Best Sightseeing in Washington

Get Eyes and Cameras Ready to Sightsee in D.C.

Pictures in books are nice but it's always better to go see an artifact or place with your own eyes. Whether you are a student of history, a lover of beautiful architecture or a fan of seeing rare animals and plants, Washington, D.C. is the perfect spot to come to for a sightseeing visit. With so many different, unique venues, 10Best chose the top spots based on the sites that are the most photogenic places that will leave you wanting more room on your camera's photo card.

We've included historic favorites like The White House and the Lincoln Memorial because you can't leave the nation's capital without a trip to one or both of these sites. This is a great year to visit Ford's Theatre because it is marking the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln's assassination with a number of informative educational programs. 

Three museums that offer great sightseeing exhibits are the Smithsonian National Air and Space, the Steven F. Udvary-Hazy Center and the National American History. See The Wright Flyer, the space shuttle Discovery and the ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland in 'The Wizard of Oz.' If you go to a Smithsonian museum be forewarned – they have banned selfie sticks so if you need your picture with a priceless artifact, just ask a kind looking stranger to snap a shot.

So when it comes to making visitors eyes light up in wonder, Washington, D.C. has many different attractions to sightsee.



Honoring the 16 million who served in the U.S. military and the more than 400,000 who gave their lives, the National World War II Memorial offers a breathtaking tribute. Two semi-circles are made up of 56 granite pillars standing tall inside the memorial which account for the 48 states, the District of Columbia, the Alaska and Hawaii territories, the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands who participated in the war. The Freedom Wall, which features the message, "Here we mark the price of freedom," features 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans who died in the war. METRO: Smithsonian.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: While this is a breathtaking spot to take pictures, it is also a place to contemplate the cost of freedom.

Gina's expert tip: If you see an elderly individual there who served in the war, be sure to take a moment to thank them for their service.

Read more about National World War II Memorial →

National Zoological Park
Photo courtesy of iStock / steinphoto

Lions, monkeys and elephants. Oh my! Located in Northwest Washington, D.C., The National Zoological Park features a variety of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. The stars of the show are the pandas especially Bao Bao, who is the youngest. Fans will line the fences at their exhibit with large telephoto lenses to capture every panda movement. The best part is visitors get to see all of these unique animals from around the world for free. Make sure you wear good walking shoes because the 163-acre park has hills. Also, don't stand under the ropes when the orangutans are on the move. You will thank me later. Metro: Woodley Park/Zoo/Adams Morgan or Cleveland Park.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Few zoos in the United States have pandas so be sure to get some pictures of the four-legged cuties.

Gina's expert tip: While the zoo buildings don't open until 10 a.m., you can still come early to see some animals in their outdoor environments.

Read more about National Zoological Park →

Washington National Cathedral
Photo courtesy of Washington National Cathedral

With Neo-Gothic design harking back to centuries long ago, the Washington National Cathedral is beautiful structure to behold. U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt attended the ceremony when the foundation stone was laid for the structure in 1907. More than eight decades later, President George H.W. Bush would be present when the final finial was completed in 1990. The cathedral is the second tallest in the country and ranks sixth among those throughout the world. People come from all over the world to worship or hear concerts at the site. For those who enjoy the outside décor, the different gargoyles are truly delightful to locate. METRO: Tenleytown/AU

Recommended for Sightseeing because: A gorgeous building to photograph any time of day you visit.

Gina's expert tip: Try to look for the Darth Vader gargoyle on the northwest tower.

Read more about Washington National Cathedral →

National Cherry Blossom Festival
Photo courtesy of iStock / Melissa Kopka

In 1912, Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki gifted Washington, D.C. with 3,000 cherry trees. To commemorate his generosity, the Cherry Blossom Festival was born. Tourists from all over the world come to the Tidal Basin to see the blooms which come out on average between late March to early April. The peak bloom date is the day that 70 percent of the blossoms are open. While the blooms may be the main attraction, the festival features a variety of creative and diverse activities that promote contemporary arts and culture, the environment and education. While most events are free and open to the public, some require paid admission. Metro: Smithsonian

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Washington. D.C. may be known for being covered in red, white and blue but it always looks good in pink.

Gina's expert tip: Come in the early morning or evening hours to avoid large crowds.

Read more about National Cherry Blossom Festival →

United States Botanic Garden
Photo courtesy of U.S. Botanic Garden

For those of us lacking a green thumb or the ability to grow anything, the U.S. Botanic Garden is the spot to see an amazing array of living plants from many different areas. Dating back to the 19th century, the museum is divided into three separate sections: the Conservatory showcasing displays and exhibits including jungle, Hawaiian and endangered plants, the National Garden highlighting a regional and butterfly garden and the Bartholdi Park housing the historic, cast iron fountain. Kids can check out the seasonally open Children's Garden to get a better view of plants and play with garden tools. METRO: Federal Center SW

Recommended for Sightseeing because: A beautiful urban venue that allows guests the chance to see plants around the world.

Gina's expert tip: Head to the Visitor Information Desk upon your arrival to see if any tours will be given of the Conservatory.

Read more about United States Botanic Garden →

Ford's Theatre
Photo courtesy of Ford's Theatre

History books will teach you that this D.C. site was the location of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination just days after the Civil War ended but the theatre is much more than what happened on April 14, 1865. Today, guests can get their fill of history in the site's museum along with seeing great plays and programs throughout the year in its fully restored theatre. As you leave the theatre, be sure to go across the street to Petersen House to see where Lincoln took his final breathes. Metro: Gallery Place, Metro Center or Archives/Navy Memorial.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: With 2015 marking the 150 anniversary of Lincoln's assassination, the theatre has many noteworthy programs worth attending.

Gina's expert tip: The theatre's museum features the pistol used by assassin John Wilkes Booth and the clothing worn by Abraham Lincoln the evening he was shot.

Read more about Ford's Theatre →

With 300,000 square-feet of exhibition, programming and public space, the National Museum of American History presents all aspects of the country's back story. There are approximately 3 million objects in its collections with only about 5 to 8 percent on display at any one time. See the actual flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen 'The Star Spangled Banner' or gaze at the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz." Meet Jim Henson's Kermit the Frog puppet or take in gowns worn by The First Ladies. Be sure to check out their daily programs to enhance your experience. METRO: Smithsonian

Recommended for Sightseeing because: These artifacts are both from the early days of the country to modern times and helped become a part of the fabric of America.

Gina's expert tip: Many objects rotate in an out of public view so check the website to see if the object you want to see is still on display.

Read more about National Museum of American History →

National Mall

To serve as a symbol of unity, strength and wisdom, the 16th president Abraham Lincoln is honored with this memorial featuring a statue seated below the inscription, "In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever." Completed 57 years after his assassination, the Greek Doric temple was also the site for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic 'I Have A Dream' speech delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom rally in 1963. While the site is impressive during the day, the view will take your breathe away at night. Metro: Smithsonian.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Not only can you see the memorial but also get great views of the National Mall, Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument.

Gina's expert tip: Look for the fasces – bundle of rods bound by a leather thong – positioned throughout the memorial.

Read more about Lincoln Memorial →

This spot on the list is actually dedicated to two companion museums. The National Air and Space Museum is easily the most popular building along the National Mall and features the 1903 Wright Flyer, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and a lunar rock that visitors may touch. Many take in shows at the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater or sight see in the Albert Einstein Planetarium. Take a short drive to Chantilly, Va. to check out the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center which features two huge hangers and houses the space shuttle Discovery. Many go to the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower to get a 360-degree view of Washington Dulles International Airport. METRO: Smithsonian and Wiehle-Reston East

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The sky wasn't always filled with metal birds. See how aviation has grown over the year with these amazing historic displays.

Gina's expert tip: Parking is free at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center after 4 p.m. Before then, it costs $15 for a spot.

Read more about Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum - Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center →

White House / White House Visitor Center

Given its name by President Teddy Roosevelt, The White House boasts 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms and six levels in the residence. The 55,000-sq.-foot home has served as a safe harbor for U.S. Presidents since 1800 and welcomed leaders and dignitaries from around the world. Decisions on World Wars, crises and ground breaking policies have all taken place behind these walls. While it is famously missing its cornerstone, the historic site also features a tennis court, jogging track, swimming pool, movie theater, billiard room and bowling alley. White is a tough color to keep clean and it takes 570 gallons of paint to cover the outside walls. METRO: Federal Triangle or Metro Center

Recommended for Sightseeing because: You can't come to Washington, D.C. and not get a selfie of yourself smiling in front of America's House.

Gina's expert tip: If you would like a tour, go through your congressional member's office to receive free tickets. Make sure to call months in advance.

Read more about White House / White House Visitor Center →


Meet Gina Gallucci White

Gina Gallucci White is an award winning freelance writer with articles appearing in such regional publications as Frederick Magazine, The Daily Record, Montgomery Magazine and The Gazette. She...  More About Gina