Washington DC like a Local: 12 Things to Do for First Timers

With summer fast approaching, it’s the perfect time to visit none other than Washington, DC! I lived amidst the politicians and deal makers in our nation’s capital for a year, so here’s the inside scoop: check out the top attractions in Washington DC that you absolutely cannot miss. We’re going to start with the super basic must-see sights (because it is the capital of the USA so you kind of have to see monuments and whatnot), but we’ll finish up with some of the areas locals love!

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

(1/12) Washington Monument

Located on the National Mall (another awesome spot to stop), the Washington Monument stands at 555 feet to commemorate George Washington. This an iconic site of the city, and one of the top Washington DC tourist attractions. Make sure to check out the Reflecting Pool while you’re there. To tick off all the monuments and memorials in one fell swoop, try out a Monuments & Memorials Segway Tour!

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

(2/12) White House

Another easy one to tick off your Washington DC bucket list…the White House! If you’re in the city, might as well check out the fancy home of the president!

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

(3/12) National World War II Memorial

This memorial is dedicated to the Americans who served in the armed forces during World War II. You can find the memorial at the east end of the Reflecting Pool, between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. One of the popular things to do is to take a photo with the pillar of your state, but do keep in mind that it is a memorial. DC has plenty of hop-on, hop-off bus tours that will take you to the city’s main sites…super helpful on really hot summer days (or cold winter days!).

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

(4/12) Korean & Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Keeping on that same memorial train…the Korean & Vietnam Veterans Memorials also fall into the list of top Washington DC tourist attractions. The Korean War Veterans Memorial is located just south of the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall. You can find the Vietnam Veterans Memorial next to the National Mall not far from the Lincoln Memorial. This Washington DC in One Day Tour will help you tick off the major highlights!

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

(5/12) Washington DC Museums

There are probably enough museums in Washington DC to entertain you for a solid year. So that you don’t spend all of your time inside, I’d recommend picking a few that really interest you. Some of my faves are the Newseum, the National Air & Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center, the Spy Museum, and the National Museum of Natural History. DC does an amazing job of keeping up their museums, so pick what interests you most!

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

(6/12) National Zoo

One of the top Washington DC tourist attractions has to be the zoo. It’s always free to visit and conveniently open 364 days a year, so you can stroll through and say hi to your animal friends any day you please. During weekdays (especially mornings), it’s a great spot to take a jog. Also, any excuse to see pandas, I’m all about!

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

(7/12) U Street

U Street is another unique area of Washington DC. 14th and U is home to one of DC’s most delicious farmer’s markets (Saturday mornings May – November). You can also find Ben’s Chili Bowl, Meridian Hill Park, and plenty of live music options. One of my go-to bars when I was a resident was Brixton (off of 9th Street and U).

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

(8/12) Dupont Circle

Dupont is one of the party centers of DC. Home to late night bars and clubs, the area will keep you hopping until all hours of the night. However, it’s not just a bar scene. You can also stroll down Embassy Row and check out all of the beautiful embassies. Plus, the Dupont Circle Fountain is a cool spot to hit if you’re in the area.

(9/12) Bottomless Brunch

One of the best part of DC is bottomless brunch…this is easy. Who hates drinking bottomless mimosas? My go to spot was Scion in Dupont Circle, but let’s be real. You’re not going to go wrong with bottomless brunch. If you’re feeling fancy, you can also board a boat and take a brunch cruise down the Potomac.

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

(10/12) Adams Morgan

Adams Morgan is an eclectic community with plenty of options for grown-up fun (read: boozy brunches). If you’re looking for a sober time, there are a ton of vintage clothing stores, little bookshops, and delicious restaurants. Make sure to hit up Madam’s Organ blues bar if you’re out on the town in AdMo.

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

(11/12) Bike through the memorials at night

Biking through the memorials in the evening still ranks at the top of my DC memories. Rent a bike downtown and cruise by the lit of monuments and memorials. It’s much less crowded in the evening (plus way cooler in the summer), so it’s an awesome time to check some of the top Washington DC tourist attractions. I love the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument at that time of day! DC even offers official guided bike tours of the monuments at night, which is a great option for visitors.

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

(12/12) Nationals Game

Last but not least, head over to check out a Nats game. You can get there easily on the metro, and let’s be real…there’s nothing more American than watching America’s national sport (baseball) in America’s Capital. Bonus points if you catch a game on America’s birthday!

Explore top Washington DC tourist attractions! Discover the best of Washington DC whether you have a weekend or a week!

Logistics

Cheap flights: I’d recommend looking up Momondo. They scan tons of different travel discount sites and let you filter by cheapest, best, and shortest. Another good one to check out is eDreams.net —they often feature special flight deals.

Hotel Deals: My top choice is probably Priceline.com —I’ve found some insanely cheap (beautiful hotels). Other sites I check are Expedia.com  and the Hilton (for points). Another awesome option for Washington DC is Airbnb–you can find some cool spots in the heart of the city–for $40 off your first stay, sign up hereSavings tip: stay outside the city (Arlington, Alexandria, etc). to save a little–you can take the metro in pretty easily! It’s a ton of fun to stay in the city center and be able to walk to everything though, so make your choice wisely.

Car Rentals: You don’t need a car in Washington DC, and honestly, driving in the city terrifies me to this day. Also, parking is incredibly miserable.  If you decide to brave driving, you can’t go wrong with CarRentals.com. They pull from a number of different car companies, and definitely provide good deals. If you’re looking for a luxury rental, try Sixt–they provide some legit deals on premium and luxury rentals!

My Washington DC Essentials


So, I hope you found this guide to the top Washington DC tourist attractions helpful! I had an awesome time in the year I lived there, and visiting the city should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Tell me—have you visited Washington DC? What were some of your favorite things to do there? Let me know in the comments!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase, I might make a little extra spending money, at no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own and these products/services have been found useful during our travels and come highly recommended to you from yours truly!

22 thoughts on “Washington DC like a Local: 12 Things to Do for First Timers

  1. Lesley says:

    One fave visit was to the Spy Museum at 800 F St. So much info and interesting exhibits. It’s convenient to Chinatown as well and across from the Portrait Gallery. And though I would look up what’s exhibiting while there, I like the Phillips Collection art gallery near DuPont Circle.

  2. paulandcarolelovetotravel says:

    Great tips for visiting Washington, we are hoping to visit next summer. Have pinned for future reference. #feetdotravel

  3. As a diehard museum addict, I’ve always dreamed of a visit to Washington, D.C.! When we visited London, England, my poor husband got dragged through almost every museum in the city, so he’d have to brace himself for Washington! 🙂

  4. Great tips and some awesome suggestions of things to see. I didn’t even know about Adams Morgan! I loved Washington DC and is one of the places I would have loved to spend more time in!

    • I spent a year living there, and I know there’s still a ton I missed! The Adams Morgan neighborhood is incredibly fun though, you’ll definitely have to check it out whenever you make it back 🙂

  5. Great tips on the tourist attractions. For my up and coming trip to Washington DC you highlighted all the places I want to visit. I really like the bottomless brunch. Sounds cool. Great photos! I pinned this for later and thanks for sharing 🙂

  6. PackYourBaguios says:

    I’ve spend a lot of time in DC, especially when my girls were little. There is so many quality attractions that are free. Seeing the monuments at night was always a favorite.

  7. I haven’t been to Washington DC yet but will keep your list for when I do. I’m quite keen on the Korean & Vietnamese Veterans Memorials. I didn’t know anything about these. Of course, bottomless brunch goes without saying. 😉 Thanks for the great list.

  8. This is a great summary of what to do in DC no matter how many times you’ve visited! I will be saving it for future trips. I love that metro station in your photo. I forget which one it is but had to stop and take pics of it the last time we visited DC.

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