It’s known to be the US capital, never short on famous museums and historic national monuments. If you’re looking for things to do in Washington DC this weekend or for your next trip, you’ve come to the right place!
In this article, we’ll countdown the best non-tourist activities in the capital that won’t leave you stuck in a crowd of visitors posing for selfies. If you’re someone who likes to try great food in places you visit, you’re in for a treat because we have a few foodie-approved suggestions on the list.
Here are eight things to do in Washington DC if you’re not a fan of touristy stuff.
The White House
If you’re looking for free things to do in Washington DC, this should be on top of your list. Unlike other attractions where you can drop by anytime, touring the White House requires advance reservation. In fact, you should reserve no less than 21 days before your intended visit. There are also limited visitor slots available and security is pretty tight. So, the President’s Palace is a safe choice if you want to avoid rowdy crowds.
People who want to visit the White House have to submit a tour request through their Member of Congress. Foreign visitors, on the other hand, need to submit a request through their embassy. Because security is of utmost concern in this place more than in any other location in the city, it’s essential to know the prohibited items during the visit. The list includes video recorders; handbags, book bags, backpacks or purses; food or beverages; tobacco products; grooming items like makeup, and pointed objects.
The White House also doesn’t allow cameras with detachable lenses, tablets, tripods, monopods, and camera sticks. But you can still document your visit to the President’s House with smartphones and compact cameras with a lens that’s 3 inches-long or shorter.
Strolling around the Capitol Hill is one of the fun, historical things to do in Washington DC. One of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, it houses some of the most important buildings in the nation. These include the US Capitol, the Supreme Court and the US House and Senate.
If you want to visit the US Capitol, you’re not required to make reservations. However, they strongly suggest doing so. The guide-led tour includes the Crypt, the Rotunda, and National Statuary Hall. The Senate and House Galleries aren’t part of the tour though. Just like the White House, there are a number of items prohibited in the Capitol Building, such as:
- Food or drinks of any kind
- Any pointed object
- Any bag larger than 18″ wide x 14″ high x 8.5″ deep
- Mace and pepper spray
- Razors and box cutters
Despite the Senate and House Galleries not being part of the tour, visitors can watch if either legislative body is in session.
Explore the Smithsonian Museums
Paying a visit to the Smithsonian Museums is a great idea if you’re looking for things to do in Washington DC with kids. The museum and research complex houses a zoo as well as 11 galleries and museums zoo on the National Mall.
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is a favorite among visitors, and admission to the museum and programs is free. However, you need to purchase tickets to some attractions such as the Butterfly Pavilion. This display features a tropical oasis where visitors can stroll among the pretty winged creatures and gorgeous blooming plants.
To make the most out of your visit, check out the daily schedule of events on their website. You might not want to miss out on some exciting activities such as live tarantula feeding and other demos.
You might also want to visit the National Zoo, where you can see animals including Giant Pandas. The facility manipulates the animals’ environment to mimic their natural habitat. They also work to provide cognitive and sensory enrichment to the animals.
Explore the Library of Congress
Bookworms would automatically want to spot this place on the Washington DC attractions map. The de facto national library of the US, it is the oldest federal cultural institution in the country and the second-largest library in the world. It’s also the research library serving the US Congress.
They offer a guided tour of the Thomas Jefferson Building for free. Public tours without reservations are offered several times a day on a first-come, first-served basis. They also offer French and Spanish-language tours, as well as a touch tour for the blind and visually impaired.
The library hosts various concerts, film-viewings, lectures, and other public events. Similarly, you can choose to browse books in the reading rooms. The library has a list of guidelines and policies, so make sure you check it out before your visit. For example, bags that will not fit on the x-ray belts or suitcases larger than 25″W x 15″H are not allowed inside the buildings.
African American Museum
Another popular choice among Washington DC museums is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, launched in 2003. The museum offers a wide collection related to various topics including civil rights, clothing, politics, religious groups, and slavery.
Admission is free, but timed-entry passes may be required for peak times and seasons. The visitor rate is at its highest from March to August. So, if you’re visiting the museum within these months, take the time to secure advance time passes. Also, during this season, walk-up entry isn’t available on weekends. On the other hand, if your visit falls between September to February, timed passes are only required on weekends.
Tour the Vast DC Food Scene
Many people search online for the best things to eat in Washington DC, and the internet offers quite a fill of suggestions. If you were to ask locals though, they’d probably point you to a nearby joint that offers delicious greasy burgers.
If you’re in a mood for seafood, go to a restaurant that serves blue crab. The traditional way of cooking blue crab is by steaming it and coating it with Old Bay Seasoning. This delicacy is usually abundant from June through September.
Another food not to miss is chicken wings with mumbo sauce. The reddish-orange sauce is made with ketchup, barbecue sauce, and sweet-and-sour sauce. The result is a sweet, tangy, and spicy number that coats chicken perfectly.
If you’re craving for soup, try a local specialty aptly named the US Senate Bean Soup. The roots of the delicacy have been debated for decades, according to the Senate website. One story claims Senator Fred Dubois of Idaho requested it in the 20th century. Another story, on the other hand, says Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota expressed a fondness for it in 1903. Either way, Senate restaurants serve the soup every day.
Washington DC is a melting pot of cultures, so you won’t run out of options hailing from all over the globe. From Salvadoran pupusas and Peruvian polla a la brasa to Korean fried chicken, you’ll surely find something to tickle your tastebuds.
Get Coffee at Little Pearl
Coffee house by day and wine bar by night, you’ll definitely love this place. If you need a superb cup of joe to help you kickstart a day of exploring the city, come to Little Pearl and you won’t be disappointed. If you’re in the mood to try something new, order their specialty drinks: Iced Banana Latte, Coconut Nutmeg Latte, London Fog, and Vietnamese Iced Coffee.
Enjoy your caffeine fix with bacon or spinach frittata, or perhaps a vegetarian homemade yogurt parfait to start your day right. If you come in between 10AM to 2:30PM, you can enjoy some house specialties including Gravlax and Sourdough, Vegetarian Fresh Green Falafel & Pita, and Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich.
They also have vegetarian baked goodies: Medium Rare Chocolate Chip Cookie, Snickerdoodle, Potato Donut, and Black Olive Financier.
Go to Ambar
Last but not least on our list of things to do in Washington DC is to grab a Balkan culinary treat at Ambar. Bringing Serbian flavors to the states, this restaurant offers a lot of sumptuous dishes you wouldn’t find elsewhere in the city.
Their tapa-style small dishes called mezze includes tasty beef and lamb prosciutto. Their creamy dairy delicacy called kajmak is also a must-try. Other favorites include tartare steak, tuna tartare, Balkan salad, Balkan kebab, and Karadjordjva which is a Serbian breaded cutlet.
If you’re in for a buzz, wash an excellent meal down with rakia or Serbian fruit brandy. Depending on the fruit it was made from, it can have a sweet hint and fresh scent. Many people find its taste akin to Japanese sake or Italian grappa.
Don’t leave without trying their yummy desserts! Their baklava features layers of golden brown phyllo dough, crushed walnuts, and plazma and raisins, all embraced by vanilla lemon syrup. They also offer an award-winning Forest gnocchi, which melds the flavors of chocolate mousse, bitter orange cake, orange gelee, and tarragon.