The biggest museum complex on the planet, the world’s most famous buildings, superb shopping experiences. We can’t blame you if you’re finding it difficult to narrow down what to see in DC. We’re here to help, with our handpicked list of the top 10 sights to visit while you’re here.
1) United States Capitol
The US Capitol building stands supremely at the eastern end of the Mall. And we think it should stand at the top of your itinerary too. The building dates back to 1800 and is the legislative branch of the US Federal Government. Entry to the Visitor Center is free and it’s open from Monday to Saturday.
2) The National Mall
This is the beating heart of Washington DC, with most of the Smithsonian Institute Museums clustered along the mall’s two-mile stretch, not to mention all its monuments and memorials. From the Lincoln Memorial to the Martin Luther King Jnr Memorial, they’re all worth a visit. The Mall welcomes around 24 million visitors each year, so you might want to get here early to avoid the crowds.
3) Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington houses the graves of servicemen and women from every American conflict, ranging from the American Civil War right through to the present day. Two must-see sights while you’re here: the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which happens every 30 minutes, and the eternal flame at the grave of John F. Kennedy, where you’ll also find the best views of the cemetery.
4) Washington National Cathedral
A very unique building in the United States, the Washington National Cathedral is the 6th largest cathedral in the world, and offers a dazzling spectacle for any sightseer. Gaze at the breathtaking stained glass windows, take a guided tour, listen to the choristers at Evensong or just stroll through the gardens. While you’re here, recharge the batteries at Open City, the superb cathedral café.
5) The Kennedy Center
Just a 20-minute walk from the Lincoln Memorial, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is one of the best places in DC to catch a show. There are performances on the Millennium Stage every day at 6pm, and they’re all free. From improv theater to ska bands, who knows what you might see? The building is a sight in itself – why not enjoy some time out in the art-deco inspired roof terrace restaurant?
6) Ford’s Theater
Visit the very place where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Your entry ticket includes a tour of the theater and of Petersen House, which is where Lincoln breathed his last after the shooting. You can also explore the historic artifacts and interactive exhibits in the museum. Plus Ford’s is still a working theater, so you may even catch a show while you’re here.
7) Library of Congress
It’s magnificent from the outside, but wait until you step inside. This is the largest library in the world, and the spaces and reading rooms here are vast. You can take a 1-hour walking tour to learn about some of the priceless manuscripts held here. If you’re a bookworm, make sure to allow half a day or so to explore and soak up the history.
8) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
This free museum tells the history of the Jewish Holocaust over 4 separate floors. The museum's exhibition's cover a vast amount of ground on the subject of the Nazi-run genocide, with countless artifacts, archival documents, footage and testimony, including poignant comment on recent genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
9) The White House
You've got to visit the world’s most famous address while you’re here! If you’d like to get a peek inside the President’s residence, you’ll have to apply at your embassy in DC. Not everyone gets the chance, we’re afraid to say. But even if you’re not one of the lucky few, you’ll still want to hop-off your bus and take some snaps of this iconic building.
Strolling through Georgetown feels like you’re stepping back in time. With cobbled streets and 18th century architecture, it’s a beautiful part of DC, and quite unlike the rest of the city. There’s plenty to see and do, with superb shopping in upmarket boutiques, great views over Georgetown Harbour, and fine dining in the area's restaurants and bars.