As the nation’s capital, it pretty much goes without saying that there’s plenty to see and do in Washington, D.C. However, if you’re new to the city, the vast array of attractions – from the delicious fresh food to nightlife and of course, the historic monuments – can be downright overwhelming.
In this review, we’ll tell you about the top 10 things to see in Washington, D.C. – regardless of your budget or when (or for how long!) you are visiting.
Top 10 Things to See in Washington DC
Things to See in Washington, D.C. for Free
Just because you’re on a budget, that doesn’t mean most of the city is off-limits. In fact, the opposite is true. There are plenty of attractions here that won’t cost you a penny to attend.
1. The Capitol Building
If you are on a budget and want to see the best that Washington, D.C. has to offer, don’t worry. The Capitol Building offers the best of the best.
Here, you can take a guided tour (just get there early!) of the building and learn more about the architecture and history of this government building. You’ll also be able to see the old Supreme Court chambers and the Hall of Columns.
Come on the right day, and you’ll be able to watch bills being argued, votes being counted, and more. You don’t have to pay a cent to tour the Capitol, although you will have to book a tour in advance. You can’t tour on Sundays, either, so plan accordingly. Tours last approximately one hour.
If you want to sit in the galley and watch Congress in session, you can do so for free -but keep in mind that this is only done on a first-come, first-served basis – so get there early!
2. National Monuments in DC
The monuments, or memorials, are some of Washington, D.C.’s most iconic structures. These gorgeous historic landmarks are must-see attractions and luckily, they’re free. However, they are very spread out, so you’ll want to give yourself quite some time to visit them.
Some of the must-see monuments include the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, and the World War II Memorial. The FDR, Martin Luther King, and Jefferson Memorial are all located within close proximity to each other, too.
You may also want to pay a quick visit to the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, Constitution Gardens, Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site, and the Washington Monument.
Things to See in Washington, D.C. in 1 Day
You don’t need to book an entire week in Washington, D.C. to see the best that the city has to offer. All you need is 24 hours – although we certainly recommend spending more time here if you can spare it! If a day is all you’ve got, these are some of the top destinations to explore.
The Tidal Basin is one of those destinations that won’t take up a ton of your time – but it’s a spot you’ve got to see to believe.
This manmade pond stretches for two long miles along the National Mall, serving as a popular spot to relax for tourists and locals alike. It’s one of the best places to see the cherry blossom trees in the spring, too.
4. The White House
No visit to Washington, D.C. would be complete without paying a visit to the White House. Built-in 1792, most of the buildings burned during the War of 1812 (did you know that it wasn’t even white until after that point?).
You will need to book a tour week in advance, but booking at the White House is well-worth the effort.
5. Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is a place that should not be missed on your Washington, D.C. itinerary – even if you only have one day.
There are more than 400,000 soldiers buried at Arlington, with an additional 25-30 funerals taking place every day.
You can walk the grounds by yourself or you can sign up to take an interpretive tour with Arlington National Cemetery Tours. Another option is to book a ride with Old Town Trolley Tours, which includes a lengthy stop at Arlington as well as other destinations in D.C.
Whichever you choose, make sure you pay a visit to the Kennedy gravesites and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. You’ll want to give yourself about two hours to walk around.
Things to See in Washington, D.C. in 2 Days
Have a bit more time on your hands? If you’re headed to Washington, D.C. for the weekend (or perhaps a bit longer!) make some time for these hopping destinations.
6. The National Zoo
The National Zoo isn’t necessarily a “must-see” destination if you’re headed to D.C., but it’s definitely an item to check off your list if you have a couple of days to spare.
Opened in 1889, the zoo is home to more than 1800 animals on 160 acres of land – bring your walking shoes! Some of the zoo’s most iconic residents include pandas, lemurs, elephants, reptiles, and apes.
And if zoos aren’t really your thing, consider this – the zoo was one of the very first in the entire world to create a scientific research program. Regardless of whether you’re traveling with kids or you just like learning more about wildlife, it’s a free destination that is well worth the visit.
Things to See in Washington, D.C. At Night
Washington, D.C. isn’t only enjoyed by day – it’s also a great city to explore by night.
7. Monuments by Moonlight
If you only have the witching hours to spend in Washington, D.C., you should make the most of your time by checking out Monuments by Moonlight. This tour is rated one of the city’s best-kept secrets, and for good reason.
Not only will you be able to pay a visit to each of the major monuments, but you’ll be able to see them in some of the most beautiful, breathtaking ways – by moonlight. From the towering columns of the Capitol Building to the solemn Lincoln Memorial, this is an enchanting way to view the best that the city has to offer.
Other Things to See in Washington, D.C.
8. The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is another must-see attraction. This gorgeous neoclassical building has some of the nation’s most beautiful architecture and is also home to the world’s largest library.
Here, you’ll find more than 128 million items, including manuscripts, books, sheet music, maps, films, and more. This building is open to the public and is another free destination.
Not only can you take a tour of the building, but the Library of Congress also regularly features interactive displays, special exhibitions, events, films, and concerns.
Georgetown is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. Not only is it home to Georgetown University, but it’s also a vibrant community that’s filled with trendy bars, restaurants, and shops, all lined with cobblestone pathways.
You can’t get to Georgetown on the Metro, so you’ll need to take the Circulator Bus from Union Station. You can also take a taxi.
It’s easy to get lost here, so stick to M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. You’ll find plenty of hopping happy hour destinations, along with dinner spots. Walk to Washington Harbor for some beautiful views of the Potomac Waterfront and enjoy scenic outdoor dining, too.
10. The Smithsonian Museums
Technically, the Smithsonian Museums are located on the National mall, positioned between 3rd and 14th Streets between Constitution and Independence Avenues. The museums span a radius of a mile and offer visitors tons to see and do.
Best yet, all of these museums are free. Some of the most popular include the National History Museum, the American History Museum, and the Air and Space Museum.
At the Air and Space Museum, you’ll be able to see the Apollo 11 command module and the original Wright 1903 flyer, while the Museum of Natural History is home to a 23,000 square foot Ocean Hall and a 1,800-gallon tank display of a coral reef.
And at the National Museum of American History, you’ll find a ton of replicas dedicated to the colorful history of this great nation. You’ll be able to view the original Star-Spangled Banner along with a fragment of Plymouth Rock.
The long list of museums in the Smithsonian family doesn’t end there either. Be sure to check out some of the others, like the African American Museum, the Archives of American Art, the Portrait Gallery, and the Smithsonian Gardens. Did you know that two of the museums here even have massive IMAX theaters – that play regular movies?
Visiting Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. is a great city to visit regardless of the season. You’ll find plenty of things to see and do in this historic city, and you don’t have to spend a lot of time here in order to walk away satisfied, either. Plan ahead of time, and you’ll be able to check off all the items that you want to see the most!