Hi friends! As some of you may know, I (Rachel) lived in Northern Virginia about an hour metro ride from Washington DC. Due to being an intern for an awesome organization for kiddos with special needs, I had Thursdays and half of Fridays free.
My friends and I had LOTS of time each week to explore the DC area. I absolutely fell in love with DC, and I hope you do too! It’s an amazing place to visit for a long weekend or spring break and it’s easy to immerse yourself in the history of the US!
The White House from afar! This is as close as you can get without going inside.
So, without further ado, here are the top 8 things to do in Washington DC!
DO NOT miss the National Archives!
Seeing the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights in person gave me chills. (I also happen to be a huge nerd.) Plus, it’s centrally located just off the Washington Mall AND it’s free! Unfortunately, to preserve the documents, pictures aren’t allowed so make sure to take it all in camera- free.
The White House!
When in the the capitol of the United States, why not visit one of the most iconic buildings in the world? Although getting into the White House takes some extra planning and paperwork, it is absolutely worth it! I applied for a group of four of us to go, and it took about 2 months to be approved/ schedule our visit so make sure you apply well before your trip!
More instructions on how to apply here.
A very young Rachel and awesome intern friends visit the White House!
You apply for entry through your member of Congress, who you can find here. I applied for our group through my representative and his office was able to get all 4 of us tickets.
The National Mall Monuments.
You could spend 5 days here and still not see everything! The National Mall is actually considered a national park and is NOT a shopping mall. In fact, most buildings on the mall are free to enter! The iconic Lincoln memorial and US capitol buildings serve as bookends to this 1.9 mile long area. (So make sure to wear your walking shoes- these are my favorites!)
For some reason, young college me thought I should take pictures jumping next to the Washington monument. *insert facepalm here*
I would recommend dedicating the majority of a day to the monuments beginning at the Washington monument and World War II Memorial. Walk around to see the White House from afar (it’s fenced in) before heading to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and stopping for a rest break (and picnic lunch) at the Lincoln memorial.
Head south for the Korean War Veterans memorial, then around the tidal basin to visit the Martin Luther King Jr, FDR, and Thomas Jefferson memorials.
If you continue walking around the water, you will end up near the US Holocaust Memorial museum which is my favorite museum in DC. I spent hours there learning more about the Holocaust and the details in the exhibits made this sobering historical event feel very personal.
Well hey there, Lincoln!
About a 30 minute drive from the National Mall, Mount Vernon is an absolute must- see. With period actors scattered throughout the grounds, you truly feel like you are stepping back in time to tour the home of George Washington.
We drove, but you can tour by bus if you want to avoid driving in capitol traffic.
Although the $20 adult ticket may seem pricey compared to the many free offerings in DC, the views of the Potomac and historical essence of this site make it well worth the trip!
The gorgeous Mount Vernon, home of George Washington.
Tour the Supreme Court & Capitol Buildings!
You can TOUR the Supreme Court and Capitol buildings. I attended a courtroom lecture, which is led by docents to explain more about the judicial system and is held in the actual courtroom.
I also peeked into the Library of Congress (with their Gutenberg Bible) and that was probably one of my favorite DC moments!
When in DC, the Supreme Court and Capitol buildings are a must see, and are also right next to each other so it’s easy to visit both!
The National Harbor
The national harbor is actually located in Maryland rather than Washington DC! It’s about a 15 minute drive or hour long water taxi from the national mall, and is worth the trip for the awesome views of the Potomac and fun atmosphere. There’s plenty of great food, shopping, and a really fun Ferris wheel overlooking the water.
One of my most adventurous trips in DC involved paddle boarding in the Potomac at the national harbor. You can also rent kayaks and pedal boats here.
We lucked out and happened to be there at sunset. You really can’t beat the view of the water!
Did someone say free museums?
Free, free, and FREE! Access to the Smithsonian museums and National Archives is free! Be prepared for lengthy lines during popular tourist times (especially during the summer months and spring break).
It’s important to note that all Smithsonian museums and the Archives have security checks prior to entry, so leave that pepper spray at home!
My dad loved the National Air and Space Museum (he’s an avid aircraft fan). They have an Apollo lunar module which was surreal to see in person.
I really enjoyed the National Museum of Natural History because of the Hall of Oceans which spoke to my inner marine biology nerd.
I really can’t recommend one museum over another, because it truly depends on where your interests lie. Here’s a list of all the MANY amazing Smithsonian museums.
Lastly.. DC Cupcakes!
Yes they’re on food network, and yes they’re amazing. Well worth it!
Happy travels, and have an amazing time in DC! Make sure to watch for politicians- they’re easily identified as the people fashionably wearing suits with tennis shoes on the National Mall (and carrying dress shoes for the office).
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