When you visit Washington, DC, you'll find plenty of advice about what to see, where to eat and how to get around. Of course, there are all the wonderful monuments and memorials on the National Mall, along with the amazing (and free) Smithsonian museums. But after living in the DC suburbs for many years, we’ve found that there are also many other cool things to do around town. Check out this list of 10 favorites for your next visit. I still have one or two to check off my list when the weather gets warmer!
1. Pose for Photos with Einstein. Find the 12 foot high memorial of Albert Einstein, situated in a grove of trees on the corner of Constitution Avenue and 22nd Street. It’s on the grounds of the National Academy of Science, and it’s a great place for an unique photo opportunity. The Einstein Memorial, unveiled in 1979, weighs almost 4 tons, and was created by sculptor Robert Berks. It' not far from the Lincoln and Vietnam Veterans Memorials.
2. Find Darth Vader at Washington National Cathedral. Bring some binoculars and visit the Washington National Cathedral. Take a guided tour or grab a map and walk the grounds, searching for Darth Vader and other unique architectural features (and you might learn the difference between a gargoyle and a grotesque!). Check out these fun facts and be sure to download the Family Guide before you go to learn more about the history of this magnificent building and find other fun activities for kids.
3. Visit a Museum. You probably already know that DC is home to the fabulous Smithsonian museums. And you certainly can’t beat the free admission as well as the variety and quality of the content. But you should also consider visiting the International Spy Museum, National Geographic Museum or the Newseum, especially with older kids. These three museums offer unique exhibits that you probably won’t find elsewhere. Read more about why these 3 museums are worth the price of admission (along with 3 other museums to consider when you visit DC).
4. See the Memorials at Night. I hate to admit that I have not done this yet, but I’m looking forward to trying the Monuments by Moonlight tour when the weather gets warmer. This particular tour combines a unique nighttime perspective of several famous landmarks along with local history and tales from the past during a two hour and thirty minute tour.
5. Stop and Smell the Flowers. Visiting during the spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming should definitely be on your DC bucket list. But did you know you can visit the United States Botanic Garden any time of year? Walking through the Conservatory will take you from a tropical rainforest to Hawaii and the Mediterranean. In warmer weather, kids can explore the Children’s Garden.
6. Kayak on the Potomac River. Need a break from the crowds on the mall? In warmer weather, head over to Thompson Boat Center and rent kayaks. It offers another unique vantage point to see DC and it’s fun for older kids. For more details on this and other ideas, read my earlier post: 5 Outdoor Activities to Try in Washington, DC.
7. Tour the Library of Congress. Washington, DC is filled with historic buildings, so you’ll see plenty of architecture as you wander the street’s. If you have time, Free Tours by Foot offers a Capitol Hill & Library of Congress Tour, or you can take a one-hour docent led tour to learn more about the architecture and art of the historic Thomas Jefferson Building. Take time to browse through the current exhibitions, including Thomas Jefferson’s Library and Exploring the Early Americas.
8. Bike Ride Along the Potomac. Looking for a different vantage point of the monuments and memorials? Then get on a bike and pick up the Mount Vernon Trail on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. It’s a wide, paved trail that provides excellent views of the Washington Monument and several memorials from the other side of the river. Stop at Gravelly Point Park (or park there if you want car access to the trail) and watch the planes taking off from the airport nearby. If you are feeling energetic, follow the trail into Old Town Alexandria.
9. Try Some New Food. Eat at the Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian, where you can try traditional fry bread and other authentic foods. Or try the highly rated We the Pizza, located on the other side of the US Capitol. For an early morning sugar rush, head to Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken, for some of the best doughnuts in town. Like food trucks? DC has plenty, and Food Truck Fiesta posts a daily map that tracks the location of various trucks around the city.
10. Hike on Roosevelt Island. I love this hidden sanctuary, which is accessible by a walking/biking trail from the Rosslyn Metro or by crossing over the Key Bridge and following the path. There is also limited parking at the island. The longest hiking trail is roughly 1 ½ miles long, and dogs are allowed on the trails. Since it’s part of the National Park Service, kids can earn a Junior Ranger Badge. Another option for kids is a TRACK Trail adventure, which combines hiking on the island with fun activities like a scavenger hunt.