20 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Washington, D.C.

Last Updated: May 01, 2024 | Travelmoo Diary


If you continue to explore the astounding beauty of its white marble monuments and memorials, undoubtedly each visit offers a life lesson about history, gaining familiarity with a lifestyle, or insight into the lives of the populace who cannot be found anywhere else, we offer you the discovery of marble monuments and memorials, learning history in a free museum, or gaining an understanding of the life of the populace in its prepared habitat – among all these events, one unmatched marble monument remains unfound, and with each viewing, a complete background experience is retained, nowhere else in America can it be found. A city in the district of Colombia that you can visit ten times and each time gain a completely separate experience.

The Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge at Night

Designed by Pierre-Charles L’Enfant at the behest of George Washington, the capital city of the United States is situated between Maryland and Virginia on the Potomac River. It is located on specially designated land after the establishment of institutions, so that the federal government does not exist within a single state.

L’Enfant planned the city, where eventually the broad avenues, inspiring marble buildings, the grand “Public Walks” of the people, and a vast National Mall emerged as a “public walk.” The city is divided into four quadrants: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast, and its layout is organized on a grid of streets oriented along cardinal directions.

First-time visitors experience the major landmarks such as the White House, Capitol Building, and museums, monuments, and memorials that dot its landscape, all conveniently situated parallel within the park-like National Mall. But beyond these renowned attractions, you’ll discover another D.C., one influenced by locals and impacted by diverse international residents, encompassing various neighborhoods like U Street, Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, and Georgetown.

It’s a city where you can dine within miles to taste the world’s culinary scene. It’s a city that encourages outdoor experiences, from paddleboarding on the Potomac River to walking or cycling along the C&O Canal towpath.

If possible, avoid visiting D.C. in the hot and humid summer. Unpleasantly hot weather aside, during the summer, you’ll encounter larger crowds. The best times to explore Washington are during the preparedness of spring and autumn.

Plan your visit to the nation’s capital with our list of top attractions.


On This Page:

     1.United States Capitol and Capitol Hill

     2.The Washington Monument

     3.National Gallery of Art

     4.The White House

     5.Library of Congress 6.National Museum of American History

     7.Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin

     8.The Lincoln Memorial

     9.National Air and Space Museum

    10.National Mall and Veterans Memorials

    11.International Spy Museum

    12.Washington National Cathedral

    13.National Museum of African American History and Culture

    14.United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

    15.National Museum of Natural History

    16.The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

    17.Arlington National Cemetery

    18.Georgetown Historic District

    19.National Zoological Park

     20.National Archives

1.United States Capitol and Capitol Hill

Facade of aged historic cathedral under colorful sky at sunset / pexels.com

Recognized globally as an emblem of the United States, the Capitol serves as the seat of the establishment and the Senate. The primary structure was built roughly between 1793 and 1812, with the city growing around the years that the building expanded. The final segment, completed between 1958 and 1962, notably enlarged the front portion where presidents take their oath, while a marble terrace on the opposite side offers splendid views of the mall and the city.

Internally, the Capitol is adorned with fresh frescoes, reliefs, and paintings, with particular emphasis on the grand dome’s rotunda, embellished with murals by Brumidi and vast paintings of historical events on the lower portion of the great artificial dome. Adjacent to this area lies the chamber of the former House of Representatives, housing statues of prominent historical figures. The small Senate rotunda is undergoing restoration, where the Senate convened until about 1859, and the Supreme Court until approximately 1935.

When free tours resume, they can be booked online and typically commence on the lower floor, where there is an intriguing exhibition on the building’s history. Weekly afternoon tours offer complimentary access to corridors in the Senate wing adorned with ornate paintings by Brumidi, created between 1857 and 1859. To attend Senate or House sessions, visitors must obtain passes through their respective senators or representatives; foreign visitors can arrange visits through the visitor center.

To the east of the Capitol lie the Supreme Court Building, the Library of Congress, and the Folger Shakespeare Library, boasting the world’s largest collection of William Shakespeare’s printed works.

Extending southeast from the Capitol is the vibrant Capitol Hill neighborhood, featuring the lively Eastern Market, a farmers market with craft vendors.


2.The Washington Monument


Clear Sky over Obelisk in Washington / pexels.com

The 555-foot-tall white shaft of the Washington Monument is a familiar landmark on the National Mall and presents a beautiful sight, especially when reflected in the long Reflecting Pool at its base. The idea of constructing the monument was never without controversy, particularly due to concerns about honoring the nation’s first president immediately. The project received Congress’s approval in 1783, but the land wasn’t set aside until 1848.

Political turmoil and financial shortages led to the suspension of the project for several years after the completion of a 156-foot-tall tower in 1854, and the Civil War further interrupted progress. It wasn’t until around 1885 that the monument was finally capped when the apex was set in place by Army engineers.

Due to the different stages of its construction, you can still see various layers of stone of different colors, representing different stages of its construction; within are stones donated by states, cities, foreign countries, organizations, and individuals, each symbolizing personal meanings for many in terms of personal significance. You can take an elevator to see most of the Mall and Washington and view the skies. The base of the monument is encircled by 50 American flags.


3.National Gallery of Art


People outside the National Gallery in London, England / pexels.com

Two buildings connected by a secure tunnel house one of the world’s premier art galleries and one of America’s most popular among a vast collection amassed through the efforts of the economic magnate and subsequent Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon. Its extensive and diverse collection

includes masterpieces of European and American art, spanning painting, sculpture, and decorative arts.

Temporary exhibitions often complement this exceptional permanent collection, establishing the gallery as a medium for showcasing artistic symbols from various cultures around the world. Notable among them is the Degas bronze statue, which has no parallel in any American gallery. Others include major works by French Impressionists – Monet, Degas, and Renoir – as well as other masterpieces by Rembrandt, El Greco, and Vermeer.

Recent East Wing features sculptures by Henry Moore, a mobile by Alexander Calder, and other modern works. On Monday evenings, free musical events featuring a wide range of genres are held at the National Gallery of Art, drawing crowds from across the city.


4.The White House


The White House / pexels.com

The White House is the official residence of the President of the United States. Every president’s home, except George Washington’s, was originally built by James Hoban in 1792 and was rebuilt in 1818 after being destroyed by the British forces in 1814.

Inside, tours are available—such as the East, Blue, Green, and Red Rooms; the Ballroom; and the State Dining Room—advanced reservations through your congressional office or the President’s Embassy are necessary, but every tourist to bustling Washington certainly wants to see this iconic building, at least from the outside.

Additionally, the White House Visitor Center, a short distance away, offers an extremely informative interactive display showcasing the history of the White House and the presidential family. It provides detailed presentations including videos from conception to the time spent by the presidents living there, featuring furnishings of past presidents, architectural models, historical changes, and more.

The Ellipse, a 54-acre lawn extending to Constitution Avenue and hosting summertime concerts by military bands, is a prominent human attraction. Adjacent to the White House stands the beautiful 1833 Greek Revival Treasury Building and the 1871 Executive Office Building, another stunning historic government building in Washington. From Lafayette Square.

5.Library of Congress


Magnificent Ancient Building Interior / pexels.com

A basement passage leads from the Capitol Building to an historic display, a place in Washington lesser known where one can wander, the Library of Congress. It is organized like the opera house in Paris, the world’s largest library. You can participate in their own among themselves, but touring its beautiful interior reveals much more for free.

Displayed here are three surviving complete Gutenberg Bibles, an early printed Bible, a collection of Thomas Jefferson’s letters, Jefferson’s personal library, and exhibits created in the galleries on subjects such as the careers of the Gershwin brothers and the works of editorial cartoonists and graphic artists.


6.National Museum of American History


National Museum of American History / pexels.com

Adjacent to the Mall, amidst many Smithsonian museums, stands one particularly popular, tracing the political, cultural, scientific, and technological history of the United States from the revolution onwards, that is the National Museum of American History. It showcases significant aspects of Americana, including Thomas Jefferson’s desk, an Edison light bulb, and notably, the original flag fragments gathered to inspire Francis Scott Key to write The Star-Spangled Banner.

Beyond its great national significance, the exhibits also illustrate how people lived, what they ate, where they worked, how they played, what they wore, how they traveled, how they worshipped, and how they governed themselves.

Using various artifacts, including some from personal lives, to elaborate on different topics at various levels, the exhibits present aspects of personal lives intertwined with historical subjects, inspiring curiosity about these historical topics that will attract people of all ages.


7.Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin


Cherry Blossoms in Bloom with a View of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial / pexels.com

The design of the white-domed memorial to Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, is based on the Roman Pantheon and is supported by 54 iconic columns. Inside, amidst the columns, is a 19-foot statue of Jefferson seated with an overlooking vista, and relevantly includes excerpts from the Declaration of Independence and other writings.

The memorial is primarily situated at the terminus of the Tidal Basin, which is lined on its shoreline by cherry trees, gifted as a token from Japan. These bloom into a cleanliness display every spring, coinciding with the Cherry Blossom Festival, and reflect the memorial’s shadow on the water’s surface where sea gulls from the basin’s aquatic team can be seen.

Cherry tree-lined paths border the perimeter of the Tidal Basin, culminating in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial which commemorates twelve years of American history through four outdoor rooms. Each room is dedicated to a phase of FDR’s presidency, depicting the major crises managed by the President, such as through the Great Depression and World War II. Opened in 2011, the 30-foot tall Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is the newest addition to the Tidal Basin’s approved sites.

9.The Lincoln Memorial


Marble statue of President Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial/ pexels.com

The Lincoln Memorial is the most beloved among all the memorials in Washington, located at the western end of the mall, separate from the Washington Monument by the Reflecting Pool. At its center stands a 19-foot marble statue, surrounded by 36 columns, which encircle the contemplative figure of President Abraham Lincoln seated within his memorial, with each column representing a state existing at the time of Lincoln’s death. It is known for being the most famous work of the renowned sculptor Daniel Chester French. Inside, Julian Germain’s hidden talismanic tiles depict significant events from Lincoln’s life.

Since its completion in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial has been associated with several historic events. In 1939, when the daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for the highly popular African American singer Marian Anderson to perform at their nearby Constitution Hall, President Franklin Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for her to give a concert on the published part of the Lincoln Memorial steps, attended by 75,000 people and broadcast to millions of radio listeners.

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of this memorial, once again making history here.

Visiting the memorials in Washington, D.C., including this and others on the mall, is a favorite activity. All memorials are open to the public, with many, like the Lincoln Memorial, open 24 hours a day. At night, the Lincoln statue is especially powerful, illuminated within the dark expanse of the Reflecting Pool and framed by the white columns of the neoclassical memorial.

10.National Mall and Veterans Memorials


World War II Memorial /pexels.com

From the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial lies a vibrant stretch, part of a bustling hub of life and a popular meeting point for locals and tourists alike: the National Mall. This area encompasses many of Washington’s historic buildings and monuments. At its central point stands the glittering Washington Monument, surrounded by memorials commemorating the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War Memorial is particularly poignant, featuring a solemn wall where all American military personnel who lost their lives or went missing are named. It’s one of the most visited memorials in Washington. Nearby, at the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, a bronze statue depicts three servicewomen aiding an injured soldier. In the Korean War Veterans Memorial, there are 19 stainless steel statues of soldiers representing the victorious allied forces. Most recently, in 2014, the Disabled American Veterans Memorial was unveiled.

If you look at a map of attractions in Washington, D.C., you’ll notice much of it is bordered by the National Mall, so you can spend quite a bit of time here. Alongside providing a green space, the Mall serves as a venue for various celebrations and festivals. The most notable among these is the annual Independence Day celebration, familiar with its fireworks display around the Washington Monument.

In July, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is held on the Mall, featuring music, arts, performances, storytelling, cultural events, and food from various regions of the country. The festival usually takes place at the end of March or the beginning of April.

During the summer evenings, you might find military bands performing near the Mall. The U.S. Navy Band performs on the west side of the Mall on Mondays and Tuesdays, and at the Navy Memorial on Tuesdays. The U.S. Air Force Band performs on the west side of the Mall on Tuesdays and at the Air Force Memorial on Fridays.


11.International Spy Museum


Memorial and Museum | Chris Hunter / pexels.com

This place, this museum, caters to enthusiasts from 007 onwards, covering informative aspects of covert technology, techniques, history, and the modern role of smartphones. Many exhibits are interactive, showcasing real examples of covert equipment within the building, such as an umbrella designed by KGB, declassified hardware, and surveillance footage from collected equipment.

Photos, audio-visual programs, and special effects are integrated to provide insight into the skills and methods behind covert missions. The collections span from revolutionary and wartime equipment to historical covert assets and surveillance cameras and weapons, including a continuous series of operations related to breaking Nazi codes with the Enigma cipher machine.

On the top floor is an existence account featuring Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, and John Walker, who extensively discuss the actual methods and equipment used to spy outside America. The lower floor directly descends from fictional to operational, packed with information used in James Bond films alongside actual properties.

One notable exhibit is the Aston Martin DB5, first seen in the 1964 film “Goldfinger,” equipped with machine guns, an oil jet, dashboard radar screen, an ejection seat, tire slashers, bulletproof shield, and a rotating license plate. The car often includes features similar to those integrated into the private vehicles of intelligence agencies.


12.Washington National Cathedral


Washington National Cathedral  | pixabay.com

In English style, the Neo-Gothic National Cathedral, one of the world’s largest cathedrals, took 83 years to construct from 1907 to 1990. It’s constructed in the Gothic architectural style, featuring flying buttresses and Indiana limestone, adhering to both Gothic architectural style and technology. Cultural descriptions are seen throughout the cathedral, providing memories of war heroes and historical events from its stained-glass windows.

Pre-booked special tours explore the hidden parts of the building and delve into its art; families can hunt for the hidden iron animals, small carvings, and gargoyles with the Cathedral’s “Exploring the Cathedral with Children” brochure. Don’t miss the high places in the northwest tower for a search of Darth Vader’s gargoyle.

The Cathedral has hosted state funerals for Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller, and official memorial services for Eisenhower, Reagan, and Ford. The upper portion of the central tower, standing 300 feet tall, offers Washington’s highest vantage point.


13.National Museum of African American History and Culture


National Museum of African American History and Culture | freepik.com

Focusing on history, culture, and community engagement, the Smithsonian Museum’s newest section acknowledges the transformation of American citizenship and equality while simultaneously revitalizing African American culture and the culture of the entire African diaspora.

Various topics are explored in the revamped exhibits, centering around aspects such as historic African American food practices and kitchens, the influence of African American athletes on segregation, and African artistry.

Following the displayed historic sites, a portion of the Olde North Carolina Greensboro lunch counter from the early 1960s is showcased, where the Greensboro sit-ins of 1960, a significant event in the civil rights movement, took place. Also featured is the “Spirit of Tuskegee” aircraft, familiar from its role in the Tuskegee Airmen of the Army Air Forces, who were utilized in World War II and contributed to the desegregation of the military through their efforts.


14.United States Holocaust Memorial Museum


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum|pexels.com

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, located near the Smithsonian, documents, studies, and analyzes the history of the Holocaust and provides memorial spaces for victims of genocide, aiming to educate the world about hatred and assist in genocide prevention.

Permanent exhibits delve into Nazi and Aryan ideology, significant events like the ghettos and Kristallnacht, concentration camps, and Nazi atrocities. A display on the Holocaust, World War II, and American responses to genocide features personal narratives alongside evidence of Nazi atrocities.

The exhibits incorporate interviews, drawing from extensive collections including 12,750 artifacts, 85,000 historical photographs, 9,000 oral history interviews, and records from survivors and their families. Visiting the museum provides a deeply moving experience.


15.National Museum of Natural History


Dinosaur skull outside the National Museum of Natural History|pexels.com

Exploring the world of natural science with children is one of the most popular activities in Washington, attracting people of all ages with its permanent and interactive exhibitions. Among the favorite exhibits are the renowned Hope Diamond and its illuminated gems and mineral collections, as well as the fantastic images of the ocean hall and the replica of the 45-foot North Atlantic Right Whale in the Ocean Hall.

Following humanity’s journey of advancement alongside the changing world has been an immensely engaging experience for visitors over the course of six million years. Children may have a particular fondness for the dinosaur exhibits and interactive discovery rooms, where they can regularly interact with artifacts.

16.The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts


The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts|pexels.com

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named in honor of President John F. Kennedy and opened in 1971, is located on the Potomac River amidst a healthy building designed by architect Edward Durell Stone. It is the home of the National Symphony Orchestra, which hosts some of the world’s finest guest artists each year, and the Washington National Opera, one of the nation’s premier opera companies.

Featuring three main stages and multiple smaller venues, the vast complex hosts over 2,200 performing arts presentations and events each year, nearly 400 of which are free. These encompass a wide range of musical and theatrical establishments, both ancient and modern.

By joining the ranks of the Los Angeles Music Center and New York’s Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center has recently emerged as one of the world’s three major venues, renowned for its ballet, dance, and theater companies.


17.Arlington National Cemetery


Arlington National Cemetery|pexels.com

On the banks of the Potomac River, adjacent to a mountain, lies the Arlington National Cemetery, a memorial site in Indian history, honoring both men and women. Its notable features include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, President John F. Kennedy’s gravesite, and the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, formerly known as the Iwo Jima Memorial. The Welcome Center provides maps, information (including specific grave locations), and narrates the stories of Arlington National Cemetery and its memorials.

Among them, there are memorials dedicated to nurses, the Iran Rescue Mission casualties, and various war and group memorials, such as a memorial for a war, Lieutenant Commander Roger B. Chaffee, and Lieutenant Colonel Virgil “Gus” Grissom, who perished in a fire aboard their Apollo spacecraft. Another poignant and remarkable event is the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, occurring every half hour from October 1st to March 31st and every hour from April 1st to September 30th. Though not located directly within the city, examples of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s MetroRail system and Metrobus service are provided as transportation options.


18.Georgetown Historic District


Georgetown Historic District|pexels.com

27th to 37th Street, Rock Creek Park, and K Street NW mark one of the oldest areas in Washington, dating back to the early 1700s. It’s home to Georgetown University, the National Cathedral, and Jesuit colleges.

Today, the well-kept streets of Georgetown, along with its boutique shops, cafes, restaurants, and small galleries, make it a popular and charming destination, offering an escape from the lines of mall attractions. The C&O Canal, a 184-mile waterway parallel to the Potomac River, starts here, with its towpath being a popular spot for walking and cycling.

Dumbarton Oaks is a meticulously landscaped garden on 16 acres of land, housing a priceless collection of sculpture and Christian art. The Federal Period Dumbarton House features Federal-style furniture, paintings, textiles, silverware, and ceramics, making it a knowledgeable abode of five unknown Australian articles of Confederation.

Tudor Place is a house from the early 19th century, built by Martha Washington’s granddaughter Martha Custis Peter and her husband. Items from George and Martha Washington’s Mount Vernon estate are displayed here, and the Federal Period gardens have been home to dried and live plantings since the early 19th century. The Kreeger Museum showcases art from the 1850s to the 1970s, including works by Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Chagall, Goya, and Picasso.

If you’re looking for a place to eat or things to do at night in Washington, it’s one of the places you can visit. It’s filled with restaurants and cafes, often accompanied by live music venues.

19.National Zoological Park


National Zoological Park|pexels.com

The National Zoo is another Smithsonian institution where nearly 2,000 different animals, birds, and reptiles reside in multiple natural habitats. Representing a significant fraction of many species, it serves not just as a well-regarded zoo globally for visitor experience but also operates as a conservation-focused institution, leading in animal care and conservation efforts.

Among the most popular animals here are the giant pandas, a significant arrival in 1972 as part of a crucial initiative from the People’s Republic of China. Other highlights of the zoo include the red pandas, Sumatran tigers, Western lowland gorillas, Asian elephants, cheetahs, white-naped cranes, and North Island brown kiwi.

In the Amazonia exhibit, you can witness the colorful aquatic life of the Amazon, where the world’s largest freshwater fish play under a living rainforest canopy.

At the Elephant Conservation Station, along with cheetahs, you can see Grévy’s zebras, Dama gazelles, red panda cubs, and live river hogs, and on the very popular Elephant Trails, you can observe the bonds of multi-generational herds and learn about elephant life both in the zoo and in the wild.

Check the schedule for feeding times, demonstrations, educational games, and talks. Whatever you expect, it’s an undisputed favorite spot in Washington for children’s outings.

20.National Archives


National Archives|pexels.com

The National Archives houses records of the American Congress, the American Supreme Court, the District of Columbia Court, and maintains permanent records for some federal agencies, as well as pre-World War II service records for American and Confederate veterans, and pre-1940 logbooks for the American Navy.

The archives are open to researchers, and in the Rotunda, you can view the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The exhibit gallery contains significant documents of 1297 Magna Carta and other historically significant changeable documents of groups. One exhibit, accurately named “Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote,” features interactive displays from the suffrage movement to other aspects of the exhibit and hands-on activities for all ages.