Washington DC is both the most and the least American of all American cities. It embodies the American spirit and ideology, yet has the look of a European city. There are no skyscrapers here; instead, this is a neoclassical city of monuments and memorials and countless national icons. It attracts millions of visitors each year, with superb museums and galleries offering engaging exhibitions, and there are now stylish hotels and a growing number of quality restaurants.
Then there's always Georgetown, the district of charming houses and cobblestone streets, and home to the fashionable eateries and boutiques. It's the place to go at night, after having done the must-do walk down the great boulevard known as The Mall, from the Capitol all the way to the White House.
What to See and Do in Washington D.C.
Decide what you really want to see in Washington D.C. based on your interests -- whether that's art, architecture, street life or simply snapping a few photos by the main landmarks. We highlight the best attractions in different categories and, to help you plan, link you to their location on Google Maps () or to their official website or tour options ().
- The Landmarks, Icons, and Instagram Spots
- Modern and Contemporary Art
- Classic Art and Top Museums
- City Life and Main Streets
- Eating and Drinking
Get up close to the world's most famous residence, The White House, the home of the President of the United States since the 1820s. It's a Washington icon, as is The Capitol, also one of the world's symbols of democracy. Its dome is one of the largest in the world, and its Neoclassical architecture reflects the principles of ancient Greece and Rome that influenced the American political system. It stands marking the very center of the city, with the Washington Monument seen in front of it, down the grand boulevard known as "The Mall." It's the tallest structure in Washington, shaped like an Egyptian obelisk and with city views from the top.
Further down, past the Reflecting Pool, is the Lincoln Memorial. Its gigantic statue of President Lincoln is one of the city's best-known images, standing inside a neoclassical "temple." This was also the site where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
Other national heroes and many more unknown ones lie in the Arlington National Cemetery. Simple headstones mark the resting place of thousands of soldiers, with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier being the site of the ceremonial Changing of the Guard. From there, visitors move to the grave of John F. Kennedy, with a flame lit by his wife Jackie at his 1963 funeral still burning continuously.
Another spiritual sight is the National Cathedral, the sixth largest in the world. It's a neo-gothic construction with beautiful rose windows and impressive stonework.
The Newseum is an interactive news museum opened in 2008 not far from the Capitol. It presents centuries of news history through technology and hands-on exhibits in a 643,000-square-foot (60,000 square meters) modern building.
You'll also want to check out the Air and Space Museum, housing the largest collection of historic air and spacecraft in the world. Among the many highlights is the Charles Lindbergh plane that made the first solo transatlantic flight in 1927, and the Apollo 11 Command Module that carried Neil Armstrong and the other famous astronauts on their historic mission to the moon in 1969.
The National Gallery of Art exhibits an important collection that is particularly strong on Italian Renaissance works, with the East Building also housing modern and contemporary art. You can therefore see works by Tintoretto, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Monet, El Greco, Van Gogh, Miró, and Lichtenstein among other major artists in one single museum.
If you want to check out American art instead, visit the The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery for paintings, sculptures, and photographs of illustrious Americans in entertainment, politics, and the arts.
Georgetown's charming cobblestone streets and houses have attracted young residents for decades, and it is now Washington's most pleasant area. Its M Street is home to the city's most fashionable shops, cafés, and restaurants, as well as to the well-known chain stores. Don't leave Washington without a stroll through this neighborhood.
Georgetown's charming boutiques are Washington's best shopping experiences, with a variety of them lining M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. After that, the best places to find unique pieces are the city's museums, whose gift shops not only sell books relating to the collections, but also other products such as jewelry, artwork reproductions, and clothing inspired by their artists. For the chains you're familiar with, head to Connecticut Avenue, and if you're looking for crafts, visit the Eastern Market. This flea market is a popular weekend destination, with stalls selling antiques, ethnic artifacts, and food at bargain prices.
A city with a cosmopolitan population, and where international politicians and millionaires meet throughout the week, obviously offers all the flavors of the world's cuisines. There are around 2000 restaurants in Washington, and each year brings new promising choices. Renowned chefs have opened their branches in the American capital, and Georgetown continues to have the largest number of trendy eateries.