Explore Washington, Usa

What to see in Washington, Usa

The National Mall

Most of the attractions in D.C. are on the National Mall, the West End, and Capitol Hill.

The National Mall is a unique National Park, filled with an intense concentration of monuments, memorials, museums, and monumental government buildings instantly recognizable to people all over the world. The Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the National Gallery of Art, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Holocaust Museum, are just a few of the top attractions on the National Mall. To walk down the National Mall is to thread the halls of world power in the modern era. Here the world’s most powerful politicians and their staffs fill the grand neo-classical buildings of the three branches of US Government, making decisions that reverberate in the remotest corners of the world. The National Mall is larger than it looks, and a walk from one end of the National Mall to the other will take a while and may wear you down a bit. Plan ahead what you want to see and concentrate your activities in one section of the National Mall each day.

The East End, just north of the National Mall, includes many more museums and attractions, including the Newseum, the District Architecture Center, National Portrait Gallery, the American Art Museum, and the home of an original copy of the Constitution at the National Archives.

The White House, as well as Textile Museum and the Kennedy Center, are located in the West End. The Capitol Building and the Supreme Court are on Capitol Hill. Another attraction here that shouldn’t be missed is the Library of Congress, which has some of the most beautiful architecture that can be seen in the city.

The free National Zoo in Upper Northwest is one of the nation’s most prestigious zoos, and the National Cathedral is an awe-inspiring mammoth. Dupont Circle is home to much of Embassy Row, an impressive stretch of some 50 foreign-owned historic and modernist mansions along Massachusetts Ave, as well as several brilliant small museums, such as the Phillips Collection and the Woodrow Wilson House.

The historic neighborhood of Georgetown is the oldest part of the city, full of beautiful old colonial buildings, the 200+ year-old Jesuit campus of Georgetown University that resembles a Harry Potter film set, restaurants along the waterfront, the C&O canal, and the infamous Exorcist steps.

By car or bus, you can get to some of the capital’s more far-flung and less-frequented attractions, like the National Arboretum in Near Northeast, or the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in eastern Anacostia. By taking the Metro red line to Brookland-CUA, you can easily visit the magnificent Catholic Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This is the largest Catholic Church in North America.

While many attractions and museums are free, there are several that aren’t.

D.C.’s famous building height restrictions—no taller than the width of the street the building is on plus 20 feet—have resulted in a skyscraper-less downtown, giving D.C. a distinctly muted feel for what is actually the heart of a huge metropolis. The obvious downside to this law is that it limits the supply of housing and office space and tax revenues and results in very high rents. Since many buildings downtown are of the same height level, many rooftop terraces offer great views.

The Old Post Office Tower (free) at the Trump International Hotel Washington DC in the East End is the best view in the city. Operational hours are 9AM-4:30PM, daily.

Kennedy Center Rooftop Terrace (free), in the West End, provides a nice skyline somewhat removed from the city, with the Lincoln Memorial prominent in the foreground.

Washington Monument (free), on the National Mall, though as a vista point its small, bunker-like ports covered with scratched plastic make it less inspiring than might be expected.

Newseum, in the East End, is a good place to see a remarkable museum and get a close up view of downtown.

W Hotel, in the West End, just a block from the White House, has a rooftop terrace, bar, and lounge called POV (Point of View) with a view of the White House from above, close enough to make out the Secret Service over watch.

Top of the Gate @ The Watergate Hotel in the West End is a rooftop bar with great 360-degree views.

D.C. is 21.9% covered in parkland, one of the highest ratios among U.S. cities. Many of these parks are crowded with soccer, football, rugby, kickball, baseball, and ultimate Frisbee players. The National Mall may be the most famous park, but there are several other large beautiful parks in the city.

The 2,000 acre Rock Creek Park, a national park, bisects the city north of the Anacostia River. The park is full of deer (who overpopulate, due to lack of predators), squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, birds, and even a few coyotes. The park includes paved biking/running trails that extend from Maryland to the Lincoln Memorial and connecting with the Mount Vernon trail in Northern Virginia. There are also plenty of hiking trails, picnic spots, a golf course, a variety of Ranger-led/educational programs, and boats can be rented for kayaking and sailing at the Thompson Boat Center on the Potomac River. There are plenty of nice outdoor spaces just beyond the park. South of Massachusetts Ave, you can take a path west out to the beautiful Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown, and then on to enormous Archibald-Glover Park, where the trails can lead you as far south and west as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park and Palisades Park. Following the main trail along the creek all the way south will take you under the Whitehurst Freeway and down to the National Mall, where joggers avail themselves of the incredible path right along the Potomac beneath the monuments.

Roosevelt Island is one of those gems just far enough out of the way that it is missed by most tourists. The Teddy Roosevelt Memorial is at the center of the island, which includes a couple fountains and several stone obelisks inscribed with his quotes. The rest of the island is a nice natural park of woods and swamp with a boardwalk in the center of the Potomac, with great views of Georgetown University on the northwest side and of the Kennedy Center on the east. What could be better befitting the “conservationist president” than an island park memorial? To reach the island, walk down the stairs at the Rosslyn side of the Key Bridge—which connects Rosslyn with Georgetown—then head east on the trail (the Mount Vernon Trail) to the footbridge to the island. Rosslyn is the nearest Metro stop. By car, you can access the parking lot just north of the Roosevelt Bridge from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Pkwy only.

There are several other parks worth visiting, including the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Anacostia, the National Arboretum in Near Northeast, Meridian Hill Park in Columbia Heights, and the C&O Canal Towpath in Georgetown.