Washington, DC

Top 10 things to do in Washington DC

Top Ten Things to Do in Washington, DC
It’s no denying that America’s capital city is renowned for its array of iconic monuments and memorials and political significance. But the city is also highly regarded for its position within the arts and cultural spaces – featuring 17 museums and galleries including the National Zoo within the Smithsonian Institution, where visitors can enjoy free access to captivating exhibits across the city. From considerable areas of greenery to the eclectic mix of characterful neighbourhoods, Washington, DC is an incredible city and here is our guide to its highlights.  

#10 Grab a Half-Smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl

Eating at Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street comes highly recommended by the American Sky team, as well as being a favourite of none other than former president, Barack Obama. Husband and wife team Ben and Virginia Ali set up this DC institution in 1958 and after six decades, it continues to live on as a must-visit restaurant. Having been told through the years "never change this place" they have stuck to this, with original counter, booths and stools, and the fresh homemade chili, half smokes, and banana pudding still made with love and the same recipes.  

With 800 to 1000 sold a day, the half-smoke is the big draw, but what is it? This DC specialty hot dog can be found all around the city, but at Ben's you will enjoy it like nowhere else. The quarter-pound sausage made from an equal blend of pork and beef is chargrilled then placed on a steamed bun and topped with mustard, onions and a generous portion of homemade beef chili.

#9 Visit the world’s only voice activated museum at Planet Word

Located downtown in a beautiful 1869 building, Planet Word welcomes visitors free of charge and offers a diverse range of interactive exhibits that bring everyday language to life. Here, you can browse a magical library filled with literary secrets, try out your public speaking skills, use words to transform the colours of the room, and discover the comedians among your companions in the humour gallery. , In the “I’m Sold!” gallery you can create your own advert and see how advertisers use language to entice and persuade.

#8 See a show at the Kennedy Center
The Kennedy Center is a memorial and standing tribute to President John F. Kennedy, showcasing the greatest performances from around the world. As well as live shows, a new exhibit has recently opened at the Kennedy Center to rave reviews, which highlights President and Jackie Kennedy's appreciation and support for the performing arts. The center is made up of six concert halls and theatres, plus the Millenium Stage which offers free daily performances. Its programme includes artists and groups from across the USA, international artists, an Artist-in-Residence programme and a local dance commissioning project. Additionally, The REACH is a living theatre and cultural destination that can’t be missed on a visit to the Kennedy Centre.

#7 Come face to face with spymasters at The International Spy Museum

The Spy Museum is where fiction transforms into fact with  a fascinating and entertaining homage to all things espionage. Located between the National Mall and DC’s newest waterfront, The Wharf, the museum houses a vast collection of over 10,000 artefacts detailing the history of spying from ancient Greece to modern day. Interactive exhibitions and installations spread throughout the museum keep visitors immersed in the world of spying, along with captivating first-person accounts from top intelligence officers and experts. Visitors can also test their skills by participating in the Undercover Mission, an experience included with admission that allows visitors to take on a secret identity and put their spy skills to the test. A really unique experience, and well worth a visit.

#6 Visit one of the 16 free Smithsonian Museums

There can be few organisations throughout the world that are able to offer such a wealth of information and fascinating attractions for absolutely no cost, and if you’re looking for an affordable day out then the Smithsonian museums and galleries offer just that.  

Perhaps the most popular is the National Museum of Natural History, which holds the world's most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artefacts, including the remains of dinosaurs and tools used by early man. It’s a vast, fascinating place and you could spend all day here, but we recommend setting aside a couple of hours before heading to check out another museum within the Smithsonian collection

The newest addition is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, housed in a stunning state-of-the-art building on the National Mall - offering exhibits on African-American arts and culture, as well as history of the Civil Rights Movement and key events. Out of the 3,500 artefacts on view, there are a few exhibits we recommend you head straight for – including a shawl given to Harriet Tubman by Queen Victoria, the training aircraft used by the Tuskegee Institute, an invitation to President Obama’s 2009 inauguration and the boombox owned by Chuck D of Public Enemy.

#5 See a Baseball game at Nationals Park  
Catching a Washington Nationals game is a treat in itself with the thrill of a top baseball game, but there are other attractions that accompany seeing top-flight athletes in action. You can watch the racing presidents - no really…. the stars of Mount Rushmore – Presidents Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt - run against each other in the middle of each fourth inning. The food is another draw, with some claiming that Nationals Park is the best ballpark for food in the MLB. Try out a burger and shake from Shake Shack or you can enjoy a Ben’s half-smoke as they are also sold here. The location is also a big draw, sitting on the Capitol Riverfront with plenty to do before and after games, from kayaking at the Ballpark Boathouse to sampling the drinks from Bluejacket Brewery and vino at District Winery, or treats from Ice Cream Jubilee.

#4 Explore the skies at the newly renovated National Air and Space Museum

The museum boasts an impressive array of exhibits, both in quantity and quality, from  the delicate structures of the early days of flight to the technology of “Destination Moon”, you don’t have to be a plane-spotter to enjoy a few hours in this fabulous museum. We recommend starting your tour with the 1903 Wright Flyer – the Wright brothers first successful powered airplane. Next, explore “The Spirit of St. Louis”, the monoplane famously flown by Charles Lindbergh on the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight from Long Island to Paris in 1927. And don’t miss  the spacesuits worn by astronauts on the Apollo mission and a real-life moon rock. To visit this popular museum, you’ll need to secure a timed-entry pass from the website, although admission remains free of charge.

#3 Take in the history around Georgetown

Step back in time in Georgetown, DC’s oldest neighbourhood, renowned for historic brick and frame row houses, cobblestone streets, and grand estates dating back as early as the mid-1700s. Georgetown is home to some of the city’s top shops, tastiest restaurants and most luxurious hotels, and it's a favourite of tourists and locals alike. And it’s easy to see why: Though M Street may be best known for a wide-ranging retail scene that includes such mainstream crowd-pleasers and exclusive high-end designers, the neighbourhood is also home to a solid selection of upscale home design stores, independent small businesses and many of the city’s best fine art galleries. If shopping’s not your thing, there are plenty of other things to do, too. History buffs can tour stunning historic 18th and 19th-century mansions or see the one-time homes of JFK and Julia Child. Foodies will find locally-owned gems that appeal for a quick bite alongside world-class restaurants perfect for a leisurely dining. Don’t miss Martin’s Tavern - for almost nine decades, visiting guests, future presidents, senators, staffers, and stars have all called Martin’s Tavern their home away from home. It’s even where JFK proposed to Jackie, so stop by for a drink to soak in the history of the neighbourhood.

#2 Gaze upon the Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin during the National Cherry Blossom Festival  

Running for four weeks each year from mid-March to mid-April, The National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC, and celebrates the enduring friendship between the people of these two nations. A series of events celebrate these spectacular blooms in a spectacular way. The Nation’s Springtime Parade is an amazing sight on Constitution Avenue, with elaborate floats, marching bands, celebrity entertainers, and performers in a spectacle of music and showmanship celebrating spring in Washington, DC. Live performances among the blossoms at the Tidal Basin celebrate with a dynamic, cross-cultural mix of American and Japanese. And you can find the best places to admire and photograph the beautiful pink blooms with Bloom Watch and their #BloomCam.

#1 Check out the Washington Monument, the defining feature of DC’s skyline

The Washington Monument sits pride of place on the National Mall and was built to honour George Washington, the United States’ first president. Standing at over 550 feet tall and surrounded by 50 flags to represent each state of America, it’s a truly impressive sight. With sunny weather and clear blue skies, it presents an excellent photo opportunity.

If you fancy a bird’s eye view of Washington, DC grab a free timed ticket online before your visit and hop in the nonstop lift inside the Monument that wil take you 500 feet above ground in just 70 seconds. From the observation deck, you’ll see sprawling views of the city and our two rivers.

Jade Pearson
Call our travel experts now
01342 331798 Call us 9am-7pm Mon-Fri / 9am-5pm Sat-Sun

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Jade Pearson
Call our travel experts now
01342 331798 Call us 9am-7pm Mon-Fri / 9am-5pm Sat-Sun