If you’re looking for the BEST things to do in Washington DC, then you’ve come to the right place because I have some suggestions for you!
My husband and I have spent a lot of time in Washington DC on work assignments and have done almost everything under the sun.
In this post, I’ll outline all of our favorite events and things to do (with plenty of FREE events too, of course). Read on for everything you need to know before your visit Washington DC.
- FREE Things to do in Washington DC
- Events & Festivals
- Historic Places You Can’t Miss
- Museums & Monuments
- Where to Eat in Washington DC
- Where to Stay
FREE Things to Do in Washington DC
Where to begin? One of my favorite things about Washington DC is the plethora of free activities available to the public. Here’s a list of fun activities amplified by the warmer summer weather.
#1. Visit Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
- This is an outdoor aquatic garden made famous by the water lilies and large lotus flowers that bloom early in the morning between late June and July. Come early because the midday heat forces the lilies to close.
#2. Watch an outdoor movie
- Ah, the long, warm nights of summer. Can you think of a better activity than catching an outdoor movie? The following places host outdoor movies during summer:
- Georgetown Sunset Cinema
- NoMa Summer Screen
- Union Market Drive-In
- Capitol Riverfront Outdoor MovieSeries
- DowntownDC Summer Flicks
- Golden Cinema Series
- Dumbarton House Jane Austen Film Festival
- Adams Morgan Movie Nights
- Movies on the Potomac
- Rosslyn Cinema
- Films at the Stone
#3. Visit monuments and museums
- What better way to escape the heat than to spend the day indoors? Washington DC is filled to the brim with fascinating museums. The best part? The majority of them are free to visit. But hold on you eager beaver, you. We’ll get to the details shortly.
#4. Participate in a festival or summer event
- Participating in a festival is a great way to immerse yourself in the city’s culture while saving money. Rarely does that happen, take advantage! I will be covering details and specific events/festivals in the section below.
#5. Watch the 4th of July fireworks from the Lincoln Memorial
- You’ve never seen a display like this before, I guarantee it. The celebration lasts 35-minutes and typically starts around 9pm on July 4th. The fireworks here are so big and loud the National Park Service suggest wearing hearing protection – talk about a party!
- Fireworks can be viewed directly from the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall, Washington Monument and Reflecting Pool.
- Fireworks are weather dependent and may be cancelled due to inclement weather.
#6. Shakespeare Theater Company offers free tickets to performances
- Free tickets are available via online lottery or in-person the day of the show. Try your hand, you might get lucky! To check your luck, visit their website by clicking here.
#7. Visit the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and watch the Changing of the Guard
- We witnessed the Changing of the Guard during our visit and it was incredibly moving. The highlight of the trip, actually. The change occurs every half hour from April 1 through September 30th. I suggest going early in the morning, before the mid day heat.
#8. Visit a rooftop bar
- This doesn’t need an explanation, but here goes: What better way to spend a cool summer evening than drinks at a rooftop bar? Especially for happy hour. Enjoy smooth libations and ease into easy conversations with friends. My favorite rooftop bars include: Top of the Gate (Watergate Hotel rooftop bar), Officina, Mason & Rock and Colada Shop.
#9. Bike around town
- During our first summer visit to Washington DC we biked over 40 miles in three days. Not saying you need to go crazy like us, but it sure makes for a fun trip! For information about bike rentals, check out the Capital Bikeshare website.
- Tip: Bring some hand sanitizer with you for a quick spritz after the ride.
Events & Festivals in Washington DC
Can you think of a better way to immerse yourself in the feel of the city than by participating in a festival? Me either. So without further ado.
#10. Attend a parade!
- Memorial Day Weekend Parade (May 25, 2020). How fitting that the largest memorial day parade in the country occurs in Washington DC, huh? This parade honors those that have served and presently serve this beautiful country.
- The Memorial Day Weekend Parade usually starts around 2pm at Constitution Avenue, arrive early to snag a good spot.
- Capital Pride Parade (June 13, 2020). This 1.5 mile route is a celebration of LGBTQ rights and the ongoing fight for equality. The parade starts at the historic Dupont and Logan Circle neighborhoods and runs from 4:30 to 8pm.
- By the People Festival (mid-June 2020). This festival is absolutely incredible! But describing it is a hard task. Essentially, the festival is a grand celebration of international arts and dialogue. The location is spread out throughout the city and a complete list of locations will be available soon to the public. For a list of 9 reasons to visit the festival, click here.
- Smithsonian Folklife Festival (2020: June 24 -28 & July 1 – 5). This festival celebrates diverse traditions from around the world. Join the party on the National Mall to support the strengthening and empowerment of culture and long-lived traditions.
- 17th Street Festival (August 29, 2020). This fun festival celebrates the fines folks of the 17th Street Corridor. Participants can expect live music, food vendors, artists and various talented folks sharing their crafts. With over 100 vendors, you’re sure to have a great time. The festival occurs from 12-6pm. Kids play area is provided, along with face painting and snow cones. If I go missing, you’ll know where to find me.
- 18th Street Adams Morgan Day (early September 2020). Participate in Washington DC’s longest running neighborhood festival, 2020 will be their 42nd year! The festival occurs in the Adams Morgan neighborhood and runs from 12 – 6 pm. Think vendors, live music, good food, beer and tons of activities for the whole family to enjoy.
#12. Food Events
- Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week (mid-August 2020). Eat your way through Washington DC by dining at more than 100 fine restaurants offering prix-fixe, 3-course meals for brunch ($22), lunch ($22) and dinner ($35). This is the one summer event you must take advantage of!
- Giant National Capital BBQ Battle (June 27-28, 2020). Do you like having a good time? If so, this is the food festival for you. Think delicious BBQ, food competitions, and live music throughout. The event takes place on Pennsylvania Avenue between 3rd and 7th Streets. The event runs from 11am – 9pm on Saturday and 11am to 7pm on Sunday.
- Admission: $20 for 1 day ticket, $30 for two day ticket. Admission includes food samples, 30 bands, cooking demonstrations, special exhibits and attractions, access to the BBQ competitions.
- Truckeroo (2020 dates to be determined). This famous food truck festival occurs monthly from April to September at The Bullpen (a lively outdoor venue for Nationals fans). This food truck festival brings together 20 -25 of DC’s best food trucks, live music, cold drinks and fun activities/games for all to enjoy.
#13. Film Festival
- Filmfest DC (April 23 – May 3, 2020). This festival covers 85 films from 40 countries in 11 days, averaging an audience of 16,000 annually. Admission is required but ticket prices have not yet been posted. I will update as soon as the admission costs are updated on the website.
#14. Music Festivals & Performing Arts
- DC Jazz Festival (June 12 – 20, 2020). The schedule changes from one year to the next, but think of one jazz performance after another. For a better idea of performances, hours and admission rates, this is the 2019 DC Jazz Festival schedule.
- Jazz in the Garden at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden (May through August 2020). What is more “Washington DC” than a jazz festival in an art sculpture garden? Anybody? Oh, and did I mention this is a free event? Yeah, it gets better. This festival offers music performances from DC’s top jazz artists in the prettiest venue in DC. During the festival, the Pavilion Cafe is open and offers creative American cuisine and drinks.
- The festival occurs monthly from May to August, but the exact dates for 2020 have yet to be determined.
- Capital Fringe Festival (September 10, 2020). This is a fringe theater festival held every summer in Washington DC. Fringe theater is an experimental style of theater that varies in style and subject matter.
- Admission: Single tickets are $20, but if you plan to watch more than one performance, you may purchase discounted tickets for multiple performances. For a complete list of admission rates and details, click here.
- Citi Open (August 1 – 9, 2020). If you’re a tennis person, this is right up your alley. Experiencing Citi Open in person is quite the experience! Tickets range from $20 – $40, depending on location.
Historic Things to Do in Washington DC
If you have even the slightest interest in history, you will thoroughly enjoy your time in Washington DC. Here’s a list of important historic places you should visit.
Take note: Most historic places are closed during federal holidays so double check before visiting.
#15. Library of Congress
I’m sad to admit it took me three trips before I finally saw the Library of Congress, but not for lack of trying! We tend to visit during federal holidays and some places are closed – so check before you go. But I can tell you that my visit to the Library of Congress was definitely worth the wait. It is elaborate beyond belief. Every column has a purpose, ever painting a story, every inscription meaning.
The Library of Congress is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 8:30am – 4:30pm; closed Sundays. No admission fee.
#16. United States Capitol
The United States Capitol is a lot bigger in person than I imagined. The expansive dome was completed during Lincoln’s term and stands steadfast to this day. Admission is free but reservations are required to tour the historic Capitol.
To make free reservations, create an account and pick a date here. The tour includes access to the Crypt, Rotunda, and National Statuary Hall. The tour doesn’t include visits to the House and Senate Galleries, separate passes are required for that tour.
The United States Capitol is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 8:30am – 4:30pm; closed Sundays. No admission fee.
#17. Supreme Court
The towering pillars of the Supreme Court seem to go on forever. There’s no substitute for seeing this majestic beacon of justice in person. You absolutely must see the detail on the massive bronze doors and feel the girth of those white marble columns! Visitors are allowed to tour inside, just anticipate long lines from March through June.
The Supreme Court is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9am – 4:30pm; closed Saturday & Sundays. No admission fee.
#18. Visit the White House
The iconic White House cannot be missed during a visit to Washington DC. Here’s something no one tells you though, regardless of the President in office, there’s always a rally outside. Don’t let it deter you, it’s amusing at best and harmless at worst.
Tours of the White House are not open to the public but can be requested through one’s Member of Congress.
The White House is NOT open to the public. Admire from afar.
Museums and Monuments in Washington DC
I’m not allowed to have a favorite section (blogger ethics, you know?) but if I did, this would be it. I LOVE exploring the museums and monuments in Washington DC. Mostly because they’re free – ha. Secondly, the museums in DC can keep me occupied for hours, if not days.
Top 8 Monuments in Washington DC
All the monuments listed below are FREE and open to the public 24/7.
- Lincoln Memorial
- Washington Monument
- Jefferson Monument
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
- FDR Memorial
- Korean War Veterans Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- World War II Memorial
Bonus points for visiting my favorite memorial, Theodore Roosevelt Island.
Top 6 Museums in Washington DC
All museums listed below are FREE.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
- This museum is incredibly moving, it is not uncommon for people to leave in tears. It’s a tribute to the struggle and courage of African America life in the United States.
- Admission is free, but timed-entry passes are required during peak times and seasons when visitation is high. Passes may be reserved up to 3 months in advance.
- To make your visit as easy as possible, I suggest making reservations here and avoiding the ticket/line headache altogether.
- Open Monday through Sunday from 10am to 5:30pm
National Museum of Natural History
- This is the world’s most famous natural history museum. It is dedicated to the natural world and our place in it. A great place for adults and families with children alike!
- Open Monday through Sunday from 10am to 5:30pm.
National Gallery of Art
- This museum displays one of the largest collections of paintings from around the world. From drawings and sculptures to photographs and decorative arts, they have everything covered.
- Open 10am to 5pm, Monday through Saturday. Open Sunday from 11am to 6pm.
National Portrait Gallery
- See every official presidential portrait since George Washington; this is the nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House.
- Open Monday through Sunday from 11:30am to 7pm.
United States Botanic Garden
- This museum curates lovely floral displays in an effort to educate and inspire the public to be better stewards of our planet.
- Open Monday through Sunday from 10am to 5pm.
National Museum of American History
- This museum is devoted to the scientific, cultural, social, technological, and political development of America.
- Open Monday through Sunday from 10am to 5:30pm.
Where to Eat in Washington DC
- My favorite restaurants in DC are Founding Fathers and Farmers & Distillers. We eat at these two restaurants every time we visit. They specialize in delicious market-driven cuisine.
- For a quick bite, I enjoy Baked and Wired, Founding Fathers Bakers and Dog Tag Bakery (hello donuts and croissants, my diet’s not watching).
- For a high caliber French meal, visit Le Diplomate. An aptly named French restaurant with a vintage feel that creates a great atmosphere for special occasions.
Where to Stay in Washington DC
- My favorite place to stay (and play) in Washington DC is Georgetown. I recommend staying in this area, especially for first time visitors. Top rated hotels in the area include: The Westin Georgetown and the Rosewood.
- During our last visit, we stayed at the Watergate Hotel. Their nod to history is tough to beat. What’s more, the Watergate Hotel completely embraces their secretive past in many funny ways. Case in point: the room keys read “No need to break in.” Great humor!
Summer is a great season to explore Washington DC. There’s something fun to do for everyone. Just make sure to drink plenty of water and don’t forget to catch an outdoor movie! I hope you enjoy your visit to sunny Washington DC. Reach out with any questions.
things to do Washington DC, Washington DC things to do, things to do in Washington DC, Things to do in Washington dc things to do Washington DC, Washington DC things to do, things to do in Washington DC, Things to do in Washington dc things to do Washington DC, Washington DC things to do, things to do in Washington DC, Things to do in Washington dc things to do Washington DC, Washington DC things to do, things to do in Washington DC,
Until next time,
things to do Washington DC, Washington DC things to do, things to do in Washington DC, Things to do in Washington dc things to do Washington DC, Washington DC things to do, things to do in Washington DC, Things to do in Washington dc things to do Washington DC, Washington DC things to do, things to do in Washington DC, Things to do in Washington dc things to do Washington DC, Washington DC things to do, things to do in Washington DC, Things to do in Washington dc things to do Washington DC, Washington DC things to do,