22 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Washington, D.C.

1. United States Capitol and Capitol Hill

Recognized around the world as a symbol of the United States and the seat of the House of Representatives and the Senate, The Capitol building is a dome that has been a fixture in Washington D.C. since 1826.

This building has been in Washington for over two hundred years and has grown with the city. The last addition to this building, one that enlarged the façade for Presidents of the United States to take the oath, was built between 1958 and 1962. Around this side of the building, you can see beautiful views over the mall and Washington DC.

The rotunda with a domed ceiling is decorated in the grand senate chambers, with statues of historical figures ranging from George Washington to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Old Senate Chamber, which housed the United States Congress until 1859 and then the Supreme Court until 1935, is adjacent to it.

When free tours resume, they can be reserved online and begin at the visitor center on the lower floor. To visit either Senate or House in session, contact your Senator or Representative to arrange a pass. Foreign visitors can apply for tours through the visitor center.

The Supreme Court Building, Library of Congress and Folger Shakespeare Library are all located east of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., in the United States.

You’ll find the Capitol Hill neighborhood stretching south, with Eastern Market, a lively farmers market with craft vendors.

The Capitol is the home of the United States Congress and houses the chambers for both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The dome, which served as inspiration for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, was added to Washington after a few iterations.

Like the capital city, the White House has grown and changed over time. President Washington granted permission to begin construction in 1793, followed by adding on a new wing in 1812. The last addition was done in 1958-1962 and gained much of the public’s attention because it enlarged the façade where presidents take their oaths. On the backside, a marble terrace offers views of the mall and city, while overlooking.

It has paintings, carvings and frescoes, particularly the rotunda under the great cast-iron dome that has a painting by Constantino Brumidi and scenes from American history painted on its walls. Near it is the former Chamber of the House of Representatives, with statues to basically all historical Americans. It leads into the beautifully restored Old Senate Chamber where the Senate met from 1789 until 1859 and then became replaced with a modified design in 1935.

On weekday afternoons, tours can be reserved at the visitor center under the dome. The Senate and House galleries are an interesting part of the building to explore during the museum’s free time hours. Foreign visitors can organize visits through the visitor center.

East of the Capitol is where you’ll find the Supreme Court Building; the Library of Congress; and Folger Shakespeare Library, home of the world’s largest collection of William Shakespeare’s printed works.

The Capitol Hill area has seen a lot of growth with the Eastern Market and its many food vendors as well.

2. The Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial, a favorite of the nation’s, is at the opposite end of the mall from the Washington Monument. There is a 19-foot marble statue of President Abraham Lincoln surrounded by 36 columns and one for each state that existed when he died. Belgian-French sculptor Daniel Chester French designed this memorial. The murals inside show important events in Lincoln’s life, painted by Jules Guerin.

Since its completion in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial has been the scene of a number of historic events. In 1939, when the all-white DAR would not allow celebrated African American singer Marian Anderson to perform at a concert in nearby Constitution Hall, President Franklin Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for her to give an open-air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, with 75,000 people and broadcast to millions of radio listeners.

Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I have a dream…” speech from the steps of the memorial in 1963, and once again changing history here.

Lining up to visit the Washington Monument and other out of the way monuments is an iconic experience in Washington, DC. Most monuments are lit up and many stay open until as late as midnight. The Lincoln Statue becomes an especially powerful sight when lit inside the dimly lit temple and framed by floodlit white columns.

3. National Mall and Veterans Memorials

The wide swath of lawns and pools formed by the Capitol Building to Lincoln Memorial is the site of many of Washington’s landmark buildings and monuments. The Washington Monument is prominent, and there are monuments to veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam.

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, visitors will find a list of all American servicemen and women who lost their lives or are missing. Nearby is the Vietnam Women’s Memorial with a bronze sculpture of three servicewomen helping a wounded soldier. There is also the Korean War Veterans Memorial that contains 19 steel sculptures of soldiers. A newer memorial was dedicated in 2014 – the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.

If you look at a Washington, D.C. map, it’s evident that a lot of the locations are around the National Mall – which is why it’s likely you’ll spend a lot of time there. The Mall provides walking and running as well as picnic areas and it also has celebrations like Independence Day with fireworks around the Washington Monument.

In July, the American Folk Life Center Southern California hosts a festival celebrating regional music, crafts, performances, storytelling, cultural programs, and food. The Smithsonian Kite Festival is held in spring near the end of March or early April.

The US Navy Band typically plays at America’s National Mall on Mondays and Tuesdays and the American Air Force Band performs at their Memorial on Fridays.

Location: Between Constitution Avenue and Independence Avenue, Washington, D.C.

4. The White House

The White House is the official residence of the President of the United States. It was originally built by James Hoban in 1792 and later burned down by British soldiers in 1814. The house was rebuilt in 1818.

The best way to see the White House complex is to reserve a tour through your congressional office or embassy well in advance. These tours come with tours of the East, Blue, Green, and Red Rooms; the Ballroom; and the State Dining Room. Any tourist can see this iconic building from the exterior.

Next to the White House Visitor Centre is a small museum and arts centre that highlights the important themes of democracy in America. The centre includes small models of The White House, videos of past presidents, and information on different White Houses throughout the years.

The Ellipse, a 54-acre stretch of lawn stretching to Constitution Avenue, hosts US Army Band summer concerts. The White House is next door to the 1833 Greek Revival Treasury Building and 1871 Executive Office Building, two of the most striking old government buildings in Washington. From Lafayette Square (one of the city’s best-known), statues of Lafayette and others overlook the White House.

Address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

5. The Washington Monument

The 555-foot-tall white shaft of the Washington Monument is a familiar icon of the National Mall and another beautiful sight, especially reflected in the long Reflecting Pool at its base. The construction of the obelisk to honor the nation’s first president did not happen smoothly. After Congress approved the plan in 1783, it took until 1848 for ground to be broken on construction.

After reaching 156 feet in height, political wrangling and lack of funds delayed the Washington Monument for many years, but the Civil War caused further interruption so that construction on it had to be delayed until 1885. It was finally completed by the Army Corps of Engineers after that.

The Washington Monument consists of three facades that can be seen as the building was being built, with symbols for the states (color changes), locations (inscriptions), and donors. Visitors may enter at the base of the monument and take an elevator to the top for a bird’s eye view of Washington, D.C., including iconic buildings like the Washington National Cathedral and Union Station.

Address: 15th & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

6. National Air and Space Museum

The National Air and Space Museum is one of the most visited museums in the world, with a collection of historical aircraft including the Wright Brothers Flyer and Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the first airplane to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

The latest developments in flight history are represented here through the Apollo 11 command module, the first manned lunar landing mission. Permanent and changing exhibitions illustrate a broad range of science, including World War 2 air power, space pioneers, and up to date technology.

The permanent exhibits include interactive, educational objects like a moon rock that you can actually touch and see. Each exhibit provides history on the subject, as well as how it affects the present day. There are also displays on how flight works, how jet engines work, and what keeps satellites in orbit.

An IMAX theater, planetarium and observation deck are some of the features at the Tower. Flight simulators allow visitors to fly combat missions in aerial maneuvers, or experience naval aviation with an F-18 simulator.

With a new museum full of space exploration artifacts and airplanes, you can watch experts work on restoring hoary aircraft from decades past. This museum also house the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia that houses a famed Concorde and the space shuttle Discovery.

Right now, the Air and Space Museum is undergoing a renovation that will transform the arrangement of 23 galleries, but also the way it interprets the history and science of flight. During renovations, several exhibits are currently closed – so if you’re looking for particular ones, you can find out on their website just how long they’ll be open.

Address: 600 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, D.C.

7. National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art is one of the premier art museums in the world and one of the most popular ones in the United States. These two buildings, connected by a tunnel, are located near each other and are a part of the world’s larger collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts that would later be owned by financier Andrew Mellon.

The Franklin’s impressive permanent collection is a result of many temporary exhibitions featuring artwork from around the world. Highlights include Ginevra de Benci, one of only four Leonardo da Vinci paintings in any American museum, along with major works by French Impressionists – Monet, Degas, and Renoir – and other masterpieces.

Newest model East Wing features sculptures by Henry Moore, mobile by Alexander Calder, and other modern works. Free concerts are held at the National Gallery on Sunday evenings from fall though spring throughout the season.

In addition to the two museums that make up the National Museum of Art, Freer and Sackler houses an archaeological repository. The Smithsonian Institution is home to these two museums that contain Asian artwork. They are also home to a plethora of Chinese jade and bronze, Chinese paintings, lacquerware, and near Eastern ceramics and metal ware.

With more than 30,000 pieces of Asian artwork, the Freer is the most extensive collection in the world. The Freer also features 19th-century and early 20th-century American artwork that includes work by James McNeill Whistler.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden traces artistic history from the mid-1800s to more than 12,000 pieces of art with sculptures by Rodin among them. One of the highlights of the garden is Rodin’s Burghers of Calais.

With thousands of culturally diverse objects in its collection, the National Museum of African Art displays an eclectic array of artifacts demonstrating Africa’s rich cultural heritage. This Smithsonian museum is just one example among many free things to do in Washington, D.C.

Address: 600 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

8. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Near the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum documents, studies, and interprets the history of the Holocaust to commemorate those who died, study genocide so that it is not repeated in future and prevent it.

Permanent exhibitions explore the rise of Nazism and the Aryan ideology, ghettos, key events such as Kristallnacht, concentration camps, and Nazi atrocities. An exhibit on Americans and the Holocaust explores American reaction to Nazis and World War II, and another features personal accounts by US soldiers who witnessed Nazi atrocities.

The museum’s archives have 12,750 artifacts and over 100,000 historical photographs that are extraordinarily rich in the history of human experience. The exhibitions on the site are detailed and offer multiple perspectives on these objects and experiences. A visit to the museum is a sobering experience.

Address: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW, Washington, D.C.

9. Library of Congress

One of the most beautiful libraries in Washington, D.C., is not located on the National Mall but below it. It’s a high-class place with gorgeous historical exhibits that leads from the Capitol Building to one of the city’s lesser-known destinations: The Library of Congress. You can visit and explore on your own for free, but tours open up more of its beautiful interior.

The National Printing Museum features a vast array of resources on topics such as the Gershwin Brothers’ musical careers, the work of editorial cartoonists and graphic artists, the Declaration of Independence drafted by Thomas Jefferson, and more. The museum is packed with in-depth exhibits about interesting people and topics.

Address: Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.

10. National Museum of Natural History

One of the most popular attractions to do with children in Washington DC, is a museum called Museum of Natural History. There are permanent and changing exhibits that can interest all ages. One of my favorite attractions includes the collection of gems and minerals around the Hope Diamond such as diamonds, emeralds and sapphires, but also features displays for wildlife in its entirety including a recreation of a 45-foot long North Atlantic Right Whale underwater.

Visitors of The Hall of Human Origins, which follows human evolution, over six million years in response to a changing world can enjoy the Dinosaur exhibit for children and the interactive Discovery Room where they can touch and play with various artifacts.

Address: Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

11. National Museum of American History

One of the popular Smithsonian museums, the National Museum of American History, traces the political and cultural history of the United States from the Revolution to modern times. It has displays spanning important pieces of Americana like Thomas Jefferson’s desk, one of Edison’s light bulbs, and the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner”.

Aspects of people’s lives were addressed from the beginning to the end, including how they ate, where they worked, how they played, what they wore, how they traveled and how they governed themselves.

The Smithsonian features everything from gowns, First Ladies’ artwork, and Julia Child’s complete kitchen to the Muppets and the actual ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in the film Wizard of Oz. With so much to do in Washington D.C., you might think your family has seen enough history. But this engaging museum houses some fascinating exhibits and artifacts of our collective past that will appeal to every age.

Address: 14th Street NW at Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

12. National Museum of African American History and Culture

It’s part of the Smithsonian museums to cover the world, including an African American emphasis. Ideas of America are reflected as well to highlight citizenship, equality, and African American culture regarding history, culture, and community.

Many themes are covered from various exhibits such as African food traditions, influential sports figures and segregation.

At the museum, visitors can see artifacts such as a section of the original Woolworth lunch counter where the sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina took place in 1960, and “The Spirit of Tuskegee”– an aircraft used to train African American aviators during World War II.

Address: National Mall at Constitution Avenue, N.W., between 12th and 14th Streets

13. Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin

The Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin with cherry blossoms in full bloom.

The design of the domed white memorial to Thomas Jefferson is based on the Roman Pantheon, with its low dome supported by 54 Ionic columns. The inside of this memorial can be seen in a dramatic silhouette through the columns, as 19 feet tall statue of an uncharacteristically standing Jefferson can be seen peeking out behind. Around are engraved excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and other writings.

The cherry trees are a special attraction that get lots of attention in Washington when they bloom each spring. The Tidal Pool reflects the rainbow colors, and it creates a soothing experience around the edge of the water.

At the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Tidal Basin allows for a view of the United States’ history with one outdoor room dedicated to each decade of FDR’s 12-year term as president. The 30-foot-high Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was unveiled in 2011 and is the newest on the Tidal Basin.

Address: 900 Ohio Drive SW, Washington, D.C.

14. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Opened in 1971 and named in honor of John F. Kennedy, the National Center for the performing arts overlooks the Potomac River and is housed in a state-of-the-art building designed by architect Edward Durell Stone. It has national symphony orchestra as well as opera companies such as the Washington National Opera.

The Cultural Center boasts 2,200 performances each year, 400 of which are free. It has music and theater from all genres, both classical and contemporary.

The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. is one of the three most important venues in the United States and a major stop for visiting overseas opera, dance, and drama companies touring through the United States.

Address: 2700 F Street NW, Washington, D.C.

15. National Zoological Park

The National Zoo is another part of the Smithsonian, where nearly 2,000 different animals, birds, and reptiles live in habitats replicating as closely as possible their natural environments. Of the several hundred species represented here, about a quarter are endangered. This is one of the world’s best zoos because of its leadership in areas of animal care and sustainability.

Few people are surprised to learn that the most popular animals here are giant pandas. A major initiative in Canada began when Hsing Hsing, a giant panda, made his arrival from China in 1972. Other zoo highlights include Sumatran tigers, red pandas, western lowland gorillas, Asian elephants, cheetahs, North Island brown kiwis and white-naped cranes.

In the Amazonia exhibit, visitors can see colored fish swim through a lush underwater forest.

Along with the cheetahs at the Cheetah Conservation Station, you can see Grevy’s zebras, dama gazelles, vultures, and red river hogs, and at the highly popular Elephant Trails, you can see the multigenerational herd and learn about the elephants’ life at the zoo and in the wild.

Address: 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

16. National Archives

This website holds permanent records of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, District of Columbia courts, as well as some federal agencies and military service records for U.S. Army veterans and Confederate vets before World War I and pre-1940 ship and station logbooks for the US Navy.

The documents are open to researchers, and in the Rotunda you can see the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. The exhibition galleries feature a 1297 Magna Carta and a changing group of other historically significant documents. An exhibit, Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote, includes documents from the suffrage movement, and in other areas are interactive exhibits and hands-on activities for all ages.

Address: 701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

17. International Spy Museum

The James Bond Museum delivers a fun, immersive experience for 007 wannabes. From spy technology to graphic props and animation, you can learn about the history of espionage through interactive exhibits and real examples from declassified KGB’s with poison dart umbrella s.

The spy museum features extensive information and exhibits on the strategies and methods of espionage, including a wide range of historic artifacts through the Revolutionary and Civil War periods. There are also displays on concealment and disguises, even the world-famous Enigma cipher machine that cracked Nazi codes during World War II.

It houses the weapons, props, and videos of real life spies, which leads to a timeline of how they were caught. There is information that leads up to movies like James Bond as well as actual artifacts found. The lower floor discusses all types of technology used in spy movies.

Highlighting these is the Aston Martin DB5 that first appeared in the 1964 film Goldfinger, equipped with machine guns, oil jets, a dashboard radar screen, and ejector seat. The car actually inspired intelligence agencies to add similar features to their own vehicles.

Address: 700 L’Enfant Plaza, SW; Washington, D.C.

18. Arlington National Cemetery

On the hillside overlooking the city from across the Potomac River and Arlington National Cemetery, there are monuments to American history and those who were part of it. The most famous is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, JFK’s grave site, and a monument depicting the United States Marine Corps raising the flag on Iwo Jima at World War II. The Welcome Center features maps and exhibits to show visitors where various gravesites are located.

Among these are memorials to nurses, rescue mission casualties, groups, and individuals. There are ones for Lt Cmdr Roger B. Chaffee and Lt Col Grissom killed in a fire aboard their Apollo spacecraft, the seven Challenger astronauts and more.

Every hour on the hour, October 1 to March 31, and every half hour April 1 to September 30, the guard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is changed. The cemetery is not near the center of Washington D.C., so the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metrorail system and Metrobus have stops close by access at Union Station.

19. Washington National Cathedral

WASHINGTON – AUGUST 23: The Washington National Cathedral is seen on August 23, 2011 in Washington, DC. According to reports the church suffered minor damage to several spires. The epicenter of the 5.8 earthquake was located in near Louisa in central Virginia. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

One of the world’s largest cathedrals took 83 years to build, from 1907 to 1990. The cathedral follows the Gothic architecture style and techniques, with flying buttresses, Indiana limestone construction and decorative details for you to see throughout it.

Special tours, reserved in advance, exploring fun and historic parts of the building. Children can enjoy a scavenger hunt. You’ll most likely find a gargoyle of Darth Vader up high on the northwest tower!

Washington, D.C.’s most visited landmark, the National Cathedral has buried two U.S. presidents and hosted state funerals for three other Presidents Reagan, Eisenhower, and Ford. The top of the 300-foot central tower is Washington’s highest point

The Bishop’s Garden includes plants from medieval gardens, plants mentioned in the Bible, and others native to the area. The 59-acre Cathedral Close is an urban oasis modeled on the walled grounds of medieval cathedrals.

Carillon recitals are held every Saturday at 12:30pm and the bells rings on Tuesday evenings from 7 to 9pm and after Sunday services. On Mondays and Wednesdays at 12:30pm, a cathedral organist discusses the Great Organ here and then a shorter recital performed by a mini-organ player follows.

Address: Massachusetts & Wisconsin Avenues NW, Washington, D.C.

20. Georgetown Historic District

The neighborhood from 27th to 37th Streets, between Rock Creek Park and K Street NW, has the oldest roots in Washington. Georgetown University is also located here.

Georgetown is an attractive and popular tourist destination. Its historic houses, boutique shops and cafés, museums and parks offer a chance to relax from busy activities at other places in Washington DC. Visitors can also enjoy walking along the C&O Canal or riding their bicycles along the towpath.

Dumbarton Oaks is an estate with formal gardens and valuable art collections of Byzantine and Christian objects. The Federal period Dumbarton House features federal-style furniture, paintings, textiles, silver, and ceramics. It is home to one of five known originals of the Articles of Confederation.

Tudor Place is an early 19th-century mansion built by Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Martha Custis Peter, and her husband. Items from George and Martha Washington’s Mount Vernon home are shown here, and the Federal-period gardens contain plants and trees from the early 19th century. The Kreeger Museum displays a wide collection of art from the 1850s to the 1970s including paintings by Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Chagall, Gauguin, and Picasso.

If you’re looking for places to eat in Washington or things to do at night, this is one of the most convenient places. There are restaurants and cafes surrounding the area, along with live music venues.

21. Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery

With works ranging from colonial era to present, the Smithsonian American Art Museum is one of the world’s largest and most inclusive collections of American art.

The collection is composed of over 200 influential African American artists and collections of Latinex works on view. The museum also features an impressive range of contemporary American craft and folk arts to appreciate.

The National Portrait Gallery is composed of portraits of important figures from early American history to present day, including a collection of presidential portraits that are not in the White House’s possession.

Address: 8th and G Streets NW, Washington, D.C.

22. U.S. Botanic Garden

The U.S. Botanic Garden is the home of a museum that shows the diversity of plants and offers different environments, from the tropical to the north east. The garden is surrounded by many different types of gardens with many uses for plants in different regions across North America.

The greenhouse is a gorgeous, two-tiered, 10-room garden. Some of the garden rooms include a pollinator garden, rose garden, kitchen garden and water garden. All areas are well lit and there’s always something blooming since flowers grow all around.

Address: 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C.

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