Arlington National Cemetery is also the final resting place for many historical figures.  

Witness the changing of the guard by taking a 15-20 minute walk from the Arlington cemetery visitor’s center to the unknown soldier’s tomb. Typically during the spring months, you’ll also see wreath-laying ceremonies. 

Among the sea of white tombstones, it’s easy to get lost. Book a guided tour that takes you to the gravesites of politicians and war heroes before watching the changing of the guard. 

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Pay your respects to those who lose their lives in the Vietnam War.

People reflected on the engraved stone of the names of fallen soldiers during the Vietnam War
(photo: Baiterek Media / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 24 hours daily | Entrance: Free | 👉 DC Monuments and Capitol Hill Tour

This is the most visited memorial on the National Mall. Its black granite walls stretch for hundreds of feet memorializing the names of 58,228 servicemen and women who died during the Vietnam War. Standing watch over The Wall are three bronze servicemen with their weapons. There’s also a statue honoring the women of the Vietnam War directly across from The Wall. 

If you’re searching for a loved one’s name, it’s best to go during the day with plenty of sunlight. It’s also helpful to search the Vietnam Veterans Memorial website for the exact location of their name. Many people choose to leave special mementos on the wall or do a name rubbing to commemorate their experience here. 

Luxury Shopping at City Center DC

Do DC in style with all of your favorite luxury brands and dining options in one place.

Lantern Balls decorated above the glass ceiling of Palmer Alley in CityCenterDC
Decorations above Palmer Alley in CityCenterDC

📍 Google Maps | Website 

DC residents earn the highest annual average salaries in the country, so you can bet we have the best luxury brands. A good chunk of them is located at CityCenterDC. Here, you’ll find over 40 luxury shops including Hermes, Dior, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Bulgari. 

All of these luxury stores are surrounded by esteemed restaurants like Dolcezza, Estuary, Summit, and Piccolina. Above Palmer Alley, you’ll find hanging decorations that change with the seasons which make for the perfect photo op. 

🛎️ Need a Hotel? Stay close to the elegance of CityCenter by staying at The Conrad. This modern hotel is perfect for people who want to explore the city on foot. Over 100 restaurants are within 0.3 miles!

The Escape Game (Georgetown)

Test your puzzle-solving skills at a next-level escape room.

The author Seychelle Thomas and her sisters posing inside The Escape Room with stone walls around
Me and my sisters after using all of our brain power (and unlimited clues) to escape.

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 8 am – 12 am daily | Entrance: $32-$37 per adult 

I’ve visited several escape rooms for teambuilding events, birthdays, and date nights. But none of the ones I’ve visited come close to The Escape Game. This is what other escape rooms aspire to be. 

My sisters and I did the Curse of the Mummy room. We had a blast unlocking this Egyptian mummy mystery. The Georgetown DC location has five escape rooms. Each one is impeccably designed. You may want to solve everything on your own, but there are unlimited clues if you’re stumped. 

Not done having fun yet? There’s a beer and wine bar along with a communal board game room. You can hit up The Escape Game outside of Washington DC, too. They have locations across the country with a nostalgic Rugrats-themed room in Las Vegas that makes me want to book a flight. 

👉 Pro Tip: If you do the mummy room, don’t wear your brand-new shoes.Thank me later.

The Washington Monument

Get a bird’s eye view of DC from the top of its most iconic monument.

Top view of the Washington monument and cityscape with USA flags around
A view of the Washington monument from the top of 17th Street building

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 9 am – 5 pm daily | Entrance: Free timed entry passes required, $1 service charge per ticket | 👉 Washington DC Monuments Tour

Looking for things to do in Washington DC? One of the top attractions is the Washington Monument. It’s one of the most iconic sights in Washington DC’s skyline. This Egyptian-style obelisk looms over the city at 555 feet tall, making it the tallest building in the world when it debuted. It’s a testament to our first president, George Washington, and his leadership.

If you aren’t afraid of heights, take the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument for a remarkable view of the National Mall. On the ride down, you’ll see commemorative stones. These honor states, groups, and countries that contributed to building the Washington Monument. 

Reserve free tickets online or in person. All tickets are on a first-come, first-served basis and you can reserve them up to 30 days in advance.

Museums & Culture

The Kennedy Center

See one of your favorite plays at Washington DC’s premier performing arts center.

View of the Kennedy Center illuminated at night and reflected on the Potomac River
The Kennedy Center lights up the Potomac River

📍 Google Maps | Website | Entrance: Free events and tickets starting at $59

Get a taste of the performing arts in DC by getting tickets to a show at the John F. Kennedy Center. This gorgeous center for the performing arts hosts a wide range of events like comedy shows, ballets, plays, concerts, and more. 

Get there ahead of your show time to sit in the atmospheric courtyard for a conversation under the willow trees overlooking the water. Whether you’re going to see Hamilton, Wicked, or the symphony orchestra, there are tickets available on their website for your next night out. 

If you’re driving, you may find some street parking near the Watergate Hotel. You can also reserve parking ahead of time for $22 on the Kennedy Center website which is highly recommended. 

The Black Cat

Listen to live music at a DC indie rock venue.

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 7 pm – 12 am daily | Entrance: starts at about $20 per adult

The Black Cat is a DC staple that opened its doors in the ‘90s when DC had a lack of music venues. They’ve been instrumental in developing the alternative music scene in DC. This music venue is semi-intimate with a capacity of 700 people. 

Billie Eilish, Janelle Monae, The Foo Fighters, and The Roots are just some of the artists that have graced The Black Cat.

This venue isn’t precious. It’s fairly edgy and gives dive bar vibes. Grab a drink upstairs at the Red Room Bar before or after the set. For those with hearing sensitivity, you’ll want to bring ear protection to fully enjoy the experience. 

👉 Pro Tip: Start the night with a rooftop bite at Gypsy Kitchen. It’s a few feet from Black Cat.

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Take a journey through African American history at this Smithsonian museum.

Exterior view of the architectural masterpiece of The African American History Museum at sunrise
The African American History Museum at sunrise

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 12 pm – 5 pm Mondays, 10 am – 5:30 pm Tuesday-Sunday | Entrance: Free, timed passes required | 👉 African-American History Tour with Museum Admission

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is the most recent addition to the Smithsonian museums in Washington DC. Whether you’re a long-term DMV resident or a visitor looking for things to do in Washington DC, this stop is a must. 

This is the only national museum dedicated to preserving African American history and culture. Venture through 10 floors and over 40,000 artifacts. Exhibits discuss pre-slavery eras to modern-day African American history. 

Entry to the museum is free, but you’ll need to reserve timed passes in advance on their website. Same-day passes are released daily at 8:15 am. 

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

View of the sculpture of different animals inside the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
(photo: Andrea Izzotti / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 10 am – 5:30 pm Daily | Entrance: Free, timed passes required | 👉 Private Guided Museum Tour

The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History is one of the most popular things to do in Washington DC. You’ll need timed passes to get in, but they’re free on the museum’s website. 

In the lobby, the iconic African elephant is raising his trunk to welcome museum patrons. On the upper level, you’ll find a genuine Moai statue and a small butterfly exhibit. It’s the perfect place to bring the kids to learn about their favorite animals, geology, and marine life. 

This is one of the free things to do in Washington DC. That said, don’t visit on a weekend or holiday unless you enjoy being shoulder-to-shoulder with other tourists. If you can arrange for it, visit this Smithsonian institution during the week. 

Dupont Underground

Get familiar with the underground art scene of DC.

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: determined by event schedule | 👉 Washington DC Art & Culture Tours

This art exhibit is literally underground since it’s beneath Dupont Circle. It’s a versatile space that highlights alternative artwork within an abandoned streetcar station. 15,000 square feet of art space presents diversity and creative expression by up-and-coming local artists. 

There are multiple art exhibitions throughout the year that aren’t limited to stuffy, quiet gallery-type events. You’ll find art events around the LGBTQ+ experience in DC alongside BIPOC artistry. It’s probably one of the most non-touristy things you can do here. 

Dupont Underground has a new lineup of events every month. It’s best to check in on their website or social media platforms to plan your visit around an event. Note that when they’re not holding an event, there’s not much to see here. 

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

Inspire your inner astronaut with a trip to the air and space museum.

People strolling inside The National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution
(photo: ItzaVU / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 10 am – 5:30 pm daily | Entrance: Free, timed passes required | 👉 Private Guided Tour of the Air and Space Museum

The recently renovated Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is located on the National Mall. It features 8 new galleries added to the open portion of the museum. While half of this museum is still under construction until 2025, you’ll still be astounded by the open exhibits.

Bring your dreams of space travel to life and uncover the history of human flight through a collection of over 60,000 artifacts. This is the only place you’ll see the prototype of the first airplane with the original 1903 Wright Flyer. 

If airplanes are your thing, you’ll also enjoy the America By Air exhibit. Here, multiple aircraft hang overhead in a room resembling an airplane hangar. 

United States National Arboretum

Photographers and nature lovers enjoy the bonsai gardens and towering columns of the National Arboretum.

View of the autumn landscape of the National Capitol Columns in the National Arboretum
The Columns of the National Arboretum in Fall

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 8 am to 5 pm daily except Christmas | Entrance: Free, no tickets required

The National Arboretum is a photographer’s paradise in Washington DC. They don’t just house a bunch of trees. There’s a bit more than that here. Most people make their way to the arboretum to capture the towering National Capitol Columns. 

These intricate corinthian columns were originally part of the US Capitol Building in 1828. Now, they sit on 20 acres of meadows in front of a small reflecting pool. It’s the perfect spot for a photo shoot or a picturesque picnic. 

Visitors to the arboretum also enjoy the bonsai garden along with 451 acres of specialized gardens. It’s an escape from the concrete and asphalt of Washington DC without leaving it. 

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Honor the stories of Holocaust victims in this solemn memorial museum.

View inside the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with a light in the middle
(photo: GiuseppeCrimeni / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 10 am to 5:30 pm daily | Entrance: Free, timed entry passes required 

This is quite possibly the most moving museum on the National Mall. The Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC honors the 6 million European Jews killed during The Holocaust. When you walk into the main area, you may notice that it’s designed to resemble a concentration camp. 

This museum teaches about antisemitism and the harmful ideals that lead to genocide. It also actively confronts genocides taking place in today’s world. 

One of the most powerful exhibits during my time there were the shoes of the concentration camp victims. As a fair warning, this museum brings up intense emotions for most visitors and isn’t recommended for children under 12. 

O Street Museum

Go on a search for secret doors in a museum unlike any other.

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Sun – Wed 9 am – 6 pm, Thurs – Sat 9 am – 9 pm, closed Sun | Entrance: $26.50 to $40 per person | 👉 Book Your Stay at the O Street Mansion

O Street Museum is one of the most unique and unusual things to do in Washington DC. It’s located inside a DC mansion made up of 5 connected rowhouses. Within this mansion, there are over 100 rooms and some are hidden behind 70 secret doorways. 

You could spend all day trying to find each one. You’ll discover special themed rooms, like the Halloween room, pop culture room, and log cabin room. If you find a piece in the museum you can’t live without, everything is for sale so you can take it home with you!

🛎️ Need a Hotel? Stay the night at a museum! Book your stay at the O Street Mansion for a full night of fun and exploration in the heart of DC.  

Food & Drink

Union Market 

Find a wide variety of food and shops at Union Market.

People eating at the outdoor picnic tables at Union Market on a sunny day
(photo: TJ Brown / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Mon – Sat 8 am – 9 pm, Sun 8 am – 8 pm | 👉 Browse Washington DC Food Tours 

Union Market is a community market filled with over 40 vendors. There’s everything from top-tier food options to plant shops, coffee, and even artists. On any given weekend morning, you’ll find caffeine-deprived locals getting their fix and grabbing breakfast with their dogs in tow. 

Head there before thumbing through vinyls across the street at Byrdland Records. Or stop by for drinks on the rooftop at Hi-Lawn before walking over to catch a movie at Angelika Pop-Up. 

If you can’t find anything at Union Market that fits your fancy, just cross the street and find more options at La Cosecha, a nearby food hall. You could really take a mini food tour of DC just in this small area! 

Ivy City Smokehouse

Get a taste of DC’s freshest seafood and smoked fish at Ivy City Smokehouse.

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Sun – Thurs 12 pm – 10 pm, Fri – Sat 12 pm – 12 am

Seafood lovers rejoice! Ivy City Smokehouse is the district’s destination for locally-smoked seafood. The only other place you’ll find their delectable salmon candy or the smokey whitefish salad is the nearest Whole Foods. They’ve even earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand for the past 5 years. 

You won’t want to miss out on brunch. The buttery waffles, smoked salmon bagels, and strong libations will show you that Washington DC knows how to have a good time. On a sunny day, you’ll want to get a seat on the deck for some added ambiance. 

Before you leave, stop by the market downstairs to take home some smoked goodies. 

Eastern Market

Who doesn’t love a good farmer’s market? 

People walking around the historic Eastern Market in the Capitol Hill area
(photo: cdrin / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | Indoor Market Hours: Tues – Sun 9 am – 5 pm, closed Mon | Entrance: Free

Get up early on the weekend and take a trip to the farmer’s market! Enjoy crafts from local artists, shop for unique clothing, and find your new favorite piece of handmade jewelry. If you came for food, there’s no shortage of tasty bites at Eastern Market. 

Get breakfast quesadillas and freshly-blended ginger limeades from the outdoor food vendors. For a real taste of Washington DC, head to the indoor market. 

Grab a seat on the communal hightop at The Market Lunch for an unpretentious breakfast. Be sure to get the Bluebucks (pancakes) or The Brick (a breakfast sandwich) to fuel up before making your rounds for fresh produce and bright flowers. 

Cotton & Reed

This unassuming bar and distillery will make you see rum in a new light.

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Mon – Thurs 4 pm – 12 am, Fri 4 pm – 2 am, Sat 12 pm – 2 am, Sun 12 pm – 10 pm | 👉 Washington DC Wine, Beer & Spirits Tours

Throughout Washington DC’s bar scene, you’ll find Cotton & Reed rum listed as an ingredient in your favorite cocktails. This smooth, spiced, and slightly sweet spirit gives you a new perspective on rum as more than a mojito component. 

Cotton & Reed is a unique rum distiller based in Washington DC. This distillery and bar is lowkey, but heavy on the vibes with hip-hop and R&B flavoring your evening. The bar is awesome, but there’s more to this hidden gem. 

They also offer distillery tours every Saturday at 2 pm and 3 pm. At $25 per person, the tour includes a rum flight and a draft cocktail. Pick out the rum you like and take a bottle of Washington DC home with you. 

Kramers Books

An independent bookstore with food and wine? Sign me up! 

View of the glass paneled Kramerbooks & Afterwords store with illuminated neon lights signage from the outside
(photo: Karina Movsesyan / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Mon – Sat 8 am – 10 pm, Sun 8 am – 9 pm | Entrance: Free

You don’t typically think “bookstore” when you want great food, but Kramers is the exception to the rule. This independent bookstore in Dupont Circle has the latest reads and some good eats. Pick up a title from your favorite author and grab a light cup of coffee and a pastry. Or stay for a filling dinner and a glass of wine from their full-service bar.  

This attraction is perfect for a day when the weather isn’t great and you want to go out but stay in at the same time. Depending on which day of the week you go, there might be comedians, musicians, or authors making an appearance. To catch one of their events, be sure to check their online calendar before you go. 


Eat like a president with 40-layer lasagna and color-changing drinks.

📍 Google Maps | Website | Dinner Hours: Sun – Thurs 5 pm – 10 pm, Fri – Sat 5 pm – 11 pm 

If you love Italian food and modern glamor, this is the place for you. L’ardente stunned DC food critics with their delectable 40-layer lasagna. Eventually, it caught the eyes of Barack and Michelle Obama who were casually spotted at the restaurant in October 2022. 

I went with friends in November and shared several dishes, family style. Not a single dish or drink was disappointed and the service was phenomenal. I would definitely suggest this if you’re in DC for a special occasion. 

Since it’s been ranked as the top Italian restaurant in DC and added to the Michelin dining guide, the dinner prices reflect that. But if you’re going to do DC, then you gotta do it right! 

Redbear Brewing Company

A lowkey spot to grab a pint, play some board games, and watch a drag show! 

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Mon – Thurs 11:30 am – 11 pm, Fri 11:30 am – 1 am, Sat 11 am to 1 am, Sun 11 am – 10 pm

Redbear Brewing Company is the only LGBTQ+-owned brewery in DC. You’ll love the tongue-in-cheek drink names and the friendly bar staff. Whether you’re here to grab a drink with friends, play some board games, or attend a trivia night, you’re going to have a good time here. 

Their beer and drink menu rotates frequently along with their food so it’s always interesting to see what’s on tap. If you check their calendar of events, you’ll find drag bingo, trivia nights, stand-up comedy, brunches, and drag competitions. 

Free Things To Do in DC

Library of Congress

Bookworms everywhere will enjoy visiting the largest library in the world.

Panoramic interior view of the white grand staircase and pillars of the Library of Congress
(photo: Hunter Bliss Images / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Tues – Sat 10 am – 5 pm, closed Sun – Mon | Entrance: Free with timed entry passes | 👉 Capitol Hill Guided Walking Tour 

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. It has huge collections of scientific research, cartography, presidential papers, photographs, music, and more. There are over 173 million items within the Library of Congress walls. 

One of the most astounding sights is the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building. This features a 75-foot-high stained glass ceiling held up by marble columns. The Library of Congress also houses treasures like the Gutenberg Bible, the Declaration of Independence, and The Emancipation Proclamation. 

Street Art

Explore DC through the artworks you won’t find in museums.

Graffiti artists painting the buildings in a neighborhood in the city
(photo: Nicole Glass Photography / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps

Almost everywhere you go in DC, you can find murals, graffiti, and artwork gracing the side of buildings and peeking around alleyways. In fact, the closed Wendy’s that greets you as you enter DC from New York Avenue was recently decorated with a mural covering the building.  

You could easily make a day of searching for street art and having a fun photoshoot. Some of the most popular artwork depicts presidents, famous musicians, and surrealist scenes. 

While finding street art by yourself is a great free thing to do in DC, for a small fee you can also sign up for this guided tour with a long-time DC resident who knows where all the best mural sites are. 

Theodore Roosevelt Island

View of the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial and a fountain in the middle of a lush green area
(photo: Rob Crandall / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 6 am to 10 pm daily | Entrance: Free

If you want to see a presidential monument but don’t want to deal with the crowds, then you’ll want to check out Theodore Roosevelt Island. This 88.5-acre island sits firmly in the Potomac River and you don’t need a boat to get there. 

As a local, I’m almost ashamed of how long it took me to realize this place existed, but that lends to how much of a hidden gem it is. Take an easy stroll through nature and you’ll reach a monument to Theodore Roosevelt. It’s complete with a fountain, commemorative plaques, and benches. 

🏘️ Read Next: Best Neighborhoods in Washington DC

Rock Creek Park

Breathe in some fresh air and take a break from the city without leaving the city.

Panoramic view of the Boulder Bridge in the distance in Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC on a sunny day
Boulder Bridge in Rock Creek Park

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Sunrise to sunset daily | Entrance: Free

Rock Creek Park is a green haven in the middle of Washington DC. If you’re familiar with New York, it’s kind of like our version of Central Park. 

Whether you’re walking, biking, running, or boating in DC, you can find ways to do it in Rock Creek Park. It’s a great place to take in the natural world while getting some exercise. Portions of Rock Creek Parkway have even been closed off to vehicles, creating a safer area for the park’s pedestrian visitors. 

In addition to outdoor activities, Rock Creek Park also houses a planetarium and an 1820s grist mill. There are also several important civil war historical sites. 

Underground Comedy at Hotbed

Laughter is the best medicine, and unlike actual medicine, you’ll find it for free at Hotbed.

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Wed – Thurs 5 pm – 12 am, Fri – Sat 5 pm – 2 am, closed Sun – Tues

Underground Comedy is a best-kept secret in Washington DC. If you’re looking for laughs, head down to Hotbed in Adam’s Morgan where you’ll find free shows almost every day they’re open. The free acts can be hit or miss since most are still new to comedy. If you don’t mind a comedian that bombs in between some good sets, then you’ll have a good time.

Underground Comedy has been hosting these events (plus their paid shows) for the last 7 years at a previous location in Dupont Circle. With their move to a less humid and slightly less cramped location, they’ve become an even better spot. Grab a drink and catch local comedians on the verge of their big break.

DC Zoo

See creatures that crawl, climb, soar, and slither among the 2,000 animals at the DC National Zoo.

View of a panda eating a snack on a lying branch of a tree from a distance
One of DC’s prized giant pandas having a snack break

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: 8 am to 4 pm daily | Entrance: Free entry passes required for adults and children

The Smithsonian National Zoo in DC is one of the top things to do in Washington DC. Some of the most popular animals are the giant pandas, which recently celebrated their 50th anniversary at the DC Zoo. 

You’ll also find a carousel, playground, and a splash fountain that opens when the temps start to rise. Overall, you should spare about 2-3 hours to take in the top attractions at the zoo. If you get there early enough, you might find some street parking within a short walk to the entrance. 

🚗 How to Get There: If you prefer to take the metro, you’ll have an 8-minute uphill walk from the Woodley Park-Zoo / Adams Morgan stop. 

Meridian Hill Park

Enjoy cascading fountains and drum circles at this cultural landmark in DC.

View of the cascading fountains in the middle of drum circles at the Meridian Hill Park

📍 Google Maps | Website | Hours: Sunrise – 9 pm in winter, sunrise – 12 am in summer | Entrance: Free

Before becoming a public park,  Meridian Hill Park (known as Malcolm X Park by DC natives) was the home of President John Quincy Adams. Meridian Hill boasts cascading water fountains in the spring and summer. It features statues of James Buchanan, Joan of Arc, and Dante Alighieri.

If you’re looking for cultural attractions in Washington DC, you’re in luck. This is among the most non-touristy things to do in Washington DC. 

One of America’s longest-continuing drum circles takes place at Malcolm X Park each Sunday the sun is shining at 3 pm. It’s been happening for over 40 years. Depending on the day, there are also yogis, dancers, and other musicians that join in on the fun! 


Thanks for reading my guide on things to do in Washington DC! Now you know what to do in DC! Safe travels, and enjoy your visit to the United States capital.

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