Washington DC is the capital city of the United States and located on the East coast. The city is the heart of the American democratic system, with the three federal branches of government operating from the center. Although its title is Washington, District of Columbia, it is not a state, nor does it belong to one. It was established from land taken from neighboring states of Maryland and Virginia. It is home to around 702,000 people, including the President and many, many politicians. This means the cost of living is high, and property prices even higher. Given the history of the city, there’s no shortage of things to do in Washington DC.
So, let’s take you on a quick journey and explore all the great things to do in Washington DC on your visit.
The United States Capitol Building is the home of the US Congress. It is one of three branches of the federal government based in the city. The building was originally finished in 1800 but has been updated since to include the dome and various internal amendments. The Capitol Building is built in a neoclassical style and is a brilliant white. The building was designed as part of a competition that was won by William Thornton. The Capitol Building has many features that are not generally associated with a place of government, but a visit makes a pretty exciting thing to do in Washington DC.
Passes are required to be booked months in advance for tours. Admission is free.
The White House
Everyone knows about the White House and who lives in it. It’s one of the most recognizable buildings in the world and sits at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Every President of the US has lived and worked in the building since John Adams in 1800. It’s another neoclassical building in the city and is designed by Irish architect James Hoban. Within the building are the famous West Wing and the Oval Office. The property was set on fire by British troops during the Burning of Washington in 1812. Once JFK became President, the White House was subject to a massive remodeling by the First Lady, Jackie Kennedy. She is credited with many of the historical artifacts and designs that are still on display in the house today.
Admission is free of charge, but tickets must be booked well in advance. Bookings can be made online.
The Washington Monument sits at one end of the National Mall and is an enormous obelisk dedicated to the first President of the United States, George Washington. The white marble, granite, and blue-stone gneiss structure stands at the height of 555 ft tall and has 896 steps leading to the top. When it was complete, it was the tallest building in the world. Views from the top stretch out around 30 miles on a clear day, and it’s a great thing to do in Washington DC with kids.
Tickets required, available online or from the ticket office at Monument Lodge on 15th Street. Tickets are free of charge, unless booked online where a $1.50 booking fee is payable.
This memorial is at the west end of the National Mall, dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. In the middle of the impressive temple, sits a massive carving of the legendary President, who is credited with saving the Union. Over the years since its dedication in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial has been the backdrop for some of America’s most meaningful events. Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr gave an impassioned speech from the steps of the temple in 1963, during the march on Washington.
For the architecture and history alone, it’s a top sight in the capital. It’s somehow more impressive under cover of darkness when the lights come on. This makes it one of the best things to do in Washington DC.
The John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
This multi-functional cultural center is situated on the banks of the Potomac River and is commonly referred to as the Kennedy Center. Opened in 1971 and named in tribute to JFK, the center hosts around 3,500 performances and events each calendar year. The complex has seen performances by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, The Washington Ballet, The American Film Institute, and The National Symphony Orchestra.
DuPont Circle is a well-known historic neighborhood in North West Washington DC. In the heart of the area sits the iconic DuPont traffic circle with its central fountain. The neighborhood has many historic buildings, including its townhouses. It is home to numerous foreign embassies and countless landmarks. These include America’s very first museum of modern art and the DuPont Circle Hotel. Taking a stroll around the neighborhood is a wonderful free thing to do in Washington DC.
Off-beat things to do in Washington DC
It wouldn’t be a proper political center for the US if Washington didn’t have some sort of scandal attached to it. And it has a whole lot. Anyone familiar with the Presidency of Richard Nixon will no doubt have heard of the Watergate scandal. Well, the Watergate office complex is located in Foggy Bottom and is well worth a visit, if just to take a few snaps. Don’t pretend you’re breaking in, whatever you do.
If your love off-beat things to do in Washington DC runs a little darker, you can head out to the historic Ford’s Theater and see where President Lincoln spent his last hours before being fatally shot by John Wilkes Booth. The theater is now a museum and tribute to the 16th President. It details the evening he was killed, as well as the impact his death had on the US and the wider world.
Frequently Asked Questions by TravelersAbout Washington DC
We’ve compiled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the city and all the great things to do in Washington DC. These will help your research, planning, and general education about all the things the city has to offer.
What are things to do in Washington DC when it rains?
When it’s raining in the nation’s capital, take a day to head on out to the Smithsonian Museums. There are 19 museums and galleries under the Smithsonian banner with the city. These cover a range of topics, such as natural history, air and space, and American art. The majority of the museums and galleries are located along the National Mall, but those that aren’t are easily accessible by public transport. Highlights include the Renwick Gallery, the National Museum of the American Indian and the incredible Smithsonian Institution Building (also known as The Castle). None of the museums have admission fees, so a day or two spent wandering around is one of the best things to do in Washington DC for free. As the National Zoo is also included under the Smithsonian Museums banner, it’s an excellent free thing to do in Washington DC with kids.
What are the must-see things to do in Washington DC?
Aside from the government buildings, visiting the tomb of the unknown soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery is yet another thing to do in Washington DC for free. The memorial to fallen US soldiers sits on top of a hill looking over at the US capital. The monument recognizes the sacrifices made by US military personnel throughout history and is a beautiful tribute to those who lost their lives fighting for freedom. Watching the changing of the guard at the memorial is a particularly moving experience.
What are some things to do in Washington DC?
There is no end of great things to do in Washington DC during your visit. From visiting the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden to taking a trip to the National Archives, the capital always has something new to experience. If you happen to visit the city in the spring, it holds an annual Cherry Blossom Festival. The festival celebrates the incredible riot of color that Washington’s trees produce for a short period of time when the seasons begin the change.
Washington DC is the heart of democracy within the United States and has a wealth of attractions and events throughout the year. It’s well known for its affluent residents and prominent locals, as well as for its many scandals and not so positive happenings. It has a great mix of cultures, which it celebrates proudly. Although the political climate is continually changing, the city stays true to its roots and history. Even in a town where the cost of living is very high, it offers a massive range of free things to do. The city is served by Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International Airports. We hope we’ve convinced you of all the brilliant things to do in Washington DC!