Washington, D.C. Travel Guide - Things to Do, Eat, & Experience
Washington, D.C. – the monumental capital of the United States of America – should be on every travelers bucket list. Here’s why: there are so many incredible things to do in Washington, D.C. – from the iconic monuments of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the incredible Smithsonian Museums.
It’s not just the historical side of Washington, D.C. that makes it such a wonderful city. There’s also a big culture of fitness, exploring, hard-work, food and entertainment. In my free time I like to scope out local food spots, check out events and go running on the National Mall. I love living and working in D.C. However, I didn’t always live here. I actually grew up in a small town in Central Massachusetts known for its farms, orchards, and homemade ice cream.
I’ve been a big traveler ever since I was a baby too. My mom and dad took my younger brother, Elliot, and I to Disney World about every two years until high school. Then in high school we went on family trips to Iceland, France, Greece, Italy, England, Hawaii, and Alaska. I’m forever thankful I was given the opportunity at a young age to see new parts of the world and to experience other cultures with my family.
When I got to college at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York I became heavily involved in organizations on campus. With my involvement came opportunities to travel. I spent three of my college spring breaks volunteering in Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana to rebuild homes after hurricane Katrina and help distribute meals at homeless centers. I also went on two trips with the RIT Honors Program to 10 cities in Spain and Vancouver, Seattle, Portland. RIT has international campuses abroad and I was able to study abroad in Croatia and Dubai. I moved to Washington, D.C. for graduate school in 2016 and have never looked back!
What I Love Most About Washington, D.C.
The best way to describe Washington, D.C. would be hardworking, cultured, educational and historic. My favorite thing about D.C. is how accessible it is. The metro system can take you all over the city. In addition you can go biking, scootering, walking, or ride-sharing. It’s an easy city to get around.
I also love all the free things to do in Washington, D.C.. I went to graduate school in this city and I never took for granted all the free things to do because I was always on a budget. There’s countless free or low-cost events, museums and parks.
Washington, D.C. is so inspiring. When I moved to D.C. for graduate school in 2016 I was immediately struck by how busy, determined, and successful the people are in this city. People here are making decisions that affect people’s lives all over the world.
My Favorite Place in D.C.: The National Mall
I feel at peace on the National Mall. Whether I’m there for a run, to take a work call, show friends around town, or just to get some fresh air. I always feel relaxed and thankful when I get to be so close to the Capitol Building and all the monuments. I love the view of the Capitol Building on the back side (near the Supreme Court and Library of Congress).
This city always blows me away. I’ve told my friends that if there’s ever a day this city loses its magic to me, that they should check-in on me!
Top 10 Things To Do in Washington, D.C.
Walk the Amazing National Mall of Washington, D.C. The National Mall is a long, rectangular public park which runs from the U.S Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial. It’s 1.8 miles long and makes for a great walk! There are two main halves which you can explore – one side with museums and the other with national memorials.
Explore the Smithsonian Museums of Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian has several amazing museums and galleries on the National Mall plus a few others located in the greater National Capital Area. My favorite ones to visit are the Natural History Museum, African American History and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
View the Capitol on a Guided-Led Tour Visiting the historic areas of the Capital on a guided tour is an absolute must-do! Tours visit the Crypt, the Rotunda and National Statuary Hall. You can also gain access to the Senate and House Galleries which require a separate pass. I recommend doing both.
Partake in a Tour of Washington National Cathedral The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, better known as Washington National Cathedral, is a beautiful Episcopal Church.The church was built by the Founding Fathers as a great church for national purposes. There are many speciality tours you can take here such as audio tours, tower-climb tours and behind-the-scene tours.
Visit the Historic Lincoln Memorial “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” These words are engraved above the 16th President of the United States in a marble statue that is a symbol for unity, strength and wisdom of the great man.
Admire the Art and Innovation at ARTECHOUSE One of three ARTECHOUSE in the US, the Washington ARTECHOUSE is an innovative art space for immersive and interactive art exhibitions. The art on display here is from some of the world’s most talented artists who are leaders in the new age of contemporary arts and technology.
View/Purchase a Variety of Fresh-Caught Fish at the Municipal Fish Market The Municipal Fish Market at the Wharf is located between the Potomac River and the National Mall. It’s one of the oldest continuously operating open-air fish markets in America. Stock up on the Wharf’s fresh crab, oysters, shrimp and fish or grab something delicious for lunch or dinner. It’s fun for vegetarians too! I don’t eat fish so I go down there just to look at the amazing variety and sometimes chat with the people working there.
Catch a Local Sports Game in the City of Champions D.C. is a sports city. There's so many teams and venues to catch a game. It’s always fun to go watch local sports teams play in the city you’re visiting.
Have Dinner and Drinks in Chinatown Chinatown in Washington, D.C. is located east of Downtown near Penn Quarter. It’s a small historic neighborhood that offers around 20 or so Chinese and Asian restaurants.
Tour the Washington Monument The Washington Monument was erected as a tribute to George Washington’s military leadership. It was constructed from marble and granite, and it’s the tallest free-standing stone structure in the world standing at a whopping 555 feet! Advance reservation tickets must be ordered online or by calling the recreation.gov call center.
My absolute favorite place to visit within 30 minutes of D.C is:
My absolute favorite place to visit within 30 minutes of D.C. is Great Falls National Historic Park. I try and tell everyone who visits to go there because who doesn't love a waterfall?
Shenandoah National Park is a bit more of a drive but there are tons of great hikes, like Old Rag, out there. Another cool place is Downtown Frederick, MD. It isn’t too far away and there’s a lot of amazing shops and restaurants there.
The Diverse Food Scene of Washington, D.C.
The food scene in D.C. has a little bit of everything, ranging from chain restaurants, to Michelin star restaurants, to food halls, and local places that pack an authentic punch. Some of my favorites are:
The Best Neighborhoods and Places to Stay
My favorite neighborhoods are Capitol Hill, Friendship Heights, Cleveland Park, Dupont Circle, Shaw and Woodley Park. All have wonderful Airbnb options, and I often opt for Airbnb's when traveling because I can cook my meals and it's often cheaper.
I highly recommend the following hotels for your stay.
Final Tips for your Visit to Washington, D.C.
Take public transportation. It’s safe, easy and affordable. I’d recommend 3-7 days to see the city if you’re coming from out of town for a trip.
Be prepared for a lot of walking and being on your feet most of the day when exploring. It’s worth it though. You can see all the monuments, walk the National Mall and most of the Smithsonian Museums all on your feet.
This guide was originally featured as a guest post on the Magnificent World blog. To check it out click here.