Most people think of politics when they think of DC, but this city has so much more to offer. There are many young people that are moving to this city because it’s such a fun place to explore! It’s got everything you could want from the perfect vacation: great outdoor space, amazing food, and fantastic free activities. Make sure that you add DC to your bucket list!
From a vibrant arts scene to a foodie’s paradise there is so much to enjoy when you visit. You can see most of the city’s highlights during a weekend visit, but you can never run out of things to do if you spend more time. From special events to protests, there is always something new in the capital. I have lived in the area my whole life and there is a lot more that I want to see. Below I have listed the very best activities to do on a trip to the city!
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Table of Contents
9 Amazing Things to do in DC
Explore the National Mall
Beginning at the US Capitol Building and running all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall offers an incredible array of monuments, museums, and recreational areas. If you head to the Mall on any day, you’ll see joggers running the pathways, tourists stopping at the sights, and teams playing kickball on the grass. You cannot visit Washington DC without heading to this area.
I take all of my visitors here to walk the whole stretch, stop for a tour of the Capitol, and see all of the monuments. My favorite monuments include the Vietnam War Memorial and the World War II Memorial. Of course, you can also head to the North side to see the most famous building in DC, the White House.
Things to see on the National Mall:
- Korean Memorial
- World War I Memorial
- World War II Memorial
- Vietnam War Memorial
- Capitol Building
- White House
- Washington Monument
- Lincoln Memorial & Reflecting Pool
- Jefferson Memorial & Tidal Basin (Right off the Mall)
Visit a Museum
One of the best parts about living in DC is having access to world class museums. The Smithsonian Institution operates 17 museums and the National Zoo in DC that are all completely free to the public. It’s easy to stop into these museums as you walk along the National Mall. I love checking out new exhibits at the Hirshhorn or taking visitors through the Natural History Museum.
In addition to the amazing Smithsonian Museums, there are plenty of other great museums throughout the city that you should check out including the International Spy Museum (great for kids!) and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. It’s a wonderful city for art, science, and history lovers.
Best Museums in DC:
- Natural History Museum
- Air & Space Museum
- National Museum of the American Indian
- Smithsonian American Art Museum
- Spy Museum
- American History Museum
- African American History Museum
- National Gallery of Art
- Portrait Gallery
Shop in Georgetown
As a teen, I used to bike the C&O Canal to Georgetown and spend the day window shopping down M St. Georgetown is an adorable area with quaint townhouses, cobblestone streets, and adorable cafes. Spend the day shopping in the nice shops, head down to the lovely riverside park, or wait in line for one of the famous cupcakes (locals agree that Baked and Wired have the best pastries). On your visit, you can also head to the beautiful campus for Georgetown University to see the college buildings. A day in Georgetown is always a nice time.
Escape to the Parks
If you want to leave the hustle and bustle of the city, then no worries DC has plenty of green space to go enjoy. DC was named one of the best cities in the US for park access based on park access per capita. You can find a plethora of parks within the city to spend a day on the trails or having a picnic.
Rock Creek Park encompasses more than 1700 acres and is an oasis in the city. The park is maintained by the National Park Service and there are plenty of recreational activity options including horseback riding, hiking, golfing, playing tennis, and using the park for picnics. Great Falls Park is another park where you can do challenging hikes by the Potomac River or walk along the canal. Other great parks in the city include Meridian Hill Park, Anacostia Park, and Kenilworth Park.
Hang by the Water
Adjacent to the Anacostia River on one side and the Potomac River stretching along the other, DC has no shortage of water activities. Phase 1 of construction was completed last year at the Wharf, which brought a fun area full of fabulous restaurants, a wonderful concert venue, and plenty of outdoor space to hang at.
If you want to spend your time on the river, you can head to the Georgetown Waterfront and rent a paddle board or book a boat cruise. After you get off, you can dine or grab a drink at one of the restaurants overlooking the water. Navy Yard is another area that has dining space and outdoor space along the water’s edge.
See a Show
With amazing concert venues and beautiful theaters, there is a thriving arts scene in the District. Most of the famous musicians stop through DC on their tours, which means you can always find a great show to see.
Some of the best venues in the city include the 930 Club, Echostage, and the Anthem. For those interested in theater productions, there are a plethora of local DC performances as well as National Tours that stop through the city. The Kennedy Center is a fabulous theater venue and cultural space, with multiple theaters, bars, and areas that overlook the Potomac.
Enjoy the Social Scene
DC may not be famous for its nightlife, but there are plenty of great bars and areas to try. Locals love to spend a Saturday day drinking at the many bars that have rooftops and outdoor space like El Rey, Colada Shop, Calico, or the Brixton.
If you walk around on a nice Saturday night, you’ll see lines out the doors for many bars in the most lively areas. For a fun night out you should go to the Adams Morgan area on 18th street, U St, 14th St, or Dupont Circle. You can bar hop and try different places until you find the spot that matches your energy.
Catch a Game
Sports fans have lamented over the DC sports teams for many years, but recently that has begun to change. Within the last few years the Capitals, Mystics, and Nationals have all brought home the championships and put DC back on the sports map.
DC is home to teams in all of the four major league sports, which means any sports fan can delight in a match. Go see one of the local sports teams play at the revamped Capital One Arena or the recently constructed Audi Field and Nationals Park.
Dine on Delicious Eats
For many years, DC wasn’t considered a great foodie city. However, that all changed in the last couple years when Bloomberg named it the Top Food City, other publications like Bon Appetit named some of DC’s restaurants in their top 10, and the Michelin Guide finally came to DC.
DC has a restaurant scene that will please anyone from high-end food at Pineapple and Pearls to the best chili dogs at the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl. There is immense diversity in the city, which means that there is also a great diversity in the food. No matter what cuisine, it’s likely that DC has a great option for you to try. If you want to stay up on the latest options, check out Eater’s list of essential DC spots.
Personally, I think that DC is an underrated city and you’ll see why when you come to visit. Get off the beaten path and explore an area you haven’t heard of before. There are so many great spots and unforgettable experiences in this town.
Let me know if you enjoyed this guide in the comments!
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