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Best Things To Do in Washington D.C.

Beyond the traditional D.C. attractions — the Smithsonian museums, the U.S. Capitol, the monuments — you'll find fresh food, arts and nightlife scenes. You can spend your morning perusing the city's cache of farmers' markets and contemporary exhibits and your afternoon taking in the scenery from the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument before catching a show at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. If you plan to visit at the end of March and into April, don't miss wandering along the Tidal Basin, where you'll find thousands of pink cherry blossoms bursting into bloom, not to mention excellent conditions for exploring the city's outdoor spaces and museums.

How we rank Things to Do

#1 Lincoln Memorial

#1 in Washington D.C.

Although the Lincoln Memorial is just one of the District's many monuments, the larger-than-life Honest Abe is also among travelers' favorites. History buffs might enjoy the man of few words' (albeit powerful words) two famous speeches, the second inaugural address and the Gettysburg Address, which are all etched into the memorial's opposing walls. Meanwhile, art history and architecture aficionados will enjoy admiring the building's striking design by Henry Bacon, complete with 36 Doric columns that signify the states in the Union at the time Lincoln passed away. more
Monuments and Memorials Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
Lincoln Memorial
Although the Lincoln Memorial is just one of the District's many monuments, the larger-than-life Honest Abe is also among travelers' favorites. History buffs might enjoy the man of few words' (albeit powerful words) two famous speeches, the second inaugural address and the Gettysburg Address, which are all etched into the memorial's opposing walls. Meanwhile, art history and architecture aficionados will enjoy admiring the building's striking design by Henry Bacon, complete with 36 Doric columns that signify the states in the Union at the time Lincoln passed away. more

#2 Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Veterans Memorials

#2 in Washington D.C.

One of the most moving war memorials, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — or "the Wall," as it's commonly referred to — is a long black granite wall with the names of more than 58,000 Americans who perished during the Vietnam War emblazoned on its surface. (If you're looking for a specific name, keep in mind the soldiers names are ordered by the date they died rather than alphabetically.) Recent visitors describe a visit to the site as heartbreaking but thought-provoking and powerful. "Seeing all the names really personalizes the experience. I [have] been there a number of times over the years and I'm always humbled by my time there," commented one TripAdvisor user.   more
Monuments and Memorials Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
Vietnam Veterans and Korean War Veterans Memorials
One of the most moving war memorials, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — or "the Wall," as it's commonly referred to — is a long black granite wall with the names of more than 58,000 Americans who perished during the Vietnam War emblazoned on its surface. (If you're looking for a specific name, keep in mind the soldiers names are ordered by the date they died rather than alphabetically.) Recent visitors describe a visit to the site as heartbreaking but thought-provoking and powerful. "Seeing all the names really personalizes the experience. I [have] been there a number of times over the years and I'm always humbled by my time there," commented one TripAdvisor user.   more

#3 The Tidal Basin

#3 in Washington D.C.

If you've never been to D.C. before, plan to spend some time along the Tidal Basin, a 2-mile-long pond that was once attached to the Potomac River and serves as the backdrop to some of D.C.'s best-loved sites. Every spring, the Tidal Basin bursts with color as cherry blossom trees (gifted to D.C. from Tokyo) bloom into cotton candy-colored tufts, and they attract hordes of visitors. You can follow the path that leads around the basin, but many recent visitors recommend testing the waters in a paddle boat. Paddle boats are available for rental starting March 15 for $14 per hour for a two-passenger boat and $22 per hour for a four-passenger boat. You can pick up a paddle boat every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from March 15 through Labor Day from the boat dock near Maine Avenue. Rentals are also offered Wednesday through Sunday after Labor Day weekend through Columbus Day weekend, depending on the weather conditions.  more
Sightseeing Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
The Tidal Basin
If you've never been to D.C. before, plan to spend some time along the Tidal Basin, a 2-mile-long pond that was once attached to the Potomac River and serves as the backdrop to some of D.C.'s best-loved sites. Every spring, the Tidal Basin bursts with color as cherry blossom trees (gifted to D.C. from Tokyo) bloom into cotton candy-colored tufts, and they attract hordes of visitors. You can follow the path that leads around the basin, but many recent visitors recommend testing the waters in a paddle boat. Paddle boats are available for rental starting March 15 for $14 per hour for a two-passenger boat and $22 per hour for a four-passenger boat. You can pick up a paddle boat every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from March 15 through Labor Day from the boat dock near Maine Avenue. Rentals are also offered Wednesday through Sunday after Labor Day weekend through Columbus Day weekend, depending on the weather conditions.  more

#4 Washington National Cathedral

#4 in Washington D.C.

Construction first began on this massive cathedral — the sixth largest in the world —  in 1907, but it wasn't actually completed until 1990. Designed in the Gothic style, the Washington National Cathedral sits surrounded by gardens, creating a pleasant atmosphere for visitors. Take a stroll around the National Cathedral and peer at its high vaults and flying buttresses, or step inside to admire its intricate glass-stained windows. "Even if you're not a religious person, you have to appreciate the beauty of this place," described one TripAdvisor user. more
Sightseeing Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Washington National Cathedral
Construction first began on this massive cathedral — the sixth largest in the world —  in 1907, but it wasn't actually completed until 1990. Designed in the Gothic style, the Washington National Cathedral sits surrounded by gardens, creating a pleasant atmosphere for visitors. Take a stroll around the National Cathedral and peer at its high vaults and flying buttresses, or step inside to admire its intricate glass-stained windows. "Even if you're not a religious person, you have to appreciate the beauty of this place," described one TripAdvisor user. more

#5 National Gallery of Art

#5 in Washington D.C.

If you're any kind of art connoisseur, you should make a stop at the National Gallery of Art. Composed of an East Building, which houses the gallery's more modern works, from Matisse to Rothko, and a West Building, which contains the collection's older works, from Botticelli to Monet, this museum has enough to fill an entire afternoon; pace yourself and maybe order a coffee, gelato or lunch at one of the gallery's four cafes. more
Museums Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
National Gallery of Art
If you're any kind of art connoisseur, you should make a stop at the National Gallery of Art. Composed of an East Building, which houses the gallery's more modern works, from Matisse to Rothko, and a West Building, which contains the collection's older works, from Botticelli to Monet, this museum has enough to fill an entire afternoon; pace yourself and maybe order a coffee, gelato or lunch at one of the gallery's four cafes. more

#6 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

#6 in Washington D.C.

You need to be in the right frame of mind to visit this sobering museum, focused on the atrocities of the Holocaust during World War II. Upon entering the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, you'll be given an identification card with the name and personal information of an actual person who experienced the Holocaust; as you move through the exhibits — Hitler's rise to power, anti-Semitic propaganda, the horrors of the Final Solution — you'll be given updates on your person's well-being. more
Museums Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
You need to be in the right frame of mind to visit this sobering museum, focused on the atrocities of the Holocaust during World War II. Upon entering the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, you'll be given an identification card with the name and personal information of an actual person who experienced the Holocaust; as you move through the exhibits — Hitler's rise to power, anti-Semitic propaganda, the horrors of the Final Solution — you'll be given updates on your person's well-being. more

#7 National Air and Space Museum

#7 in Washington D.C.

Attracting somewhere around 9 million people each year, the museum contains a trove of celebrated aircraft, including Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega 5B, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louisand Wilbur Wright's Wright 1903 Flyer, among others. Exhibits include a flight simulator, and IMAX Theater and a planetarium. And parents beware: The three-level gift shop is huge, so get ready for pleas from your kids. Although this museum is free, the IMAX Theater and planetarium do charge admission. Tickets for IMAX and Planetarium films cost anywhere from $9 to $15 for adults and $7.50 to $13.50 for kids between the ages of 2 and 12; prices vary according to feature type. more
Museums Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
National Air and Space Museum
Attracting somewhere around 9 million people each year, the museum contains a trove of celebrated aircraft, including Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega 5B, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louisand Wilbur Wright's Wright 1903 Flyer, among others. Exhibits include a flight simulator, and IMAX Theater and a planetarium. And parents beware: The three-level gift shop is huge, so get ready for pleas from your kids. Although this museum is free, the IMAX Theater and planetarium do charge admission. Tickets for IMAX and Planetarium films cost anywhere from $9 to $15 for adults and $7.50 to $13.50 for kids between the ages of 2 and 12; prices vary according to feature type. more

#8 National Museum of Natural History

#8 in Washington D.C.

With more than 126 million artifacts on display, this robust Smithsonian museum attracts millions of visitors each year. Some of the museum's highlights include tarantula feedings in the O. Orkin Insect Zoo and the replicas of giant whales and other marine life in the 23,000-square-foot Sant Ocean Hall. You can also venture to the IMAX Theater for a show or the Butterfly Pavilion for some fluttery fun with multi-colored bugs. And no stop at the Museum of Natural History would be complete without stopping by the Hall of Human Origins, which traces the history of human species over the past 6 million years and displays life-size models of early human faces generated using modern forensic techniques. more
Museums Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
National Museum of Natural History
With more than 126 million artifacts on display, this robust Smithsonian museum attracts millions of visitors each year. Some of the museum's highlights include tarantula feedings in the O. Orkin Insect Zoo and the replicas of giant whales and other marine life in the 23,000-square-foot Sant Ocean Hall. You can also venture to the IMAX Theater for a show or the Butterfly Pavilion for some fluttery fun with multi-colored bugs. And no stop at the Museum of Natural History would be complete without stopping by the Hall of Human Origins, which traces the history of human species over the past 6 million years and displays life-size models of early human faces generated using modern forensic techniques. more

#9 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

#9 in Washington D.C.

Many travelers highly recommend a visit to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, built and named for America's beloved Camelot president. The Kennedy Center houses the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington Ballet and the Washington National Opera, as well as a number of other theater and musical performances throughout the year. Although ticket prices run a bit high, you can take in a performance for free on the Millennium Stage. more
Entertainment and Nightlife Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Many travelers highly recommend a visit to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, built and named for America's beloved Camelot president. The Kennedy Center houses the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington Ballet and the Washington National Opera, as well as a number of other theater and musical performances throughout the year. Although ticket prices run a bit high, you can take in a performance for free on the Millennium Stage. more

#10 The White House and the Washington Monument

#10 in Washington D.C.

Even if you're only in town for a short trip, visiting the Washington Monument and the White House — two marbleized symbols of the free world — is a must for any first-time D.C. visitor. more
Sightseeing Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
The White House and the Washington Monument
Even if you're only in town for a short trip, visiting the Washington Monument and the White House — two marbleized symbols of the free world — is a must for any first-time D.C. visitor. more

#11 U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress

#11 in Washington D.C.

Arguably the most magnificent building in Washington, the U.S. Capitol Building is where visitors go to witness politics in action. Inside, members of both houses of Congress debate and create national policy and law, while visitors explore the building's north and south wings and circular centerpiece: the Rotunda. This iconic hall houses paintings, frescoes and sculptures depicting famous scenes from American history, not to mention a 150-year-old cast iron dome. Note: If you're planning to visit in April, keep in mind the dome will undergo a $60 million restoration starting in spring 2014. Expect the Rotunda to be closed from April 12 to 28, and the building to be covered in scaffolding until 2016. more
Sightseeing Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress
Arguably the most magnificent building in Washington, the U.S. Capitol Building is where visitors go to witness politics in action. Inside, members of both houses of Congress debate and create national policy and law, while visitors explore the building's north and south wings and circular centerpiece: the Rotunda. This iconic hall houses paintings, frescoes and sculptures depicting famous scenes from American history, not to mention a 150-year-old cast iron dome. Note: If you're planning to visit in April, keep in mind the dome will undergo a $60 million restoration starting in spring 2014. Expect the Rotunda to be closed from April 12 to 28, and the building to be covered in scaffolding until 2016. more

#12 National World War II Memorial

#12 in Washington D.C.

A fairly new memorial, the National World War II Memorial was dedicated in 2004 to the 400,000 Americans who died during the war. A circle of 56 pilings (representing the then 56 U.S. states and territories) looks in on a pool. At night, with lights shining on, this memorial can be quite atmospheric. more
Monuments and Memorials Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
National World War II Memorial
A fairly new memorial, the National World War II Memorial was dedicated in 2004 to the 400,000 Americans who died during the war. A circle of 56 pilings (representing the then 56 U.S. states and territories) looks in on a pool. At night, with lights shining on, this memorial can be quite atmospheric. more

#13 National Archives

#13 in Washington D.C.

A treasure trove of the United States' founding documents, the National Archives are high on travelers' to-do lists and almost always have long lines to get in. But once you do get inside, you'll see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, along with one of the surviving copies of the Magna Carta and the Emancipation Proclamation. Other interactive and kid-friendly exhibits fill the museum, which is located off the Archives/Navy Memorial Metro station on the Green and Yellow lines. more
Museums Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
National Archives
A treasure trove of the United States' founding documents, the National Archives are high on travelers' to-do lists and almost always have long lines to get in. But once you do get inside, you'll see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, along with one of the surviving copies of the Magna Carta and the Emancipation Proclamation. Other interactive and kid-friendly exhibits fill the museum, which is located off the Archives/Navy Memorial Metro station on the Green and Yellow lines. more

#14 National Zoo

#14 in Washington D.C.

Approximately 2,000 animals call the 163-acre National Zoo home, from Asian elephants to great apes to sea lions. While here, don't miss your chance to meet the zoo's most popular resident, a baby panda named Bao Bao who was born on Aug. 23, 2013. Also, be sure to look up every now and then as you stroll beneath the Orangutan Transport System (called the O Line): Chances are you'll spot orangutans swinging along cables between eight steel towers. Or, if you're more intrigued by the exotic animals native to South America, head over the to the 15,000-square-foot Amazonia exhibit, home to creatures like titi monkeys and silver-beaked tanagers. more
Zoos and Aquariums Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
National Zoo
Approximately 2,000 animals call the 163-acre National Zoo home, from Asian elephants to great apes to sea lions. While here, don't miss your chance to meet the zoo's most popular resident, a baby panda named Bao Bao who was born on Aug. 23, 2013. Also, be sure to look up every now and then as you stroll beneath the Orangutan Transport System (called the O Line): Chances are you'll spot orangutans swinging along cables between eight steel towers. Or, if you're more intrigued by the exotic animals native to South America, head over the to the 15,000-square-foot Amazonia exhibit, home to creatures like titi monkeys and silver-beaked tanagers. more

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