Best Hotels In and Around Washington DC

Discover the top must-see destinations and attractions our nation's capitol has to offer, such as the White House, the National Mall, and Lincoln Memorial.

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  • Dec 22, 2023
  • 12 min read
Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington DC

1. The White House

The White House is a multifaceted marvel embodying the essence of American governance and diplomacy. Within its walls, the President not only conducts affairs of state but also shares the space with their family, making it both a workplace and a home. As a symbol of the United States on the world stage, it serves as the backdrop for pivotal meetings with foreign leaders and opulent state dinners. Its history is a tapestry of resilience, from its selection by George Washington to its occupation by John Adams and its reconstruction after the ravages of the War of 1812. For those eager to glimpse its grandeur, self-guided tours offer a chance to walk in the footsteps of presidents past, but securing one requires advance planning through your congressman’s office, ensuring an experience that resonates long after the tour concludes.

2. U.S. Capitol Building

The United States Capitol, a symbol of democracy’s pulse, hosts the intricate dance of governance where both the Senate and House of Representatives convene. Open to the public during sessions, access requires free passes obtainable through congressional offices. Guided tours offer glimpses into its rich history and architectural grandeur, though the legislative proceedings remain off-limits. Constructed in the wake of the Revolutionary War, the Capitol’s grandeur is epitomized by its central rotunda, beneath which esteemed figures, including past presidents, find their final resting place.

3. National Mall

Exploring Washington, D.C. without a stroll along the National Mall would be like missing the cherry blossoms in spring—it’s a must-do! This expansive greenway, nestled downtown, acts as a gateway to the capital’s most significant landmarks. Picture yourself meandering from the majestic US Capitol building to the tranquil Potomac River on the west, or from the serene Jefferson Memorial to bustling Constitution Avenue on the east. Alongside this verdant stretch lie treasures like the Smithsonian museums and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Venture eastward, and you’ll encounter tributes to Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and James Garfield, as well as the serene Reflecting Pool. With a staggering 24 million visitors annually, it’s no wonder this iconic strip reigns as Washington’s top tourist hotspot.

4. Lincoln Memorial

Enter the awe-inspiring Lincoln Memorial, an enduring tribute to America’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, whose legacy resonates through the ages. Situated at the western edge of the National Mall, this architectural gem features a monumental seated statue of Lincoln within a grand Greek Doric-style temple. Dedicated in 1922, it stands as a symbol of democracy’s enduring spirit, immortalizing Lincoln’s profound impact on the nation’s history and ideals. Open 24 hours a day, it offers visitors the opportunity to reflect and pay homage at any time.

5. World War II Memorial

Adjacent to the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial lies the imposing and revered World War II Memorial, a tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of those who served in the armed forces and supported the war effort on the homefront. Situated at the eastern terminus of the Reflecting Pool, this expansive memorial features a central oval plaza and fountain, encircled by towering granite pillars representing each state and U.S. overseas territory. Dominating the skyline are two majestic triumphal arches, symbolizing the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of the conflict. Amidst the solemn atmosphere, visitors can capture moments etched in bas reliefs, paying homage to the wartime experience, while offering silent reverence at the Freedom Wall, a solemn dedication to those who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II.

6. Washington Monument

A beacon of history and grandeur, the Washington Monument commands attention as one of D.C.’s most iconic landmarks, soaring majestically above the sprawling expanse of the National Mall. Standing tall at 555 feet, this gleaming white obelisk pays homage to the nation’s inaugural leader, George Washington, and his pivotal role in shaping American history. As the tallest monument column globally, its imposing presence creates a striking silhouette against the backdrop of the Reflecting Pool and Lincoln Memorial. Beyond admiring its marble magnificence, visitors can ascend to its lofty observation deck, treated to unparalleled vistas spanning the city’s myriad monuments, museums, and memorials, offering a breathtaking perspective of D.C.’s rich tapestry of heritage and culture.

7. Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery is a sacred space honoring America’s heroes. With its rows of meticulously maintained graves, it’s a testament to sacrifice and service. From JFK’s eternal flame to the solemn Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, each corner tells a story of valor. As you wander, take in the serene beauty and reflect on the weight of history.

10. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Standing just south of the National Mall, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum serves as a solemn yet indispensable testament to one of humanity’s darkest periods. With its vast collection of artifacts, photographs, and oral histories, it bears witness to the atrocities of World War II and educates visitors about the horrors of genocide and antisemitism. As visitors step inside, they are immediately immersed in the past, each handed an identification card bearing the name of a Holocaust survivor or victim, fostering a deeply personal connection to history. From Hitler’s rise to power to the grim realities of ghettos and the Final Solution, the museum’s well-designed galleries offer a sobering journey through the depths of human suffering and resilience. Among its most compelling features are the Tower of Faces and the candle-lit Hall of Remembrance, serving as enduring tributes to the millions who perished and a solemn vow to never forget.

11. Library of Congress

Established in 1800 to safeguard the early records of the United States during its transition from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., the Library of Congress traces its roots back to the nation’s infancy. Initially serving as a repository for congressional reference materials, it has evolved into a colossal institution housing a staggering 158 million items, including 36 million books spanning 460 languages and 69 million manuscripts, making it the largest rare book collection in North America. While its doors are open to the public, prospective visitors are encouraged to peruse the library’s online catalog beforehand to streamline their research process upon arrival. At the heart of this literary treasure trove lies the iconic main reading room, affectionately known as the Sacred Room, where visitors are greeted by an awe-inspiring display of knowledge and history.

12. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

A standout among D.C.’s array of iconic monuments is the captivating Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, a tribute to the visionary leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Situated at the northwest corner of the Tidal Basin, adjacent to the National Mall, this majestic statue was unveiled in 2011. Rising 30 feet tall, the memorial is adorned with stirring quotes from King’s speeches and sermons, serving as a sobering reminder of his enduring legacy. Its powerful symbolism, combined with its striking design, has made it a cherished destination for visitors seeking to pay homage and capture its profound significance amidst the backdrop of neighboring memorials.

13. National Air and Space Museum

Age knows no bounds at the National Air and Space Museum, a captivating destination within the esteemed Smithsonian Institution. Catering to the curious spirit in visitors of all ages, from young enthusiasts to seasoned explorers, this museum offers a wealth of interactive experiences spanning the realms of air and space exploration. Embark on a journey through the annals of American aviation history, from the pioneering flight of the 1903 Wright Flyer to the awe-inspiring Apollo 11 moon-landing mission. Delve into the cutting-edge advancements of modern space exploration, all under one roof. The best part? Admission to the museum’s core exhibits is free, ensuring that the wonders of the cosmos are accessible to all, although additional fees may apply for special features such as IMAX screenings.

14. Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Right next to the National Mall stands the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which pays homage to the courageous souls of the U.S. Armed Forces who valiantly served during the Vietnam War. Comprising three distinct elements—The Three Soldiers statue, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall—the site beckons visitors to reflect on the sacrifices made by over 58,000 individuals. The Wall, a pair of reflective slabs stretching over 246 feet, bears the names of fallen heroes, offering a solemn bridge between past and present. Nearby, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial stands tall, honoring the invaluable contributions of the 265,000 women who served, while The Three Soldiers statue evokes the unity forged amidst the conflict, each figure standing as a silent sentinel over the hallowed ground. Accessible day and night, this sacred space invites contemplation and remembrance, a testament to the enduring spirit of those who answered the call of duty.

15. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Not far from the illustrious National Mall and the iconic Lincoln Memorial, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts beckons as a premier destination for cultural enthusiasts in Washington, D.C. Renowned for its world-class productions, this state-of-the-art venue plays host to over 2,000 performances annually, spanning the gamut from ballet and opera to concerts, plays, and dance shows. Since its inauguration in 1971, this sprawling cultural hub has graced the banks of the Potomac River, paying homage to the legacy of President John F. Kennedy. Beyond its opulent Opera House and Concert Hall, the center boasts the refined Eisenhower Theater and several intimate performance spaces. Visitors can also savor culinary delights at the center’s exquisite restaurants or enjoy breathtaking views from its rooftop terraces, offering an unforgettable blend of artistic splendor and gastronomic delights.

16. Washington National Cathedral

The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, belonging to the diocese of Washington, holds a special place in the hearts of many as the spiritual cornerstone of the nation. Better known as the Washington National Cathedral, this stunning neo-gothic edifice ranks among the world’s largest cathedrals, a testament to its grandeur and importance. Over its storied history, it has solemnly hosted the funerals of Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, and Ford, solidifying its position in American history. While worship services welcome all free of charge, visitors can delve deeper into its majestic interiors with a guided tour, available for a nominal admission fee.

17. Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Situated just a short fifteen-minute drive north of downtown, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo stands as a treasure trove of biodiversity, showcasing an impressive array of exotic animals, birds, and reptiles. Spanning expansive grounds, its spacious enclosures play host to a captivating menagerie, from majestic orangutans and elephants to the enigmatic gorillas, iconic giant pandas, and formidable komodo dragons. As one of the oldest and most esteemed zoological institutions in the nation, founded in 1889, it garners acclaim for its groundbreaking research and unwavering commitment to conservation efforts. With over 2,700 animals representing more than 390 species from across the globe, visitors are treated to a captivating journey through the diverse ecosystems of Africa, Asia, and South America. In addition to its impressive collection, the zoo offers engaging talks and live demonstrations, ensuring an enriching and immersive experience for all.

18. National Museum of African American History & Culture

Opened in 2016 along the illustrious National Mall, the National Museum of African American History & Culture stands as a shining beacon within the Smithsonian’s esteemed collection of institutions. Delving deep into the rich tapestry of African American history and culture, this groundbreaking museum showcases a vast array of artifacts, artworks, and immersive audio installations, offering insights into the triumphs and tribulations of African Americans throughout the centuries. As the only national museum of its kind in the United States, its thought-provoking exhibitions explore diverse themes, from the enduring legacy of African craftsmanship to the struggle for civil rights and equality. Visitors can marvel at personal items belonging to iconic figures such as Muhammad Ali, Harriet Tubman, and Nat Turner, while also admiring the museum’s striking architecture, inspired by the three-tiered crowns of Yoruban art, creating an unforgettable fusion of history and aesthetics.

19. Korean War Veterans Memorial

Located at the heart of Washington DC stands the solemn and stirring Korean War Veterans Memorial, a poignant tribute to the brave souls who served during the tumultuous conflict of 1950-1953. At its core lies a commanding mural wall stretching 164 feet, a powerful symbol of remembrance. Carved upon its surface are images frozen in time, capturing the essence of the troops in motion. Amidst the memorial’s tranquil surroundings, 19 stainless steel figures stand tall, embodying the spirit of honor and sacrifice. As sunlight dances upon the water’s surface of the Pool of Remembrance, surrounded by lush trees, the weight of inscriptions listing the fallen, wounded, and missing soldiers hangs heavy in the air, serving as a solemn reminder of the price of freedom. Adjacent to this sacred space, a United Nations wall commemorates the international effort, while a stoic granite wall bears the timeless declaration: “Freedom Is Not Free,” echoing the enduring cost of liberty secured through selfless sacrifice.

20. National Gallery of Art

Regarded as one of the premier museums in the United States, the National Gallery of Art is an absolute must-visit while in D.C. Boasting an extensive collection of paintings, photos, sculptures, and prints, it showcases masterpieces by renowned artists such as Raphael, Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso, and van Gogh. Established in 1937 on the National Mall, the museum comprises the neoclassical West Building, the modern East Building, and a picturesque outdoor sculpture garden. Each building focuses on different artistic mediums and historical periods, encompassing not only modern and contemporary artworks but also the medieval period, with remarkable pieces by both European masters and American artists adorning its halls.

21. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Ranked among the largest and most esteemed museums in D.C., the United States, and the world, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is a true marvel. Positioned along the illustrious National Mall, its expansive galleries are brimming with captivating artifacts, exhibits, and specimens, spanning diverse subjects from Ancient Egypt and Korean culture to dinosaurs, epidemics, and meteorites. A beloved destination for families, this colossal museum offers an immersive experience, with its vast collection boasting an impressive total of 145 million items. Amidst the halls, visitors can marvel at replicas of giant whales, gaze upon the skeletons of triceratops, and even witness tarantulas being fed in the Insect Zoo. For a more interactive experience, guests can stroll through the vibrant butterfly pavilion or catch a captivating show in the museum’s IMAX theater, ensuring an unforgettable journey through the wonders of natural history.