Things to do in Washington, D.C.
America’s capital offers lots of affordable activities year-round. Of the 17 Smithsonian museums, all of which offer free admission, the National Air and Space Museum is a favorite (literally—it’s the world’s most visited museum) thanks to its vast collection of artifacts, which includes the 1903 Wright brothers flyer and the Apollo 11 space module. Meanwhile, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts stages fantastic music and theater performances each year (400 of which are free to the public). Awe-inspiring monuments such as the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial should appear on any itinerary of things to do in Washington, D.C. (perk: unlike the museums, there are no long lines). Another architectural wonder is Union Station, with its vaulted ceilings, three majestic arches, and massive columns. Of course, the city offers an array of in-depth historical tours, but one of our favorites is more whimsical: Paws for Spies, which reveals tales of espionage with as many as 17 highly-trained dogs in tow. For the best itinerary, plan two or three cultural activities during the day, then explore Washington, D.C.’s restaurant and nightlife scenes, and, finally, check into an uber-comfortable hotel to recharge.
Three times a weekday, the U.S. State Department runs free tours of the tastefully decorated chambers used to welcome visiting foreign dignitaries.
The TV- and martini-free watering hole is heavy on the German brews and good intentions: 25 cents of each tab goes to charity. To date, the bar has helped build 15 schools in such developing countries as Uganda, Nicaragua, and Laos.
The open-air public market, open since the 1800’s, puts a large chunk of sea life on ice. Fishmongers sell tuna, tilapia, Chesapeake soft-shell and blue crabs, squid, shrimp (in various sizes and spices), and so much more.
The Tuesday-Sunday public market has been in continuous operation since 1873, despite a 2007 fire. The food vendors have since returned to the South Hall, where they sell all the fixings for a picnic a deux or a dinner party for 20.
Established in 1932, the two-acre park is named after French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, whose classical fountain (which predates his iconic Statue of Liberty) rises among the mini-landscapes of flowers, plants and secluded benches.
The American Institute of Architects bookstore mixes the academic with the whimsical.
The boutique features a rotating cast of 12 designers (all local, minus the co-owner’s Wisconsin mother) who create clothes, accessories, and jewelry out of repurposed and recycled materials.
Sail into the rosy sunset aboard the 65-foot schooner, American Spirit, part of the National Maritime Heritage Foundation’s community sailing program.
Tucked in a graffiti-splashed space, the multi-disciple venue spotlights underground and experimental art, film and music.
The museum takes the art outside, creating a fanciful playground of oversize sculptures including an XXL spider by Louise Bourgeois and a cartoonishly large typewriter eraser by Claus Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.
The department’s Indian Craft Shop has been representing Native American artists since 1938, showcasing an array of traditional works by 60 tribes.
The bronze Spirit of Freedom statue and the Wall of Honor, which is etched with the names of 209,145 servicemen, commemorate the United States Colored Troops. Across the street, the heartfelt museum relates the hardships and victories of African Americans before, during, and after the Civil War.
The Brewmaster’s Castle, open for guided tours, captures the elegance and opulence of the Gilded Age. However, the 31-room home of German brewer Christian Heurich was also ahead of its era with indoor plumbing and a pneumatic communications system, among other innovations.
The cultural branch of the Mexican embassy shares its rich south-of-the-border traditions with a variety of public events, many of which are free.
Follow the ranger on a National Park tour that goes beyond the surface of the monuments and memorials.