Washington, D.C. Travel Guide
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.
Founded in 1821 as the First Unitarian Church of Washington, the institution has a long history of supporting our nation’s biggest social issues, such as abolitionism, civil rights, women’s equality and, most recently, same-sex marriage.
The snug shop sells artisanal confections from all over the map, including designer bonbons from Arlington, Virginia, and pure cocoa bars from Madagascar.
The spiritual center describes itself as “not just a church,” an accurate characterization considering its extracurricular activities. Every Friday and Monday nights, the Westminster raises the roof with live jazz and blues jams.
The department’s Indian Craft Shop has been representing Native American artists since 1938, showcasing an array of traditional works by 60 tribes.
Open since 1922, Heller’s tempts visitors with pastries, cakes and cookies that flashback to a more decadent age, one with more frosting, butter, and calories. Signature treats include mocha rum cakes, éclairs, and blocks of marshmallow doused in chocolate.
The fifth and final national headquarters of the National Woman’s Party traces the group’s fight for gender equality and the right to vote. The museum’s 250-plus artifacts, including Susan B.
Kick off your shoes, grab a cushion, and sample teas from around the world (Japan, China, South Africa, Taiwan, more). The trained staff delivers the hot beverage in traditional Chinese serving and sipping vessels, and throws in a lesson on the steeping and serving process.
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.
When the field is quiet, the Washington Nationals baseball stadium unlocks its gates for a behind-the-scenes peek.
The Arts Club, established in 1916, exhibits contemporary artworks in its headquarters, the former home of President James Monroe. The group also maintains a busy calendar of free activities, such as play readings and Friday concerts.
Follow the ranger on a National Park tour that goes beyond the surface of the monuments and memorials.
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.
The fun house of decor, open for more than 30 years, sells vintage pieces and architectural parts salvaged from residences, many in the District.
Paddle or sail the Potomac in a canoe, single or double kayak, rowing shell or Sunfish rented by the hour or the day. Go left and float by Watergate, the Kennedy Center and the Arlington Memorial Bridge; turn right for a snapshot of Georgetown’s convivial waterfront.