The 50 best things to do in Washington, D.C.

The ultimate guide to the best things to do in Washington, D.C., including outdoor fun, museum visits and delicious food
WASHINGTON
WASHINGTON
By Stephanie Early Green and Holley Simmons |
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Searching for the best things to do in Washington, D.C.? The nation's capital isn't just for politicy wonks and aspiring politicians—it's also a hub of food, culture and history. From swanky drinks at some of the best cocktail bars in D.C. to prestigious exhibits at the best museums in D.C. to luxurious dining experiences at the very best restaurants in D.C., there are tons of awesome activities in the District. Whether you're just here to take a selfie in front of the White House or you're moving inside the Beltway, our list of the best things to do in Washington, D.C. will certainly keep you entertained. 

Washington, DC's best things to do

1
National Air & Space Museum
Photograph: Elan Fleisher
Museums, Art and design

National Air & Space Museum

What is it? Where else but in DC's Air & Space Museum can you see missiles, aircraft and space stations, all without stepping outside the city limits?

Why go? 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. For a closer look (and to improve your knowledge of the universe) head to the public observatory for inspiring views of the sky. If the weather isn't permitting you to star-study, make a beeline for the Albert Einstein planetarium instead, where you'll be launched into a journey through space regardless of the outside elements.

2
National Museum of Natural History
Photograph: Shutterstock
Museums, Art and design

National Museum of Natural History

What is it? There's so much to see at this museum—featuring everything from 274 stuffed animals to a sparkling gem and mineral collection—that it can seem a bit daunting.

Why go? Adults will want to spend time in the Kenneth E Behring Hall of Mammals 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—especially the Insect Zoo, where little hands can pet tarantulas and other live arthropods. Fancy a closer look at creatures of the fluttering variety? The butterfly pavilion (aka a tropical oasis) is home to several species of the winged wonders. You can also enjoy talks about the integral relationship that butterflies and plants share, named "Partners in Evolution".

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3
Rock Creek Park
Photograph: Shutterstock
Things to do

Rock Creek Park

icon-location-pin Northwest

What is it? Rock Creek Park is DC's favorite place for biking, skating, running and even horseback riding. Created by an act of Congress in 1890 to be used as a recreational resource, this lush landscape is a beckoning oasis that extends for over 1,800 acres.

Why go? With 32 miles of trails, plus paved roads for biking, 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. You can also check out the highly entertaining Creature Feature program (4pm on Fridays), which takes a close look at the park’s wildlife.

4
9:30 Club
Photograph: Courtesy 9:30 Club
Clubs

9:30 Club

icon-location-pin U Street Corridor

What is it? Once a tiny, art-scene dive renowned for its heat (and smell), the 9:30 club now boasts state-of-the-art sound (and ventilation).

Why go? The club features an eclectic mix of artists—upcoming shows range from Chromeo to The xx—and a few long-lived (or reunited) punk and post-punk bands have played here, among them Wire, the Feelies and Mission of Burma. Make sure to arrive early and scope out the best vantage point to ensure a good view. All that headbanging giving you hunger pangs? No worries - whip out your wallet and buy some of the tasty tidbits on offer, from salads and pizzas to burgers and cupcakes.

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5
National Archives
Photograph: Shutterstock
Attractions, Libraries, archives and foundations

National Archives

icon-location-pin Federal Triangle

What is it? The vast collection represents the physical record of the birth and growth of a nation in original documents, maps, photos, recordings, films and a miscellany of artifacts.

Why go? This is your one and only chance to see some of the country's most prized artifacts, including maps of Lewis and Clark’s explorations, the gun that shot JFK and the Charters of Freedom (the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence). Just search the catalogue and you'll be exploring thousands of years of history in no time.

6
Rose's Luxury
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Laura Buitrago
Restaurants, Eclectic

Rose's Luxury

icon-location-pin Capitol Hill

What is it? Local chef Aaron Silverman’s two-story Barrack’s Row joint is worth every little bit of the buzz.

Why go? As the neon sign hung downstairs near the kitchen says, dining here really is "awesome." Rose’s menu is Southern-meets-Jewish-meets-Japanese-meets-French-meets-Thai-meets-your grandmother’s home cooking – which really means that it's fun, eclectic and constantly changing. Looking to treat your tastebuds? Easy. Sink your fork into delicious pasta parcels of sweet corn, rock shrimp and scallion and then finish off with mini chocolate cake with blue cheese, cherries and almonds. A word to the wise: Rose’s doesn’t take reservations and a line forms at 4pm on weekends for a 5:30pm seating.

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7
Newseum
© Sam Kittner
Museums

Newseum

icon-location-pin Judiciary Square

What is it? A line of stands 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.

Why go? Make sure you catch the museum's stunning highlights, including eight graffitied sections of the Berlin Wall, 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. The News History exhibition, built around the museum’s collection of over 30,000 newspapers, traces 500 years of news. There's also a huge tribute to 2,323 journalists that have died whilst covering crucial news stories, and you can access information about each and every one of them.

8
Le Diplomate
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/NCinDC
Restaurants, French

Le Diplomate

icon-location-pin Logan Circle

What is it? This hopping French restaurant cost over $6 million to build, and it shows.

Why go? Le Diplomate both looks and feels 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. 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. All in all, it's a homage to arguably one of the best cuisines in the world. Bon appetit. 

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9
Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden
Photograph: Lee Stalsworth
Museums, Art and design

Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden

What is it? One of the city’s most boundary-pushing modern art museums, the Hirshhorn promises something new every time you visit.

Why go? Nearly every exhibition causes a stir, while the permanent collection is a visual slap in the face—particularly Barbara Kruger’s flashy “Belief and Doubt” installation. Don’t miss the sculpture garden, which is filled with works from the likes of Auguste Rodin, Louise Bourgeois and Yoko Ono, whose piece entitled “A Wish Tree for Washington, DC” encourages visitors to whisper their desires into the branches.

10
Eastern Market
Photograph: Shutterstock/cdrin
Shopping, Markets and fairs

Eastern Market

icon-location-pin Capitol Hill

What is it? Although it's been a bustling commercial district for centuries, today this area is one of the most popular places in the city to go out for a drink or a bite to eat.

Why go? Also known as Barracks Row for its proximity to the Marine Barracks, Eighth Street SE in the Eastern Market neighborhood boasts plenty of restaurants. Winners include nostalgic diner Ted's Bulletin, pizza joint Matchbox and Mediterranean restaurant/wine bar Cava Mezze

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