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The 50 best things to do in Washington, DC

The ultimate guide to the best things to do in Washington, DC, including outdoor fun, museum visits and delicious food

Photograph: Shutterstock

Searching for the best things to do in Washington, DC? From grabbing drinks at some of the best cocktail bars in DC to luxurious dining experiences at the very best restaurants in DC and a ton of other fun things to do in DC—check out our guide and experience the city to its fullest potential.

1

Take flight at the National Air & Space Museum

Where else but in DC's Air & Space Museum can you see missiles, aircraft and space stations, all without stepping outside the city limits? In the museum's central Milestones of Flight hall, towering US Pershing-II and Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles stand next to the popular moon rock station, where visitors can touch a lunar sample acquired on the 1972 Apollo 17 mission. Permanent exhibitions in the museum detail the history of jet aviation, space travel and satellite communications. The gallery also often features live presentations with guest astronauts and space pioneers. 

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2

Get in touch with your roots at the National Museum of Natural History

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There is so much to see at the Museum of Natural History, it can be a bit daunting. Adults will want to spend time in the Kenneth E Behring Hall of Mammals, featuring interactive displays alongside 274 stuffed animals striking dramatic poses; browse the sparkling gem and mineral collection; and explore the David H Koch Hall of Human Origins for an in-depth look at human evolution. The museum is also a real magnet for children: its Dinosaur Hall has an assortment of fierce-looking dinosaur skeletons and a 3.4-billion-year-old stromatolite; tarantulas and other live arthropods ripe for petting inhabit the Insect Zoo.

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3

Get in touch with nature at Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park is DC's favorite place for biking, skating, running and even horseback riding. With 32 miles of trails, plus paved roads for biking (many of which are closed to vehicular traffic on weekends), you can easily spend an entire day stretching your legs in the park. While you're there, you can also explore the old mill and the site of the Civil War battle at Fort Stevens. The park now offers free, guided cell phone tours to learn about the history of the park's surroundings. If you're interested in flora and fauna, the Nature Center offers guided hikes; alternatively, you can check out the highly entertaining Creature Feature program (4pm on Fridays), which takes a close look at the park’s wildlife. Inside Pierce Barn, kids can try on period clothing and play with 19th-century toys. The planetarium (on the park’s western edge) hosts several free shows—check the website for details.

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Northwest
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4

Jam at the 9:30 Club

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Once a tiny, art-scene dive on F Street, renowned for its heat (and smell), the 9:30 Club relocated in 1996. Now it's situated in the trendy U Street Corridor, and boasts state-of-the-art sound and ventilation, as well as a good selection of microbrews. A few long-lived (or reunited) punk and post-punk bands have played both incarnations, among them Wire, the Feelies and Mission of Burma, but these days the club features an eclectic mix of artists. At the time of writing, Kraftwerk, Better Than Ezra, Pat Green, The Both (Aimee Mann and Ted Leo), Mogwai and HAIM were all on the upcoming program. Make sure to arrive early and scope out the best vantage point to ensure a good view.

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U Street Corridor
5

See history up close and personal at the National Archives

The vast collection of the National Archive & Record Administration (NARA) represents the physical record of the birth and growth of a nation in original documents, maps, photos, recordings, films and a miscellany of artifacts. The catalogue includes the Louisiana Purchase, maps of Lewis and Clark’s explorations, the Japanese World War II surrender document, the gun that shot JFK, the Watergate tapes, an original copy of the Magna Carta and the Charters of Freedom (the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence). The Public Vaults, where most of the documents on permanent display are housed, has over 1,000 items on display at any one time. 

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Federal Triangle
6

Eat and drink everything at Rose's Luxury

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Local chef Aaron Silverman’s two-story Barrack’s Row joint is worth every little bit of the buzz it’s currently getting. Rose’s doesn’t take reservations and a line forms at 4pm on weekends for a 5:30pm seating; but don’t let this be too offputting. Because dining here really is, as the neon sign hung downstairs near the kitchen says, “awesome.” Rose’s menu is Southern-meets-Jewish-meets-Japanese-meets-French-meets-Thai-meets-your grandmother’s home cooking, and changes often. The Southern-style fried chicken drizzled with honey and doused with sesame seeds is crisp, moist, delicious and our new best friend. If you’re with a large group, don’t miss the family-style smoked brisket dinner. Just one forkful of this warm, tender dish—served with a cheeky wink on a literal silver platter, no less—will make you a believer.

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Capitol Hill
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7

Celebrate the freedom of the press at the Newseum

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The line of stands by the Newseum's Pennsylvania Avenue entrance, filled with copies of today’s front pages from newspapers around the world, draws passers-by to this museum dedicated to journalism and free speech. Once inside, make sure you catch the museum's stunning highlights, including eight large, graffitied sections of the Berlin Wall, an East German watchtower, the upper section of the antenna mast from the World Trade Center’s North Tower, the Pulitzer Prize photographs gallery, and the Unabomber (Theodore Kaczynski)'s cabin. Browse through the News History exhibition, built around the museum’s collection of over 30,000 newspapers, which traces more than 500 years of news. The exhibit also explores issues of media bias and credibility, the modern phenomena of blogging and "citizen journalists," and the 24-hour-rolling-news reality.

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Judiciary Square
8

Unleash your inner Parisian at Le Diplomate

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This hopping French restaurant cost over $6 million to build, and it shows. Not a single detail is overlooked in attempts to make it look and feel like you’re in Europe: The floors have the perfect squeak, the bread baskets overflow and the burger comes with a miniature French flag staked on top. In the warmer months, grab a seat on the sidewalk or covered patio. If you want to be the envy of all your dinner mates (and you’ve got money to burn), order a signature seafood tower which comes filled to the brim with glistening crustaceans of all sorts.

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Logan Circle
9

Make your wish come true with the help of Yoko Ono at the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden

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One of the city’s most dynamic and boundary-pushing modern art museums, the Hirshhorn promises something new every time you visit. Nearly every exhibition causes a stir (including, recently, Yayoi Kusama’s trippy “Infinity Mirrors”) while the permanent collection is a visual slap in the face—particularly Barbara Kruger’s flashy “Belief and Doubt” installation. Up for a stroll? Don’t miss the sculpture garden, which is filled with works from the likes of Auguste Rodin, Louise Bourgeois and Yoko Ono, who in 2007 donated a piece entitled “A Wish Tree for Washington, DC.” Visitors are encouraged to whisper their desires into the branches in the hopes that they come true.

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10

Spend an evening on Barracks Row in Eastern Market

Eighth Street SE in the Eastern Market Neighborhood is also known as Barracks Row for its proximity to the Marine Barracks on the same street. Although it's been a bustling commercial district for centuries, today it's one of the most popular places in the city to go out for a drink or a bite to eat. One of the hottest new restaurants on the scene is Rose's Luxury, a romantic new American bistro that doesn't take reservations and features small plates and family-style dishes. Other winners on Barracks Row include nostalgic diner Ted's Bulletin, pizza joint Matchbox and Mediterranean restaurant/wine bar Cava Mezze. After dinner, check out Caribbean-themed Banana Cafe & Piano Bar or sports bar Ugly Mug.

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Capitol Hill
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Comments

2 comments
David p
David p

Washington D.C is well known for its Monuments. I got a lucky chance to visit this beautiful city with http://www.getbustours.com/cherry-blossom-tours-washington-dc-boat-tours/. During the tour there; I used to visit some of its major attractions including the the White House, Washington Monument, United States Capitol, National Museum of Natural History and Lincoln Memorial. It was a memorable experience to visit these places and I had a great time there.