8 (Not so Touristy) Things To Do in Washington DC
Washington DC is a great city to visit. There are so many things to do in Washington DC that it should take you a very long time to get bored in this city, no matter what your interests are.
My husband works with a team in DC, so he gets to travel there quite frequently and lucky me, I sometimes can join him on his trips. So I have had the chance to explore Washington a bit deeper and would love to share some of my favorite not so touristy things to do in Washington DC with you.
Washington is an absolute foodie destination. You can literally eat your way around the world and I have done so. Try new cuisines from any corner of this earth and take your tastebuds on a journey.
I love DC because it is almost a task to find big chain restaurants in the city. Most of the places are privately owned and run independently.
Monuments & Memorials at Night
Visiting the monuments is a must-do for any tourist in Washington DC. But for me, they are even more magnificent during the night and strolling around and seeing them lid up is one of my favorite things to do in Washington DC. There are fewer tourists and you get to see them all lid up. You can book an organized tour that shuttles you around and you can hop on and hop off.
On my most recent visit, the husband and I just took an Uber from the hotel to Lincoln memorial and then walked to the Vietnam and Korean War Memorial, down to the FDR and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and all the way to the World War II Memorial. It is quite a bit of walking, but the weather was nice and it was a nice stroll. We even saw a fox running through the bushes at the Korean War Memorial.
Even if you are not a museum person, you should consider checking out some of the world-class museums in Washington DC. All the Smithsonian Museums are outstanding and you can pick and choose the ones fit your interest. But there are also some private museums that are absolutely worth their money.
A museum or two should definitely be on the list of things to do in Washington DC, when you plan your trip. Here are some of my favorite museums in Washington DC that I visited so far:
- Natural History Museum (great for families)
- Air and Space Museum (another great one for families)
- National Portrait Gallery (for art lovers and to take a rest in the beautiful atrium)
- The Renwick Gallery (changing exhibits)
- National Museum of American History (kind of a must, especially for Americans)
- Smithsonian American Art Museum (art lovers)
- Holocaust Museum (another must in my opinion!)
- International Spy Museum (great for families with kids 7+)
- NEWSEUM (my favorite museum in DC!)
- Check Groupon for local deals to save money and fun things to do in DC
Enjoy the Parks and Gardens of DC
I love to stroll through gardens and look at flowers, take pictures and enjoy nature and after visiting a few museums, I am usually in the mood for some organic matter and I visit one of the Parks and Gardens in DC. Sit on a park bench, watch the people stroll by, and enjoy nature for a bit.
I just discovered the National Arboretum during our last visit to DC and it is definitely one of my favorite things to do in DC. It is a huge park and definitely worth to spend at least half a day there, especially since it is a bit out of the way. Check out my post about my last visit for more details on things to do and some beautiful landscape photos.
US Botanic Garden
The US Botanic Garden is just off the National Mall, in walking distance to the Capitol building. Admission is free, so it if a perfect spot for a little picnic after exploring the Mall and enjoy a little break from all the miles you have been racking up as you explore the city.
Rock Creek Park
Perfect, if you want to feel like you are on a trail somewhere on a National Park, rather than in the US Capitol. Untouched nature, hiking trails and
Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens
I haven’t been to this park, but if you look at the pictures, it looks like a Monet painting come to life. I will definitely have to check this out next time I’m in Washington DC!
You can probably guess from my blog, I love to take photos. And there aren’t many cities in the US that have so many cool photo ops as Washington DC. I recently was invited on a photo tour with Washington Photo Safari and I highly recommend it. They take you around and show you some of the most photogenic places to take pictures at. Here is my full review!
Edit: And because I loved this tour so much, I joined Washington Photo Safari on their National Cathedral Tour. Take a look at these cool photos!
Library of Congress
I love books. I love reading them, smelling them, touching them. So libraries are kind of my candy store. My eyes light up and I have to control myself to not jump up and down like a little nerdy kid on a sugar rush. One of the most beautiful Libraries I have ever been at is the Library of Congress. Extra points for the underground tunnel that connects it to the Capitol. How sweet is that?
Kramer Books and Pub
And more fun stuff for book lovers. Kramer Books and the attached Craft Beer Pub is a must, when you are near Dupont Circle. Even if you are not, go there and check it out. They have a HUGE Travel Book selection, so I was lost for hours, staring at the shelves and daydreaming that I would find my own travel book there one day. Oh, and did I mention they have a Craft Beer Pub INSIDE the book shop? Suddenly, Barnes and Nobles with their Starbucks seem kinda boring, now, doesn’t it?
This is the place I come back to over and over again and if I were to move to Washington DC, this would turn into my local hangout spot a la Central Perk.
The husband and I love beer and even make it at home. So when we travel, we always try to fit in a brewery tour or two, a craft beer tasting or some other beer related activity. First, we thought about doing an organized beer tour, but in the end, we decided to just go off on our own.
Here are the Breweries we visited in Washington DC and Virginia:
Port City Brewing 3950 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22304
Brau Brewery Tour 3178 Bladensburg Rd NE, Washington, DC 20018
Atlas Brewery Tours 2052 West Virginia Ave NE #102, Washington, DC 20002
We did a tour of Port City Brewing on Friday night at 6 and then Brau and Atlas on Saturday afternoon. Those two are in the same neighborhood and also close to the Arboretum, so you could check those three things off your list of best things to do in Washington DC in one day. Beer and Blooms, sounds like a perfect day to me, doesn’t it?
How to Get to DC?
For cheap flights to Washington DC, check out Skyscanner! I’ve saved so much on airfare since I use this site as my go-to flight search engine!
Where to Stay in Washington DC?
I love staying at Kimpton Hotels in Washington DC: Kimpton Rouge Hotel and the Kimpton Topaz Hotel are both just off of Dupont Circle and an excellent base to explore DC. If you want to explore the Northeast of DC, like the National Cathedral or Georgetown, check out the Kimpton Glover Park Hotel.
What are your favorite things to do in Washington DC?
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Great article. I love this town. I lived not very far from it for 2 years so it is nice to see your pictures and find some nice places to discover!
I’ll be visiting Washington DC soon and these tips were great. I brewery tours look like a lot of fun.
Great list. Certainly bookmarking for any visit to D.C.
What a cool post! I grew up with DC as our field trip town, so I got to go to the zoo and the Smithsonian museums a lot.
I love the foodie mention because it’s so true. I’ve always wanted to do a crabfest event there! Monuments at night for sure and I just love the parks. It’s definitely a city that can feel very imposing, but walk into a garden or park and feel miles away!
Have you ever done Passport DC where they open all the embassies? It’s amazing!
Great suggestions 🙂 We highly recommend Founding Farmers for dinner next time you are in DC!
I love the museums, but the NEWSEUM is not my fav. It WAS until I visited the postal museum which is right next to Union Station. Have u been?
About the food, whenever I try to eat pizza there, it makes me wish I was in NYC. However, on my last trip, I went to Thip Khao for Lao Cuisine and I would make a special trip just to have that again.
I’m fortunate to have family within an hour, so I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years. It’s probably my 3rd fav city. Check this out https://www.facebook.com/brianmayroam/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1718788511740506
Thank you for sharing – great post! I have always loved DC every time I got to visit. And you’re right about the food – it’s soooooo good! 🙂
My uncle lives in Washington, DC and my family plans on visiting soon. This got me really stoked! I’m a huge museum nerd, and it looks like they have a lot. I’m in heaven 🙂
Great post. Thanks for sharing! xx
It’s always a pleausure to read your articles about travel. Great pictures too. I wish your dream about publishing your travel book comes true.
We lived in Washington DC for several years and really loved it. Our kids were small then but I would love to take them back to see it now.
Great suggestions! We stopped at a few of these spots when we were in DC–I have to say the monuments at night were my favorite! It was such a different and unique perspective to see them all lit up! I’d love to check out a brewery next time–always fun to try the local brew!
Now I need to go back and visit that library. I wasn’t able to visit this side of DC due to limited time. Now i have a reason to go back and its that library! Thanks for sharing this
You convinced me with Book & Beers, and after a few hours reading, a brewery tour sounds like fun too!!
Great guide to Washington DC, attractions and things to do for all type of traveller and tastes.
I really loved my time in DC – especially the monuments tour at night – everything lit up looks so pretty – and there are enough museums there to satisfy my yearly quota in a couple of days! I missed Rock Creek Park and the Aquatic Gardens – and the Brewery Tour has rocketed to the top of my list for next time I’m there! Thanks for the inspiration!
I still have to visit Washington. And yes, it is definitely on my list – such a beautiful city!
Great suggestions. I grew up near DC, but we always visited when family came to town, and so we always did the touristy stuff. Last time we were in town, we did a night tour of the monuments, which was fabulous. I’d love to explore more of Dupont Circle.
I have to say DC has never been high on my list of places to visit, but it certainly looks like there’s a lot to do there! I’m sure if I went I’d actually love it!
Since I’ve never been to Washington, I want to see the main sights plus all the ones you mention. The Library of Congress looks so incredible – your photos are inspiring.
I had no idea DC had so much to offer other than the usual monuments! Its great that most restaurants are owned independently. Wouldn’t mind giving the spy museum a try!
I’ve been to DC a bunch of times, and like you said, you can never get bored! I have yet to see the monuments lit up at night though, so I will definitely try to do that next time around.
Some great suggestions….I really enjoyed the tour of the Kennedy Center as well — many folks don’t know about that one, or the free afternoon/early evening concerts in the lobby. Definitely a don’t miss on my list!
I know it’s terrible but I have never been. I know when I do visit I could spend at least a week checking everything out, especially the museums. I have heard people say th Smithsonian with all its museums takes a week.
I grew up near DC and this is a perfect list of things to do while visiting!
I have missed out every time a DC trip has come up on my radar. I really need to make it happen soon. Definitely going to check out your recommendations when I do it 🙂