I was lucky enough to live in Washington DC in 2015 and 2016 and had the best of times there. There is always a festival or event happening each weekend in Washington DC and so much to see and do any day of the week. In this Washington DC Travel Guide, I tell you all about the best things to do in Washington DC.
Washington DC Travel Guide
Washington DC is primarily known for the National Mall including all the monuments and of course, the White House. I had a view of the Washington Monument from my apartment and it never got old.
Timing your visit to Washington DC
My favorite times of the year in Washington DC are from April to October. Spring is beautiful and the Cherry Blossom Festival takes place during spring which is a must see. In summer, the weather is hot but there is so much to do and the lists of events are endless in Washington DC. As the summer fades, and autumn/fall sets in, the colors of the leaves are just beautiful throughout Washington DC. November to February gets pretty darn nippy so the warmer months are more enjoyable for outdoor activities. Avoid a trip to Washington DC during this time.
Top things to do in Washington DC
Top things to do in Washington DC - See the National Mall.
A trip to the National Mall is a must on your visit to Washington DC. The monuments and the White House are easily accessible by foot as they are located within walking distance of each other. The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and the National World War II Memorial are my favorites. There are lots of ways to see the monuments and explore Washington DC - hop on/hop off bus tours, segway tours, walking tours, cycling tours are all available on your trip to Washington DC and reasonably priced. The monuments in Washington DC are great to see during the day but if you have extra time and fancy an evening stroll, visit the monuments at night as they are beautiful lit up.
The Smithsonian offers eleven museums and galleries on the National Mall and also six other museums and the National Zoo in the greater National Capital area. Check out this site for a comprehensive list and more details on each. My favorites are the Freer Gallery of Art, Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Castle, Smithsonian Gardens and the Zoo. All of these are free and open daily so check them out on your trip to Washington DC.
Top things to do in Washington DC - The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is my favorite building in Washington DC. It reminds me of buildings in Europe and is so beautifully decorated. Free guided tours are available daily which I recommend taking to get more from your visit to Washington DC. The library is the national library of the U.S. and the largest library in the world.
Top things to do in Washington DC - The Newseum
I spent a few hours at the Newseum in Washington DC which is an interactive library of news stories and footage from decades and decades. There are different movies to watch and lots of exhibitions throughout the year. Check here for details. This is one of the few museums in Washington DC that has an entry fee but it is worth it and offers a free return the next day in case you don’t get everything covered on Day 1.
Top things to do in Washington DC - Bike Rides & Alexandria
Washington DC. has the most amazing cycling trails that bring you on picturesque routes. My favorite cycling path in Washington DC is the Mount Vernon trail. You can join the trail nearby the monuments and enjoy beautiful views as you cycle along. I used to cycle to Alexandria – a cute town in Virginia which is 8 miles from the White House. The trail brings you along the water and through tree lined paths throughout Washington DC. It also brings you by the airport runway where you can stop and watch planes take-off and almost touch the planes, they are so close! Alexandria is a small town with a great selection of restaurants. Chart House for great seafood and views, Eve for a fancy-treat-yourself meal, Virtue Feed & Grain for a lunch outside or Il Porto for a classic Italian (seating outside also). Pop’s Old Fashioned Ice-cream Co. has the largest selection of ice-cream and delicious sundaes. Enjoy by the waterfront and take in the views. There are lots of great shops in Alexandria too, with many boutiques and family run stores. My favorite is Three Sisters – too many dresses, accessories and bags to choose from. I always used Capital Bikeshare to get to Alexandria as you can pick up the bike at the beginning of the trail in Washington DC and drop it off at a bike dock when you get to Alexandria. An Uber or the Blue line metro from King Station can take you back to the city.
Top things to do in Washington DC - Boat Tours
Boat tours in Washington DC are many and frequent along the Potomac River. Have lunch and tour the monuments in Washington DC by boat, take a water taxi to the National Harbor in Maryland, have a sunset dinner cruise or go on a night time party cruise in the summer months. Particularly in the summer months, I recommend a boat tour.
Top things to do in Washington DC - Kayaking
Kayaking on the Potomac is a lot of fun and allows you to see the city from the water at your own pace. The line can be long during the summer weekend days so plan kayaking early in your day to skip the wait in the afternoons.
Top things to do in Washington DC - Explore Georgetown
Georgetown gets a special mention. I first visited Washington DC on training when I first landed in the U.S. in 2014. I saw Georgetown and knew that I would be back. M street is the main street, foot paths are cobbled and the buildings are red brick and so picturesque. The waterfront in Georgetown, Washington DC is the prettiest place. There are ample choices for dining and cocktails. My favorite spot is Sequoia. It serves great lunch and dinner upstairs. The bar outside along the waterfront is my favorite and has just been renovated. After Sequoia, head to the Piano bar on M Street to hear a rendition of your favorite songs or head to El Centro for a sangria filled night of fun and dancing.
Georgetown also homes the best weekend brunch in town – Farmer’s Fishers Bakers (must be booked in advance). This is a buffet brunch with the most amazing selection of food and drinks. A great get together spot on a Saturday or Sunday.
A trip to Georgetown would not be complete without stopping by Georgetown Cupcake (the wait is worth it) or Baked and Wired. Both have a huge selection of delicious cupcakes that make choosing difficult. Laduree had opened when I visited Georgetown this summer which is also a great fancy treat place.
Georgetown University campus is a quick stroll away and has amazing views of Virginia and the Potomac. It is a short walk from M street and the streets to the campus are lined with the most picturesque quaint houses.
Best Places to eat in Washington DC
After all the running around Washington DC, an appetite will be worked up. I mentioned a couple of my favorite eats in Georgetown and Alexandria, but Washington DC. offers amazing dining options. When I lived there, I had an amazing group of foodie girls who booked and planned meals for us in fabulous places so I did little work to find these.
Old Ebbit Grill – A historical gem right by the White House in Washington DC. A large menu with plenty of options for everyone. Book ahead or have a cocktail by one of the bars while you wait.
Filomena – The prettiest authentic Italian restaurant in Washington DC with an extensive menu. Watch the pasta being made as you walk by the window. Dessert here is a must!
Ted’s Bulletin – Hearty eats from morning to night served in an airy art-deco style space with classic film screenings. Leave room for one of their amazing milkshakes.
Le Diplomat – Classic French fare and great wine. Beautiful dining area with an outdoor area in the summer months. The bread is amazing here!
Carmines – Family style Italian restaurant with great sangria. Great for big groups – go hungry!
Fiola Mare – Seafood restaurant along the waterfront in Georgetown. Delicious food and great service.
Masa 14 – Latin-Asian tapas bar. Great for tapas and drinks.
Good Stuff Eatery – If you want something quick while on the go this place serves quite amazing burgers and sweet potato fries. Obama loves it too so they named a burger after him.
Best Places for a night out in Washington DC
Different neighborhoods in Washington DC offer different partying experiences so depending on your energy levels after a day of touring, choose as you please. See above for additional suggestions in Georgetown!
POV @ The W Hotel – Stunning views of the monuments and perfect to start of the night. A rooftop bar with heaters and cover for colder days. Fabulous cocktails and a fabulous location.
The Brixton – On U Street which is lined with bars and alive at the weekend. Has three floors including a rooftop bar and lots of dancing.
The Gibson – a speakeasy bar with great cocktails.
Echostage – Top DJs Tiesto, Calvin Harris, Alesso, Armin Van Buuren, DJ Snake etc all play here and it promises a good night. Tickets can be bought in advance from the site. This is more of an intense club night out.
Boat Parties – Lots of evening/night boat parties to choose from during the day and night which depart from Georgetown waterfront.
Adam’s Morgan - Quite the going out area with a strip of bars to choose from.
Dupont circle – lots of great bars and restaurants in this area and a short walk from U street which is also lined with bars and promises a fun night.
Before this turns into a travel book, I will stop but I could write so much more on my top finds in Washington DC. Hope you enjoyed my Washington DC Travel Guide and finding out the best things to do in Washington DC.