It’s taken me YEARS to realize there are so many things to do in Washington D.C!  And the district is quite beautiful, really a photographer’s dream with so much stunning architecture, facades, and my favorite thing in the world, gardens!  

washington dc things to do

I’ve finally compiled a list of all the best things to do in Washington DC, the best photo spots in the District, and all the hidden gems in DC that tourists usually don’t know about!  

These places to visit in Washington DC are all perfect Instagram and photography spots.  The best part?  These attractions in Washington DC are all FREE.  

I’m actually quite amazed at all the free things to do in Washington DC having lived here all my life.  Yes, I’m so spoiled that it feels odd when I have to pay an entrance fee to see gardens or museums!  

Blind Whino, a Beautiful Place to Visit in DC

Blind Whino, or now named Culture House is one of the most unique and colorful buildings in Washington DC.  This is definitely a perfect photography attraction in Washington DC.

Culture House hosts creatives-in-residence who work across the visual, musical, culinary, and performance arts.

Hours:  Currently the space and events at the Culture House are postponed, but the outside is accessible.

Fee:  Free

Stroll the Tidal Basin in Washington DC

The Tidal Basin is a beautiful body of water right in the heart of Washington DC.  It really comes alive though in spring when the cherry blossoms in DC bloom.  The Tidal Basin is a popular photo spot for engagement and family photos. 

washington dc tidal basin

You can even rent paddle boats to tour it by boat.  

The Tidal Basin is one of the best places to visit in Washington DC because it hosts several top attractions in Washington DC like The Jefferson Memorial, The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Roosevelt Memorial, and the Japanese Pagoda.

A fun unique tour is visiting this area on a night tour which is usually less crowded and lit beautifully.

Hours:  24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Fee:  Free

Roosevelt Island a Great Place to Visit with Kids in Washington DC 

Roosevelt Island is a little island in the middle of the Potomac only accessible via a bridge from the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

things to do in Washington DC

This attraction in Washington D.C. is a pretty big space with very not many visitors because there is limited parking.  

washington dc attractions

What makes Roosevelt Island a great place to visit in Washington DC? 

Well, first it has the most tranquil atmosphere in the area around the Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial, where beautiful ponds are surrounded by the tallest trees.  The memorial is also a perfect place for Instagram and family photos in DC.

roosevelt island dc

It’s a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.  And if you are visiting Washington DC with kids, this attraction is kid-friendly!  You can let them run around the memorial or take them on a nice hike through the Swamp Trail and explore logs and bridges.

Hours:  Sunrise to Sunset

Fee:  Free

The Jefferson Memorial, A Historic Attraction in Washington DC

On the Tidal Basin is the Jefferson Memorial, probably the most well known historic attractions in Washington DC.  And it’s another wonderful photo spot for maternity and engagement photos. Especially during winter when everything is kind of gray in the city, the Jefferson Memorial’s architecture still shines for all your Instagram photos. 

The steps of the Jefferson Memorial also give you grand sweeping views of the Tidal Basin.

I mean really you can’t beat the giant dome, stunning columns all made of white marble can you?  Just remember to wear something colorful so you don’t blend into all the white!

Hours:  Open 24 hours 7 days a week 

Fee: Free

Library of Congress

Another example of the stunning architecture in Washington DC,  you cannot miss a visit to the Library of Congress!  Definitely add this to your list of places to visit in Washington DC!

washington dc library of congress

 When I was in college I actually did research in this library for a paper I was writing.  I needed a hard copy for a source and had to do the reading right there!  

The outside is just as gorgeous as the inside and would make great Instagram photos!

Hours:  The inside is currently closed, but the exterior is open 24 hours and 7 days a week.

Fee:  Free

National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art is a must-do attraction in Washington DC especially if you love art and it’s FREE.  This Washington DC Gallery is HUGE and you will get lost! 

national gallery of art dc

I’ve been to both wings and I did get lost several times.  

The East Building is super modern and the outside has these little glass pyramids that remind me of the Louvre in Paris. 

national gallery of art

The terrace on the East Building offers a great view of the city as well as housing exhibits from time to time.

The West Wing has more traditional architecture and is definitely worth a visit as well.  

Hours:  You need advanced tickets to go, but they are free.

Fee:  Free

U.S. National Arboretum, Best Outdoor Attraction in Washington DC

If you are looking for some large open spaces in Washington DC then the National Arboretum is it! 

national arboretum washington dc

The U.S. The National Arboretum encompasses 446 acres with 9.5 miles of winding roadways.

The most popular Instagram spot and attraction year-round has to be the National Capitol Columns and adjacent pool.  If you come here during sunset, you can get a great photo of the Capitol Columns reflecting in the pool.

national arboretum washington dc

The U.S. National Arboretum is also great for enjoying cherry blossoms in the spring without all the crowds.

Hours:  8-5pm, 7 Days a Week

Fee:  Free

Palmer Alley NW at City Center, A Trendy Area for Instagram Photos

Palmer Alley NW is in the City Center neighborhood of Washington DC.  This Instagram spot changes based on the season. 

dc city center

Each season the property will hang different items through the alley.  The Christmas decorations are probably my favorite.  Spring features kites (for the Cherry Blossom Kite Festival in DC) and summer beach balls.

DC City Center is also surrounded by shops and yummy restaurants, so this would be a great place to stop for lunch and window shopping!

Hours:  24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Fee:  Free

The Wharf, A New Attraction in Washington DC

The DC Wharf is a newer development and a great place to hang out!  My favorite photo spot here are the swings!  Yes, there are public swings for you to sit on and enjoy the sunset.

the wharf dc

There’s a beautiful boardwalk here lined with restaurants and boats.  This is another one of those attractions in Washington DC that are great for kids.

the wharf dc

You can let them run around the boardwalk, there’s even a little free play area!

We’ve spent hours here with our daughter just exploring, getting a late lunch, and watching the pretty sunset.

Smithsonian Castle – Enid A Haupt Garden

There is a CASTLE in Washington DC right on the National Mall no less!!  It’s the Smithsonian Institution Building, known fondly as the Castle.

enid haupt garden

Enid A Haupt Garden is attached to The Castle and probably one of the prettiest gardens in DC.  It really comes alive during the springtime when the saucer magnolias in DC bloom creating a sea of pink!

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smithsonian castle

Definitely check out the Moongate Garden while you are here as well. 

moongate garden dc

It does tend to get busy on the weekends during spring because of all the pretty flowers so either go early or plan for a weekday visit.  I’ve been here during the weekday in the afternoon and there were hardly any people.

Hours:  The Castle is Closed but the Smithsonian Gardens are open to the public from dawn to dusk every day.

Fee:  Free

US Capitol Building

This one may seem obvious right?  But you cannot visit Washington DC without going to see the US Capitol.  Of all the attractions in Washington DC, this is probably number one on the list.  

washington dc things to do

Usually, you can sign up for a tour, but because of the pandemic there are no tours at the moment, BUT that doesn’t mean you can’t see the stunning exterior and take some beautiful pictures!

washington dc capitol building

My favorite Instagram spot for the Capitol Building in Washington DC is the east side facing East Capitol Street.  Part of East Capitol Street is closed to traffic and you can get some great Instagram shots if you and the Capitol here right on the street without fear of being hit by a car.

washington dc bucket list

There are also 2 beautiful sets of staircases that lead to the visitor center that gives you the perspective you see above.  And don’t forget to get a shot of you sitting on the ledge of the stairs!

Fee:  Free

National Building Museum, Visit with Kids in Washington DC

If you are looking for something in Washington DC to do with kids that’s indoors, the National Building Museum is your best bet!

This building is huge with tons of indoor space for kids to run around.  They also have a room upstairs with large foam blocks, legos, and building blocks for kids to play with.  And yes it’s all FREE!!!

The National Building Museum also hosts a variety of Instagram worthy exhibits that are beyond belief.  I’ve been to The Beach and The Hive, each an architectural marvel.  The exhibits are not free but they are well worth the fee and a ton of fun for kids!!  Definitely one of the best attractions in Washington DC for the entire family!

The National Building Museum is definitely my favorite museum in Washington DC for kids.

Hours:  Currently closed because of the pandemic

Fee:  Free to enter, Fee for some exhibits

Smithsonian American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery, The Best Art Museum in Washington DC

If you are an art lover the Smithsonian American Art Museum is one of the best places to visit in Washington DC!  Even if you aren’t into art the building itself is stunning particularly The Kogod Courtyard and the Luce Foundation Center are beautiful photo locations.

smithsonian portrait gallery

The Smithsonian American Art Museum shares the building with the National Portrait Gallery, so you can see both attractions at the same time in DC. 

The National Portrait Gallery houses portraits of both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.  If you see no other art attractions in Washington DC, you should at least visit these 2 portraits for their modern historical significance.

Hours:  Both are currently closed because of the pandemic but will open soon!

Fee:  Free

The National Cathedral in Washington DC

The National Cathedral is definitely a hidden gem in the district and one of the top attractions in Washington DC.  

national cathedral

I’m not going to lie, it’s taken me YEARS to make it over here, but I’m glad I finally did!  First, the gardens at the National Cathedral are some of the best in the district, and you can have a picnic right on the grounds! 

bishops garden dc

One of my favorite photo spots is from Bishops Garden with the Cathedral as a backdrop.  A stroll through Olmstead Wood is also a must!

national cathedral bishops garden

The interior of the National Cathedral in DC is equally stunning.  Insider tip, did you know you can have afternoon tea at the National Cathedral?  Imagine a gorgeous tea set up in this magnificent building!

Or you can actually book a tour to the very TOP of the building and capture the best photo of the National Cathedral ever!  

The National Cathedral offers tea service and tours on select days and you need to book both an advance (though currently because of the pandemic the building is closed).

Murals in Washington DC are a Hidden Gem 

Wall art and murals are truly worth a visit in Washington D.C.  These pieces of art truly show off the vibrancy of the city next to the austerity of this political city.

Murals are all over the district but some of the most popular ones are:

  • Next to Ben’s Chili Bowl at 1213 U St NW 
  • The Hearts Wall at Union Market (keep reading for more on Union Market)
  • The Watermelon House at 1112 Q street NW 

For a full list of murals visit:  https://muralsdcproject.com/

Places to Visit in Washington DC:  ARTECHOUSE 

First, let me preface by saying this attraction in Washington DC is NOT FREE.  I know I was making a list of the wonderful Instagram spots in DC that are free, but I just couldn’t leave ARTECHOUSE off the list.

artechouse dc

ARTECHOUSE is truly an all sensory experience in Washington DC!  The geniuses here bring art to life with lights and animation.  Definitely one of the best things to do in Washington DC if you have time or live in the area!  

washngton dc artechouse

Their exhibits usually change every quarter and showcase 1 artist.  My favorite is the cherry blossom exhibit by artist Yuko Shimizu, a Japanese illustrator living in New York City. 

Rock Creek Park Washington DC

If you are looking for more outdoor activities in Washington DC, Rock Creek Park is one of the best things to do in DC. 

washington dc things to do rock creek

The city has closed Beach Dr so you can literally walk in the middle of the street.  The creek itself is very scenic and Boulder Bridge which goes across the creek is amazing for photos.

dc rock creek park

I especially love visiting Rock Creek Park for fall in Washington DC.

washington dc rock creek park

Fee:  FREE

Hours:  24 hours a day 7 days a week

Georgetown, The Most Charming Neighborhood in Washington DC for Instagram Photos

Georgetown has to be one of my favorite neighborhoods in Washington DC for Instagram and photos.  It is a stunning place to visit in Washington DC all year round with cute houses and facades.  Not to mention the canal that runs through!  

georgetown washington dc

If you are looking for something pink, GreenWorks Flowers in Georgetown has the cutest pink building with a doorway featuring a flower arch! 

instagram washington dc

So even in the dead of winter in DC you can still get some spring vibes for your photos! UPDATE: Greenworks is now a Bagel Shop! While the building is still pink, the flowers look a bit tired.

But not to worry there actually a few other stores that have pretty floral storefronts in Georgetown including Carine’s Bridal Atelier at 1623 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20007 and Ella-Rue at 3231 P St NW, Washington DC.

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Keep scrolling if you want some more flower walls in DC outside of Georgetown!

There’s also no shortage of REAL flowers in Georgetown during spring when the wisteria in DC blooms.

washington dc wisteria

And definitely stop by Cote Jardin Antiques for some old world Paris vibes in their courtyard, location: 3218 O St NW, Washington, DC 20007.

Georgetown is also amazing if you are visiting Washington DC during fall!  I love the awnings of ginkgo trees that turn gold during fall on Olive St.

georgetown washington dc

Some of the cutest cafes are also in Georgetown including Cafe Georgetown which serves the cutest seasonal coffee drinks.

georgetown cafe

Location: 3141 N St NW, Washington, DC 20007

If you are in Georgetown in the morning on a weekend definitely stop by Boulangerie Christophe for breakfast or brunch.

boulangerie christophe dc
boulangerie christophe dc

Their crepes are delicious and the restaurant upstairs is so pretty! Location: 1422 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20007

Union Market in DC

Union Market is a super hip and vibrant neighborhood in NE Washington DC! It’s a neighborhood and an actual building called Union Market, which as the name suggest is a market.

union market dc

Union Market is set up like a food hall, housing food stalls, and shop stalls. There’s lots of outdoor seating available right outside of the market that’s free and super cute! They even have an airstream serving as a bar!

On the roof of Union Market is Hi-Lawn a roof top bar perfect for sunset. The drinks at Hi-Lawn are amazing, my fave was the Creamsicle!

There’s plenty of dining options in Union Market with lots of outdoor seating, but our favorite is definitely Stellina Pizzaria.

stellina's pizza

You can’t go wrong with any of the food or cocktails here.

stellinas pizza dc

And of course you have to check out all the murals in the area.

The most famous one is by the artist Mr. Brainwash.

union market dc

This is the hearts mural in DC you see all over Instagram. It’s looking a bit tired and dirty of late though. Location: On the Union Market, the side facing 6th Street, GPS: 38.908578, -76.996841

The Latin American Female Identity mural is by Mariela Ajras and is truly a stunning piece of work! The detail and colors are amazing. Location: Neal Place NE & 4th Street NE

union market murals dc

In This Together by Bisco Smith is another mural worth checking out!

union market dc

It’s huge and easy to find because it’s right across the street from Stellina! Location: 4th St NE between Morse St & Florida Ave

Unlike most of DC, parking here is plentiful and FREE! There’s a completely free parking lot right next to the Union Market building.

Rosslyn/Arlington Virginia

Just across the bridge is Rosslyn Virginia! Also known was Arlington.

flower wall dc

They currently have quite a few flower walls that are totally cute for FREE all across the city. There’s even one with a little floral bike.

I went to the wisteria flower wall at Central Place Plaza on 1800 N Lynn St, Arlington, VA. It’s right next to the McDonald’s.

Parking is a huge pain in this area so if you can either bike, scooter, or take the metro to Rosslyn. Central Place Plaza is right next to the Rosslyn Metro Station.

Dining in Washington DC

Dining experiences in Washington DC have really come a long way in the last 10 years! This city has really stepped up its game in terms of decor and food. Here are just few of the restaurants in DC that should be on your list!

Minibar By Jose Andre

If there’s one restaurant that’s a must it’s Minibar by Jose Andre. It is a literal EXPERIENCE! Minibar was one of the first restaurants to truly offer micro gastronomy in DC and to this day it’s still one of my favorite restaurants.

You can make reservations online 30 days in advance. It’s usually hard to get a table on the weekend but weekdays it’s a lot easier. Dinner here is quite pricing running $125 per person the last time we went, but it was worth it!

Minibar is currently closed because of the pandemic, but you can still experience some of Jose Andre’s magic by heading to BarMini, which serves small bites paired with stunning cocktails.

Hook Hall

If you are looking for a more casual experience, Hook Hall is the cutest beer garden in Washington DC!

hook hall washington dc

They change their theme with the season and it’s absolutely worth it. The drinks are awesome too.

hook hall dc

We went during their cherry blossom experience and it was perfection! You do need to make a reservation here for a table or a cabana.

beer garden washington dc

Their newest experience is Desert Oasis and is just as beautiful as their Cherry Blossom experience.

hook hall desert oasis
desert oasis hook hall

Hook Hall has a special menu to go with the new theme as well!

Location: 3400 Georgia Ave NW, Washington, DC 20010

The Residents DC

The Residents DC is a fun restaurant and cafe with delicious food and lovely outdoor seating. We went for their cherry blossom experience and it was a great vibe.

residents dc

The food was absolutely delicious!

residents dc

We basically tried everything on their menu and their squid was my favorite.

residents dc

Location: 1306 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20036

Stellina’s Pizza

Stellina’s Pizza in Washington DC is by far my favorite pizza place! They serve Neapolitan style pizza that is out of this world.

And their pastas are all hand made, my favorite is the squid ink seafood spaghetti!

The vibe is super casual and hip, without trying too hard. And the drinks are on a level you can expect at fine dining restaurants in DC.

Jinya Ramen

If you are looking for a quick lunch in DC, I love Jinya Ramen. I first tried this ramen chain in Las Vegas, and I was so happy when they came to DC!

The Jinya Tonkotsu Black is my fave with the thicker noodles.

Daikaya

Daikaya is one of the original ramen places in Washington DC and usually has a line out the door, but to be truthful Jinya is much better!

BUT what most people don’t know is that Daikaya offers BRUNCH on the weekends upstairs with no line.

That brunch is so good and so are all their cocktails! We always start our DC bar hopping at Daikaya’s bar upstairs.

King St Oyster Bar

King St Oyster Bar has one of the best happy hours in Washington DC. You really can’t beat their $1 oyster prices.

They also have a pretty good selection of happy hour drinks for $5 and happy hour foods for $5. We liked all of the drinks except the NY Sour.

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