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Top 10 things to do in Washington, D.C.
We scoured our nation’s capital for the best things to do.
Election year politics got you down? We feel ya. That said, just because you’re tired of debates and attack ads doesn’t mean it’s all bad here in the Land of the Free. Head to D.C. for a refresher course on what makes America great (again), and take our advice to make sure you hit all the highlights during your stay.
1. Monuments, memorials, and more monuments and memorials: You could make a Top 10 list of just the monuments in D.C.—this is an earnest place, with lots of grand architecture built in tribute to powerful historic figures, major moments from the country’s past, and times of tragic loss. Visit the National Mall on foot, by bike, or on a Segway to ramble between the Washington Monument, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial, stopping to pay your respects at somber landmarks like the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial along the way. We like to explore by night, when the crowds are thinner and the illuminated monuments are more serene.
2. Look for the Obamas at the White House: With some advance planning and patience, you can book a tour of the White House through your Member of Congress. If you miss the cut-off, a walking or sightseeing tour can give you an up-close perspective on the most important residence in the United States from the outside.
3. Get lost in a museum: Whether you want to scope out artifacts at the National Museum of American History, consider a heist while being dazzled by the Hope Diamond at the National Museum of Natural History, or see Lindburgh’s Spirit of St. Louis at the National Air & Space Museum, the Smithsonian Institution really does have something for everyone (and it’s free!). For a dynamic look at the American media past and present, don’t miss a visit to the fascinating Newseum, and the intriguing International Spy Museum is just as fun and cool as you’d imagine.
4. Arlington National Cemetery: Spend a somber moment acknowledging the sacrifices of the country’s fallen heroes, dedicated veterans, and military leaders at this cemetery across the Potomac from D.C. The cemetery was established during the American Civil War on the former estate of Mary Anna Custis Lee, great-granddaughter of Martha Washington (George’s wife) and wife to Confederate general Robert E. Lee. You can explore the estate and the cemetery on this full-day tour.
5. Visit the homes of the Founding Fathers: Just a short jaunt from the city center, Mount Vernon offers a peek into what daily life was like for the nation’s earliest presidents. You can stroll the grounds of George Washington’s home—accessible via a cruise down the Potomac River or an easy bike trail—for a guided tour of the grounds and interiors.
6. Root for the home team at Nationals Park: Tickets start at just $5 at this beloved stadium, and it seems appropriate to experience America’s favorite pastime in the country’s capital. Round out the outing with classic baseball-game fare like pretzels, chili dogs, and—naturally—peanuts and Cracker Jacks.
7. Check out the food scene: Sometimes, the best way to explore a city is with your taste buds, and D.C. is no exception. Pop between Italian eateries in Dupont Circle on a small-group tour for a peek into the city’s immigrant history, explore the nation’s colonial heritage as you eat your way through Old Town Alexandria, or check out the locally loved culinary options in areas like Little Ethiopia and the Eastern Market.
8. Stroll beneath the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin: Springtime brings a rush of visitors to D.C. in search of the city’s famed cherry blossoms, and the Tidal Basin is the perfect place to see these ephemeral flowers. The celebrated trees were a from Japan in 1912, and it’s dreamy to walk along the water beneath a canopy of pale pink and white petals. Peak bloom usually happens in late March or early April, but you can track the exact dates with the National Park Service to plan your visit accordingly. For a less-crowded but equally lovely walk, make your way to Dumbarton Oaks, instead.
9. Catch a show at the John F. Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts: The busiest performing arts facility in the United States, this riverfront complex is the perfect place to get a dose of culture during your time in D.C.—it’s also the nation’s public memorial to President Kennedy. With more than 2,000 performances each year, there’s something on the calendar for everyone here, whether you’re into jazz, ballet, stand-up comedy, or Irish dance.
10. Watch legislation in action at the U.S. Capitol: See where law-making magic happens at the Capitol by taking an official tour or contacting your Senator or Representative in advance for a pass that allows you to watch the action (or lack thereof) in person. If you’re just hoping to rub elbows with Bernie Sanders, you could hit up one of the local cafeterias for some senator-spotting along with your soup and salad.
What are your favorite things to do in D.C.?
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