Top 20 Things to Do in Washington, D.C
Take a Custom Designed Private Tour of Washington DC to Discover the Most Fascinating Top 20 Things to Do in Washington, D.C.
Top 20 Things to See and Do in Washington, D.C.
1 ) The United States Capitol
- Where? Capitol Hill, Washington.
Washington is, of course, the capitol of the United States, but then the Capitol itself is also the focal point for the Senate and House of Representatives. Imposing and magnificent at the same time, the dome on top of this building was inspired by the infamous St. Peter's in Rome and has increased in size since the original center piece was first constructed in the late 18th century.
The Capitol is intriguing in a sense that you will uncover the history of the additions over the years while also gaining a better understanding of the elegant murals, paintings, and interior decoration.
As you might expect, the inside of the magnificent dome is a masterpiece in itself which is covered with an astonishing painting by the artist Brumidi, while paintings on the surrounding walls depict the captivating storyline of American history.
Moving further along, your private tour guide will explain the many statues in the former Chamber of the House of Representatives, before outlining the significance of the Senate Rotunda an the Old Chamber where the Supreme Court was located in the early 20th century. Experience a distinct sense of importance while strolling through these corridors where intricate paintings and exquisite architecture tell the story of culture and heritage.
Finally, a private tour will explore the passage beneath the ground where several exhibitions lead the way from the Capitol building across to the largest library on the planet, the Library of Congress in which you cannot help but be impressed. Designed based on the Opera House in Paris, the Library is home to stunning decor, some of the earliest forms of the Bible and the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson. Capitol is an intriguing encounter, a visual delight and a great insight into the origins of the most powerful nation in the world.
2 ) National Mall and Veterans Memorials
- Where is it? Constitution Avenue and Independence Avenue, Washington.
Appearing as an outdoor corridor, an iconic site with historical landmarks and infused with a natural charm which is every bit as memorable, a private tour of the National Mall and Veterans Memorials is the ultimate place in which to pay ones respects to the brave soldiers lost in service as well as being an encounter that evokes images of the great speeches and event which took place here.
At one end you have the imposing Washington Monument and at the other, the striking Abraham Lincoln Memorial, the two of them separated by a long rectangular pool and beautiful lawns. Next to these you will also find the numerous memorials dedicated to the lives which were lost in World War II along with the Korean and Vietnam Wars. On the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, thousands of men and women's names are inscribed on the wall, and this is likely the most visited of all the memorials. Nearby, there are also several sculptures depicting servicewomen and soldiers during some of the most harrowing time in world history.
Although this park is most commonly used by the public to run, walk or other recreational purposes, the Mall is also used for special events including important speeches, artistic performances, food festivals and the well known Smithsonian American Folk Life Festival which takes place in July of each year. Simply unmissable on a visit to Washington, a private tour of the National Mall s a great way to begin your stay in the capital.
3 ) Holocaust Memorial Museum
- Where is it? 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place SW, Washington.
While many of the monuments and memorials in Washington stand for victory and achievement, there is at least one which stands solely as a reminder for the most horrible acts in human history. It may seem a little odd for a city like Washington to have such a museum but on closer inspection, there is every reason that it should., given the Jewish community in the United States and the importance freedom holds for the nation, the capital was always going to have this memorial.
Expect a harrowing story beyond the beautiful architecture of the building which is located close to the Mall. Renowned for being provocative and striking for being so heartbreaking, a private tour of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum is an important reminder for the dark parts in human history which the rest of the world should prevent from even happening again. If you are visiting Washington during the high season (March , August), you should reserve a private tour as the tickets are often sold out and likewise, when you do have a private tour booked, the earlier you can travel, the less crowded the museum will be.
It may not be the kind of private tour you wish to experience on a vacation but for many, a Holocaust Memorial can be fascinating and informative regardless of where you travel and no matter the occasion.
4) The National Zoo
- Where is it? Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington.
Smithsonian is renowned for many reasons, of course, another of which is overflowing with thousands of birds, animals and reptiles. Yes, a private tour of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. is a great opportunity to get up close and personal with a huge variety of specimens in different environments.
It is also no exaggeration to say that the National Zoological Park in Washington is one of the most famous and comprehensive in the world and such is the reputation of this institution for maintaining the facilities and caring for the animals, that it leads the way for every other zoo countrywide. Expect the ultimate visitor experience on a private tour and an intriguing introduction to the giant pandas who have made the zoo their home since arriving from China in the early 1970's. Another highlight are the red pandas which are nearby and then the incredible Sumatran tiger, cheetahs, elephants and the western Gorilla.
Further along you will find the Amazonia exhibition which houses a collage of colorful marine life including the worlds largest fish which inhabit the waters beneath this beautifully recreated Amazonian forest. The National Zoo is full of surprises as see with the Cheetah Conservation Station which features more than just the animal namesake, for gazelles, zebra and the ominous vulture can also be found n this habitat. And then there is Elephant Trails where a huge herd of small, medium and enormous sized elephants will help you to learn more about their lives in the wild.
All considered, a private tour of the National Zoo is an informative visit but mostly fascinating in a sense that there are just so many animals in here to discover and a beautiful habitat in which to see them.
5 ) The White House
- Where? Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington
Did you know that George Washington was the only US president who did not reside in the White House? Constructed in the late 18th century, the most famous house in the world is now the residence of every US President and despite being torn down by the British army in 1814, it was restored and enamored ever since.
Incredibly, you can take a private tour of the White House interior and visit the most famous rooms such as the East, Green, Red and Blue Rooms or the renowned State Dining Room where many famous meetings have taken place over the years. As you might expect, all private tours of the house must be reserved well in advance and the significance of this majestic building is not something a visitor will want to miss on a visit to Washington.
Not far from the White House is the Visitor Centre housing has many interactive features which outline some behind the scenes facts about the house and the families who have lived there. In some cases this might include old furniture or video footage but regardless, it makes for a fascinating insight to such an important living quarters. Other main buildings on the private tour include the Treasury Building, the Executive Office and the luscious Eclipse, an immaculate lawn which runs from the White House to Constitution Avenue.
6 ) Washington National Cathedral
- Where is it? Massachusetts & Wisconsin Avenues NW, Washington, D.C.
One of the largest on the planet, it took more than eighty years to build this magnificent Cathedral and the intricate detail on the interior is every bit as impressive as the imposing front, front colorful stained glass windows, distinctly Gothic architecture and then many kneelers which feature beautifully embroidered designs of prominent figures who shaped the nations past.
A private tour of the Washington National Cathedral needs to be reserved in advance an they offer the chance to uncover many secret parts of the building which are usually off limits. If traveling with a family, there is a special book which outlines a treasure hunt for the children. As you are sure to find out, the cathedral is also the resting place for President Woodrow Wilson, while the state funerals for President Ford, Eisenhower, and Reagan were also held here.
Impressive in design and scale, the tower at the top of the cathedral marks the highest in all of the city so you can expect unrivaled views on this private tour of the Washington Cathedral. Meanwhile outside, the Bishop's Garden is an attraction in itself, where medieval walkways lead between luscious green landscaped gardens and ponds. And for anyone interested in attending proceedings in the cathedral, Carillon recitals take place on weekends at which point the bells will ring and make you feel as though you have steeped back in time for a moment.
7 ) Washington Monument
- Where? 15th & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington.
Standing proudly above the Reflecting Pool, the Washington Monument is more than 550 tall and one of the most iconic sights in the United States. In fact, taking a private tour to the Washington Monument is one of the most popular things to do in this region which can also be attributed to the nearby statue of President Abraham Lincoln. First constructed in the mid-1800's, the monument was initially just 150 feet in height due to the fact that the project had run out of funds at one point.
However, by the end of the 19th century, the structure was finished by Army Engineers and interestingly, the Washington Monument, your guide will point out the different colors of the bricks which signal the several stages of construction over the years. Another intriguing fact is in how many of the stones within the monument have been engraved by donors who contributed to the funding, including foreign countries, cities, states and private individuals. Admire the imposing sight from the ground or even take an elevator to the top where you can find incredible views of Washington and the surrounding area.
A private tour of the Washington Monument is an opportunity to witness this inspiring piece of architecture but given how this is the point from which many famous speeches, concerts and announcements have been made over the years; it is also a chance to stand in one of the most important locations in United States history.
8 ) National Gallery of Art
- Where is it? Constitution Avenue NW, Washington.
Renowned for being one of the most spectacular of it's kind, the National Gallery of Art covers a wide range of both American and European sculptures and paintings along with many unique exhibits illustrating different cultures of the world. In fact, the museum is also home to some very rare pieces such as the Ginevra de Benci which is the only Leonardo Da Vinci painting in a US museum. Another popular exhibition in the museum is the French collection including Monet and Renoir, while in the eastern section you can find some modern pieces including several sculptures by Henry Moore.
Other museums also take their place in the mall with the Freer Gallery of Art offering the largest collection of Asian art the world over with Buddhist sculptures, Thai manuscripts, and ancient Persian manuscripts. And then there is the American element, for the Freer Gallery also houses collections of famous American artists such as James McNeill.
Further along on the National Gallery of Art is the Arthur M.Sackler Gallery, which is predominantly a collection of Chinese artwork, from paintings, ceramics and metallic artifacts. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, on the other hand, is an outdoor exhibit of 12,000 masterpieces of art with Rodin's Burghers of Calais arguably the most well-known of these. You can spend time in the National Museum of African Art which accurately depicts the great contrasts and diversity to be found on the continent itself.
A private tour of the National Gallery of Art may sound exhausting at this point, but you really can decide on which part to focus and how much you wish to see. Either way, a visit to this spectacular museum never fails to impress, excite and inspire the visitors who explore it.
9 ) National Museum of American History
- Where is it? 14th Street NW, Washington.
In the Smithsonian, you can also find an incredible insight into American history the National Museum of the same name. Naturally, there are political and military references throughout but the main focus of the museum is mostly regarding the history of culture, science, and technology of the US. Expect to find Thomas Edison's lightbulb, the desk of Thomas Jefferson and the very first American flag which inspired the words of the National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner.
As you will find on a private tour of the National Museum of American History, there are many exhibits leading into each other which depict the way of life in America down through the ages and this is particularly interesting, from the ancient artifacts such as clothing, tools, and machines, to items belonging to famous actresses and important American icons.
Slightly random and highly entertaining, a private tour of the National Museum of American History is a great insight into American life and how this prosperous country came to be at all.
10 ) Abraham Lincoln Monument
- Where? 15th & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington.
Possibly the most iconic of all the monuments on a private tour of Washington and maybe even the United States is the Abraham Lincoln Monument, which finds itself at the opposite end of the Reflecting Pool to the Washington Monument.
Proud and imposing, President Lincoln strikes such an impressive sight between the 36 columns on either side of the memorial. Interestingly and as you will find out on these columns symbolize each state which existed at the time of Abraham Lincolns death and the monument was designed by a famous sculpture by the name Daniel French.
Other notable points of interest at the memorial are the murals and paintings which outline significant events and achievements in Lincolns life, and this monument is often the location for historic events in Washington. Almost 100,000 people attended the concert that day and if that was not enough, one of the most famous speeches of all time was delivered on these steps beginning with "I have a dream" by Martin Luther King.
Historic and at the center of all hope for the American people, a private tour of the Lincoln Memorial is not to be missed on your visit to Washington.
11 ) National Air and Space Museum
- Where? Independence Avenue SW, Washington.
Renowned across the globe for an incredible display of historical aircraft and spacecrafts, a private tour of the National Air and Space Museum is a captivating which illustrates the timeline of flight in both an imaginative and visual sense. Home to the Wright Brothers Flyer which first took flight in 1903 and also the first trans Atlantic plane, the infamous Spirit of St.Louis by Charles Lindbergh, the museum is a rare encounter with the first aircraft which has made world travel so easily accessible.
Another highlight on a private tour of the National Air and Space Museum is the enchanting Apollo 11 command module which was used in the very first landing on the moon, while further along you will uncover the magical-like science an technology behind aviation and flight through space itself through illustrations and interesting exhibitions.
Although it is forbidden to touch many of the artifacts including some moonrock, when you consider the wide array of objects and information on the show, a trip to this museum really is something out of the ordinary. And then there is the Albert Einstein Planetarium, inspired by the great man himself, the Observatory and the IMAX theater; education has never been so much fun with a large number of interactive features to explore. Perfect for children and adults alike, the Flight Simulators offer an opportunity to re-enact military missions with barrel rolls and sharp turns heightening the realism of such an experience.
Next to the museum, you can also enter the Udvar-Hazy Center, which has, even more, aircraft including the Discovery, a famous space shuttle, and a majestic Concorde. Finally, a working hanger gives you the chance to stroll along a walkway and watch the technicians restore some of these historical crafts.
A private tour of the National Air and Space Museum is an interesting insight on all accounts, it is interactive, visual and appealing in almost every way, so whether you wish to find out more about the inner workings of a jet engine or experience what it might feel like in the International Space Station above, you are sure to come away from here with some unforgettable memories.
12 ) Museum of Natural History
- Where is it? Constitution Avenue NW, Washington.
Many cities across the United States will hold claim to a Natural History Museum but in Washington you can expect a particularly impressive collection. In fact, where else can you find a four century old stone like Hope Diamond surrounded by some of the most celebrated gems anywhere in the world?
Another highlight on a private tour of the Natural History Museum is the spectacular marine photography which you can find in the Ocean Hall, dominated by an enormous North Atlantic Whale hanging overhead.
Shortly after you can also find the stages of human evolution recreated in the Hall of Human Origins, the timeline for which dates back more than five million years. Dinosaur exhibitions and the Discovery Room are sure to impress children and adults alike, given how is permitted to touch many of the artifacts in these rooms.
Enormous and full of excitement, a private tour of the Museum of Natural History in Washington is most certainly worth the visit.
13 ) Malcolm X Park
- Where is it? 16th Street & Euclid Street NW, Washington.
On a private tour, you are likely to come across many hidden parts of a city, some lesser known attractions and isolated pockets which are usually frequented only by the locals. Malcolm X Park is one of these places, and while Washington has many parks, there are few as quaint, maintained or as meaningful. Also known as Meridian Hill, the park sits on more than 10 acres of land with fantastic views of the downtown area and many iconic monuments mentioned on this list. Upon departing the White House, John Quincy Adams also lived in a huge mansion in the park, while it has had several celebrated owners since first being established in the early 1900's.
Meridian Hill Park will naturally take you through some very luscious surroundings with cascading ponds, leafy walkways and gardens infused with historical statues. However, there is something much more inviting about this park in that it offers the chance to immerse oneself in a lesser visited part of town which can feel much more personal or local than the more popular parts of town.
Malcolm X Park has had many private owners over the years and has been frequented by all the famous names such as Thomas Jefferson but today it is managed by the National Park Service and is often utilized for special events or concerts when it is not being used for general public recreation. On the weekends (Sundays) you will find music on Malcolm X Park you should find a particular atmosphere which is sometimes absent in the rest of the city.
14 ) Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin
- Where is it? Ohio Drive SW, Washington.
If you have ever visited the Pantheon in Rome, you will surely recognize the white dome on the memorial for Thomas Jefferson, which its atop a series of striking columns. On the interior, you will then find the beautiful 20-foot sculpture of the famous ex-president surrounded by many engraved words from the Declaration of Independence and other famous scriptures.
Sitting on one end of the Tidal Pool, the monument is a popular attraction in Washington and it reflects beautifully out of the pool itself, especially on a day with clear skies. Brought all the way fro Japan, the cherry trees you will see lining the sides of the water were gifted to the American government and they are a truly magnificent sight during the spring when the bloom so bright, an event which is then celebrated by the Cherry Blossom Festival.
Strolling around the Tidal Basin, you will also encounter the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial depicting his 12 important years of history in the United States during which the famous president led the country through World War II and the Great Depression.
As with the many monuments in Washington, a private tour of the Jefferson Memorial gives a fantastic flavor of the rich heritage of this relatively young nation and a reminder for the many hard times it has endured.
15 ) Ford’s Theater and Peterson House
- Where is it? 10th St, NW, Washington.
The World renowned for being the place in which President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Ford's Theater lies just opposite the house he was taken to for treatment. A private tour to Peterson House will take you inside this historically important building which has all the same furniture and decor as when the incident first happened.
Due to popularity, it is always recommended to reserve a private tour of Ford's Theater as quite often tickets for a visit will be unavailable. Amazingly, the house still has the actual pillow that President Lincoln used during his final moments and just outside this room; you can stand in the exact spot that his wife Mary, and family members would await news on his critical condition.
Later on the private tour you will enter through the basement of Ford's Theater which is now a museum and timeline for the life of Abraham Lincoln and the artifacts on show are staggering, from the clothes the President was wearing when he was shot to the family photographs and items used in the trial that followed. The climax for many people however is the Presidential box where the shooting took place and to have a private tour guide illustrate these final moments on location, is quite simply an unforgettable experience.
Hair raising and entirely engrossing, this is one private tour in Washington that you do not want to miss.
16 ) Chinatown
- Where is it? 5th and 8th Streets NW, Washington.
Take a private tour of Chinatown in Washington, D.C. through the infamous friendship arch with 300 dragons (Chinese Gate) and along these colorful streets overflowing with food, crafts and culture. Chinatown in Washington, D.C. may be smaller than the other namesakes in other American cities but in this sense, you can expect less walking and more time getting lost in a sublimely traditional neighborhood.
It can be a little difficult locating the best restaurants in Chinatown but with a private tour, this will be no trouble at all, and as everyone knows, Chinese food is renowned for a distinctly delicious flavor.
Naturally, the best way to explore such an area is on foot and this private walking tour of Chinatown will give you a really good insight into the way of life for the people who call it home and a good idea for the struggle which many immigrants were faced with when they first arrived in the United States so many years ago.
Pick up some souvenirs, meet the local vendors, taste the amazing food and maybe take a visit to the National Museum of Crime and Punishment which is also in the area. Covering what seems to be the entire length of American crime history, you can walk through a huge range of artifacts, documentaries and inside information on US prisons, forensics, and capital punishment.
There are also many interesting memorabilia from movie sets which were based on crime but arguably the most interesting part of a private tour to the National Museum of Crime is the captivating exhibition on medieval punishments in colonial America, along with the Wild West, gangsters, and serial killers.
Two contrasting experiences all in the one afternoon, a private tour of Chinatown and the Museum of Crime and Punishment is certainly unique and one to remember.
17 ) The U Street Corridor
- Where is it? 815 V Street NW, Washington.
Taking a private tour in Washington opens up the city in a way which would otherwise be unknown to the visitor and one such place that a private guide can help you discover is the U Street Corridor.
There are really only three parts of Washington D.C that tourists will frequent at night and thankfully, U Street is none of these places. Yes, get ready to experience the real local nightlife away from other tourists and in the midst of the people who call D.C their home. Many bars and excellent restaurants line the streets between 9th and 17th NW, while prices remain reasonable. The neighborhood is called Shaw, and it is most famous for being the birthplace of Duke Ellington along with being a favorite haunt for celebrities such as Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis.
Once left to crumble, the district has been rejuvenated in recent years and is now home to several amazing live music venues - 9.30 Club, atmospheric bars - Marvin, great restaurants - Ben's Chili Bowl and of course, the friendly locals themselves.
So leave the obvious parts of town behind and experience real Washington at night, on a private tour of the U Street Corridor.
18 ) Newseum
- Where is it? Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington.
Feel like reliving the most celebrated events in American history and witnessing the magic on a private tour of Newseum? Reaching past the exterior of media and journalism, Newseum takes video footage and interesting displays to illustrate the most infamous events of the nations past in the most interactive way possible.
Watch the first reports of when the fall of Berlin was announced or the media coverage following the death of President Kennedy. Another particular favorite is the newspapers depicting the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln long before any of this and then, of course, the heartstopping film about 9/11 accompanied by award-winning photographs from the century past.
There are many museums in Washington, but a private tour of the Newseum is a fascinating way to witness modern history in America and watch how the past comes to life in the most engrossing way you can imagine. Afterward, feel free to step outside onto the terrace where you will find some sensational views of the Capitol Building.
19 ) Georgetown Historic District
The oldest neighborhood in all of the Washington, D.C. a private tour of Georgetown Historic District is a wonderful step back in time to the origins of the city and a great insight into life before there was even a city at all.
Central to the economy and makeup of Washington, Georgetown University is the oldest Roman Catholic College in the United States, and the surroundings are always busy with young students making their way back and forth. Antique and impressively clean, the streets of the neighborhood make for a pleasant stroll, while the numerous cafe's, shops, restaurants and quaint galleries ensure there is also some light entertainment en route.
Not far from this historical district you will also find the perfect feature to enjoy walking or cycling, for the C&O Canal runs alongside the Potomac River here with smooth pavement for an incredible 180 miles.
For an artistic insight, you can also drop into Dumbarton Oaks, which houses a stunning art collection from both the Christian and Byzantine era. The interior of the house itself is suitably decorated with Federal Style furniture, ceramics and importantly, one of only five versions of the Articles of Confederation. Further on you can explore Tudor Place, which was by the granddaughter of Martha Washington, another fine example of Federal-period housing and gardens, while the Kreeger Museum helps to encapsulate the essence of the entire era with artwork from famous names such as Renoir, Monet, Sisley and Picasso.
Steeped in history and celebrated for culture, a private tour of Georgetown Historic District is almost the heart of this great city and a means to see how Washington came to be in the first place.
20 ) International Spy Museum
- Where is it? 800 F Street Northwest DC
International Spy Museum is very creative and great museum that takes you into the spy world! Spy Museum is a great for all ages especially the James Bond lovers!
The moment you enter, you will see a Bond car in front of a large screen playing a scene from the Bond movies. The museum takes you through history for any references of spying and tons of real spy tools and gadgets that were used over the years. International Spy Museum is fantastic something for everyone who is a fan of spy movies, especially the James Bond lovers!
A must see Museum if you're traveling to Washington, DC.!