Whether you are a solo traveler, newlyweds, a retired couple, a family or just a group of friends, Washington, DC has something for everyone. Sure, our nation's capital is full of famous sights and attractions, but it is also a great destination for foodies, art lovers, music junkies, theater-goers, nature buffs, bookworms, sports fans and more!
Traveling to Washington, DC is convenient and relatively inexpensive from most places, thanks to the three major airports serving the city and its equally good rail connections. Driving to DC is even a cinch from many places, especially just about anywhere on the East Coast. Hotel options are endless, from the incredibly expensive to some excellent budget-friendly properties. And transportation around the city is cheap and effortless on the safe and clean Metro system. Once you get to this exciting and eclectic metropolis, and settle on a place to temporarily call home, the next big questions is: What to do in Washington, DC? The good news is you won’t have trouble answering this!
You'll definitely want to start your trip to Washington, DC with some good old-fashioned sightseeing. Take in the beautiful monuments and memorials of the city. See some of the Smithsonian Museums, but don’t plan on seeing every exhibit, unless you have sixteen years set aside for your Washington, DC vacation! After exploring the museums, visit at least some of our national treasures and hallowed halls of government. And before you head home, try to see at least one place off the beaten path. More on that shortly.
Getting back to the monuments and memorials, the very best strategy is to leave your guide books and maps at home and buy a ticket on one of the local “hop-on, hop-off” sightseeing trolleys. Not only do you get a narrated tour with interesting information, but you still have the freedom to spend as much or as little time as you wish at each attraction. Must-sees include the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the World War Two Memorial. If you have the time, a ride to the top of the Washington Monument is a thrill. This is one activity you’ll need a ticket for, and you can buy it online before your trip to DC even begins. One last stop that is definitely worth seeing is the fantastic FDR Memorial.
The great thing about the sightseeing trolleys is that they also stop at all of the Smithsonian Museums. The most popular museums you’ll want to see include the National Air & Space Museum, the National Museum of American History, and the National Museum of Natural History. Highlights at Air & Space include the Wright Brother’s Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis and several rockets and lunar modules. American History is where you’ll find the First Ladies’ Inaugural gowns, The Star Spangled Banner, and even Archie Bunker’s chair. And Natural History has a giant stuffed elephant, mummies and the famous Hope Diamond. There are other Smithsonian Museums, but these three simply cannot be missed!
No tour of Washington, DC would be complete without visiting one or more of our “national treasures.” The National Archives is where you can see our Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and even the Magna Carta. At Arlington National Cemetery, you can tour the hallowed grounds where thousands of American heroes are buried. Highlights include the Kennedy gravesites, the Tomb of the Unknowns (don’t miss the changing of the guard here) and the former mansion of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Luminaries buried at Arlington also include President Howard Taft, World War Two hero Audie Murphy, and the Challenger astronauts. Two other “national treasures” you really should see on your visit to DC are George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the magnificent Washington National Cathedral.
Visiting our halls of government is also a fascinating must-do for any tourist in Washington, DC. Arranging a tour of the White House or the US Capitol usually requires making advance reservations, so check online ahead of time for the latest requirements. You can also tour the Library of Congress, the US Mint and the US Supreme Court. If time allows and the court is in session, you might even be able to witness a real case being tried before our justices!
And last but not least, try to leave enough time to see at least one of Washington, DC’s “off-the-beaten path” attractions. There are hundreds to choose from. Visit the Woodrow Wilson House. Arrange a tour of an embassy. Wander through the elegant rooms and beautiful gardens of Hillwood, the former estate of heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. Visit the National Museum of Health and Medicine, or Abraham Lincoln’s Cottage, or the former home of Frederick Douglass. You can even take a mule-drawn barge ride on the C&O Canal in Georgetown!
But Wait…There’s More
As mentioned earlier, great sightseeing isn’t the only reason to plan a vacation in Washington, DC! If you love good food, DC has some of the best restaurants in the country, and there is hardly an international cuisine you can’t find here. There are even some delectable and fun progressive dining tours and foodie walking tours you can sign up for. The live music scene in the capital city is equally appealing, with hundreds of local venues large and small offering everything from jazz to bluegrass to punk to pop.
And the DC theatre scene is hot, hot, hot. Choose from dozens upon dozens of local theaters, from the edgy Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company to internationally renowned Arena Stage, from top-notch productions at Ford’s Theatre (yes, THAT Ford’s Theatre) to world class productions at the Kennedy Center and touring Broadway fare at places like the National Theatre.
If you love nature, DC is a great destination. The National Zoological Park and Rock Creek Park are within city limits, and DC is a short drive from absolutely splendid places like Shenandoah National Park and the Chesapeake Bay. Bookworms will also love DC’s unique bookstores, like Kramerbooks and Lambda Rising. And if you’re a sports fan, you have pro football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer to keep you on the edge of your seat!
Washington, DC truly has it all. This great city offers so many things to see and do; it is the perfect destination for your next vacation – or two! Enjoy our nation’s capital and happy travels!