Things to do in Washington, DC

Get Your Bearings in Washington

By Lara DiPaola
Washington Expert

See & Do
Stay
Eat
Party
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Things to See

Visitors to Washington, DC are in luck. Many of the attractions that draw thousands of tourists yearly are free. In between touring historical sights and monuments, you can take your pick from 15 different Smithsonian locations, or find out if you're cut out to be a spy at the International Spy Museum. Arrange a tour with your State Representative and have a personalized experience with their office staff. 

Caution:

Street parking is limited and parking garages can be pricey. Use the metro and bus to get around.

Hot Tips:

In between touring historical sights and monuments, check out the International Spy Museum or watch pandas at the National Zoo.

Where to Stay

Washington, DC hotels are found peppered throughout the city and range from wildly luxurious to more modest accommodation. Hotels in Foggy Bottom will immerse you in the local University scene, while those seeking shopping and nightlife will find Georgetown and DuPont Circle suit their needs. Adams Morgan neighborhood hotels are centered near late-night clubs and Washington's ever-growing international cuisine scene.  If trying to save money on your visit to the capital, look for hotels in Alexandria, Arlington, Bethesda and Silver Spring. These are generally a short distance to the nearest Metro and also feature great attractions, restaurants and shopping. 

Caution:

If you're driving in the city, don't use your mobile phone.

Take It or Leave It:

Parking in the city is expensive and difficult to come by. Leave your car parked and buy a metro pass to get around.

What to Eat

Restaurants in Washington, DC are scattered throughout the city. You'll find things to suit every taste at any hour of the day. As is typical in large metropolitan areas, waits can be long and reservations helpful. Chain restaurants are plentiful within the Beltway, but look for the independently owned restaurants to find the hidden gems of Washington, DC. 

Caution:

Lines can be long and reservations at hot restaurants hard to come by. Make sure to plan ahead.

Hot Tips:

Georgetown Cupcakes announces their secret flavor every morning on Twitter. Get there early. This offering is free and limited to 100 per location.

Be Sure to Sample:

Be sure to try the Peking Duck in the Chinatown area.

Places to Party

When looking for a fun night out on the town in Washington, DC, head to the Adams Morgan neighborhood, Georgetown and the area near the Verizon Center. Concerts happen every night and are easily found when you pick up a copy of the City Paper. If you want to go dancing, many of the great dance clubs are located in DuPont circle, right off the Metro stop. 

Avoid:

Parking on side streets and walking back to your car. Stay in well lit areas and cab it back to your hotel or take the metro.

Hot Tips:

Every Friday night, the Atrium Cafe at the National Museum of Natural History is turned into a Jazz Cafe.

Where to Shop

Washington, DC has become a world-class destination for shopping. From unique boutique shops, large department stores, to a growing vintage scene, you'll find something to suit every style. Georgetown is one long row of high-end shopping, while Tyson's Corner has some of the best shopping in the world. Check out the Eastern Market, one of the oldest farmers markets in the U.S, for local art, food and to see how DC residents spend their days.  

Hot Tips:

Seven blocks from the Capitol is the Eastern Market, one of the oldest farmers markets in the U.S.

Best Local Souvenir:

The yearly White House Christmas ornament is the best local souvenir in Washington, DC. Decorate an entire tree, or use it to commemorate your trip for years to come.

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Things to do in Washington


Washington is known for...

Five of Washington's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Government:

There's no denying that the one thing that most defines Washington, D.C. is the government. The White House, the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court — the three branches of government which impact the lives of every single American — all sit within a few blocks of each other. From there, the list grows with the hundreds of office buildings where the many departments, agencies and administrations that guide our nation reside. Walking through these hallowed halls — where presidents, cabinet secretaries, senators and representatives past and present have toiled to lead and guide our nation — is truly awe-inspiring.

2. Museums:

Washington, D.C. may be the museum capitol of the world. A quick search turns up nearly 75 different museums offering their own unique collections. They range from the famous (and we might add enormous) National Museum of American History and the National Air & Space Museum, both part of the 19 museums of the Smithsonian Institution, to the Hillwood Museum, the International Spy Museum and even a Madame Tussauds wax museum. Whether the collections are diverse and all-encompassing or small and eclectic, each offers an important view into a compelling part of American and world history.

3. National Mall:

The very heart of Washington, D.C. and perhaps the nation itself, the National Mall sees some 24 million visitors each year. Many of the city's great museums line the eastern portion of the mall, before giving way to some of America's great monuments. The iconic Washington Monument towers over the mall. The powerful World War II Memorial pays homage to one of our greatest generations. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, with its deep, black surfaced etched with thousands of names, still brings tears to the eyes of many. And then there's the Lincoln Memorial overlooking the famed Reflecting Pool. The site of some of D.C.'s most famed moments, the backdrop in hundreds of movies and television shows, it's perhaps the single place that tops most visitor's "Must See" lists.

4. Pandas:

When kids think of Washington, D.C., they might first think of the President of the United States. But often their second thought is of the National Zoo's famous panda bears. On loan from China, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are the zoo's main draw. The rare black and white bears come from the bamboo forests of central China. Extremely endangered, a mere 1,600 are still believe to exist in the wild, with another 300 or so in zoos and animals parks around the world. One of the National Zoo's most popular features is a webcam that allows people around the world to watch Mei Xiang and Tian Tian live as they go about their daily lives.

5. Cherry Blossoms:

In 1912, the mayor of Tokyo, Japan gave the first of what would be hundreds of Japanese cherry trees to the people of Washington, D.C. Fast forward a few decades, and the beloved pink and white trees had become an iconic part of the downtown D.C. landscape (and much of the surrounding region for that matter). Today, more than 100 years since the first official trees were planted, the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival is a huge event, attracting tens of thousands of visitors to ooh and ahh over the delicate blooming blossoms as they stroll around the Tidal Basin and Washington Monument.