Best places to visit in Washington: top attractions you don't want to miss

Explore the 20 best places to visit in Washington for awe-inspiring monuments, vibrant neighborhoods, and iconic museums.

Immerse yourself in Washington to explore the complex tapestry of American history and its incredible influence on the world.

The bustling US capital is home to world-class museums, iconic American landmarks, and breathtaking natural attractions.

From sights like the soaring Washington Monument to the Smithsonian's treasure-filled collections, each experience paints a vivid image of Washington's splendid past and America's dynamic present.

Delve deeper into US history at the National Museum of African American History and National Museum of the American Indian. Hunt for ghosts in the streets of pre-colonial Georgetown.

When you’re ready to take a breath, feel tranquility in the US Botanical Garden.

Whether you're viewing top art museums or looking for what makes modern Washington tick as you explore Dupont Circle, you'll find the top attractions in this guide to the best places to visit in Washington.

Best places to visit in Washington for history

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1. Explore the storied corridors of power at the White House

Step into the heart of American political power at the White House, one of the most iconic buildings in the world. Learn about the fascinating history of this executive mansion, dating back to 1800 and designed by the Irish-born architect James Hoban.

Highlights:

On a Washington DC: National Mall Tour by Electric Vehicle, marvel at the architecture of this world-famous building.

Address and opening hours:

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500, United States. Public tours are available Tuesday-Saturday 8:00 AM-12:30 PM.

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2. Soar above the capital at the Washington Monument

Embark on a journey into the sky on a sightseeing tour of the Washington Monument, a celebrated symbol of the nation's capital. At 555 feet, it's the tallest structure in Washington, providing unparalleled views of the city's top attractions. Constructed to honor George Washington, it's an enduring tribute to America's first President.

Highlights:

Enjoy a unique perspective of the city from the Washington Monument on a Guided National Mall and Monuments Walking Tour.

Address and opening hours:

2 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20024, United States. Open daily 9:00 AM-5:00 PM.

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3. Stand in awe at the Lincoln Memorial

Reflect on history at the Lincoln Memorial, a majestic monument honoring America's 16th president. Built in the Greek Doric temple style, it houses a larger-than-life statue of Abraham Lincoln, etched with deep wisdom and eternal resilience.

Highlights:

On the Washington DC: Monuments and Memorials Bike Tour, pay close attention to Lincoln's statue; his hands seem to subtly be signing the President's initials, A and L.

Address:

451 Indiana Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001, United States.

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4. Discover the seat of democracy at the US Capitol

Uncover the stories of the lawmakers who authored US history, from underneath the Capitol’s legendary dome. The US Capitol is one of Washington’s can’t miss attractions, a testament to democracy visible from any angle in the city.

Highlights:

As part of the Washington DC: Capitol Hill and Library of Congress Tour, your expert guide will illuminate the grandeur of the US Capitol.

Address and opening hours:

E Capitol St. and 1st St. NE Washington, DC 20004, United States. Open Monday-Saturday 8:30 AM-4:30 PM.

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5. Uncover the past at the National Archives Museum

Experience the living legacy of American democracy at the National Archives Museum. Encounter the foundational texts that laid the groundwork for the United States including The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Uncover the struggles and triumphs encoded in the ink and parchment of these priceless documents.

Highlights:

The National Archives Guided Museum Tour includes the Rubenstein Gallery, where you can marvel at the Magna Carta of 1297.

Address and opening hours:

701 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20408, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:30 PM.

Best places to visit in Washington for art

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6. Immerse yourself in world-renowned masterpieces at the National Gallery of Art

Take an artistic journey at the National Gallery of Art. Known for its astounding collections, it boasts a fascinating array of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts.

Highlights:

On the Washington DC: National Gallery of Art Guided Museum Tour, discover the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the US, the enigmatic portrait of Ginevra de' Benci.

Address and opening hours:

Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20565, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:00 PM.

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7. Witness the face of America at the National Portrait Gallery

Explore the National Portrait Gallery, a treasure trove of visual biography, where art and history intertwine. This renowned museum houses portraits of significant American historical and cultural figures, and tells the story of their contributions to the nation.

Highlights:

On the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum Guided Tour, uncover the fascinating lives of the Robber Barons and Suffragettes of the early 20th Century.

Address and opening hours:

8th St NW and G St NW, Washington, DC 20001, United States. Open daily 11:30 AM-7:00 PM.

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8. Embark on a historical journey at the Smithsonian American Art Museum

As one of the oldest and most extensive collections of American art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum represents the diverse cultural heritage of the United States. Its artworks reflect the evolution of American art from its beginning.

Highlights:

On the Smithsonian American Art Museum Private Tour, uncover the Experience America exhibit, which encapsulates the landscape, people, hardships, and hopes of the tumultuous 1930s.

Address and opening hours:

G Street Northwest and 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, United States. Open daily 11:30 AM-7:00 PM.

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9. Discover modern masterpieces at The Phillips Collection

The Phillips Collection, considered America's first museum of modern art, houses an extraordinary impressionist and abstract art collection. View works by famous artists like Renoir and Rothko in the intimacy of a domestic setting. The museum provides an evolving dialogue between established and emerging artists.

Highlights:

An outstanding feature of The Phillips Collection is the Rothko Room, a small space displaying four paintings by the influential abstract expressionist Mark Rothko.

Address and opening hours:

1600 21st St NW, Washington, DC 20009, United States. Open Tuesday-Sunday 11:00 AM-6:00 PM.

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10. Experience the future of art at ARTECHOUSE DC

At ARTECHOUSE DC, technology and art converge to provide an innovative, immersive experience. The space pushes the boundaries of art, allowing visitors to engage with installations and exhibits in new, interactive ways.

Highlights:

The ARTECHOUSE entry ticket promises a fascinating journey into extended reality, revealing how art comes alive through technology, all accompanied by cocktails from the XR Bar.

Address and opening hours:

1238 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-10:00 PM.

Best places to visit in Washington for families

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11. Fly through history at the Smithsonian National Museum of Air and Space

Venture into the exciting world of aviation and space exploration at the Smithsonian National Museum of Air and Space, one of Washington's most popular tourist attractions. This dynamic museum offers a thrilling journey through the history of flight, from the earliest aircraft to the latest space technology.

Highlights:

On a  guided tour of the museum, you'll get a unique opportunity to explore a model of the International Space Station.

Address and opening hours:

600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:30 PM.

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12. Step into the wild at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Discover the magic of wildlife at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, where nature and conservation come together. Home to over 2,700 animals, the zoo has set a global standard for its commitment to research, education, and wildlife conservation.

Highlights:

Marvel at the Aldabra Tortoises, the largest in the world. During special presentations by zoo staff, you'll even get to touch the shells of these magnificent creatures.

Address and opening hours:

3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States. Open daily 8:00 AM-6:00 PM.

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13. Marvel at nature's palette in the US Botanic Garden

Explore the US Botanic Garden, a peaceful refuge in the heart of the city. Known for its vibrant collections of plants from around the world, it has been a source of delight for city dwellers and plant lovers since 1820.

Highlights:

A memorable experience awaits in the Butterfly Garden, a paradise of colorful butterflies, where you can also learn how to attract these fluttering beauties to your garden.

Address and opening hours:

100 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, DC 20001, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:00 PM.

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14. Stroll through history at the National Mall

Embark on a historic tour across the National Mall, a symbol of national unity and pride. This grand, open park is lined with iconic memorials and monuments making it one of the best places to visit in Washington. The stunning vistas offer a picture-perfect backdrop to the city's most important landmarks.

Highlights:

On a Private National Mall Walking Tour, the captivating tale of US history through Washington's major sites is told in an interactive way designed for kids and families.

Address:

Washington Mall, Washington, DC, United States.

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15. Explore the wonders of the world at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Discover the fascinating universe of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. This world-renowned museum unveils the breathtaking wonders of nature and the fascinating artifacts of human civilizations. An exquisite array of exhibits narrates Earth's history and life's diversity.

Highlights:

The private guided family tour offers engaging activities for kids, like holding bugs at the insect zoo and exploring fan-favorite, the Dinosaur Hall.

Address and opening hours:

10th St. and Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:30 PM.

Best places to visit in Washington for culture

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16. Venture into history at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Experience the story of African American heritage, from the tragedy of the Atlantic slave trade to modern times, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Its iconic three-tiered design is modeled after a Yoruban crown, reflecting its layered history, culture, and community.

Highlights:

See the compelling Slavery and Freedom exhibit as part of a private tour of the museum.

Address and opening hours:

1400 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:30 PM, Monday 12:00 PM-5.30 PM.

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17. Encounter indigenous narratives at the National Museum of the American Indian

Explore the rich tapestry of Native American cultures at the National Museum of the American Indian. This landmark museum bears witness to the historical resilience, languages, literature, arts, and histories of America's First Nations. The museum's curvilinear architecture, reminiscent of natural rock formations, is an architectural wonder.

Highlights:

Discover the significance of the Nation to Nation: Treaties Between the United States and American Indian Nations exhibit at the heart of the museum.

Address and opening hours:

4th St SW, Washington, DC 20560, United States. Open daily 10:00 AM-5:30 PM.

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18. Discover a world of knowledge at the Library of Congress

Embark on a literary adventure at the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, with a collection of more than 170 million items. This repository of knowledge holds a diverse range of materials, from books and maps to photographs and manuscripts, all housed in ornate Beaux-Arts architecture.

Highlights:

Marvel at the beautifully symbolic alcoves around the reading room, each with a stained-glass window representing a different subject.

Address and opening hours:

101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540, United States. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10:00 AM-5:00 PM.

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19. Dig into past secrets in Georgetown Historic District

Embark on a trip back in time in the Georgetown Historic District, one of the best places to visit in Washington. Nestled along the banks of the Potomac River, Georgetown's tree-lined streets are adorned with historic homes and charming storefronts, inviting tourists to engage with its rich history.

Highlights:

Unearth Georgetown's hidden past with the Georgetown: Ghost Story Walking Tour, ending at the famous Exorcist Stairs.

Meeting point:

Outside the Old Stone House, 3051 M St NW, Washington, DC 20007, USA. Start times vary.

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20. Explore the diplomatic heart of Washington at Dupont Circle

Stroll through Dupont Circle, an iconic neighborhood in Washington renowned for its historic mansions, buzzing bistros, and vibrant cultural scene. As a hub for embassies and think tanks, Dupont Circle offers a privileged glimpse of the diplomatic pulse of the city.

Highlights:

On a guided walking tour, you'll discover stunning embassies, hear about diplomatic scandals, and see opulent mansions from the early 20th century.

Meeting point:

Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA. Start times vary.

FAQs

How many days should I spend in Washington?

For a comprehensive experience of Washington's key attractions, plan to spend at least three to four days in Washington.

What is the best time of year to visit Washington?

Spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) are the best times to visit Washington for pleasant weather and colorful scenery.

How do I get around Washington?

Washington boasts an efficient public transportation system, including the Metrorail and Metrobus. Biking, walking, and rideshares are also popular options.

What are the best neighborhoods to visit in Washington?

Visit Georgetown for its historic charm, Dupont Circle for arts and nightlife, Capitol Hill for political landmarks, and U Street Corridor for its music and food scenes.

What are the best places to go shopping in Washington?

For high-end shopping, head to CityCenterDC or Georgetown. Eastern Market and Union Market are perfect for unique gifts and local products.