The capital of the United States is a city full of things to see, tours to take and more. Sarah and I visited in May of 2024 and here’s our list of 25 things to do on your first trip to Washington D.C.

25 Places You MUST Visit in Washington DC

1. The White House

Everyone knows what The White House is… It’s the home of the President! It’s located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue which is on the north side of The National Mall. Tours of The White House are almost impossible to get, even with the trick of contacting your congressional office.

A happy man and woman taking a selfie in front of the white house in washington dc.

That being said, it’s one of the top things you’ll want to see in Washington D.C.

2. U.S. Capitol Building

The United States Capitol Building is where congress works and it’s so much bigger than you’d think. Whether you just want to walk “Capitol Hill” or you’re looking to take a tour of the U.S. Capitol, you’ll want to check this venue off your bucket list.

A man and woman in front of the United States Capitol building.

Construction began in 1793 and by 1800 the original capitol was built. In 1814, British forces burned the building down and it had to be rebuilt. Taking a tour, you’ll be able to see bullet holes in the original wall made by British forces during the War of 1812. Fascinating!

3. Washington Monument

One of the earliest (and tallest) monuments erected in Washington D.C. is in dedication to our first president and hero of the revolutionary war, George Washington. The monument is 555′ tall and is visible from almost anywhere in the Washington D.C. area.

The Washington Monument viewed from a distance.

It’s located in the middle of the National Mall and is a must-see! Like many other memorials, it’s well-lit at night making for a more beautiful experience.

4. Lincoln Monument

Across the reflecting pond from the Washington Monument is the Lincoln Memorial – another thing you can’t visit D.C. without seeing!

5. Jefferson Memorial

The memorial to Thomas Jefferson lies just across the Tidal Basin, so it’s a little more of a walk than the others (you might have to Uber). But, it’s awesome and very beautiful to see at night.

6. World War 2 Memorial

The World War II memorial is a two-sided pavilion. Each side is said to represent each of the two “theatres of war” the United States participated in during World War II.

One half of the world war 2 memorial viewed at night.

It’s between the Lincoln and Washington monuments and is a quick stop as you’re touring the National Mall.

7. Korean War Memorial

Some of the memorials on this list are better viewed at night. But, for the Korean War Memorial it’s almost mandatory to see it after sundown. The main feature of the memorial is a series of statues depicting soldiers from the Korean War ear. With the lighting, this site will touch your heart when viewed at night – I promise.

The Korean War Memorial on the National Lawn in Washington DC.

In addition to the statues, a list of names of American servicemen who gave their lives during the Korean War surrounds the monument.

8. Vietnam War Memorial

Making common appearances in films and TV shows for the last 40 years, the Vietnam War Memorial is one of the most recognizable memorial to United States conflicts. The sprawling wall of names is awe-inspiring and also a must see. It’s also a short visit. If you’re not looking for the name of a specific loved one, you can take it all in within 20 minutes.

9. Martin Luther King Memorial

The Martin Luther King Memorial is a giant statue in his likeness. It’s a short walk from either the Lincoln Memorial or the Korean War Memorial.

10. Law Enforcement Officers Memorial

A quote engraved at the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington DC.

This memorial holds a special place in my heart. Adorned on its two walls are the names of every fallen law enforcement officer on record.

11. Air & Space Museum

There’s a lot to cover here. There are actually two locations for the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. The one on the National Mall is the only Smithsonian museum that requires advanced tickets. They’re free, but you still have to get them. Daily tickets become available each day at 8:30 AM but we were never able to get them. So, unfortunately I can’t speak to this portion of the museum.

However, several locals told us that if we were only able to visit one of the sites, the secondary “annex” located near Dulles International Airport is the one we needed to see.

A man stands in front of a space shuttle orbiter on display at a museum.

The Udvar-Hazy Center located just outside of Dulles International Airport is a different story. This is a decent Metro ride or drive from downtown Washington D.C. but it requires no tickets and is worth the trip.

12. American History Museum

This was my wife’s (and arguably my) favorite museum during our stay. It’s an eclectic mix of American history. There is a permanent display about America’s history of war which is awesome. There are many other displays (which may rotate) on American entrepreneurship, American transportation and American politics.

We particularly enjoyed an exhibit on American First Ladies. We got to see a collection of dresses and other accessories actually worn by First Ladies going all the way back to Martha Washington. Very cool.

13. Natural History Museum

A fake head and torso of a Neanderthal in the natural history museum in Washington dc.

When I think of a “museum” I think of this place. There are so many fossils, dinosaurs and related exhibits that you could easily spend an entire day here. They also have geology exhibits and you can see the real Hope Diamond here.

14. African American History & Culture Museum

The African American History and Culture Museum is one of the most distinctive pieces of architecture in the city. Learn about the struggles, triumphs and stories of African Americans. Highly recommended!

15. National Gallery of the Arts

The National Gallery of the Arts has over 141,000 paintings. There’s a sculpture garden adjacent to it, which is also pretty interesting. This is like THE art gallery for the United States.

16. National Portraits Gallery

This is another museum worth seeing near the National Mall. It’s a museum of painted portraits and the only place you can see all the official portraits of the Presidents of the United States. Its’ on the National Mall and is a quick visit… unless you’re really into portraits then you could stay all day!

17. Arlington National Cemetery

One of the most sacred places you could visit near Washington D.C. is Arlington National Cemetery located across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia.

An overview of Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington dc.

Arlington is the nation’s larges military cemetery with over 400,000 grave sites. You can spend hours walking (or taking a paid tour) through the cemetery.

Arlington is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Kennedy Family gravesite, the former home of Robert E. Lee and the United States Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial.

Pay for a tour, it’s worth it. Plan to spend at least half a day here.

18. Mount Vernon

A short drive from Washington DC is Mount Vernon, home (and burial site) of the first President of the United States – George Washington. The estate includes Washington’s actual home, slave quarters and peaceful gardens to walk about. Plan on spending half a day here at least.

19. Supreme Court Building

The Supreme Court Building is where – you guessed it – the Supreme Court is held. I’m told there are certain hours of the day when you can actually walk through the hearing room when court is not in session. You can also request tours from your local congressional representative’s office.

20. Library of Congress

The Library of Congress was created as a library for Congress. It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in DC…and it’s an amazing public library. Located right next to the capitol. There’s even a tunnel between the two.

21. National Archives

A museum of artifacts from our nation’s history. The most noteworthy part of this museum is that, in the Rotunda, you can view the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I mean, you can actually see the original documents. Amazing!

Original declaration of independence on display in Washington DC.

But it’s also a museum filled with other exhibits worth checking out. It’s located right on the National Mall so it’s easy to stop by in between other sites. Absolutely free to tour!

22. Ford’s Theater

This is the theater where Abraham Lincoln was shot and it’s a popular destination for tourists. Located in an area of town called Penn Quarter, it’s tough to get a tour.

From the street, a view of Ford's Theatre in Washington DC.

After Lincoln was shot inside the theatre, he was taken to a doctor’s office across the street where he died days later. Both locations allow tours.

There’s also a free walking tour where you can retrace the events of the Lincoln assassination.

23. Georgetown

Georgetown is a historic neighborhood in Washington DC where you could spend a whole day. See the waterfront, take a free foot tour and learn about the history or ghosts of Georgetown. Also home of the historic Georgetown University campus. Lots of old houses to see and some to tour as well.

24. The Wharf

This was one of our favorite areas for dining! There is absolutely no shortage of places to eat here and almost any culinary preferences can be met. It’s a long stretch of the Potomac where multi-million dollar yachts call home. You can stroll the area freely and enjoy nightlife generally reserved for those who have more in their bank account than me.

25. International Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum is one of the only major museums in DC you have to pay to visit. It’s about $35 per person but it’s a large museum packed with objects, stories and histories about real-world spies and espionage.

An exterior view of the International Spy Museum in Washington DC.

If you’re a fan of that, you could spend half or all of a day here. If you’re not, skip it because there’s plenty of free stuff to see.