When you think of Washington, DC, government buildings, monuments, and festivals may be what you imagine. However, there is so much more than you see. In this guide, we will review the 10 non-touristy things to do in DC.
Excellent neighborhoods, unique art exhibits, amazing restaurants become part of the new mix. We divided the list of 20 non-touristy things to do in DC into 4 categories—the neighborhood gems, historic sites, markets, seasonal activities, and outdoor fun.
1. Blagden Alley – Naylor Court Historic District
Blagden Alley and Naylor Court are neighborhood gems highlighted in this Shaw district neighborhood . What looks to the naked eye as a simple alleyway, is home to restaurants, bars, exciting cobblestone streets, and more.
2. Street Art
Colorful street art is found across Washington, DC, and the city offers a lot. Sculptures and murals grace the area, over 200 for your viewing pleasure. As you walk across the city, you will find sculpture series, groups of paintings, and art attached to garden areas.
3. The Wharf
The Wharf is a waterfront area found near the Navy Yard in Southwest DC. Shops, the Anthem, a performance venue, bars, and restaurants call this area home. Round up some friends, hop on the nearest Metro, and enjoy a great night out with friends.
4. Historic Homes
Old historic homes are often overlooked in Washington, DC. While these could be museums, touring these historic homes make a fantastic non-touristy activity when looking for alternative options.
The oldest home in Washington, DC, is the Old Stone House, located in Georgetown. Tours of the ground floor are available daily. If pre-Revolutionary architecture is what you are seeking, this National Register of Historic Places home is a must.
Another excellent option showcasing architecture and odd décor is the Heurich House in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. Tours are offered three days a week, last about an hour, and highlight the first, second, and third floors of this majestic Gilded Age mansion. Some of the fantastic rooms to check out include the front parlor, basement kitchen, and the beer-drinking room, also located in the basement.
5. People watching at the National Mall
Yes, the National Mall has loads of monuments and museums, and it is the people watching that makes this area a superb non-touristy thing to do in DC. Grab lunch, find a bench, and watch as the world goes by. You may even catch some funny moments.
Floating stalls on the waterfront make this DC fish market something to see. Vendors here only sell fish, nothing else. Peeling paint and the facades of years gone by add to the ambiance.
Look out for those lines, as people are searching for the most awesome catch of the day. Wading through the multitude of ice boxes, one can find booths that offer up meals such as fried shrimp and gumbo. Hit this market up and see where all the magic is happening.
7. Eastern Market
Not only is Eastern Market, a DC neighborhood, but it is also a bustling weekend market that comes to life with stalls offering maps, clothing, soaps, and so much more. To add to the diversity of this non-touristy attraction, meats, and locally owned vegetables can be found in the market building.
When you get thirsty from traversing around, hit up one of the coffee shops or brunch areas that line the streets.
8. Union Market
On a business trip and looking for an upscale place to wind down? Look no further than the NoMa neighborhood, and Union Market. Sip on wine, enjoy finger foods with friends, and shop one of the boutique shops at this upscale market.
9. Farmer’s Market
Found throughout DC almost every day, except during the winter, farmer’s markets provide live music, fresh produce, and free samples! Dupont Circle market is one fantastic farmer’s market that covers several DC blocks, seems to have everything, and is a great location, to people-watch.
Southwest DC is home to Culture House, a church that was formally abandoned and is tucked away from tourists. This once-thriving church fell way to dust and is now home to the art community.
Blind Whino provides live music, talk shows, and exhibits of local artists. There is a workspace also available for people to learn from each other. Open on weekends, and one day a week, this colorful building is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of tourists.
As you look for non-touristy things to do in DC, look no further than Dupont Circle, specifically, Dupont Underground. This art space is an underground tunnel that welcomes exhibits of local artists,
Light shows, photography, and street art is what goes on here. Grab a friend and head down to one of DC’s best-uncovered gems.
11. Run a Race
People run daily on the DC sidewalks, making this a significant activity in DC. Should running be in your shoes, then what better way to get to know this magnificent city, then by joining a street race.
Whether it is the Army 10 Miler, the Marine Corps Marathon, or the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, there is something for everyone. Best of all, if running is not what you do best, people-watching is still in style.
DC is centrally located, so lots of artists making there rounds around America stop here. From the large stadiums to smaller locations, there is a venue that you will love.
Fine arts are abundant here in DC. Ballet shows, Broadway plays, and other shows take place at the Kennedy Center. Kennedy Center sits on the river, and across the city are other venues to enjoy the music.
12. City Exploring
Nighttime is the most beautiful time to get out and see DC, as the monuments are lit and illuminate the sky. Yes, while these may be the opposite of non-touristy, they are less crowded at night. A great place to view the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol Building, and the WWWII Memorial is an area by the Washington Monument.
13. Party at an Embassy
From time to time, the embassies found throughout DC will open their doors and invite the public in for a night. Sip on drinks and enjoy a night out on the town, well in another country, as you learn about the cultures of other countries.
14. National Harbor
The National Harbor in DC offers up excellent dining options, walking areas, and the impressive Capital Wheel. Taking you 180 feet in the air, the views of the Potomac River are something not to miss. Mingle with the locals and enjoy all the flair National Harbor provides.
15. Garden Jazz
Summertime in DC sees the Jazz scene arriving in the area, particularly to the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden. Grab your picnic blanket and head here each Friday from June to August. Hang out with young professionals as they dine on wine and cheese while relaxing to the sounds that fill the air.
15.Tidal Basin Fun
The Tidal Basin is one of the most famous locations to view those beautiful cherry blossoms that bloom in April. Enjoy a relaxing walk as you admire the radiant pink colors reflecting off the water.
17. Georgetown Boat Ride
Summertime and boating go hand in hand in the DC area, and Georgetown will supply plenty of options for that water fun. Visitors will be in for a treat when they find excellent dining cruises that highlight the DC skyline.
Should you be looking for a party crowd, those types of cruises are also available. Tour companies are spread throughout DC and offer up boat tours for every size of your party.
18. Holiday Market
The holidays in DC can be spectacular! Should you find yourself in the city during this time, walk the streets and enjoy the holiday market. Taste cuisine from Europe or pick up ingredients to make your recipes more inviting.
With performers, food, drinks, and exhibits, this is a one-stop-shop for all your holiday needs.
DC has its share of unique, weird, and unusual pop-up bars all through the city that rotate during the year. One minute you could be enjoying a spooky Halloween-themed bar, and before you know it, it is Christmas.
The Shaw neighborhood is home to DC’s most well-known pop-up bar. New themes here occur on a regularly, some even weekly.
19. Michelin Delights
There is no shortage of fine dining in DC. High ranking Michelin restaurants are abundant and competitive with lots of world-class cities. Don your best suit and take in a meal at Plume, Pineapple and Pearls, or the Blue Duck Tavern. Do not forget to make reservations!
20. Dog Park Adventures
DC is an ever-changing city, but one thing runs true all the time, and that is, DC is a dog’s city. Everyone seems to own a four-legged friend. Do not have a pup, no problem. The dog park is a great place to watch those free-spirited wonders sprint around and have the time of their life.
21. Paddle the Potomac River
The Potomac River winds through lots of amazing city sights. Explore the DC wonders in a different view as you traverse the water. Rent a kayak and head out for some incredible non-touristy fun for the day.