8 Great Surprising Things to See in Washington DC. Article and photo by Charles McCool for McCool Travel.

8 Great Surprising Things to See in Washington DC

For many people, visiting Washington DC means making sure the family sees the monuments, zipping through a White House tour, then heading off to Philadelphia or Williamsburg. I have lived near USA’s capital city for over 20 years, so Expedia.com asked me to share some of my favorite, surprising things to see in Washington DC.

8 Great Surprising Things to See in Washington DC

Einstein statue

One of my favorite surprising things to see in Washington DC is the Albert Einstein statue. This is my favorite instagrammable spot in DC and surely will be one of yours. Climb on the good doctor’s lap, put your finger in his ear or nostril, or stroke his mustache. The 2x actual size statue of Einstein sits right across the street from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

McCool Travel tip: At night, park right in front of the statue and you will likely have the place to yourself. It is convenient and fun to visit the nearby Lincoln Memorial area monuments (Vietnam, Korea) at night.


The Newseum celebrates and defends the First Amendment and the Freedoms of Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly, and Petition. Highlights among the Newseum’s seven floors include the Berlin Wall, Pulitzer Prize Photograph Gallery, and the poignant and powerful 9/11 exhibition. During your visit, be sure to check out the magnificent views along Pennsylvania from the balcony level. For a lunch break, visit the Wolfgang Puck cuisine on the ground level. Who said museum food is boring? Save 15% on Newseum admissions by buying tickets online.

8 Great Surprising Things to See in Washington DC. Article and photo by Charles McCool for McCool Travel.

surprising things to see in Washington DC: view from Newseum

>>> Read our McCool Travel article Fun Places to Visit in Washington DC.

Washington DC Museums

Every time I visit Washington DC, I am astonished at the quality and quantity of world-class museums. Many of them are Smithsonian museums and are ABSOLUTELY FREE. The top two most visited museums in the United States are in Washington, DC (both are free): Natural History Museum and Air & Space Museum. Also part of the Smithsonian collection is the National Zoo which is also free, FREE, FREE. If you visit on a scorching hot summer day, overhead water misters keep you cool—but try to visit in the spring when there are baby animals.

Those are amazing museums but I also enjoy other Smithsonian properties—including American Indian MuseumPortrait GalleryRenwick GalleryHirschhorn Sculpture GardenBotanic Garden, and Folger Shakespeare Library. Some superb museums with an admission fee include NewseumSpy Museum, and National Geographic.

Folger Library

Skip that trip across the Atlantic Ocean because one of the surprising things to see in Washington DC is the world’s largest Shakespeare collection at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The on-site Folger theatre hosts performances, lectures, and other events. Located only a block from the US Capitol Building, Folger also houses an amazing collection of works from Renaissance Europe. On my last visit, I spent an hour looking at dozens of books from the 14th to 18th century.

McCool Travel tip: View the even older Magna Carta (from 1215)—along with the original Declaration of Independence and other rare historical documents—at the nearby National Archives.

Senate Cafeteria

For an inexpensive dining experience, try breakfast or lunch at the Dirksen Cafe in the Senate Office Building. This is where most Congressional workers dine but it is also open to the public. The salad bar is an especially nice deal. I like to make my own salad here and it costs about half the price of nearby places. In the middle of November, Dirksen serves a traditional Thanksgiving lunch. Two summers ago, I walked past Bernie Sanders on the sidewalk outside the building. So I truly can say you never know who you will see there.

McCool Travel tip: You can also eat at cafes inside the Supreme Court and US Capitol Building.

Explore the World

Nearly every country in the world has an embassy in Washington, DC. People from those countries work at these embassies, so simply walking into the buildings you meet someone from Romania, Togo, or Yemen. Every May, Passport DC hosts fun events at dozens of embassies; the EU (European Union) open house is especially popular. At the Embassy of India, view the impressive statue of Mahatma Gandhi.

8 Great Surprising Things to See in Washington DC. Article and photo by Charles McCool for McCool Travel.

Embassy of Togo in Washington, DC

Food Trucks

While you can find great food all over Washington, DC, food trucks are something DC does very well. On most weekdays, you can find a dozen food trucks near Union Station, another 15-20 food trucks in McPherson Square, and dozens more across the city. In addition to typical Mexican, Italian, and American offerings, DC food trucks serve Laotian, Ethiopian, Cajun, Jamaican, Vietnamese, Venezuelan, Peruvian, and other cuisines.

McCool Travel tip: Check the Food Truck Fiesta website and app for food truck listings in Washington DC, along with Northern Virginia and Maryland.

>>> Read our McCool Travel article 8 Great Washington DC Food Trucks.

“The Exorcist” Steps

Georgetown is the oldest part of Washington DC and contains gorgeous row houses, old brick cobblestones streets, and a world class university. One of the more surprising things to see in Washington DC is the infamous staircase from the revolutionary horror movie The Exorcist. I have seen visitors from all over the world walking up and down the Exorcist Stairs. Do you dare? For something a little tamer, visit the nearby labyrinth in Georgetown Waterfront Park.

8 Great Surprising Things to See in Washington DC. Article and photo by Charles McCool for McCool Travel.

Exorcist Stairs, Georgetown, Washington, DC


What are some of your favorite surprising things to see in Washington DC?

For more information about things to do in Washington DC, visit:

Destination DC: website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Ways to Have Fun in Washington DC

8 Great Places to Visit Near Washington DC

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Surprising things to see in Washington DC. I have lived near DC for over 20 years and Expedia.com asked me for my surprising things to see in Washington DC.


8 Great Surprising Things to See in Washington DC was originally published on McCool Travel on 10 November 2017.

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23 Responses to “8 Great Surprising Things to See in Washington DC”

  1. Alli Blair November 19, 2017 at 6:11 pm #

    The exorcist steps! How very interesting 🙂 This place looks so amazing to explore. I’ve also seen photos of it in the spring – cherry blossoms galore!

  2. Eloise November 19, 2017 at 6:06 pm #

    You’ve listed so many things I had never heard of in Washington DC! I have friends who lived there for years and often go back – it made me very curious about this city and I hope to have the opportunity to visit it one day. How come do they have the largest Shakespeare’s collection there?!?!
    The embassy exploration reminded me our trip to Canberra: it was fun to drive around and try to guess which country it was 😀

  3. Rhonda Albom November 19, 2017 at 5:31 pm #

    These look great! I feel like I missed a lot when I was in D.C. Maybe I will have to come back again. When in Georgetown we took a “Ghosts of Georgetown” night tour which was very spooky, great way to see the exorcist stairs as it turns out there are a lot of other “haunted” locations in the area. Also loved visiting the Smithsonian.

    • McCoolTravel (@CharlesMcCool) November 28, 2017 at 11:23 am #

      Georgetown is very spooky. Did you walk around the university? When building new structures, they moved one of the cemeteries. That will definitely create some hauntings.

  4. Carolina Colborn November 19, 2017 at 3:22 pm #

    Love this post! There are things here I never knew are in DC! When I go back, I will surely visit these.

  5. JJ Johnson November 17, 2017 at 10:47 pm #

    Wow, I’ve been to DC and have not been to a few of these you have touched on. Amazing post!

  6. John Willis November 14, 2017 at 11:08 am #

    So super and wonderful place. I like it

  7. Brenda, Andrew & B (@DishOurTown) November 14, 2017 at 10:49 am #

    We’ve visited DC a few times and have not been to many of the attractions you’ve mentioned. I’d love to see Einstein statue and the Folger Shakespeare Library and of course, eat at one of the food trucks. Thanks for the great tips!

  8. knycx November 13, 2017 at 11:15 am #

    That’s really exciting and just because there are so many things to see in DC, still there are so much more we would miss out. You are right, Newmuseum is a place that I would recommend anyone to visit, too! @kmycx.journeying

    • McCoolTravel (@CharlesMcCool) November 17, 2017 at 10:03 pm #

      Newseum is great. I also love that you can look at the headlines from newspapers around the world outside the entrance.

  9. cnseetravel November 12, 2017 at 7:23 pm #

    I really want to visit Washington. The white house is so impressive. And the food truck sounds awesome. I’ve never tried it before so would love to have some local food delivered fresh from truck.

  10. Meg Jerrard November 12, 2017 at 7:08 pm #

    I loved visiting DC – we were only there for a short 3 days, but man we packed a lot in. I was also blown away by it’s range of world class museums, and couldn’t believe that they were all free! Also loved the foodie trip around the world by hitting the various food trucks – we didn’t really eat out in any of the city’s resturants much!

  11. Wilby's World November 11, 2017 at 9:02 pm #

    These all look awesome! I spent three days in D.C. a few years ago, and although I feel like I saw a lot, there’s still so much I missed — like almost everything on this list. It’s definitely a place I want to get back too. I love your idea of visiting all the different embassies.


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