With so much to see and so many things to do in Washington DC, planning a trip to this iconic American city can feel a little intimidating!
There are few American cities more famous than the nation’s capital. This east coast metropolis is deeply rooted in history but still offers enough cultural landmarks to attract all sorts of travellers.
Founded on July 16th, 1790, Washington DC is sprawled along the banks of the Potomac River.
This is a destination in its own right thanks to its historical significance. Washington is awash with many museums, monuments, and government buildings that attract crowds of tourists year-round.
Our Top 10 Washington DC Attractions
For the History Buff, here are the top places to see and things to do in Washington DC, the nation’s capital:
- The US Capitol
- The Washington Monument
- The White House
- The Lincoln Memorial
- The Library of Congress
For the Cultural Explorer, check out these top 5 attractions in the nation’s capital:
- National Gallery of Art
- National Portrait Gallery
- Washington National Cathedral
- Smithsonian Museums
- Ford’s Theatre
Below, we’ve rounded up the highlights for both the history buff and cultural explorer. As you will see, there’s never a dull moment and many great things to do in Washington DC. There’s literally something for everyone.
For The History Buff
There is no shortage of attractions for the hobby historian when visiting the capital.
While you could make an entire trip out of monuments and historical sites alone, here are the top 5 history-related things to do in Washington DC.
1. The US Capitol Building
A tour of the US Capitol Building is an absolute must for anyone visiting the capital.
Tours are completely free, although reservations are highly recommended as tours fill up fast, especially in the peak seasons of spring and summer.
The Capitol Building is one of the more iconic symbols of representative democracy in the world, with impressive architecture and history to boot!
Make sure to add this stop to your list when you visit Washington.
2. The Washington Monument & National Mall
The Washington Monument, and the adjacent National Mall national park, are iconic landmarks of the DC landscape.
The 168-meter (551-foot) tall obelisk was built to honor George Washington, the first President of the United States and the city’s namesake.
Tickets are free, but again, it’s recommended to make reservations in advance.
The National Mall is one of America’s most visited national parks and sprawls before the Washington monument. These two sites are, for obvious reasons, often visited at the same time and get very crowded in the peak season.
The monuments and memorials throughout the park honor the forefathers and heroes of American history.
This is a beautiful spot to picnic in nice weather and one of the best spots to get a panoramic vacation shot with the Washington Monument from afar.
3. The White House
Of course, one of those absolute “must” things to do in Washington DC has to be a visit to The White House.
This is a symbol of national pride and the official residence and workplace of the President of the United States.
The White House was built in the late 18th century and is free to tour… with the caveat that you’ll need to book your ticket well in advance.
If you can’t make time for an inside tour, the White House is an impressive sight from the street and provides the perfect photo op for your Washington vacation.
4. The Lincoln Memorial & Reflecting Pool
The Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool is another must-see monument in Washington.
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States and probably one of the most famous.
The memorial and reflecting pool are a tribute to this American leader and will surely impress with a 6-meter marble statue of Lincoln. It also has a sprawling vista of the Reflecting Pool and the nearby National Mall.
5. The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is a Thomas Jefferson Building that is known for its stunning 19th-century architecture and countless books.
With 532 miles of shelves, over 115 million items, and another 7,000 added every working day, you could spend a lifetime perusing the library’s collections and never see them all!
Admission is free but should be booked ahead of time. The Library of Congress also features changing historical exhibitions and a magnificent interior for all to appreciate.
For The Cultural Explorer
If you’ve had your fill of history, or simply prefer a more balanced itinerary, then you’re in luck! On top of its many historical attractions, the nation’s capital boasts an impressive repertoire of cultural sites and activities.
Here are the top 5 cultural-related things to do in Washington DC.
6. National Gallery of Art
For a healthy dose of art and culture, you could do a lot worse than to visit the National Gallery of Art. Boasted as one of the world’s premier museums, the National Gallery houses a collection of 141,000 paintings, photographs, and sculptures.
It also includes media that traces the development of Western art all the way back to the Middle Ages.
The National Gallery is an easy place to lose the day admiring the feats of human creativity. Admission to this attraction is free but should be booked in advance of your visit.
7. National Portrait Gallery
Talk a walk and get to know famous Americans from the last 225 years of history. You can experience the stories of poets, presidents, villains, and activists through the portraits and performances hosted at the National Portrait Gallery.
An immersive blend of both culture and history, this is a must-see experience for both the historical and cultural traveller to Washington DC.
8. Washington National Cathedral
You would be hard-pressed to find a more impressive work of architecture in the United States than this massive Gothic cathedral.
The Washington National Cathedral stands at one of the city’s highest points and cuts a distinctive shape in the Washington skyline.
While originally a Christian church, the Cathedral welcomes people of all faiths and cultures and often hosts interfaith services.
No matter your personal beliefs, you’re certain to be moved by the stunning sight of this 18th-century cathedral.
9. Smithsonian Museums
While it’s unlikely you’ll have the time to visit all 17 Smithsonian Museums in Washington DC, these world-renowned institutions are certainly worth a slot on your bucket list. Learn about everything from the development of mankind to the history of world art with more than 150 million objects, artworks, and specimens to view.
Admission is always free at every Smithsonian Museum.
If you only have time for a few stops then the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of American History, and the Air and Space Museum are definitely worth visiting.
10. Ford’s Theatre
Known as perhaps one of the most famous theatres in the United States, Ford’s Theatre is the scene of US President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.
Despite its grim history, the theatre is wonderfully preserved, with the President’s Box still decorated the same as it was that fateful night.
Visit the theatre for its exhibits, performances, and tours.
If you visit the museum, you will find artifacts of Lincoln’s assassination, including the very gun used to commit the crime.
With so much to see and so many things to do in Washington DC, you’ll never be bored on your trip!
We’ve only just scratched the surface as this historical city is awash with many more monuments, historical sites, and cultural draws.
Make sure to book your tours in advance to see the city with an expert guide. Soak up the history as you walk the same streets frequented by the American founding fathers so very long ago.
Come Explore Washington DC with Caravan Tours!
Caravan Tours is a family-run American Tour company that started in 1952 and celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2022.
Along with fully guided tours in Central America and Canada, Caravan also offers the following USA tours:
- Grand Canyon Tour (with Bryce and Zion)
- New England Tour (including Fall Colors tour)
- Mt Rushmore & Yellowstone Tour
Be sure to book your preferred tour dates early as most Caravan tours tend to sell out early.
Dates for our Washington DC Tour and our new George Washington Mount Vernon Tour will be announced soon.
To learn more about Caravan Tours or to book one of our fully guided tours, please contact us.
Washington DC FAQs
How Big Is Washington DC?
Washington DC is just over 100 square miles in size and has a population of just over 712,000.
Is Washington DC a State?
Washington DC is not a state but a district in the District of Columbia.
What Time Is It in Washington DC?
Washington DC is in Eastern Standard time which is the same Time Zone as New York, Montreal, and Toronto.
Where Is Washington DC?
Washington DC is a district located between Southern Virginia and Maryland.
How far is Washington DC from Montreal?
Washington DC is 584 miles (940km) from Montreal Quebec.
How far is Washington DC from Toronto?
Washington DC is 477 miles (769km) from Toronto Ontario.
How far is Washington DC from Boston?
Washington DC is 439 miles (706km) from Boston Massachusetts.
How far is Washington DC from New York?
Washington DC is 204 miles (328km) from New York City.
How far is Washington DC from Baltimore?
Washington DC is 40 miles (64km) from Baltimore Maryland.