Hey, guys! There is so much to see in Washington, D.C. It can easily be overwhelming. Don’t despair…I’m here to help! I have lived in Washington D.C. two different times in my life, and my husband graduated from George Washington University in the heart of D.C. To say we have experience in our nation’s capital is an understatement! Below is our list of the top 10 attractions in Washington D.C. These top attractions are not in any particular order but definitely should be on everyone’s list, especially first-time visitors!
Top 10 Places to Visit
United States Capitol Building – (First St NE, Washington, D.C.)
The iconic building of American democracy is the epitome of everything our nation’s capital stands for. There is a large underground visitors complex which allows you to reserve tickets prior to your arrival (www.tours.visitthecapitol.gov) and offers a great museum on the history of the building, gift shops, and a great cafeteria (there is also a tunnel to take you across the street to the Library of Congress). The exhibition hall is the center of the visitors complex with many of the 50 states represented by two statues, the check-in desk, and an exact plaster replica of the Statue of Freedom (the lady on top of the Rotunda (the dome)). The tour is amazing and starts with a short but sensational video of America, freedom, and the U.S. Congress. The tour continues by giving each person in your tour group a speaker headset and then takes you through Statutory Hall, the Old U.S. Supreme Court Chamber, the Rotunda, and the Speaker of the House’s office.
United States Supreme Court – (One First Street, NE, Washington, D.C.)
The Supreme Court of the United States, or SCOTUS, is a wonderful and symbolic structure. As a soon to be lawyer, this is my personal favorite attraction in Washington D.C. In addition to the main courtroom, there are historical exhibits all over both floors of the building. The main attraction, the courtroom, is the location of the bench for the nine Supreme Court Justices who preside over historical and profound cases which have had significant impacts on the growth and future of our great country. Since this building is an active courthouse, there can be occasions where some sections can be closed off to the public.
National Mall – (Washington, D.C.)
From the U.S. Capitol Building down two miles to the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall is called America’s backyard. Besides connecting two unique landmarks, there are nine Smithsonian Museums, the Washington Monument, the White House, the Ellipse and the National Christmas Tree, the World War II Memorial, Vietnam Wall, Korean War Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Smithsonian Castle, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, the Constitutional Gardens and the monument to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence, and the Botanical Gardens.
There is plenty of space to relax while walking between any two locations in Washington, D.C. There is also the Tidal Basin Paddle Boats to enjoy the Tidal Basin and the Japanese Cherry Blossoms. There are plenty of food trucks, snacks locations, restrooms and multiple metro locations between the White House, Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol Building.
White House – (1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW)
If you are wanting to get tickets for a tour of the White House, you must go through your congressional representative or Senator’s office (www.congress.gov, look by zip code or state) to make a reservation for a White House visit. It is important to pay attention to what you can bring on the tour and the information needed to get cleared for entrance into the White House. You will need at least 3 months before your visit to make the request and have some flexibility in your visit dates until confirmed by your representative’s office. You’ll also get a glimpse of the U.S. Treasury Building, the Eisenhower Old Executive Office Building, and Lafayette Park all of which have historical significance and are wonderful additions to any tourist excursion on your walk to the White House.
Arlington National Cemetery – (1 Memorial Ave, Fort Myer, VA)
The cemetery is an amazing place to visit to honor our fallen service members and heroes. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is the focal point of the sacrifice illustrated by the 400,000 burials at Arlington. The Changing of the Guard occurs every half-hour during the summer and on the hour during the winter.
Near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is the Memorial Amphitheater, an astounding reflection place where large events occur such as the Memorial Day and Veterans Day honors ceremonies.
Right outside the amphitheater are the memorials for the two Space Shuttle crews and the Iran Rescue Mission Memorial, and the memorial and mast from the U.S.S. Maine. In addition, one of the secrets of Arlington Cemetery is the 9/11 Pentagon Group Burial Marker which is located about 0.9 miles from the Welcome Center. North of the main road into the cemetery is John F. Kennedy’s gravesite (along with other Kennedy family members) and the Arlington House Museum, Robert E. Lee’s house prior to the Civil War.
While you’re here, to the north of the cemetery is the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial) which is amazing to see up close and personal; it also offers amazing views of Washington D.C. and the National Mall…and to the south is the U.S. Air Force Memorial, which is a bit more tricky to get to (the easiest way is to hop on the metro at Arlington Cemetery and get off at the next stop, the Pentagon, and walk for 1 mile following signs to the AF memorial).
Download the “ANC Explorer” app to help direct you to these locations. If you visit Arlington near Christmas time, you can participate in the Wreaths Across America event where volunteers lay thousands of wreaths on the graves of our nation’s heroes.
National Museum of American History – (1300 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, D.C.)
If you only have a limited time to explore museums after all the outdoor walking, the National Museum of American History is the place!! The original Star-Spangled Banner is located here along with historical items from the War of 1812. “The Price of Freedom: Americans at War” exhibit is the best exhibition on the history of the U.S. military, the sacrifices of men and women from the French and Indian War, through the American Revolution, Civil War, both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam Wars, the Cold War and the War on Terrorism (with a piece of the World Trade Center and a uniform and artifacts from Iraq and Afghanistan), ending with a unique setup on the Medal of Honor with storyboards of every winner.
The American Presidency and the First Ladies of America are remarkable exhibits on the history and significance of our White House’s occupants, including Abraham Lincoln’s top hat and all the first ladies’ dresses.
The Gunboat Philadelphia offers great historical insight into naval warfare.
Library of Congress – (101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, D.C.)
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world with millions and millions of books, pictures, maps, and newspapers. The complex is made up of three buildings, but the original building is the primary visiting location. The building’s architecture, paintings, and exhibits are phenomenal. There is so much to see and there are always rotating exhibitions as well. The view of the main research room is awesome and reminiscent of the movie “National Treasure”. There are also great shots of the U.S. Capitol Building and the National Mall from the West side of the building’s windows.
The tunnel connecting the U.S. Capitol Building visitors complex is a neat addition, especially in the winter.
Newseum – (555 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, D.C.)
The only downside to this museum is there is an entry fee…however, it is totally worth it. The location is great, and the content is absolutely worth the time. The outside of the building starts with a jumbo-sized print of the First Amendment along with daily headlines from newspapers from every state as well as a few overseas locations. Some of the exhibits include a cell tower from the World Trade Center, a news helicopter, presidents and the media, rotating exhibits, and the gem is the room filled with newspaper front pages from 1000 AD through today…Amazing! The museum is really well done and takes about 3-4 hours to fully immerse in the content. There is a right way to do the museum, take the stairs to the basement, watch the video, see two rotating exhibits, then take the elevator to the sixth floor and work your way down. On the top floor, there is a balcony you can go out onto and get a phenomenal view of the U.S. Capitol Building. The café in the basement is a mix of pay by the pound and ala carte. The gift store is pretty neat too, but several items can be found on Amazon.
National Archives – (700 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, D.C.)
The National Archives is definitely a must see place. The building’s rotunda houses the most amazing documents in the world, from the Declaration of Independence to four pages of the U.S. Constitution, and the original Bill of Rights. In the permanent exhibits, you can see the original 1215 Magna Carta, and the Public Vaults showcasing original recordings, letters, and documents related to immigration, censuses, Native Americans, patents and copyrights, and how the National Archives works across the country. I recommend you get online at the rotunda first and then explore the rest of the Archives. I’ve visited several times and spent about 90 minutes to two hours each time.
Union Station – (50 Massachusetts Ave, NE, Washington, D.C.)
The architecture of this train station is amazing. It is currently the main station for Washington, D.C. to catch Amtrak both north and south, the Maryland MARC commuter train and the Red Line of the Metro subway. The entrance promenade is exquisite with antiques and statues, huge ceilings and a center restaurant/bar. There are dozens of places to eat and shop here as well, so you need to stop here when you’re hungry. It is within a two-block walk from the U.S. Capitol Building, U.S. Supreme Court, and the National Gallery of Art on the National Mall.
Some of the other hot spots are Georgetown for shopping and dinner, and one of the only original canals left in the country, the C&O Canal; the Old Post Office (which is also the Trump hotel) allows for pretty amazing city views in the clock tower, which is still operated by the National Park Service; the National Zoo is a perfect sanctuary in the middle of the city and has great exhibits including several pandas; Nationals Park to see the Washington Nationals play in a fantastic stadium (check out my Washington National’s blog post here) and Capitol One Arena where the Washington Capitals (hockey) and Washington Wizards (basketball).
For $15, email me by clicking here to get a personalized step-by-step Visit Guide with transportation methods/options (color-coded for Metro use), visit location time, and food recommendations. Just include a few of your must-sees and length of travel (include days of the week you are planning to travel).
Hope you enjoy your visit to the Nation’s Capital!