20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Washington D.C.
Situated on the banks of the Potomac River, Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States of America. Its most famous landmarks include the Capitol building and the White House.
Washington is more than just the center of the political world: it is also a center of world culture, particularly art, music, and ballet. Major institutions of higher learning include Georgetown University and George Washington University.
Learn more about the United States with our detailed travel guide.
White House was originally the home of John and Betsey Adams. In March 1814, shortly after the birth of their first child, the widower John Adams returned home and opened a boarding house, and later a tavern. At the same time, he kept the building he had rented for eight years in the Adams' section of the city. Some years later, the name of the boarding house became The White House. White House has a modest number of rooms, including a guest suite, White House residents, members of the government, and overnight guests. The residence is served by many tour services, including e2connect. The famous grounds and gardens of White House were added later. After serving as the home of a number of first ladies, the residence became the official residence of the president and his family.
Willard Intercontinental Hotel
One of the more opulent hotels in Washington D.C., the Willard Intercontinental is a full-service, 700-room grand hotel with highly individualized attention to detail. The hotel boasts a perfect location on Washington's landmark Pennsylvania Avenue, just steps away from the Smithsonian Institute's museums and the White House. The rooms are lavishly appointed with antiques and genuine hand-woven rugs. Excellent service, including breakfast in the Club Lounge, a pool, spa, and a fitness center are all included in the rate.
Washington D.C.'s most impressive building, Washington Monument, is a huge granite obelisk with a 157-foot tower, and more than 4 million visitors come here every year. The entire city, with over 3.2 million residents, can feel like it's waiting in line to get in, but once you're inside the monument it's a real oasis of calm. Besides the cool air-conditioning (with changing interior temperatures) and the history exhibitions housed in the basement, the real highlight is the view of the White House from the top of the tower. There are several fun things to do here, including the observation area, which affords an interesting view over the city; climbing the four levels of the tower's spiral staircase; the astronomy observation deck, where visitors can observe the skies; the history gallery, which offers multimedia displays on several subjects; and the Children's Discovery Museum, with interactive exhibits that encourage children to discover the world around them. You can also visit the top of the monument for a bird's-eye view of the city.
National Air and Space Museum
The National Air and Space Museum is a unique and essential museum in Washington D.C., where most famous aircraft in the world are on display and a state-of-the-art exhibition about the history of flight is currently underway. Most famous are the space capsules that make up the heart of the International Space Hall, including the Apollo 11, which carries Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. Also on display are the extraordinary cars of the world's great designers, including the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport. Some of the largest aircraft in the world are on display, including the U.S. military B-52 Stratofortress. The museum's International Space Hall is a unique gallery created specifically for the 2000 traveling Smithsonian Exhibition about space. The displays are unique to the National Air and Space Museum, and include 3-D images of how the moon appears from Earth and how stars twinkle. New multimedia displays have been added to existing displays.
This vast institution is part of the US National Museum of Natural History, which collects, preserves, and displays artifacts of natural history, astronomy, anthropology, paleontology, and many other scientific areas. The National Mall grounds are crossed by the National Mall, from which monuments, museums, and memorials are reachable by foot, car, or a tourist bus. Also popular is the Washington Monument, a tall white obelisk that dates to 1848. The campus, which occupies 370 acres of mostly wooded land, has two primary exhibition centers. The Air and Space Center focuses on the story of aviation, astronomy, and space exploration. The National Museum of Natural History has a planetarium, a wide range of dinosaurs and other creatures, and exhibits on astronomy, the natural sciences, and the Arctic. Other buildings house the National Zoological Park, home to such critters as elephants, birds, and monkeys, and the National Air and Space Museum, which has extensive collections of aircraft, rockets, and spacecraft.
National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art in Washington is the only art museum in the United States that serves as the permanent home for a national collection of art. Located in Northwest Washington DC on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River, the gallery is the largest museum in Washington D.C. and the only museum to hold art in its collection from every major modern art movement. The gallery is housed in the iconic classically designed Phillips Collection, founded by Marguerite and Pierre deNomme, which houses more than 1,500 works of art. The museum holds more than 20,000 works from around the world, from ancient to modern, including Impressionist masterpieces, from Vermeer's "The Milkmaid" to Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," as well as major works from 20th century artists from Titian to Monet, including "The Lovers" by Johannes Vermeer, Rodin's "The Thinker," and Matisse's "The Dance." The museum is a major cultural center in Washington D.C., hosting an array of special exhibitions, lectures, music, theater, films, and cultural celebrations throughout the year.
Washington National Cathedral
America's largest cathedral is a symbol of Washington, D.C. After all, it's only a short distance from Capitol Hill to the steps of this iconic building. However, with its mix of traditional and contemporary styles, it's much more than just a symbol of this great city. It's a church of a very high order, designed to emphasize the interconnections between faith and reason. Built on the spot of the old British Fort Alexander, this magnificent church is home to about 15,000 people, many of whom are in the congregation that worships here every Sunday. The high stained-glass windows and the impressive limestone architecture have led to its nickname as "The Cathedral of Light." High up in the nave, the immense clock faces the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, the cathedral's role as a stage for some of the biggest names in music and entertainment. And among the legendary performers to have sung at the cathedral is Carole King, who sings here on her concerts and tours, as well as Paul McCartney. Of course, there are also services going on throughout the week, in both English and Latin, as well as a daily procession from the Washington National Cathedral to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Massachusetts Avenue NW.
The Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. is the most imposing memorial to a president in the world. The design was by renowned sculptor Paul Manship, who also created the memorials to President Thomas Jefferson in Richmond, Virginia and President Theodore Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York. The memorial consists of a great marble and granite structure on a hill between the Potomac River and the Tidal Basin. The statue depicts President Lincoln with arms crossed, back facing a semicircle of sculpted figures symbolizing statesmen and citizens. Another statue, Abraham Lincoln's, stands in the center of the memorial plaza. This is a copy of the President Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The Supreme Court building is next to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Housed in a sprawling, 52-acre urban campus in the heart of Washington D.C., the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is not only home to the world-renowned National Museum of Natural History, it also features 10 other museums, one of which is the National Zoo. Each has its own set of offerings, and the sheer number of collections can be overwhelming to the less familiar. First, visitors should definitely pay a visit to the National Museum of Natural History. If not a fan of small museums, the research and exhibits on the Smithsonian campus will be worth seeing. If you're looking for a vast museum filled with dinosaurs, though, you won't find it in the Smithsonian. But the National Museum of Natural History does house one of the most extensive collections of dinosaur fossils, while also featuring the internationally known Hall of Gems, with its breathtaking permanent collection of over 100,000 pieces of ancient and modern jewelry. For the money, though, many tourists choose the National Zoo instead, which is a wonderful family-friendly attraction and one of the largest collections of exotic animals in the U.S. Best known for its displays of African animals, the zoo also includes Asian tigers, leopards, the world's oldest gorillas, and its unusual African birds of paradise and the fascinating Congo Gorilla Forest.
A visit to the Capitol's dome is the ultimate introduction to the city's history. The beautiful domed cupola was designed in 1800 by Boston architect Thomas Jefferson and stands on a 184-meter brick column from Jefferson's home in Virginia. Visitors walk underneath the dome as the U.S. Congress sits inside debating about controversial issues in this spectacular setting. Around the vast courtyard, a multitude of other monuments display the proud symbols of the many American institutions. From the White House to the Supreme Court, the many museums in the area bring to life the fascinating history of the American way of life. If you want to discover more about the history of the country, spend time learning about American history at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The National Gallery of Art's collection of world-renowned art draws more than 2.5 million people a year. The Library of Congress is where you'll find information about the founding fathers and the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci. Other places to visit include the Jefferson Building, Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Capitol Visitor Center and National Air and Space Museum. There are plenty of shops and cafes to stop in, as well as the famous Washington Post newspaper.
The National Archives in Washington, D.C. were originally constructed as an underground shelter in the heart of the city. Today, it contains the United States' most important documents. A visit includes the old executive offices where John Adams and Thomas Jefferson have left their signatures, the Supreme Court, and the Library of Congress, among other facilities. Visitors can read a vast amount of historical and governmental documents while going through the guided tour. Included are a collection of photographs of people and events, including Abraham Lincoln's hand written notes. The highlights are the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Constitution. Getting to the National Archives can be a challenge, however. While it is located right in downtown Washington D.C. it is situated far away from many hotels. It is situated within walking distance of the Washington Monument though. The Archives can be found at 714 Independence Avenue, S.W. 10th and Constitution Avenue, S.W. 6th.
Dumbarton Oaks is a fine example of a fine example of a historical house and gardens. On a 113-acre property in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington D.C. sits a stunning neoclassical mansion, constructed in 1902. It was built for collector Alanson B. Houghton and now houses the Dumbarton Oaks, one of the finest museums in the country. Among the gardens, which include a Japanese and a Chinese garden, are countless statues. These range from sculptures representing Chinese mythological figures, to well-known personalities such as Voltaire, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain. There is also a winery, which hosts several events, and an extensive collection of art and artifacts. Several departments on the premises are worth a visit, especially the Stein and Roslyn departments, which contain one of the finest collections of Stein and Roslyn art, furniture, and textiles. An exhibition hall, lecture hall, and research library round out the facilities. Also, the gardens can be visited for an additional charge.
Shaped like the capitol building, the National Mall is the heart of the most crowded city in the world. From the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument, and the Smithsonian museums to the White House, a remarkable walk in its entirety, this 1,400-acre mall of formal gardens, lakes and memorials offers not only impressive architecture but a look into the capital's history and culture. The National Mall is a quintessential Washington, D.C. experience and one of the biggest things to do in the United States. Walking is a great way to see a city as the Mall is a huge open space with grand monuments, impressive museums, open spaces, fountains, gardens and lakes. It's the most visited public space in the world with more than two million people a day. No matter how you plan your trip, be sure to set aside time to visit the many museums that are located throughout the mall, such as the National Gallery of Art, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials and the various Smithsonian Museums. Among the highlights of the mall are the Chinese Pagoda, the Washington Monument, the Eisenhower Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol. To see more of the national parks around the area, visit the many parks such as the Ellipse, the Tidal Basin and the Capitol Hill parks.
The Jefferson Memorial
Built in 1921, this memorial to Thomas Jefferson was designed by the architect of the US Supreme Court building, Stanford White, and intended to act as the place of worship for all Americans. It was commissioned by the Republican Party in 1922 and designed to look like Jefferson's Monticello home. Despite its magnificence and unrivalled visitor facilities, the memorial is, in fact, quite small. Covering an area of almost 300,000 square feet, it is open to the public for around two weeks a year between the months of May and September, when the House of Representatives is not in session. During these months, there is no access to the memorial, but you can tour the grounds and climb its 268 steps to the top where you can enjoy beautiful views over the Potomac.
United States Botanic Garden
Located on Rock Creek Park, the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., is home to over 7,500 plant species. Visitors will find the park entrance on 31st Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, with many well-kept public and private gardens scattered around the grounds. Also visit the glass conservatory, the rose garden, the American Horticultural Society Garden, the National Collection of Rodeo Gardens, and the Orchid Garden. Special programs are held in the summer months, which includes guided tours, and the grounds are open daily for free; an admission fee is charged for special plant events. The United States Botanic Garden is just one of D.C.'s lovely treasures, along with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and the FDR Memorial. It's a fascinating trip and one that should not be missed.
Built in 1853 and boasting a grand Beaux Arts facade, the magnificent Ford's Theatre is one of the finest and most famous theatres in the US. A significant landmark in Washington, D.C., the theatre is located just off the Mall in the south of the city. It was the first purpose-built playhouse in the US and can seat 3,000 people. The stage is 30 feet high and features a back drop of 16 feet high and three feet deep. The construction of the theatre was inspired by the design of Shakespeare's theatre in London. The theatre is used to stage a number of performances including plays, musical performances, ballet and concerts. For the more well-heeled among the Washingtonians, there's a cinema attached to the theatre.
Statue of Liberty
The Unisphere, a 1.5-billion-dollar copy of the original gift of the United States to the world in the 1950s, is a superb piece of modern sculpture that marks the center of the National Mall in the heart of Washington. The idea behind the Unisphere came from a popular science-fiction novel by A. E. van Vogt that was published in 1956. The book tells the story of a giant Earth-like sphere that floats above the clouds with people living on the surface. The author, however, made no attempt to visualise the gigantic Unisphere that he described. When Washington was celebrating its bicentennial in 1976, construction of the Unisphere began in mid-1974 and was completed in early 1980. The sculpture is a result of collaboration between the Museum of Modern Art and the engineering firm, Nikken Sekkei. The centerpiece of the Unisphere is a ball-shaped, 1,450-ton gyroscopic sphere with a diameter of 120 meters (400 feet) and a depth of 18 meters (60 feet). Surrounded by a 55-meter-high (180 feet) cobblestone memorial called the Reflecting Pool, the Unisphere stands in an irregularly-shaped circle in front of the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial.
As its name suggests, the Tidal Basin is a circular piece of land located in Washington D.C. located across the Potomac River from the Jefferson Memorial, this is a favorite spot for tourists who come to visit the memorial. The whole area has a rather unusual feel, combining modern buildings and examples of early American architecture, as well as a number of interesting, ornate monuments. A bit of trivia: In 2004, the area became the first government site in the world to become completely smoke-free. There are many monuments and memorials to visit in the area including, the Jefferson Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial. If you want to learn more about what went on while in Washington DC, you can visit The National Archives.
One of the most poignant places to visit in Washington, D.C. is the memorial at the base of the Washington Monument to all the men and women who died in the nation's wars, known as the Navy Memorial. More than 40,000 names are inscribed in granite on the walls of this massive tribute to the "crew of the ship," as the Navy calls its sailors. If time allows, see the memorial as well as the historic crypt where many of those who lost their lives are interred, including the four U.S. Navy service personnel who lost their lives in the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York City.
National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., one of the most visited museums in the world, was established in 1866. It covers a total of 5 million square feet (500,000 m²) and houses a diverse collection of almost 37 million objects covering anthropology, archeology, zoology, paleontology and geology. Highlights of a visit include the Hall of Zoological and Fossil Mammals, the Hall of Life's Mysteries (featuring mummies and dinosaur skeletons), the Hall of Ancient Life (the only Hall that is open 24 hours a day), the Hall of Minerals (where spectacular rock formations of igneous and metamorphic rock are on display), the Hall of Geology (displaying meteorites and craters on the moon) and the Hall of Archaeology (which includes exhibits of mummies, weaponry, statuary and stelae).