10 Best Views in Washington DC

The American capital stands out for its museums, monuments and public buildings but also for having some of the best panoramic views. Here I show you which places you can visit to access the most expansive views of Washington DC.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

10 min read

10 Best Views in Washington DC

Capitol Hill, Washington DC | ©Olivier Duquesne

Thought of as a planned city of public buildings, Washington DC stands out for its monuments and memorials, its Smithsonian museums and a wealth of cultural activities that visitors can access, but it is also a place with the ideal geography for panoramic views and perfect sunsets if you are in the right place.

From a cathedral or from the terrace of a hotel, from an old clock or from a bell tower, here are the best places to discover Washington DC from above.

1. Terrace of the Watergate Hotel

View from the Watergate Hotel Terrace| ©Giulio Minoja
View from the Watergate Hotel Terrace| ©Giulio Minoja

The Watergate Building office complex offers a sweeping view of the Potomac River and the cities of Washington DC and Virginia, and also features a rooftop restaurant that is open all day. In addition, the Watergate Building became world famous for the Nixon-era scandal, which ended in the resignation of the President of the United States in 1974.

Top of the Gate, as the restaurant is called, was distinguished as one of the ten best rooftop bars in the United States, so in addition to offering an unbeatable panoramic view, it also offers visitors quality drinks.

It is possible to access the bar without booking a table in advance, but given the fame of the restaurant and its great popularity, it is advisable to make a reservation. Cocktail prices are affordable, Mediterranean cuisine dishes are offered and credit cards are accepted.

  • Price... Cocktails are sold from 16 euros and Mediterranean dishes from 25 euros.
  • Location... Near the Potomac River, at 2650 Virginia Ave, Washington DC.
  • Hours... Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 4:30 pm to 11:00 pm.

Book a night tour of Washington DC

2. Washington National Cathedral Tower

Washington National Cathedral Tower| ©cisc1970
Washington National Cathedral Tower| ©cisc1970

The neo-Gothic style of the Washington National Cathedral may fool you into thinking that it is a millenary construction, but in fact it was built throughout the 20th century and the works were completed only in 1990, making it the sixth largest cathedral in the world and the second largest in the United States, only behind the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in New York. However, being at a high point of the city, with its 92 meters it not only stands out for its architecture, but also offers one of the highest panoramic views of Washington DC.

The Cathedral has two towers and you can access both. The Bell Tower is reached by a spiral staircase of 333 steps and the tower of Angels and Monsters is accessed by a staircase to the highest point, from where it is possible to enjoy a 360 degree view of Washington DC at almost a hundred meters high.

In addition, from the towers you can appreciate the striking details that the Cathedral has, ranging from a crystal called Space that has a fragment of a moonstone embedded in it to a Darth Vader mask that was included as a decorative figure in a corner of the side wall as part of a design contest won by one of the last architects of the Cathedral.

You can access one tower or the other, alternatively, or both in a tour that lasts a total of two and a half hours. Do you dare to contemplate Washington from the top of the Cathedral?

  • Price... Tickets to enter the central nave cost 10 euros, while climbing the Bell Tower costs 37 euros and access to the tower of Angels and Monsters costs 46 euros. The pass for both towers costs 70 euros.
  • Location... 1100 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC.
  • Hours... Monday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

3. Old Post Office Clock Tower

View from the Clock Tower of the Old Post Office| ©Ben Schumin
View from the Clock Tower of the Old Post Office| ©Ben Schumin

The Post Office tower was for a long time the second tallest building in the city, behind only the Obelisk in Washington.

Located on Pennsylvania Avenue, one of the most famous arteries of the U.S. capital, it was converted a few years ago into a luxury hotel, but retains an observatory from which it is possible to see Washington DC and Virginia from its imposing 96 meters high.

In addition, below the lookout is the clock, the oldest in the city that is still in operation after having undergone a thorough restoration, and is crowned by a bell tower the same size as that of Westminster Abbey.

  • Price... Access to the observatory is free.
  • Location... 3101 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington DC.
  • Hours... Open daily from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.

4. Washington Obelisk Observation Deck

National Mall| ©Sebastian Bassi
National Mall| ©Sebastian Bassi

The George Washington Monumentwas built as a tribute to the first president of the United States and one of the Founding Fathers who gave his name to the city. Until the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889 was the tallest building in the world with its 169 meters high and at the top has an observation deck from which you can see Washington DC and Virginia.

The Monument, like most monuments in Washington is open every day, except holidays, from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon and it is possible to reach the observation deck in less than a minute through an elevator that on the way shows the different stages of construction, which took forty years to complete. This is why you can see that the Obelisk has two colors, a lighter one at the base up to 45 meters and a redder one up to the top, as it was built with marble from different quarries that over time eroded to reach its current appearance.

Access to the monument is free, but tickets must be reserved in advance, at least one day before the visit, since in order to preserve the monolith there is a restricted number of visitors per day.

  • Price... Tickets are free, only an admission fee of one euro is charged. Advance reservations are required.
  • Location... 2 15th St, Washington DC.
  • Hours.... Every Monday from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm.

5. The sixth floor of the Newseum

The Newseum| ©Steve Gardner
The Newseum| ©Steve Gardner

The Newseum was a museum dedicated to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and freedom of the press that, among other attractions, had on its sixth floor an open terrace from which it was possible to see from the Capitol to the White House from the heights of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The museum, which had free admission, closed its doors to the public for lack of funding in 2020, but continues to lend its facilities for graduate classes at Johns Hopkins University and for private events, so it is still possible to reach its viewpoint if you get access through one of these alternatives.

There is currently a project underway to reopen the museum, which has among its collection the largest original fragment of the Berlin Wall outside Germany and the antenna of one of the Twin Towers found by rescuers after the 9/11 attacks.

  • Price... Currently closed to the open public, only available for visits for Johns Hopkins University classes and private events.
  • Location... 565 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington DC.
  • Hours... On dates of Johns Hopkins University events and classes.

6. Vue Rooftop, Washington's rooftop terrace

Vue Rooftop| ©Pranaya GP
Vue Rooftop| ©Pranaya GP

Do you think it's possible to have a drink while overlooking the White House grounds as if you were in the President's own backyard? The answer is yes. Vue is one of the most famous terraces of the Washington DC jet set and offers a sweeping view of the city with an unmissable perspective of the Obelisk.

The bar crowns the terrace of the Washington Hotel and is the social meeting point of the U.S. capital, with a modern style and pleasant music. In addition, the bar and restaurant menu includes a wide range of cocktails that start at 20 euros.

Although the terrace is free access and you do not need to be a guest of the hotel to enter, I recommend that you reserve a table in advance as it is one of the most visited places in the city by locals and tourists, especially in the summer season.

  • Price... Admission is free, it is not necessary to be a guest of the hotel. Reservations are accepted. Cocktails start at 22 euros.
  • Location... 515 15th, Washington DC.
  • Hours... Every day from 5:00 pm to 2:00 am.

7. The Kennedy Center Restaurant

View from the Kennedy Center restaurant| ©Michael I
View from the Kennedy Center restaurant| ©Michael I

The John F. Kennedy Center is the cultural reference par excellence in Washington DC. The way to discover the Ken Cen, as the locals call it, is to attend one of the plays offered by its extensive theater calendar or try the popular brunch buffet offered at The Roof Terrace. Either way, visitors can access the terrace from which it is possible to discover a 360-degree view from the Jefferson Memorial on the banks of the Potomac River to the Watergate Hotel.

The Kennedy Center terrace tour offers, in addition to the panoramic view, a shopping circuit with two gift stores and a coffee shop. There are also free guided tours to learn about the building and the facilities of the seven theaters it houses, which are the main seat of the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera.

The shows offered by the Ken Cen are not usually cheap but I recommend you keep an eye out for last minute ticket sales, which are available at significant discounts - you could see a Washington Ballet production for less than twenty euros!

  • Price... Access to the restaurant is free, you enter the building with your ticket to one of Ken Cen's shows.
  • Location... 2700 F St, Washington DC.
  • Hours... Tuesday to Sunday from 5pm to 8pm.

8. Washington's Smoke and Mirrors

Afternoon at the Capitol| ©Nayuki
Afternoon at the Capitol| ©Nayuki

The Capitol is one of the main attractions of the U.S. capital and the spectacle is magnified during the evening hours when its fully illuminated dome begins to stand out. All this is possible to watch while sipping a cocktail and a crab fondue at Smoke and Mirrors, the main restaurant of the AC Hotel Washington DC Capitol Hill.

For many it is one of the restaurants with the best view in Washington DC and also one of the most elegant. With a varied menu it is possible to combine sophisticated dishes with signature cocktails that start at fifteen euros at the skybar on the 18th floor.

Access is free and, like most of the rooftop restaurants in Washington DC, they do not require the visitor to be staying at the hotel, but I recommend booking to avoid unwanted waits.

  • Price... Access to the restaurant is free, no need to be staying at the hotel. Cocktails start at 18 euros.
  • Location... 867 New Jersey Ave, Washington DC.
  • Hours... Tuesday to Saturday from 4:00 p.m. to midnight.

9. The Ferris wheel at National Harbor

National Harbor Ferris Wheel| ©atramos
National Harbor Ferris Wheel| ©atramos

Located in Maryland, The Capital Wheel is a Ferris wheel inspired by the Roue de Paris. From its 55 meters high it is possible to see Washington DC and Virginia and it is also visible from planes landing and taking off from Ronald Reagan Airport. Equipped with 42 air-conditioned cabins, the entrances to each of these are located on the port side to provide a clear view of the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol and the gardens of the National Mall.

The Ferris wheel operates daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and one of the best times to visit is at sunset, provided the day is clear. The skyline of Washington DC, devoid of skyscrapers, allows you to see the sunset reflecting on the Potomac River and the reflecting pool.

The Capital Wheel is an interesting alternative to the main Washington DC loop, which is built around the National Mall. From the Ferris wheel you can see a different profile of the area and also the full magnitude of the U.S. capital as a city planned in detail.

  • Price... Tickets for the Ferris wheel cost thirteen euros and it is possible to access a VIP service in which you share the cabin with only three other people for 47 euros.
  • Location... 141 American Way, Forest Heights, Maryland.
  • Hours... Monday to Thursday from 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm. Friday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Book a Potomac River Cruise Tour

10. Washington from the rooftop at 12 Stories Bar

Terrace of 12 Stories Bar| ©Mike Maguire
Terrace of 12 Stories Bar| ©Mike Maguire

There is a myth in Washington DC that skyscrapers taller than twelve stories are prohibited in the city because congressmen do not want to allow buildings taller than the Capitol. Indeed, buildings taller than that are not allowed but the real story is less speculative and is based on a local law that attempts to preserve local heritage. Either way, 12 Stories Bar went as high as a building can go in the metropolitan area of the U.S. capital and from there it marks the pulse from the top floor of the Intercontinental Hotel.

12 Stories Bar is located in The Wharf area, and offers a sophisticated menu that combines creative cocktails with skewers and oysters, all accompanied by an unmissable panoramic view of the Potomac River.

  • Price... Cocktails on the menu start at 16 euros and advance reservations are required to gain access to dine at the restaurant.
  • Location... 75 District Square 12th floor, Washington DC.
  • Hours... Wednesday to Sunday from 4:00 p.m. to midnight.