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Everything You Need for Your Washington DC Bucket List
There is so much to do in Washington DC from historical sites to foodie destinations, art galleries, and outdoor activities. This is the ultimate Washington DC Bucket List.
Anytime we are planning travel, I always love finding location-specific bucket lists to ensure we are doing the best of the best. And I just love checking things off of lists!
We love DC so much, this is actually our third trip in three years. Somehow we just always end up back in DC. These are our favorite things to do and can’t miss activities in Washington DC.
We’ll go over our Washington DC bucket list, unique things to do in DC, DC summer bucket list, adventurous things to do in Washington DC, and more!
This post is all about our ultimate Washington DC bucket list so you don’t miss anything in DC.
Washington DC Bucket List:
Ride Bikes through the National Mall
Something surprised us so much when we first visited the National Mall. It’s HUGE! Luckily, it is so easy and affordable to rent bikes in DC. Capital Bike is a bike share service (like Uber but for bikes) that has bike racks all over the city. You can easily rent a bike and ride it to your destination and drop it off at the nearest stand. Their app (or the Lyft app will work too!) is easy to use and find the best racks and tell you how many bikes and spots are available.
Our best tip for riding bikes though is to use Google Maps and pick the bike option on your route. It will not only tell you the best route with bike lanes but it will show you where the nearest Capital Bike stands are and include the walking time in your estimate! The best part? It’s only $2 per bike for a 30-minute window. And an extra $1 for an e-bike! They also have daily and weekly passes if you’ll be in town for it.
Night Tour the Monuments
Definitely one of the cooler things we did while in DC. We highly recommend visiting all the monuments at night. They are lit up so beautifully since the Mall is open 24/7. Our favorites to see at night were the Jefferson Memorial and Lincoln Memorial. They are so monumental in size and to see them so bright against a dark landscape is beautiful.
Another great reason to coming out at night is because there are far fewer crowds. It is a far different experience to see the monuments without hordes of people in every direction. And our favorite part is the cooler temperatures. Both times we have visited DC, it has been swelteringly hot and humid. Being out in the heat of the day can be miserable and dangerous. Going out in the evening with cooler temps is way more enjoyable.
Day Trip to Alexandria
Crazy to say go to a different state when visiting DC, but the short trip to Alexandria, Virginia is worth the visit. The best way to visit the charming colonial town across the river is by the City Cruises Water Taxi. It’s a great way to get out on the water and see the Mall from a different perspective. The short and smooth 45-minute ride to Alexandria is chock-full of information. They have a pre-recorded track of interesting facts as you pass through the Potomac River.
Once you get to Alexandria, you can walk everywhere in the Old Town. There are some lovely riverfront restaurants like Blackwall Hitch. If you are looking for more history try Gadsby’s Tavern restaurant, frequented by George Washington. There is plenty of shopping and snacks to spend a whole afternoon here. You can also take the Metro system into Alexandria if the water taxi isn’t the right option for you.
Ride the National Wheel
If you are already heading to Alexandria for the day, you might as well make it a whole day on the water taxi and head over to the National Harbor. The National Harbor is an up-and-coming area that is home to the National Wheel, a gorgeous 180 ft Ferris Wheel overlooking the Potomac River. There is plenty to do here from great dining options to shopping and gorgeous sunset views.
Go to The Top of the Washington Monument
The Washington Monument is a towering landmark visible from all over DC. Once the tallest building in the world, this 500 ft tower houses an elevator and observation deck at the top. The tickets are free but do require online bookings in advance for a $1 reservation fee per group (max 4 people per group). Check out the National Park Service website for more details on getting tickets!
See Portrait Restoration at the National Portrait Gallery
A hidden gem in Washington DC is to head to the National Portrait Gallery and see official artists restoring portraits. The National Portrait Gallery is already a great museum to head to and see all the official president portraits and modern sports champion portraits. But if you visit the back left corner of the museum you can find them restoring old paintings and frames. Restoration of original works is one of our favorite things to see through our travels through various temples and museums and this is a perfect place to see that happen!
See the Original American Documents
Visiting the National Archives Museum has been at the top of my Washington DC bucket list since learning about American history in middle school. It was so amazing to finally see the Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, and Bill of Rights. In real life! Seeing documents and handwriting from over 200 years ago was impressive enough but there was so much more there. The information they provide around the 1936 Faulkner Murals and documents is incredible to learn and the building they are all housed in is gorgeous.
Admire the National Cathedral
Only 15 minutes away from the main attractions in DC, the Washington National Cathedral is a must-see. The Washington National Cathedral is the 6th largest in the world and is the final resting place for Helen Keller and President Woodrow Wilson. The cathedral is open to the public 7 days a week and still holds service on Sundays. And even if you aren’t looking for another historic site, the surrounding property is just as beautiful as the interior of the cathedral. There is an admission fee of $12 per person, except on Sundays.
Catch the Metro
The Metro system in DC is surprisingly well run. Given the efficiency of neighboring cities like New York and Philly, DC’s attempt at a subway system often gets a bad rep. We find that unwarranted. The DC metro system was an inexpensive way to get around town, especially when traveling farther distances like the National Cathedral or Arlington. Although it wasn’t always running on time, the trains came often enough that it didn’t really matter. And we found the trains and stations to be clean and well-maintained which is not always the case for big cities.
Dine With History
Washington DC is obviously rich with history. And being a huge metropolitan hub there is going to be some good food. Why not make it a double whammy and dine with history at some of the coolest spots in DC. If you are looking for some modern history check out Martin’s Tavern that claims they are the location where John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie Kennedy (a restaurant in Boston also claims the same thing). Or you can head to one of the few buildings that survived the DC riots in 1968 after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Ben’s Chilli Bowl is located in the U-Street district and is rich with history and good chili.
See the Fourth of July Fireworks
What better location to celebrate the Fourth of July than the nation’s capital? The National Park Service holds an Independence Day Firework Show every year in the National Mall. Recently they have opened up the Lincoln Memorial area for viewing the fireworks up close. We are here to tell you it is worth it. The firework show they put on is upwards of 15 minutes and it is absolutely incredible. They have low flying fireworks off either side of the reflecting pool and a gorgeous sky show with the National Monument in the background. They also have a show off to the side at the Jefferson Memorial. Both shows are visible from all over DC and the Potomac River so if you aren’t looking for crowds, there is likely still a spot for you!
Picnic in front of Capitol Hill
With such sprawling grass and beautiful spring days, the National Mall is just calling for groups to come and picnic. We had a picnic in the grass in front of Capitol Hill at sunset and it was just perfect. There is so much space that we weren’t crowded with others and we were able to get a spot far enough away from the street that it actually felt relaxing. The sunset was beautiful over the various monuments and museums surrounding the mall. And the people watching was perfect!
Museum Hop to Escape the Heat
There are over 70 different museums in Washington DC. Given the extreme temperatures through much of the year, the museums are the perfect place to escape in the heat or cold. Many of the museums are free entry and open year-round. Be sure to visit a few of the favorites including the National Gallery of Art, National Air & Space Museum, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, or the National Museum of Natural History. There are also quite a few private museums that have an entrance fee like the International Spy Museum and the Newseum.
Tour the White House
The White House is the ultimate tourist attraction in Washington DC. The Nation’s president’s home in the nation’s capital. And it’s stunning. Seeing it from the outside is one thing but being able to tour the interior is a-whole-nother thing. Getting a tour of the White House is not an easy feat but definitely one worthwhile if you are able to plan far enough in advance. You’ll need to request a tour through your member of Congress between 3 weeks and 3 months in advance. They only accept visitors on a first-come, first-served basis so it’s no guarantee but bucket list-worthy nonetheless.
See a Supreme Court Hearing
The US Supreme Court is the highest-ranking court in the country. Meaning that if your case continuously gets appealed, you could end up at the last rung in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is located just behind the US Capital alongside the Library of Congress and is open to the public Monday through Friday. Not only can you see tour the court building, see the various public exhibits, and see lectures in courtrooms, but cases are also open to the public. It may not be as easy as walking into a courtroom to hear a case, but check out the Free Tours By Foot article explaining all the details.
Watch Planes Take-Off at Gravely Park
Gravely Park is located across the river at the end of the runway at Ronald Reagan National Airport and is a perfect spot for watching planes. Think of a huge grassy park along the river with boat ramps and views of the National Mall. Planes will fly just overhead as they land and takeoff giving you a unique view! It was the perfect place for a summer evening and the sunset was perfect!
Grab a Sunset Happy Hour
Speaking of sunsets, be sure to check out an epic view from one of the many rooftop bars in DC. A few of the favorites are POV with a great view over the National Mall or The Wharf with perfect sunset views over the Potomac River. There are plenty of others including the Union Market Hi-Lawn rooftop bar and Top of the Gate.
Join in a DC Half Marathon
DC is known for having quite a few races throughout the year. Whether you are a newbie and looking for an easier challenge or a champion marathon runner, DC has a race for you. DC hosts an annual Rock ‘n’ Roll DC Marathon, Half-marathon, and 5K and the 9/11 Memorial Half Marathon. They even have a fun St. Patty’s Half Marathon & 5K race.
Go to a Washington National’s Game
Baseball is certainly one of our favorite sports and we have it on our bucket list to visit all 30 stadiums! Nationals Park was one of the first parks we visited together and we have been back quite a few times since (including on the 4th of July!). If you are in town during baseball season (May-October) then we highly recommend taking the metro (or a bike) down to watch a game. Be sure to head out to the Budweiser Brew House during batting practice for a chance to catch a ball! And I always root for Teddy during the President’s Race!
See the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is a famous military cemetery just across the river from DC. It’s a gorgeous sprawling property open to the public. You will find JFK and Jackie Kennedy’s final resting place as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Every year on Memorial Day volunteers place a US flag on each gravestone to honor the fallen soldiers and it is a beautiful sight to see. You can easily take the metro over and spend a whole morning roaming around the cemetery.
Get a Library Card at the Library of Congress
Maybe one of the coolest things to do on this Washing DC bucket list. And that is to truly be like a local and get a library card at the Library of Congress. It’s rather easy and free to get and you can get it even if you are just visiting for the day. Check out the Library of Congress’s site explaining the exact steps. Even if you don’t get an official library card be sure to walk through the Library to see Thomas Jefferson’s Library and the gorgeous architecture throughout.