Washington DC

At the epicentre of American political prowess proudly stands Washington DC. From its iconic monuments to its world-renowned museums, the American capital represents a microcosm of the country's institutional greatness.
Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination United States of America

With its neoclassical buildings and broad avenues, Washington DC goes far beyond the grandeur expected of a capital city. A city both proud and complicated due to its speckled past, to set foot in Washington DC is to feel both the beauty and the horror of the centuries passed. When Frenchman Pierre Charles l'Enfant was given complete artistic licence in 1790, his pièce de resistance was the city's central plaza, known as the National Mall, where lie some of Washington's most awe-inspiring museums. From the majestic monuments and memorials to the many trendy neighbourhoods, there's no shortage of things to explore in the city. Here's our tailor-made guide for you.

Washington DC: what to do?

Rent a bike

You can easily rent a bike to zoom around a bit quicker from one of Capital Bikeshare's some 350 stations. For 24 hours it costs $8 and for three days they are $17.


A trip to Washington DC without getting lost in its extraordinary museums would be like a trip to Venice without a gondola ride. In The Mall (America's front yard), The Smithsonian holds the accolade of being the world's largest museum complex, with its 19 museums boasting a grand total of 140 million objects, specimens and artworks. Ogle at the 65 million year old Tyrannosaurus Rex or some choice da Vinci or Picasso masterpieces. The space shuttle Discovery also resides here along with the original star-spangled banner. Left wanting more intellectual stimulation? The Phillips Collection and the Dumbarton Oaks provide further feasts for the eyes. Best of all, they're all free, always.

An egghunt of all the statues and plaques

Perhaps the capital's answer to the star-lined Hollywood Boulevard, we suggest embarking on a tour of the many status and plaques, seeing the legacies of the generals, artists and statesmen who helped shape the country which are clustered around the city. The majority were mounted just west of The Mall, just next to the city's regal display of cherry trees.

Capitol and the Supreme Court

In line with the notion of America having a 'free and open government', security checks and bag searches are a small price to pay for being able to enter these two landmarks of American institutional history. Capitol, which rises up from the Mall bears testament to the steadfast U.S. democracy, while the Supreme Court oozes judicial grandeur. The latter was built in just four years, between 1931 and 1935. The Supreme Court is found on the ground floor, while the Courtroom lies on the first.

The White House

What trip to Washington DC would be complete without a visit to the President's own residence? For security reasons, understandably tourists aren't permitted to enter but you can access a virtual tour and see its impressive sandstone pillars from the outside. A short walk away lies the Jefferson memorial, where you can walk up its white Georgia marble steps.

The Pentagon

For military buffs, this one's for you. While away hours exploring the endless halls of the Headquarters of the United States of Defense.

Arlington Cemetery

It's somewhat rare for a cemetery to appear in a city's top ten most popular sites, but Arlington Cemetery definitely warrants a trip. Soldiers keep a 24 hour guard on the unidentified dead from World War I, World War II and the Korean War, and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is not to be missed.

Botanic Gardens Escape the hubbub of the city and seek out some tranquility whilst learning about the world's plant species.


It's no wonder this dynamic town is known for being a student haven, as you can feel its trendy atmosphere while meandering through the cobblestone streets. From restaurants of every cuisine you can imagine to its numerous quirky shops, Georgetown is a must for your city break.

Washington Monument

Towering high at 555 feet, the Washington Monument stands as the tallest building in the capital. Why not take a lift to the top and absorb the breathtaking panoramic views?

Lincoln Memorial

Anchoring the Mall's west end, visit the shrine to Founding Father Abraham Lincoln. Take in the atmosphere of greatness on its steps, where Martin Luther King delivered his famous 'I Have a Dream' speech.


For the avid art fanatics, the Red Cross HQ Interior Department is a must-see. For more offbeat spots, stop by the workshop style studios of 87 Florida and Pleasant Plains.

Washington DC: what to visit?


A city with such a powerful history observes some key annual traditions

Martin Luther King Day - In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his birthday, the nation joins together for a Day of Service. Celebrated on the third Monday every January, the Freedom Choir performs a free concert at the Kennedy Center. The African American Civil War Museum also hosts an annual wreath-laying ceremony at the African American Civil War Memorial in the U Street Corridor.

Cherry Blossom Festival - Don't miss out on the National Cherry Blossom Festival running from late March to mid-April every year. The capital becomes decked out in an array of colours (but predominantly a seasonal pink) and an extravagant parade runs for ten blocks along Constitution Avenue.

Tram Day - Hop on the U.S. National Arboretum's open-air Tram Tour during the two-week celebration of their azaleas in full bloom. The celebration is held on April 27, 29 and May 4 and 8 in honor of Mother's Day.

Memorial Day - On Memorial Day (May 30), the nation honors fallen heroes who have served in the U.S. military. Ceremonies take place at the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and at the World War II Memorial, all found in the National Mall.

To avoid

Our editorial team's advice

Setting unrealistic goals - the plethora of things to do and see in Washington DC can be overwhelming, so set realistic targets and fully capitalise on your time in the capital.

Wearing uncomfortable shoes - from doing walking tours of the many plaques and statues to shuffling between museums, you'll be doing a lot of walking. Go for comfort over fashion - you're not in LA after all.

Getting frustrated at the security checks - as violating as the frisk searching can feel, in the nation's capital the security checks and bag searches are an integral part of maintaining everyone's safety.

Washington DC: what to eat?

Where to find the best eateries

It's no surprise that Washington DC is known as one of the world's culinary hotspots, after all, we wouldn't want America's greats to go hungry, would we? We can all enjoy make the most of Washington's gastronomic scene however, and the eclectic mix of nationalities constituting the capital's inhabitants translate into the influences of the food on offer. Here are some of our favourites.

Martin's Tavern, Georgetown - Even if you don't get to sit in booth three where John F. Kennedy popped the question to Jackie, you can still enjoy one of the best cheeseburgers in town.

Pizzeria Paradiso, Georgetown - deemed the most authentic Italian pizza in town, you sure won't go hungry after devouring one of these badboys.

Mitsitam Café, The Mall - located in museum hub The Mall, within the National Museum of American Indian Culture, get a taste of indigenous authenticity with a blue corn tortilla or a the slow-smoked barbequed meats.

Founding Farmers, close to the White House - munch on some of the hearty dishes, our favourites being the buttermilk fried chicken or the aromatic pork and lentil stew.

Eastern Market - the butcher, the baker and the blue crab maker have something for you here. Whatever's up your street, look no further.

DC Reynolds, Petworth - get a taste of cool at this funky brick-walled eatery, which shares its patio with other food spots. The best, however, is the free-for-all jukebox.

Pupuseria San Miguel, Columbia Heights - in this Latino restaurant, sample some sumptuous Salvadoran food for a taste of the exotic.

Bistro Bohem, Shaw District - the Czech schnitzels, pastries and pilsners are not to go amiss.

Ben's Chilli Bowl - potentially saving the best for last, this has been a local haunt for presidents, film stars and supreme court judges alike. However it's been only Bill Crosby and the Obamas who have eaten the famous half-smokes for free: the hot dog's bigger, badder older brother.

Washington DC: what to buy?

Knick-knacks of any kind can be found in Georgetown, and candles, soaps and pottery along with culinary goodies can be found at the Eastern Market. Along U Street and 14th, you'll find the handmade, the quirky, and the kitsch. Your typical cheesy tourist t-shirts aside, what's special about Washington DC is that it's one of just two places in the U.S where money is printed. Stop by the gift shop of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing where you can by goodies such as uncut sheets of bills and items stuffed with shredded money for your loved ones. The Smithsonian museums also sell an array of souvenirs.

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