14 Interesting Things to do in Washington, D.C. – America’s Capital
Updated On: May 10, 2023
Washington, D.C. is full of historic tourist attractions to visit. It has been home to almost every U.S. president and has many museums and monuments to explore. For anyone visiting America’s capital, there is an unlimited amount of things to do in Washington, D.C.
It would take weeks to explore everything there is to do in Washington, D.C. There is simply too much to see and do. To help you get the most out of the city and plan the perfect itinerary, we’ve listed 14 of the best things to do in Washington, D.C.
14 Amazing Things to do in Washington, D.C.
1: National Mall & Washington Monument
The National Mall is a park in downtown Washington, D.C. that borders many of the museums in the city. The Mall features a long reflecting pool and pathways that lead to other attractions nearby. Walking through the National Mall is one of the most popular things to do in Washington, D.C.
In addition to being one of the most popular tourist attractions in the USA, the National Mall also has other uses. It is the place of many protests and rallies due to its open plan and location in the capitol. It is also where large crowds of people gather during presidential inaugurations.
The most iconic part of the National Mall is the Washington Monument. The construction of the monument began in 1848 but was not completed until forty years later due to a lack of funds and the American Civil War.
The monument stands 169 metres tall and is dedicated to George Washington, the first President of the United States. The structure is made of granite and marble and holds the record for the world’s tallest predominantly stone structure and the world’s tallest obelisk.
Visiting the National Mall and Washington Monument is one of the most iconic and historical things to do in Washington, D.C.
2: Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex. The institution was founded in 1846 and encompasses 19 museums, 9 research centres, 21 libraries, and a zoo.
Welcoming over 30 million people each year, the majority of the Smithsonian’s attractions are free to the public. In total, there are over 150 million items and artefacts within the Smithsonian Institution for visitors to see.
If you’re interested in wandering the halls of the largest museum collection worldwide, touring the Smithsonian’s many attractions is one of the most interesting things to do in Washington, D.C.
3: Lincoln Memorial
Located at the end of the National Mall, visiting the Lincoln Memorial is one of the most popular things to do in Washington, D.C. The memorial honours Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States.
Inside the temple surrounding the monument, a seated Lincoln statue is the memorial’s main feature. On the chair of the statue, inscriptions of Lincoln’s 2 most famous speeches, the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address, can be found.
While seeing the memorial itself is one of the most fascinating things to do in Washington, D.C., the Lincoln Memorial is also iconic for being the site of many historical speeches. In fact, the Lincoln Memorial is where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
4: United States Capitol
The Capitol Building became the meeting place for the American government in 1800 and is still used today. Touring through the building and learning about American history is one of the best things to do in Washington, D.C.
The Capitol Building features a beautiful visitor’s centre where guests can view historical exhibits, get a bite to eat, and book a tour of the Capitol. Tours and activities at the Capitol are free and take guests through the history of the building and important events that took place there.
5: United States Botanic Garden
Walking through the United States Botanic Garden is one of the most relaxing things to do in Washington, D.C. The garden is located at the United States Capitol Building and is the oldest continually-operating botanic garden in the country. It is open every day of the year.
The conservatory at the garden is broken up into different sections that each represent a unique habitat to explore. There are 12 habitats simulated in the conservatory, including the Hawaiian tropics, the desert, and the jungle.
6: Jefferson Memorial
The Jefferson Memorial was built in 1943 and is dedicated to America’s 3rd president. Thomas Jefferson is an extremely important person in American history; he wrote the Declaration of Independence, founded the Democratic party in the country, and was a driving force during the American Revolution.
Touring the memorial is one of the best things to do in Washington, D.C. Along the walls of the memorial, there are quotes from Jefferson regarding his ideals. His ideology included supporting religious freedom and being anti-corruption.
7: International Spy Museum
For anyone interested in the history of espionage, visiting the International Spy Museum is one of the most interesting things to do in Washington, D.C. It is a non-profit museum and has the largest display of international espionage artefacts in the world.
Guests are given a spy badge upon entry to the “Briefing Center” at the front of the museum. Throughout the galleries, espionage artefacts dating from the Ancient Greeks to the present day are on display. Exploring the museum’s exhibits is one of the most unique things to do in Washington, D.C.
8: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Visiting the MLK Jr. Memorial is one of the most influential things to do in Washington, D.C. Martin Luther King Jr. was an important figure in America’s Civil Rights Movement. The memorial opened on August 22, 2011. It was the 4th memorial to a non-president near the National Mall.
The memorial features an Inscription Wall, where quotes from King’s speeches and sermons can be found. The quotes chosen reflect his primary goals of hope, love, democracy, and justice. Reading through these quotes is one of the most emotional and inspirational things to do in Washington, D.C.
9: The White House
No list of things to do in Washington, D.C. would be complete without the White House. The White House is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It has housed every U.S. President since John Adams in 1800. In fact, the only president that did not live in the White House was George Washington.
The building was modelled after Dublin’s Leinster House. It is 6 storeys tall and features 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms. There are 28 fireplaces in the White House, along with a kitchen large enough to serve nearly 150 people.
During the War of 1812, British armies set the White House ablaze during the Burning of Washington. The exterior was charred, and most of the interior was destroyed by the fire. Restoration of the White House began immediately after the invasion and was completed in 1817.
Although the White House is closed to the public today except for tours, this wasn’t always the case. Until the early 20th century, visiting the white house was one of the most common things to do in Washington, D.C. The public would follow presidents home after their inauguration to celebrate.
Today, tours of the White House are available 5 days a week. However, they are not easy to book. U.S. citizens must request a tour via their state representatives. Foreign tourists must apply for a tour at their embassy in Washington, D.C.
If you are lucky enough to book a tour, it is one of the most exclusive and interesting things to do in Washington, D.C.
10: Ford’s Theatre
Visiting Ford’s Theatre is one of the most infamous things to do in Washington, D.C. The building was originally designed as a Baptist Church in 1833. The church was purchased in 1861 and renovated into a theatre.
Ford’s Theatre is the site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination near the end of the American Civil War. On 14 April 1865, Lincoln and his wife went to the theatre to see a production of Our American Cousin. In an attempt to help the Confederacy, actor John Wilkes Booth snuck into the presidential box and shot Lincoln before jumping onto the stage and escaping.
After the assassination, the U.S. Government took control of the theatre and issued an order that banned the building from being used for public entertainment ever again.
Today, Ford’s Theatre has been renovated into a museum about Lincoln’s life, death, and legacy. The theatre has also been restored and can hold 665 visitors. The theatre still has the presidential box where Lincoln sat, and it is kept empty to honour him.
If you are interested in American history, exploring Ford’s Theatre is an amazing thing to do in Washington, D.C.
11: Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is located just outside Washington, D.C., across the Potomac River. It is one of 2 national cemeteries that the U.S. Army maintains. Visiting the cemetery is one of the best things to do in Washington, D.C. for tourists and locals.
Arlington National Cemetery spans over 639 acres and has close to 400,000 graves on site. The cemetery was established in 1864 during the American Civil War. Over time, the cemetery has been expanded, allowing fallen soldiers from other wars, including WWI, WWII, and the Vietnam War, to be buried there as well.
While families often go to the cemetery to see the graves of loved ones, some graves are also popular with the public. Visiting President John F. Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most popular things to do in Washington, D.C.
The most iconic part of Arlington National Cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The unidentified World War I soldier was buried in 1921. Today, the tomb is dedicated to all fallen U.S. soldiers whose remains have not been identified.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been guarded continuously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since April 6, 1948. The guards stay at the tomb even through extreme weather and terrorist attacks.
Being chosen as a Sentinel at the tomb is considered one of the highest honours. The soldiers guarding the tomb do not show their rank on their uniform to avoid outranking the Unknown Soldiers buried there.
The guards are known worldwide for their strict routine. The soldier repeats the routine until there is a change of the guard. The Changing of the Guard is a symbolic action that can be observed whenever the cemetery is open, and anyone watching the guard change is asked to stand and remain silent.
History flows through Arlington National Cemetery, from the graves of fallen soldiers and their families to the beautiful Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. If you have the opportunity, visiting Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most iconic things to do in Washington, D.C.
12: Tidal Basin
The Tidal Basin is a reservoir between the Washington Channel and the Potomac River. The basin was built in the late 1800s. It is the main location of the National Cherry Blossom Festival held in Washington, D.C. each spring.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the friendship between the U.S. and Japan. In 1912, the mayor of Tokyo, Japan gifted Japanese cherry blossom trees to the United States. The first 2 trees were planted near the Tidal Basin and are marked with a plaque.
If you are visiting during the spring, seeing the vibrant cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin is one of the most beautiful things to do in Washington, D.C.
13: Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon, located just outside of Washington, D.C, is a plantation that was owned by George Washington, America’s first president. He had a mansion on the property, as well as multiple gardens and a farm. George Washington also established one of the oldest distilleries in the USA at Mount Vernon.
Today, visiting Mount Vernon is one of the most interesting things to do in Washington, D.C. for history lovers. Tours are available through the grounds, mansion, and distillery. There is also a museum, restaurant, and inn at Mount Vernon.
14: United States National Arboretum
The United States National Arboretum opened in 1927 and covers 446 acres. The Arboretum has a central location in Washington D.C, not even 3 miles from the Capitol building. Walking through the Arboretum is one of the most relaxing things to do in Washington, D.C.
There are 10 major gardens at the United States National Arboretum, with an 11th proposed but cancelled due to concerns about counter-intelligence data collection. In total, the United States National Arboretum has introduced over 600 plant species to America since opening.
The Arboretum features other displays beside the gardens. In 2020, koi were reintroduced to the reflection pool on the grounds. There are public works of art throughout the Arboretum and 22 Corinthian columns that were once part of the Capitol building.
For a calming stroll through nature, visiting the United States National Arboretum is one of the best things to do in Washington, D.C.
There are Endless Things to do in Washington, D.C.
From visiting historic buildings like the White House to becoming a spy at the International Spy Museum, there are many exciting things to do in Washington, D.C. It is a great destination for everyone due to its limitless attractions.
Whether you want to learn about U.S. history, explore the city, or relax in the lush gardens, you will find it all in America’s capital city. If you follow this list of 14 amazing things to do in Washington, D.C., your visit will be one to remember.
If you’re planning to visit America, check out this list of Stunning Road Trip destinations in the USA.