What should you not miss in Washington, D.C.? Here's your Washington, D.C., travel guide for 2022.
We all know Washington, D.C. as the nation’s capital city and the epicenter of American politics, but there is so much more life to this city that demands to be noticed. Though famous for its memorials–such as the Lincoln Memorial–and museums–like the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History–it’s also a city that’s lively, hip, enticing, entertaining, and memorable. Top attractions include the National Mall, Washington Monument, and Capitol Hill. There is an abundance of options on and off the beaten path for every type of traveler to The District—if that sounds overwhelming don’t worry, we’re here to help.
Here is our list of the best things to do, eat, drink, and visit while in Washington, D.C.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT WASHINGTON, D.C.?The best time to visit the nation’s capital is in April for the Cherry Blossom season; or in the autumn, when the scorching summer (and tourists) have passed, and the fall foliage is fully visible against the marble monuments.
Click here for the current COVID travel status for Washington, D.C., including guidelines and restrictions.
Top Picks for You
Visit the Smithsonian (and Other) Museums
Whether it’s your first time visiting Washington, D.C., or your tenth, you will find a wide array of the nation’s best museums to explore on each visit. In fact, there are so many outstanding museums to select from, we have narrowed the list to our absolute favorites. Spoiler alert, you won’t be able to see them all in one visit, which means you’ll have to return to this beautiful city for more! You can never go wrong with any of the Smithsonian Museums. Our favorites include the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of the American Indian.
Although not a part of the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art is a must-see. If the quality of these museums isn’t incentive enough, consider that they are also free! Other highly recommended and genuinely memorable museums are the International Spy Museum (with an entrance fee) and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Celebrate Black Culture
The District’s U Street Corridor, once known as Black Broadway, was one of the most established and exciting areas in the country to celebrate Black culture in the first half of the 1900s. U Street was influential in the music and performing arts scene as theaters like Lincoln and Howard opened–they hosted the likes of iconic artists such as musician Duke Ellington, R&B legend Marvin Gaye, singer Ella Fitzgerald, and poet Langston Hughes. Over the past two decades, U Street has become a vibrant center for art, culture, and African American heritage. A new generation of artists has revitalized the area, making it the favored neighborhood for art and music, especially jazz. You’ll also want to follow Cultural Tourism DC’s African American Heritage Trail to see more than 200 significant sites rich in local Black history, from churches and schools to famous residences and businesses
Get Lost in the World’s Largest Library
Books worms, look no further! The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with over 171 million books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps, and manuscripts. Each day they receive around 15,000 items and add more than 10,000 items to their collections! The Library even houses materials in approximately 470 languages. The catch? All books can only be used on the premises and cannot be checked out. But don’t let that deter you from a visit; the impressive architecture of the building and the expansive collection of artwork is enough to make it worth a visit.
Reenergize With Panamanian Coffee
Café Unido is a high-end Panamanian coffee shop committed to roasting and serving exclusively Panamanian coffee beans. The team at Café Unido has developed strong relationships with farmers in over 15 different farms in Panama to source beans for their pour-overs, espresso blends, nitro coffee, and cascara (coffee cherry tea). Beans are sourced from diverse climates (volcanic, oceanic, and highland) to produce an array of flavors. Unido also offers the exclusive and sought-after geisha bean, a Panamanian-grown variety of an Ethiopian strain that is the most expensive coffee in the world. This bean thrives in Panama’s soil and climate and is glorified for its rare flavor with notes ranging from floral and fruity to jasmine tea and lemongrass. Café Unido has also implemented an initiative to support migrant coffee-harvest families by developing schools and dining quarters near the farms for children who must travel to the farms with their parents.
Brush up on Your American History
To relearn your American history, or to learn more, a visit to some of the nation’s most famous historical monuments will do the trick. Most monuments and plaques can be spotted on the National Mall. Favorites include the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. Tidal Basin is another not-to-be-missed area for seeing Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials. To see them in a different light (literally), return at night and visit the tributes under the moonlight; and to see them from a different perspective, rent a paddleboat and circle around the Tidal Basin.
Stroll Through District Wharf
District Wharf is your all-in-one entertainment stop. Along the marina’s edge lie exquisite restaurants, vibrant bars, shops, and entertainment venues. We suggest enjoying live free concerts that are typically held during warmer months, renting a kayak or paddleboard from The Wharf Boathouse, taking a free jitney ride to East Potomac Park (a man-made island), and visiting The Municipal Fish Market–having opened in 1805, it is the oldest continuously operating open-air fish market in the United States. The Wharf is also eco-friendly and includes the installation of numerous green roofs, 300 new trees, preservation of mature oaks, and 340 square feet of floating wetland systems.
Experience the City's Art Scene
A bold building located in an unassuming inner-city neighborhood, Culture House is a vehicle for artists to express themselves. Culture House has rotating art exhibitions, along with other events that support everything from performances to culinary-based arts. The building was built as a church in 1886 and is one of the last remnants of the original 19th-century predominantly black neighborhood. It was purchased by a real estate developer to build condos in 2004 until the Historic Preservation Board stopped the project from happening. The developer then re-envisioned the space as a community art center. A huge mural now wraps around the building, while the interior is covered in graffiti. The space is used for rotating art exhibitions as well as a community garden.
The Fridge DC is a contemporary gallery that pays homage to street art and supports up-and-coming artists. In addition to its art gallery, The Fridge also hosts concerts. Its entrance is in an alley that’s decorated with murals. It’s best to check opening hours in advance as they change intermittently.
Art Enables is an art gallery and vocational arts program dedicated to creating opportunities for artists with disabilities to make, market, and earn income from their original and compelling artwork. Works are available for purchase, with a share of the profit going directly to the artist. You can find anything from quirky to abstract pieces here.
Step Back in Time at Ford’s Theater
On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot while attending a show at Ford’s Theater. Today, the theater still performs live shows, although the Presidential box where Lincoln sat always remains empty. Visitors can tour the balcony where Lincoln sat, visit the Petersen House across the street where Lincoln inevitably died, and peruse the theater’s excellent basement museum. The tour ends at the Center for Education and Leadership where history buffs can wander through several floors of exhibits that examine the aftermath of Lincoln’s death, his legacy, the Civil War, and the conspiracy that led to his death.
Stay in Iconic Accommodations
Stepping into what was once a bus terminal and printing house, guests will immediately notice Eaton’s understated, natural, and vintage decor feels authentic rather than overly curated. The hotel’s aesthetics are inspired by people and places such as the Beatniks and Hong Kong culture. Eaton supports over a hundred community organizations working toward social justice and advocates for the health, healing, and wellbeing of the community by working closely with environmental justice groups.
In the heart of Dupont Circle sits a reimagined apartment building that now serves as an unassuming art deco hotel, Lyle. Casual elegance best describes the interior, which is beautifully appointed with abstract artwork, tapestries, burl wood furnishings, rattan seating, Berber carpets, white or natural-toned couches and bedspreads, and delicious smelling bath products. Did we mention the oh-so-comfy bed and pillows?
Located at the gateway of high-end boutiques and upscale restaurants lies Conrad, an architecturally striking, minimalist expression of purity. Light, neutral colors throughout the hotel evoke relaxation and calmness during visitors’ stay. The hotel’s all-glass conspicuous exterior gives guests a sneak preview of the incredible floor-to-ceiling windows offered in each guestroom.
Discover La Cosecha
La Cosecha is a contemporary Latin lifestyle market in the Union Market neighborhood. Seasonal experiences are produced in partnership with Latin American embassies, diverse tastemakers, and artists. Besides being home to several delicious Latin American food stalls, a boutique inside makes it worth the trip. Nova Bossa features more than thirty small artisanal brands–approximately 90% women-owned–that celebrate Latin American heritage. The boutique has also developed its own line of eco-friendly handbags, scarves, notebooks, and home décor.
Play With Your Food at El Cielo
Chef Juan Manuel Barrientos of El Cielo is the first Colombian chef to win a Michelin star for a Colombian concept. The restaurant’s The Experience Menu consists of 22 courses. The sequence of dishes not only follows a unique journey through Barrientos’s love for his home country, but is meant to thrill all five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. For instance, both menus involve immersive moments like choco-therapy–a ritual where guests wash their hands with liquid chocolate and then get to taste it straight from their fingers! There’s also Lick Me, a playful dish that requires guests to lick a sorbet-like dessert straight from the plate.
Stop and Smell the Flowers at the U.S. National Arboretum
The United States National Arboretum is a 446-acre haven of beauty that was established in 1927. The green space is home to the National Bonsai Collection, a mesmeric collection of renowned miniature Japanese and Chinese trees; the Gotelli Conifer Collection, a collection of conifers from the Arctic and subtropical climates; a herbarium and a variety of other flora. The National Capital Columns are also not to be missed as the installation features 22 Corinthian columns that once supported the U.S. Capital but were later removed due to poor construction. They are now one of the most photographed spots in the arboretum. The arboretum is open daily (except for Christmas Day), is free to the public, and literally changes with the seasons, so it’s worth repeated visits.
INSIDER TIPVisit in the spring to see the outstanding Azaleas in bloom.
Sip on Refreshing Beverages
Colada Shop’s colorful café serves a mixture of Cuban delights from coffee to food and cocktails. Think empanadas, pastelitos, piña coladas (in cocktail pouches), mojitos, coladas, and café con leches. Homage to the Caribbean social lifestyle is also paid through the outdoor murals and vibrancy. Lulu’s Wine Garden features three lush garden patios and an indoor garden that evoke the atmosphere of a backyard dinner party with earthy color accents, twinkling string lights, a charming flowing fountain, and a wall of dried flowers from Guatemala. An affordable under $50 wine list is available to encourage guests to explore regions and varietals they may not be familiar with without worrying about the cost. Taste your way through Latin America at Serenata, a full-service Latino cocktail bar that crafts outstanding cocktails sourced and inspired by the many countries that make up the fabric of the rich Latin American heritage.
Wander Through Georgetown
Georgetown’s cobblestone streets are recognized as one of the best shopping areas in the country. M Street is a good starting point for shoppers with the intersection of M and Wisconsin Avenue being the heart of Georgetown, with mainstream stores and boutique-lined streets extending in all four directions. Exhausted from shopping? Meander through Georgetown Waterfront Park and stroll along the Potamic River for beautiful and relaxing views. If you are feeling energized, visit Thompson Boat Center where you can rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard and explore the Potomac or take a unique walking excursion such as a food or ghost tour. Want to get your groove on? Check out Blues Alley, the nation’s oldest continuing jazz supper club.
INSIDER TIPThis is also a great way to see the Cherry Blossoms without the crowds!
Treat Yourself to the Flavors of Michelin-Starred Cuisine
Undeniable creativity can be found dining at Masseria. Owner and Chef Nicholas Stefanelli’s southeastern Italian ancestral roots are evident in his traditionally inspired creations; however, his food is by no means limited to this region, as he takes inspiration from the rich culinary heritage woven in the dishes throughout Italy. To indulge your palate in a wide range of sensations and unusual combinations, try the six or eight-course tasting menu with the wine pairing and you will finish your evening satiated and anticipating your next booking.
Bresca takes inspiration from Paris but characterizes itself as taking a more dynamic, experimental, and informal approach to cooking than traditional French cuisine. Ordinary ingredients like beets and tomatoes hold the same value as truffles and caviar on their three or four-course menu. Look around and guests will spot whimsical touches throughout the restaurant–like animal paintings, fish heads, and a moss wall. Even the dishware is quirky, particularly a bee-shaped cocktail glass and vintage china from around the world.
Maydan, meaning gathering place in Arabic, brings attention to wonderous cuisines from parts of the world that remain mainly misunderstood in the U.S. Diners walk on antique Arabian carpets to reach their dining table where herb-drenched cheeses, a variety of flavorful dipping spreads, honey-soaked dates, and mains like spiced fish and chicken thigh can be shared. The faint sounds of traditional Arabian beats will transport guests to the Middle East during this dining experience.
Peruse Union Market
Dating back to 1871, Union Market, once the largest market in Washington, D.C., has been transformed into an urban village that proves to be a gathering place by way of restaurants, shops, workspace, and artwork. One noteworthy boutique is Jungle & Loom, a woman-owned business that sells houseplants, plant accessories, macrame, dried florals, and vintage glassware. They also offer fun plant workshops. Our second recommendation is Salt & Sundry, a home and lifestyle boutique featuring an eclectic mix of goods from independent makers and designers, both locally and from across the globe.
Take Photos of the Cherry Blossoms
Every Spring, the city turns pinks during the two to four weeks of cherry blossom season. This is such a highly sought-after occurrence that The District calls it the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The festival commemorates Tokyo’s gift of 3,000 cherry trees to Washington, D.C. in 1912 and it celebrates the lasting friendship between the United States and Japan. In addition to the magnificent flowers, there are several arts and culture events that are free to the public during this time.
INSIDER TIPHead to the Tidal Basin at sunrise for the best views and fewer crowds of the striking pink flora.
Sample Incredible Restaurants
NaRa-Ya is a Japanese eatery that offers a la carte options in addition to two Chef’s Omakase menus. For sake enthusiasts, a carefully curated and limited list of allocated, extremely rare, and seldom available (outside Japan) sake is available. Named for the year Georgetown University was founded, 1789 is the quintessential Washington, D.C. dining experience. The ambiance reminds you of a stately home and the cuisine embodies seasonal dishes such as brioche-crusted halibut with roasted la rette potatoes, fennel, spring onion, and baby artichoke barigoule, and roasted Rohan duck breast with wild ramps, pickled kumquats, roasted sunchokes, rhubarb, and duck confit roulade.
If you’re looking for a dining experience that embraces true African heritage, look no further than Swahili Village. Kenyan immigrant, executive chef, and founder, Keven Onyona, offers diners an immersion into African culture through his wide variety of traditional African dishes. Step into Maketto, an eclectic Cambodian and Taiwanese marketplace, and you may find yourself here all day. Whether you’re stopping in to enjoy fried rice noodles, sip on a refreshing cocktail, reenergize with coffee, shop for new shoes, or listen to classic vinyl, Maketto’s policy is always ‘our home is your home.’
Meander Through a European Style Market
Making its debut in 1873, Eastern Market has been in continuous operation ever since. The Market was once unofficially recognized as the “town center” of Capitol Hill and today has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. The South Hall Market offers everything from fresh produce and flowers to baked goods, meats, poultry, cheese, and deli products. The Fresh Tuesdays Farmer’s Market is where farmers sell their local produce, meat, and cheese every Tuesday. The Weekend Farmer’s Line is an open-air venue where local farmers sell fresh local produce year-round, and the Weekend Outdoor Market is where local artists sell handmade arts, crafts, and antiques.
Revel in Nature at Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park is an urban oasis that was founded in 1890 by the U.S. Congress. Visitors can explore 1,754 acres of the park by foot, bike, or horse. With lush greenery, 32 miles of trails, picnic areas, a nature center, an amphitheater, and even a planetarium, the park is open year-round during daylight hours. Other activities available in the park include fishing, tennis, golfing, and boating. For history buffs, the park is also home to a number of Civil War sights that are labeled with plaques or statues.
School Yourself in the Nation's Political History
A trip to the nation’s capital is not complete without visiting The White House. Albeit having undergone several renovations, the building has been home to Presidents since the 18th-century. You can view the White House from the outside, but tours are also now possible. Tour requests must be made 21-90 days in advance.
Built in the 1800s, The United States Capitol houses both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The building design was birthed from a competition where architects were invited to submit proposals. All the designs were rejected except for a late entry from an amateur architect. Tours of the building and its exhibits and gift shop will resume in the coming months.
The headquarters of The United States Department of Defense, the Pentagon, is one of the most interesting sights to visit for political junkies. Guided tours are available on a limited basis throughout the week where you’ll see some offices, front rooms, the Hall of Heroes, photos, relics, and memorabilia. Visitors must register at least two weeks in advance.
Enjoy the Breeze As You Sail to Annapolis
Spend the day sailing the waters of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland’s capital, Annapolis, with Schooner Woodwind Annapolis Sailing cruises. Choose from a two-hour public sailing cruise, a sunset cruise, or a themed cruise such as a performance brunch or fireworks from their event calendar. Don’t forget to have a classic Maryland crab feast after!
Expand Your Palate at a Nearby Vineyard
A close-to-DC vineyard is the perfect weekday escape. Head about 30 miles outsides of the city and you’ll find yourself at The Winery at Bull Run. Relax while sipping some of Virginia’s finest wine. The Winery has two vineyards on-site with over eight acres of Norton vines, the true grape of Virginia. The vineyard is open daily for walk-ins or reservations. Pop in for live music Friday through Sunday evenings. For history buffs, the vineyard is also located where the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) during the Civil War took place. They even have a collection of historical artifacts in the tasting room.