It is seemingly a rite of passage to visit Washington, DC. Reluctantly, it seems for many people, visiting DC means checking off a list item, making sure the family sees the monuments appearing on US money, and zipping through a White House tour before heading off to the next location.
Fun in Washington DC, of course, is a subjective thing. Some people crave nightlife while others may rejoice in fine arts. Washington, DC is a growing foodie scene with many small and interesting neighborhoods.
I have lived in Northern Virginia, 20 miles from the Nation’s Capital for over 20 years and here are some of my favorites.
8 Great Ways to Have Fun in Washington DC
Washington DC Museums
Do you enjoy free museums? Washington, DC has over a dozen world class museums, which are ABSOLUTELY FREE to visit. In fact, the top two most visited museums in the United States are in Washington, DC (and are free): Natural History Museum and Air & Space Museum.
Those are amazing museums but I prefer other Smithsonian properties—including American Indian Museum, Portrait Galley, Renwick Gallery, and Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden—Botanic Garden and Folger Shakespeare Library. If you really want to drop some money, visit Newseum and Spy Museum.
DC National Zoo
Also part of the Smithsonian is the National Zoo which is also free, FREE, FREE. If you happen to visit on a scorching hot summer day, overhead water misters will keep you cool. Try to visit, though, in the spring, when there are new baby animals.
Visit DC Outdoors
Washington, DC ranked #8 on a list of US cities for outdoor enthusiasts and interestingly #1 for commuters who walk or bike to work. On a mild day, it will be hard to avoid, but fun to join, the hordes of people running along the National Mall paths. It is two glorious miles between the U.S. Capitol Building and Lincoln Memorial.
Rock Creek Park is a magnificent city park and is actually a US National Parks property. Whether you run, bike, or drive Rock Creek Parkway, take time to admire the unique bridges (they are all different).
Eat at DC Food Trucks
Hungry yet? While you can find great food all over Washington, DC—and I am happy to help you further research that topic—food trucks are something DC does very well. On most weekdays, there are usually 15 food trucks near Union Station and another 15-20 food trucks in McPherson Square. There are other plazas and areas, including along the National Mall on weekends, where groups of food trucks gather. In addition to typical Mexican, Italian, and American foods, I have had Laotian, Ethiopian, Cajun, Jamaican, Vietnamese, Venezuelan, Peruvian, and other cuisines from DC food trucks.
A useful resource for food truck listings in DC (and also Northern Virginia and Maryland) is Food Truck Fiesta.
For more info about DC food trucks, please read 8 Great Washington DC Food Trucks
For a fun (and relatively inexpensive) dining experience, have breakfast or lunch at the Dirksen Cafe. While this is the place where most of the Congressional workers dine, it is also open to the public. The salad bar is an especially nice deal. I like to make my own salad and it usually costs half the price of nearby take out places. Every year in the middle of November, Dirksen serves traditional Thanksgiving food for lunch. Shall we meet there then? This past summer, I walked past Bernie Sanders on the sidewalk outside of the building entrance, so I can truly say that you never know who you will see there.
Did you know you can also eat at cafes inside the Supreme Court and Capitol Building?
Hang With Albert Einstein
One of my favorite fun things to do in Washington, DC is to visit the Albert Einstein statue. Did you even know such a statue existed? The twice life-size statue of Einstein is located on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences across the street from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This, my friends, is a classic DC selfie spot. Climb in his lap, put your finger in his nostril or ear, play with his mustache. Send me a copy!
The oldest part of Washington, DC is Georgetown, where you will find gorgeous row houses, old cobblestones streets, and a world class university (walk around and find the on-campus cemetery!). I have seen visitors from all over the world walking up and down the Exorcist Stairs.
For more info about Georgetown, please read 8 Great Things to Do in Georgetown
Explore the World
Nearly every country in the world has an embassy in Washington, DC. These embassies are staffed with people from those countries so simply walking into the building you can met someone from Romania, Yemen, or Togo. During the month of May every year, the Passport DC program offers events and fun from dozens of embassies. The EU (European Union) open house is particularly popular, and is being held on May 14th this year.
How do you have fun in Washington DC?