So you’ve booked a trip to the glorious capital of the USA. Now what?
Apart from the infamous White House, many visitors have no idea about the endless list of things to do in DC. With a quirky vibe in the local community, you’ll be quick to find comparisons between DC and the refreshing culture of Seattle. It’s a city that’s certainly packed full of unique attractions, as well as historic and politically-influenced sights to see.
For short-term vacationers, it may be hard to decide what to do in DC when you only have a week or two. But as mentioned, there is a special feeling in the air in DC that makes it the perfect home for digital nomads who find themselves travelling slower, or for longer. So if you can, we’d recommend staying in the USA’s capital for at least a few weeks to become fully immersed in the culture and make the most of your USD$.
And with wildly variable year-round temperatures, the time you visit is likely to impact the availability of different things to do in Washington DC. Let’s dive into a list of things to do in DC that will help you plan your trip.
Between 20-25 million people visited the city in recent years, its popularity proves that there are plenty of fun things to do in DC. But Washington DC’s reputation is somewhat tainted by the politics, which leaves many overlooking the city as a tourist destination.
Of course, in larger cities such as Chicago, attractions are very well known. So you might be surprised to see what Washington DC has to offer.
Where is Washington DC?
Before you can begin to explore Washington DC, it’d be useful to know exactly where the city is, and how to get there.
We’ll start with a little-known fact: Washington DC is not located in any of the fifty US states. Bordering Maryland and Virginia, ‘DC’ stands for District of Columbia, its official location on the map. This means that DC is in the North East of the USA, close to the cities of Baltimore and Richmond.
It’s also only a four-hour drive to New York, which is conveniently how many visitors choose to explore Washington DC. This makes combining a stay in New York with a trip to Washington is a great idea. The AMTRAK train is available for those without a vehicle, often taking an even shorter time than a car journey would.
With three major airports in the area, flying straight into Washington DC is not out of the question for those coming from further afield. The Ronald Regan Washington National Airport, Dulles International Airport and Thurgood Marshall Airport are all within a short distance of the city.
What is DC famous for?
In terms of things to do in DC this weekend, the first thought for most people is a visit to the White House. It’s true that the most famous thing about Washington DC is its political affiliations- as the permanent home of the President of the United States.
Washington DC became the capital in 1790 and stole the accolade from Philadelphia. Interestingly, the slave trade was abolished here months before the rest of the country, which meant that DC became a hub for freed slaves.
Today, a different kind of hub is present- with all three government branches located here. There are also hundreds of countries’ embassies, making it a convenient location for foreign visitors who happen to encounter problems. But the forward-thinking nature of DC’s edgy culture and consistent innovation is what attracts visitors today.
Where to stay in DC?
With approximately 24 different districts and neighbourhoods in DC, it could be a task in itself to decide where to stay in the city.
We recommend somewhere close to Union Station, which is one of the most centrally located transport hubs. It means that visitors can simply catch the metro to all main attractions and don’t have to rely on flagging down costly taxis. All the while, this is one of the more affordable parts of town, allowing visitors to divert their vacation budget to the fun stuff.
Just steps away from Union Station, Selina guests don’t have to go far to experience the bustling nature of the city. At the same time, the hotel offers a refuge away from the loud parties and bright lights. In fact, many of the museums and galleries that contribute to the city’s art scene are just twenty minutes’ walk away.
With a cowork space that’s perfect for remote working, Selina Union Market is fast becoming a hub of its own for digital nomads in DC.
16 things to do in Washington DC
We wholeheartedly believe that Washington DC is as must-see as the Big Apple (don’t forget about those elusive New York rooftop bars). But visitors should plan in advance to make the most of their trip, as many activities should be booked in advance and may depend on the weather.
So, here’s an insider’s perspective on the best things to do in Washington DC.
The White House
Washington Harbour River Cruise
The Mansion on O Street
Smithsonian National Zoo
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
National Gallery of Art
Rock Creek Part
International Spy Museum
Old Town Trolley Tour
JFK Center for Performing Arts
The Lincoln Memorial is not only iconic, but it’s also one of the easiest free things to do in DC. Honoring the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, a visit to the memorial will help you discover more about the history of the states. Once there, sightseers can expect to view a sculpture of the man himself, alongside two of his most famous speeches inscribed into the walls.
It’s an eleven-minute car journey from Selina Union Market and takes the average visitor only an hour or so to explore.
Of course, the Lincoln Memorial is packed with history about the 16th President of the United States. In particular, Lincoln is famous for abolishing slavery in the country in 1863. This is the reason for his continued popularity today.
Those searching for things to do in Washington DC can’t miss the top culinary marketplace in the city: Union Market. While being free to attend, it would be hard to visit without spending a few dollars as many of the dishes are hugely tempting.
At Union Market, tourists should expect everything from fresh seafood to fragrant spice stalls and even clothing vendors. Our personal favorites include Viti’s Fine Wine and District Doughnut.
Plus, it is only a few steps away from the accommodation at Selina Union Market. This means that guests can simply ask the staff at the accommodation for even more recommendations for food. What’s not to love?
As Washington DC’s premier nightclub and concert destination, 9:30 Club is certainly one of the fun things to do in DC for adults only. Renown all over the world, the venue has also been named in accolades such as the top 10 live music venues in America by Rolling Stone.
On the lineup in 2022, visitors could get tickets to see huge names like Franz Ferdinand, James Bay and Arlo Parks among a load of up-and-coming artists and bands. Naturally, every show begins at 9:30 pm.
Dating back to its opening in 1980, 9:30 is one of the most iconic venues in the city of Washington DC. Fortunately for Selina guests, it’s a simple nine-minute drive to the venue.
The White House
Ask any tourist about the best things to do in Washington DC and the White House will surely make the list. Even though some may say it’s overrated as a tourist destination, the attraction is undeniably a large part of why so many millions of people visit the city every single year.
Fortunately, tours of the White House are completely free. Although due to the nature of security at this location, they are subject to last-minute cancellations.
Tours take approximately 45 minutes to complete and visitors should note that parking is not widely available. For this reason, it’s best to take the bus or metro to McPherson Square Station or Farragut West Station.
Washington Harbor River Cruise
Those looking for romantic things to do in DC might like the idea of a river cruise. There are two types of harbor cruise:
The whistle-stop tour, which lasts approximately 45 minutes and shows visitors the key sights from the waterfront
Dinner charters which last approximately three hours
Prices will vary depending on the type of cruise that tourists decide to hop onto, however, budget at least $100 per person for this activity. From the waterfront, ticket holders will receive a narrated tour of the city. Expect to see sights like Capitol Hill, the Memorial Bridge and the Kennedy Center.
The Mansion on O Street
Looking for uniquely fun things to do in Washington DC? You won’t find an experience like the Mansion on O Street anywhere else in the world.
It’s a hotel and museum that can only be described as eccentric- for good reason too. With secret passageways and 80 trap doors, the Mansion is a colorful adventure for tourists searching for a bit of mystery.
It costs between $25-50 to see the 100 rooms at the Mansion on O Street with prices depending on ticket type. This is a true must-see for modern tourists in Washington DC who are bored of the classic galleries and museums.
To reconnect with your wild side, why not check out the Smithsonian National Zoo? Featuring bird shows, aquatic exhibits and beings all the way from Africa, this is not one to miss for nature lovers.
Both domestic and international tourists tend to enjoy the Smithsonian National Zoo, which offers Amazonian-themed exhibits, along with an Asian trail and reptiles, primates, and great cats.
Again, this attraction is free of charge- but note that passes must be reserved in advance which means it’s not suitable as a thing to do in Washington DC today.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Located on the national mall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a tribute to the American soldiers who lost their lives in the Vietnam war from 1955-to 1975. There are three sections to this attraction; a statue of three soldiers, a wall with the names of soldiers and a section dedicated to the women’s effort in the war.
This attraction is free and opens daily between 9.30 am and 10 pm. This isn’t your typical answer to the question: “what are things to do in Washington DC?”, but locals say it’s something different to explore for those bored of seeing the same things over and over.
National Gallery of Art
Not only is it a more traditional tourist attraction, but the National Gallery of Art is a great option for things to do in DC when it rains.
What to expect? Features from the likes of Georgia O’Keefe, Leonardo Da Vinci and Johannes Vermeer. Art lovers will find themselves rejoicing in the classical pieces available at the National Gallery.
In 2022, exhibitions include special installments like “masterpieces of American furniture in the Kaufman collection” and important highlights such as “Afro-Atlantic Histories”. Admission to the National Gallery of Art is always free, and the center is open between 10 am and 5 pm most days.
Rock Creek Park
If you’re looking for outdoor things to do in DC, Rock Creek Park might just be the place to go. Located in the Northwest area of the district, it’s more than twice the size of New York’s central park.
Visitors could spend hours here, strolling around the gardens, playing soccer or frisbee and having a quiet picnic. On a sunny day, it gets super busy but due to its size, there’s always space to find your own patch of grass.
With facilities like the planetarium and Pierce Mill, many are surprised to hear that the entire park is free of charge. It’s a great way to relax and catch a tan on one of the sunnier days in Washington DC.
International Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum is considered a really cool thing to do in DC, as told by locals and tourists alike. Open 7 days a week, this is a great walk-in attraction that doesn’t require booking in advance.
What’s at the International Spy Museum? Only interactive undercover missions, espionage artifacts and the chance to sit down with a real-life spy. No biggie.
The museum currently houses the infamous Enigma machine, a piece of technology used to win the 2nd world war. Tickets cost $27 per person and can be bought up to 45 days in advance.
Old Town Trolley Tour
Voted one of the top things to do in DC, the Old Town Trolley Tour is an institution in the US Capital city. And this is not your everyday sightseeing tour: it’s all done from the comfort of an old-school trolley tram. It’s America’s answer to Lisbon’s famous Tram 28 tour.
Lasting 90 minutes, these tours are narrated by a local expert who will give you an insight into the city that can’t be found anywhere else. Online tickets cost just $45 for adults and the tour includes one designated stop off along the way.
With over 400 4-star reviews on Google, it’s not one to miss.
In case you’ve devoured all the food at Union Market, DC has another culinary corner: Eastern Market. This is widely considered to be on par with Union Market and one of the best things to do in DC for a truly local experience.
Found in Capitol Hill, it’s a simple train ride away from Union Station. From flowers to fruits and vegetables, there’s a huge variety of vendors here.
Depending on which day visitors choose to attend, they’ll be greeted by a variety of stalls. For example on Tuesdays, the farmers market is open between 3 pm and 7 pm to sell freshly harvested produce, while the Weekend Outdoor market is focused on handmade crafts and jewelry.
Surely one in the collection of 19 possible museums and education centers at the Smithsonian Institution will help fill up your time during a visit to DC. Between the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of the American Indian and Smithsonian Gardens, there are plenty of things to do in DC in the form of art and history.
Entry to all exhibitions and features is free of charge, which is great news for travelers on a budget. Most attractions are open between at least 10 am and 4 pm every single day. With plenty of cafes and dining options on location, it’s easy to spend a whole day out at any one of the 19 different Smithsonian Institution locations.
While not exactly in the city center, a boating and sailing cruise around Annapolis could be just the activity you need after days of intense traveling and sightseeing. Times and prices vary but expect to spend approximately 2 hours on the water, budgeting approximately $75 per person.
And what fun! Things to do in Washington DC aren’t exactly in short supply, but for a day trip outside of the city, this is a great option. Annapolis offers Kent Island, Chesapeake Bay and Thomas Point Lighthouse as alternatives to the DC skyline.
Check the JFK center website for fun things to do in DC this weekend– it’s bound to have a full lineup of shows and events. From ‘Jersey Boys’ to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, the 2022 productions have been highly popular with the crowds.
Standard ticket prices begin at around $50 per person, with shows typically lasting a couple of hours. It’s a great option for those searching for things to do on an evening in DC. Just a 13-minute drive from Selina Union Market, it’s in an easy location for those living in any area of Washington DC.
Feeling ready for a trip to DC? Our top takeaways when planning things to do in DC are:
Plan in advance
Check the proximity to the metro
Do your research to find out about any protests (which occur frequently) that might get in the way of your travels
Those unbothered about unique things to do in DC will probably prefer classic attractions like the White House and Lincoln Memorial. With over 12.5 million people looking to book a tour every year, it’s imperative to book this in advance.
Can you do DC in 2 days?
In theory, you could see a lot of the DC attractions during a weekend or two-day visit, especially if fitting in some things to do in DC at night, like 9:30 Club. However, we recommend at least 5 days of exploring to see the city’s sights and main attractions. This way you should get a real authentic experience in DC.
How many days do you need to spend in Washington DC?
While there’s no set Washington DC itinerary, a minimum of five days should allow tourists to see most of the major sights. However, those who could stretch to two weeks or even one month in Washington DC won’t run out of things to do.
Similarly, we’ve put together ideas for Miami, Chicago and New York for visitors to those US destinations.
What is the best way to get around Washington DC as a tourist?
In order to fit in all the best things to do in DC, it’s recommended to get around using the metro. Fares vary but at peak times, cost between $2.25 and $6.00 per journey. Then again, an unlimited travel day pass is $13.00, which is suitable to those fitting in multiple journeys or sights in one day.
And for those who aren’t fans of the metro, there are plenty of taxi’s to get around the city.