If you’ve already visited Washington, D.C., you’re probably familiar with the major museums and monuments that celebrate United States history. That’s good news, because it means you’re now free to explore the city’s parks, off-the-beaten-path museums, delightful dining scenes, and fabulous shopping districts.
Here are some of our favorite things to do in the nation’s capital that have nothing to do with politics.
Appreciate Modern Art At The Phillips Collection
When it opened in 1921, The Phillips Collection was the only modern art museum in the United States. The lovely 19th-century Georgian Revival mansion was once the home of Duncan Phillips. Today, it’s an intimate art museum, a refreshing change of pace from Washington’s massive downtown museums. Highlights include works by European masters, including Renoir’s showstopping Luncheon of the Boating Party, plus works by American artists like Jacob Lawrence and Mark Rothko. Even though the museum is independent of the Smithsonian Institution, admission is free on weekdays (on the weekends, admission costs $12 for adults and $10 for seniors 65 and older).
Stroll Through The National Arboretum
You can stroll through the 446 acres of verdant gardens at the U.S. National Arboretum free of charge. The green space, located in the northeast corner of the city, is filled with towering trees and 9 miles of winding (and wonderfully quiet) pathways through flowering scenery. Highlights include a garden of bonsai trees and koi ponds and the sandstone columns that were removed during a renovation of the U.S. Capitol in 1958. The columns stand like a mini Mount Olympus on a sea of rolling grass.
Discover Union Station And The National Postal Museum
It’s not often that a transit hub is an attraction worth visiting in and of itself, but Union Station, in which Amtrak operates, is home to bustling shops, delicious snack spots, and gorgeous architecture. You’ll marvel at the soaring ceilings of the grand entry hall, which you’ll want to photograph before heading to one of the Smithsonian’s little-known treasures: the National Postal Museum. Filled with everything from rare stamps to a Concord mail coach built in 1851, it’s both fascinating and free to the public.
Get Some Sun In Rock Creek Park
One of the largest urban parks in the nation (it’s even larger than New York City’s Central Park), Rock Creek Park covers 1,754 acres in the northwest corner of the capital. The land is so spread out that it’s possible you’ve been looking at it your whole trip without realizing it is a national park with a myriad of public recreational facilities. Now that you’re in on the secret, check out the 32 miles of hiking trails, visit the planetarium, go horseback riding, or play tennis. Admission to the grounds is free, though some activities require a fee.
Go Undercover At The International Spy Museum
If you’ve been watching Killing Eve, The Americans, or any other show about covert operations and secret missions, make a beeline for the International Spy Museum, which just reopened in a state-of-the-art, 14,000-square-foot building near L’Enfant Plaza. You can live out your spy fantasies with immersive radio-frequency identification experiences and interactive exhibits, check out real tools of the trade, and listen to stories from actual spies. This is one of the few spots in Washington, D.C., with an admission fee: $24.95 for adults up to 64 years of age and $19.95 for those 65 and older.
Take In A Live Show
Even though Washington, D.C., doesn’t have a theater district, there’s plenty of live entertainment to be had in the city, with something going on nearly every day of the week. The stunning John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts hosts Broadway shows, performances by the National Symphony Orchestra, performances by the Washington National Opera, and a rotating selection of comedy acts, world music, and other live performances. Numerous free shows are offered on the Millennium Stage, providing a great chance to experience the venue without having to purchase a ticket.
Eating In Washington, D.C.
In Washington, D.C., you can try every kind of cuisine imaginable, thanks to the city’s incredibly diverse population and wide range of international embassies. You’ll find top chefs turning out gourmet fare as well as casual cuisine that will allow you to eat like a king without breaking the bank.
Dig In To Ethiopian Cuisine
Washington, D.C., is home to the largest Ethiopian population outside of Ethiopia, and there are many restaurants where you can try the spongy injera bread used to scoop up savory stews of vegetables and meats. The Adams Morgan neighborhood has a number of delicious spots to try, including the family-owned Zenebech on 18th Street.
Wander The Wharf
A modern Oz along the Potomac, The Wharf is a glass seaport where you can find aquatic diversions, entertainment, and foodie hot spots that offer delicious menus along with gorgeous views of the harbor. Some top waterfront dining options include Hank's Oyster Bar for crab dip and oyster po'boy, Kaliwa for unique Filipino fusion dishes, and Mi Vida for upscale Mexican food and potent margaritas.
The lobster rolls and adult slushies at the nearby The Salt Line are to die for.
Sample Everything In Sight At The Markets
For bite-size tastes of D.C., head to one of the city’s extensive indoor food halls. At the 19th-century Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, you’ll find gourmet groceries to create a picnic feast, including cheese, fresh seafood, fruit, vegetables, pâtés, and charcuterie. At Union Market in the newly hip NoMa neighborhood, you’ll find more prepared foods and plenty of space to sample everything from Southern comfort food at Puddin’ to delectable fried dough at District Doughnut. You’ll also find full-service restaurants like the lauded American tavern St. Anselm, which offers simply prepared and expertly grilled ingredients paired with rare wines in a quirky, laid-back environment.
Shopping In Washington, D.C.
From vintage treasures to hipster boutiques, not to mention one-stop malls with plenty of designer offerings, Washington, D.C., has something for every shopper.
Window-Shop On 14th And U Streets
This intersection in the Cardozo neighborhood of the city is where to find independent shops, funky antiques dealers, and hipster cafés. The boutique stores here are filled with one-of-a-kind items that would make great souvenirs. Check out Miss Pixie’s for vintage home accessories, Good Wood for funky furniture, and Lettie Gooch for comfortable and unique clothing.
Shop Local In Dupont Circle
In the Dupont Circle neighborhood, a hub for the metro transportation system, you’ll find a plethora of tiny shops selling local wares. Some of the best are Shop Made in DC, which highlights local artisans who make everything from candles to clothing; Tiny Jewel Box, with its gorgeous gemstones and sparkling adornments; and Kramerbooks & Afterwords, a destination-worthy independent bookstore with an adjoining café.