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Best things to do in Washington DC

Best things to do in Washington DC

©Andy He

Are you planning to travel to Washington soon but still don't know what places to visit? The capital of the United States is an exciting city full of history, monuments, and cultural and political interest. If you are not sure where to start your visit, here is a list of 10 must-see places in Washington, take note!

1. Go to the White House

The White House | ©René DeAnda
The White House | ©René DeAnda

This is one of the most emblematic and representative buildings of power in the United States to see in Washington next to the Capitol. The White House is the official residence of the president since 1789 when George Washington decided to locate here the capital of the country and chose a country land on the banks of the Potomac River to build a presidential house in the English style.

The best place to see it from the outside and take some pictures in front of the trellis is on the north side, from Pennsylvania Avenue, the most typical image you have seen so many times in the movies!

However, if you want to visit it from the inside it requires a bit of planning as you need to apply through your Congress member, between 3 months and 21 days before your visit.

In case you don't have time to apply, you can always go to the Visitors Center at 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue, next to the White House. Here there are several exhibits about the famous mansion and its illustrious inhabitants that may interest you if you like history. They are open to the public every day of the week until 4 PM.

However, if you want to take a tour of the most important monuments in Washington I recommend you take a look at the article Tickets for Attractions and Museums in Washington DC where you will find a lot of interesting ideas.

2. Visit the Capitol

Façade of the Capitol | ©Louis Velazquez
Façade of the Capitol | ©Louis Velazquez

Located in the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood, on a hill that makes it visible from any corner of the city, the Capitol Hill is the symbol of American democracy and a must-see on your list of what to see in Washington.

This iconic white building with a large dome that ends in an obelisk houses the two chambers of the U.S. Congress, with the south wing belonging to the House of Representatives and the north wing to the Senate. It is here that some of the most important decisions are made that direct the politics of the country and even have repercussions in other parts of the world.

You will recognize its façade from having seen it many times in the movies and, as with the White House, you can also visit the Capitol inside if you plan your visit and make your reservation through the Visitor Center website.

It is one of the best things to do in Washington and I recommend it because, in addition to being free, you can see up close the site where the presidential inauguration takes place, the state funerals, the National Statuary Hall, the Library of Congress or the Rotunda, the room under the great dome of the Capitol.

3. Enter the Lincoln Memorial

Interior of the Lincoln Memorial | ©Adam Bezer
Interior of the Lincoln Memorial | ©Adam Bezer

Another of the most beautiful buildings to see in Washington is the Lincoln Memorial, a huge monument dedicated to the sixteenth president of the United States that is located in the National Mall, a park in the center of the capital where other monuments such as the statue of General Grant, the Washington Obelisk and the Lincoln Memorial are also located.

It is an imposing building in the form of a Greek temple which is entered through a grand staircase leading to a room decorated with several interior murals and excerpts from some of Abraham Lincoln's speeches. Here you will also find the seated sculpture of the president.

The Lincoln Memorial has witnessed important historical events, including the enunciation of the "I Have a Dream" speech by Martin Luther King. In fact, on the National Mall, you can also visit a statue in his honor within walking distance of this memorial.

4. Climb the Washington Obelisk

Washington Monument | ©Ben Schumin
Washington Monument | ©Ben Schumin

Across from the Lincoln Memorial and its reflecting pool is another of the city's symbols, you will find the Washington Obelisk erected in memory of the first president of the United States in 1884.

Did you know that for five years it was the tallest building in the world until the Eiffel Tower was erected? Contemplating the views of the city from the obelisk is one of the best things to do in Washington because they are spectacular and you will take with you an unforgettable memory.

Admission to the Washington Obelisk and its observation deck is free but tickets at the box office sell out quickly. That is why I advise you to get them online at web. You can reserve them up to 3 months before your visit and choose the time although it costs $ 1.50 per ticket.

5. Tour Arlington Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery | ©Tim Evanson
Arlington National Cemetery | ©Tim Evanson

Near the Pentagon, separated by the Potomac River from Washington, is Arlington National Cemetery, the burial place of veterans of all the wars in which the United States has participated since Independence as well as other important national figures such as President John F. Kennedy.

This is the most famous cemetery to see in Washington and the truth is that it is impressive to contemplate the long rows of white tombstones of those who gave their lives for the country. Among all the tombs you will recognize Kennedy's because in front of it shines an eternal flame that never goes out.

Arlington Cemetery became a National Park in 2004 and other places you can visit are the memorials of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, a memorial in honor of those who died in the Pan Am flight in Lockerbie, and another for the victims of 9/11.

Given its enormous size, I recommend a tour of the Arlington National Cemetery to get to know it in depth.

6. Take a tour to Mount Vernon or Gettysburg

Visit the scene of the famous Battle of Gettysburg | ©Kris
Visit the scene of the famous Battle of Gettysburg | ©Kris

Perhaps, while planning your trip to the capital of the United States, at first you didn't think of doing an excursion to the outskirts of the city because there is so much to see in Washington but the occasion really deserves it and I recommend you to reserve a day of your vacation to do this activity because you can get to know other interesting places nearby and add new experiences to your travel log, the hunt of every traveler!

During your stay in Washington, I suggest either a trip to Mount Vernon (the home of George Washington and his wife Martha) or to the Gettysburg battlefield (where the largest battle ever fought on U.S. soil took place).

I think this experience provides a very interesting context for learning about the American character. Both excursions are about getting somehow closer to the historical heart of a nation with only a few centuries of history and learning more about the origins of the nation and how it was founded.

7. Experience the passion for the NBA or MLB in Washington, D.C.

Enjoy the best baseball at Nationals Park | ©Steve Lathrop
Enjoy the best baseball at Nationals Park | ©Steve Lathrop

But it's not just cultural sightseeing here, another of the most exciting things to do in Washington is to attend an NBA or MLB sporting event.

Either because you love sports or because you want to enjoy the enthusiasm and the great atmosphere that both leagues awaken in the city, you can't miss this experience.

Besides, they are very family-friendly shows, so if you travel to Washington with children you can go together to watch a Washington Wizards (basketball) or Washington Nationals (baseball) game. They will be thrilled!

If you want to include a basketball or baseball game during your trip to Washington, I'll quickly explain how to get your tickets.

How to buy NBA or MLB tickets in Washington?

To buy basketball tickets or baseball tickets you have two options: either at the stadium box office with a long queue or through the Internet. In my experience, I recommend buying tickets online before traveling.

Why? The demand to go to a match of these competitions is high so, normally, tickets are sold out quickly. To get the best seat at the cheapest price, the key is to buy them as soon as possible. In my opinion, this is the easiest, safest and quickest way to get good tickets.

8. Say hello to Darth Vader as he enters the Washington Cathedral

Washington Cathedral | ©Tom Thai
Washington Cathedral | ©Tom Thai

Can you imagine Darth Vader and a raccoon on top of a cathedral relentlessly watching over passersby circulating below? It sounds a bit unusual but, although it may seem so, it is not a hoax, it is real!

These two peculiar characters were carved on the exterior of the Washington National Cathedral as a result of a children's contest organized by National Geographic World magazine.

If you happen to visit the Washington Cathedral, you'll find them adorning the top of the northwest tower, but be warned, you'll need a good pair of binoculars to see them.

However, another reason to see this neo-Gothic style temple in Washington is that it is the sixth largest cathedral in the world and the second largest in the United States.

It belongs to the Episcopal Church of the United States of America and was built in the 20th century in honor of the apostles Peter and Paul. You will find it northeast of the city, at the junction of Wisconsin and Massachusetts Avenues.

9. Stroll through Georgetown's historic district

Enjoy a stroll through the charming neighborhood of Georgetown | ©Sonara Arnav
Enjoy a stroll through the charming neighborhood of Georgetown | ©Sonara Arnav

During your trip, another of the most charming places to see in Washington is the Georgetown neighborhood.

Located on the banks of the Potomac River, it is one of the oldest areas of the city that was formerly separated from downtown Washington. However, with the passing of the years and the expansion of the capital, it ended up being part of it as one of its neighborhoods.

Walking through its cobblestone streets full of mansions and houses from another era is like taking a trip to a small town with a very different atmosphere from that of the most monumental part of Washington. It is a very picturesque place to go for a walk or go shopping.

It is also home to Georgetown University, one of the most prestigious universities in the United States.

If you would like to know more about the history of Georgetown, I recommend taking a tour through the streets of the neighborhood where you will see some of the most emblematic sites and discover very unique anecdotes.

Other tours to do in Washington...

To learn more about other tours in Washington I recommend you to take a look at the post Tours of the City in Washington DC where you will find a selection of the best ones. On the other hand, if you are also looking for a comfortable and fast way to tour the city, I tell you everything you need to know to ride The best tour buses in Washington DC.

10. Take a boat cruise on the Potomac River

Discover unique views of Washington by cruising down the Potomac | ©F Delventhal
Discover unique views of Washington by cruising down the Potomac | ©F Delventhal

And if after so much walking up and down the streets of Washington what you want is to rest a little, then I encourage you to take a boat ride on the Potomac River (it will allow you to see some monuments from another perspective) or simply take a walk along its banks to enjoy the scenery and relax while sunbathing.

In the post City Cruises in Washington DC you can learn about the best tours to cruise the Potomac. It is a very fun plan to do in Washington, especially if you are traveling with your family as the kids won't get tired walking and will love to ride a boat.

Things to do in Washington DC