The 18 All-Time Greatest Things to Do in Washington DC (2024)

  • Washington Dc
  • Events
  • Things To Do

Sip craft co*cktails, visit world-class cultural institutions, and tour all the monuments.


Madeline Weinfield

The 18 All-Time Greatest Things to Do in Washington DC (1)

All Time Greats is the ultimate city bucket list. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, consider this the essential guide to getting the most out of Washington DC. Looking for events happening this weekend? Check out our DC weekend guide.

In recent years, Washington DC has done a lot to shed its suit-and-tie reputation. And while you’ll still see a lot of suits on a trip here, you’ll also discover a booming co*cktail scene, vibrant art world both in museums and on the streets, more free cultural spaces than you can count, and an overwhelming amount of history.

DC is a highly walkable city that you could easily spend months or years exploring. But even with just a weekend or a few days, you can still sink your teeth in a smattering of the diversity of what the city has to offer. Here are 18 all-time greatest things to do here.

The 18 All-Time Greatest Things to Do in Washington DC (3)

Things to Do in DC this Fall and Winter

Ice Skate

The National Mall
It’s true that it never gets very cold in DC, but you can still partake in one of winter's best activities: ice skating. Starting November 20, head to theice rink at the National Gallery of Art to rent a pair of skates for less than the cost of a co*cktail. This seasonal rink is set up in the museum’s sculpture garden, which means you can try out a double axel while surrounded by large-scale sculptures from the collections including pieces by Alexander Calder, Louise Bourgeois, and Roy Lichtenstein.

Noon Yard Ever

Navy Yard
For all the families with little kids who simply can’t (or shouldn’t!) stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, there’s a giant party at Navy Yard to celebrate the arrival of the new year. Taking place between 11 am–1 pm, the event at Noon Yards Eve is an outdoor bonanza of rides, a miniature train, arts and crafts, magicians, and music, culminating with a countdown and balloon drop at 12 noon.

Winter Pop-Up Bars

Various Locations
We’re far from Aspen and the Swiss Alps, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the best of après-ski life. In fact, the district does après very well and you won’t want to miss a drink (or two or three) in one of the city’s pop-up winter co*cktail bars. Head to the pop-up ski chalets at Dirty Habit in Penn Quarter where hot toddies, fire pits, and poutine await, or book a private dome at the Watergate Hotel’s Next Whiskey Bar where the champagne is served extra cold and extra bubbly.

The 18 All-Time Greatest Things to Do in Washington DC (4)

Where to See Arts and Culture in DC


The National Mall
There are a lot of monuments in DC, and chances are you’ll see most of them while bopping between Smithsonians. Don’t miss the chance to go to the top of one of the most iconic landmarks, the Washington Monument. Visiting is free, but you'll need to reserve ahead of time. Once there, an elevator takes you 555 feet up to the observation deck for stunning panoramic views of the city, thanks to a DC law that mandates new buildings don’t exceed the height of the monument.

For a different perspective, return to the National Mall after dark for illuminated monuments that offer a totally new vantage point. Climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and look out on the expanse of the National Mall from there. The dark and relative quiet casts a different, more introspective glow over the city and offers a poignant backdrop to the memorial.

Smithsonian Museums

The Smithsonian Institution, and its 16 totally free museums and galleries in DC, is an essential part of what makes the city so great. No matter your age or interest, you could easily spend an entire trip hopping between Smithsonian museums and still not see everything. The National Portrait Gallery is home to the iconic Presidents and First Ladies galleries, and the National Museum of American History preserves classic American artifacts like the Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz or the original Star-Spangled Banner. The National Air + Space Museum recently reopened to much acclaim, and the National Museum of Asian Art just celebrated its centennial with refreshed galleries. The newest Smithsonian, the National Museum of African American History & Culture, is worth a whole day’s visit in itself.

The White House

As the Eiffel Tower is to Paris or the Statue of Liberty is to New York City, the White House is practically synonymous with DC. While you can certainly get an up-close view from different citywide points, like Lafayette Square or further away from Constitution Avenue while museum hopping along the National Mall, there’s really nothing like stepping inside it. Doing so requires a little advanced planning: US citizens will need to sign up a minimum of 21-days before your intended visit, and visitors from abroad should contact their individual embassies.

The 18 All-Time Greatest Things to Do in Washington DC (5)

Mural Scene

DC’s art scene is not, of course, limited to inside museums and galleries. The city’s streets, walls, and sidewalks are home to a booming art scene and its murals are becoming just as recognizable as the other local landmarks. Explore the city’s street art with a self-guided tour via MuralsDC, an organization that acts as stewards for over 150 of the city’s public artworks. MuralsDC has great digital resources for mapping out your exploration—don’t miss the mural of RBG or new one of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The Kennedy Center

Former President JFK’s commitment to elevating American art and culture lives on at The Kennedy Center, the city’s living monument to his legacy. At this thriving center, and the official home of the National Symphony Orchestra, multiple stages mean there’s always something fun to check out. Whether it be an opera, comedy show, or musical revival, arrive for your show early to grab a bite at the KC Cafe, or sip a glass of bubbly on the expansive roof deck which offers 360-degree views of the city. Don’t miss the new permanent exhibition about JFK and his important and influential support of the arts.

The 18 All-Time Greatest Things to Do in Washington DC (6)

Where to Drink and Dine in DC

Ivy City

Various locations
DC’s food scene has been booming, but so has its world of drinking. Spend an evening in one of the city’s hippest neighborhoods, the industrial-chic Ivy City. Ivy City is home to a crop of businesses crafting their own beers and spirits. Check out Other Half Brewing for their wide selection of beers, settle in for a tasting of Italian herbal liqueurs at Don Ciccio & Figli, or savor whiskies at District Made Spirits.

Union Market

NoMa, one of the city’s fastest growing neighborhoods, is home to the historic Union Market. In recent years, the old market has been transformed into a central food hall of over 35 vendors, and it adds new vendors seemingly every week. As a result, Union Market is the place to grab a casual bite, enjoy a coffee, or meet a friend for a drink. Vendors range from counter-service spots like the Lebanese restaurant, Yasmine, to to-go dumplings from Laoban. The market’s surrounding streets offer other culinary gems like the micro-bakery Bread Alley (arrive early as they sell out quickly) and La Cosecha, a contemporary Latin-American food hall.

Rooftop Bars

Various locations
Rooftop bars with unbeatable city views are renowned here and especially a great reprieve from the fast workplace culture. Toast to the views at the Top of the Gate, the well-heeled rooftop spot at the iconic Watergate Hotel with expansive views of the Potomac, Kennedy Center, and Georgetown. For a more “downtown” vibe, try Moonraker, the hip, big-city energy rooftop restaurant at the Pendry Hotel with stunning sights of the Wharf, marina, Potomac, and monuments. For a party atmosphere, Lucha Rosa near City Center is a colorful bar that shakes up Mexican-inspired co*cktails. Finally, there’s Hedy’s, an intimate rooftop with views of Thomas Circle.

Award-Winning Bars

Various locations
The city’s craft co*cktail scene has exploded in recent years, which means tucking into a beverage at one of DC’s award-winning bars is a must-do. Start with a bang at Allegory, a speakeasy-style spot tucked away in the Eaton Hotel (recently named one of the best bars in North America by 50 Best). That being said, snagging a seat can be a challenge. Equally as intriguing are spots like the hip Jane Jane on 14h Street and The Wells, a gin-focused place in Capitol Hill.

Memorable Meals

Various locations
Which is growing faster, the co*cktail scene or the food scene? Ask anyone in the city and you’ll receive a different answer. Explore both for yourself and make time for a meal at one of the city’s most notable restaurants like Oyster Oyster, whose chef won a 2023 James Beard Award; Gravitas, one of DC’s Michelin-starred dining rooms; Lutèce, an intimate French neo-bistro with a robust natural wine list; ilili, a bustling culinary tour-de-force of the middle east; or Daru, the H-Street Indian restaurant hailed as the best restaurant in the district.

The 18 All-Time Greatest Things to Do in Washington DC (7)

Cannabis Culture in DC

Legacy DC and Gifted Curators

Various locations
Cannabis is legal in DC for those 21 and over and the city has embraced its medicinal and recreational use with a peppering of stores and galleries. Head to Legacy DC in Logan Circle, which is part dispensary and part gallery and the frequent host of community-wide art-themed events.

Gifted Curators, nearby in Adams Morgan, is another spot to scope out. The community and street art inspired gallery and i-71 compliant gift shop works to advance cannabis policy reform and justice in the district.

The 18 All-Time Greatest Things to Do in Washington DC (8)

Where to Enjoy Family-Friendly Fun in DC


Southwest Waterfront
While strolling around the Tidal Basin is an iconic DC activity—especially in the springtime when the cherry trees are in bloom—paddling the city’s waterway might just be more fun. Families can rent paddle boats along the Tidal Basin, or even opt for something a little more strenuous like exploring the Potomac River by kayak. Boating in DC is a good place to visit to choose your vessel.

Spy Tourism

Southwest Waterfront
DC is crawling with spies—or so we hear! Dive into the intriguing and mysterious world of espionage at the kid-friendly and family-favorite International Spy Museum. The museum’s exhibits on things like covert actions and stealing secrets, will have kiddos and their grownups hooked.

Cedar Hill

As one of the country’s most influential orators, writers, and statesmen, Frederick Douglass is one of the city’s most important historical figures, and no trip is complete without a visit to his home, Cedar Hill. The Anacostia-area residence is where Douglass spent the last 17 years of his life, and it just reopened to the public following a multi-year restoration project. The family-friendly site allows families to learn about Douglass through guided tours and hands-on activities.


Navy Yard
They might not be anywhere near the top of the stats these days, but cheering on the Washington Nationals is fun no matter what their ranking. Nats Fever runs high in the district which makes rooting on the home team a must-do during the season. Visiting in the off-season? Opt for a ballpark tour, or practice your swing in one of the Nats batting cages.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us onInstagram,TikTok,Twitter,Facebook,Pinterest, andYouTube.

Madeline Weinfieldis a Thrillist contributor.

The 18 All-Time Greatest Things to Do in Washington DC (2024)


What is the number one visitor attraction in Washington DC? ›

Even if you're only in town for a short trip, visiting the Washington Monument and the White House – two marble symbols of the U.S. – is a must for any first-time D.C. visitor.

What is the big thing in DC? ›

Built to honor George Washington, the United States' first president, the 555-foot marble obelisk towers over Washington, D.C. George Washington was perhaps the one indispensable man among the founders. You can't get to the top of the Washington Monument without a ticket.

What should I do on my first day in DC? ›

Things to Do in DC on Your First Trip
  • Monument Hopping — free. ...
  • Smithsonian Museums to Spend Half a Day — free. ...
  • Smithsonian Museums to Visit For One to Two Hours — free. ...
  • US Capitol — free. ...
  • White House – free. ...
  • Kennedy Center and Georgetown — free to $100. ...
  • Pay for a Museum — $15 – $25. ...
  • Arlington Cemetery — free.

What food is DC best known for? ›

The half-smoke is the undisputed champ of Washington DC's best foods. Why you'll love it – This mouth-watering meaty concoction consists of a sausage casing filled with beef, ground pork, and a special spice blend.

Why is DC so special? ›

Washington, D.C., anchors the southern end of the Northeast megalopolis, one of the nation's largest and most influential cultural, political, and economic regions. As the seat of the U.S. federal government and several international organizations, the city is an important world political capital.

What is the best way to see everything in Washington DC? ›

D.C. is a waterfront city and a Potomac Riverboat cruise is the perfect way to see a whole different side of the city. You can also enjoy other water activities like kayaking the Potomac River, riding paddle boats in the Tidal Basin, or taking a Duck boat tour.

What is the #1 most visited place in the US? ›

The #1 tourist spot in the US is Times Square in New York City. Some key details: * Times Square is one of the most visited places in the world, attracting over 50 million visitors annually. * It's located in midtown Manhattan and is renowned globally for its bright billboards and ads.

What are the 4 places in Washington DC? ›

Some would argue that the most known landmarks in Washington D.C. are the White House, The Capital, Library of Congress and just outside in Virginia, The Pentagon. All four have free tours for the public.

What is the big three in DC? ›

Superhero. DC's Big Three are Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman.

What is buried at the Washington Monument? ›

At the 1848 ceremony were 20,000 people, and a container that held copies of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and other objects was buried in the cornerstone.

Who is the big bad of DC? ›

Darkseid would not only kill Aquaman and Wonder Woman but would also corrupt Superman and take over the planet Earth. With only a few scenes, there is no doubt Darkseid is one of the most powerful threats out there.

Is it safe to walk in Washington DC downtown at night? ›

Downtown (City Center)

Downtown DC is generally safe during the day and well-patrolled by law enforcement. However, it is advisable to remain cautious at night, especially in less crowded areas. Avoid walking alone on dimly lit streets and stay in well-lit and populated areas.

How to get around DC as a tourist? ›

Try the DC Circulator

Another bus to consider is the DC Circulator. These buses run every 10 minutes between several of the most popular locations around the city. If you're visiting on the weekend, the bus system makes a loop around the National Mall on Saturday and Sunday. Information on fares can be found online.

What is the best area to stay in when visiting Washington DC.? ›

First time in Washington D.C.? We recommend staying around the National Mall. In Washington D.C. to see the sights? Stay around the National Mall, Capitol Hill or the East End. Want to treat yourself in Washington D.C.? Look at hotels in Foggy Bottom, Georgetown or around the National Mall.

What makes DC popular? ›

Part of being the capital means that Washington D.C. has a lot of history and meaningful monuments and buildings to explore. If you'd like to see as much of Washington's important buildings and monuments on a short visit, you may be interested in our Best of Washington DC tour.

What is the city of Washington, D.C. known for? ›

Washington DC attracts history buffs with its national monuments and memorials, as well as impressive museums displaying various cultures, artifacts, and collectibles from around the world. Home to the White House, you may even catch a glimpse of the nation's president while you're vacationing in the USA capital.

What made Washington DC famous? ›

The history of Washington, D.C., is tied to its role as the capital of the United States. The site of the District of Columbia along the Potomac River was first selected by President George Washington.

What is DC culture known for? ›

Cultural life

Scores of museums, galleries, and theatres are located in the city, many of which are internationally recognized. More money is spent per capita by the local government on the performing arts in D.C. than anywhere else in the United States. Cultural heritage festivals are held throughout the year.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Mrs. Angelic Larkin

Last Updated:

Views: 6216

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (47 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Mrs. Angelic Larkin

Birthday: 1992-06-28

Address: Apt. 413 8275 Mueller Overpass, South Magnolia, IA 99527-6023

Phone: +6824704719725

Job: District Real-Estate Facilitator

Hobby: Letterboxing, Vacation, Poi, Homebrewing, Mountain biking, Slacklining, Cabaret

Introduction: My name is Mrs. Angelic Larkin, I am a cute, charming, funny, determined, inexpensive, joyous, cheerful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.