For those who have been to the city and experienced many of the big tourist attractions, it can seem like you can run out of things to do in Washington, D.C. I have been there, as have many. However, it is not true. There are a million things to do in the city, most of them free or cheap, and some of them are some of the best parts of the city. In this article we will go over some of the less popular parts of the city, and why they are definitely worth going to.
1. Tidal Basin
The Tidal Basin, for most of the year, is a somewhat neglected part of the city. Home to several great monuments such as the Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, and other smaller memorials, the Tidal Basin is a circular basin surrounded by walkways. It is most well known for the annual Cherry Blossom festival in late March and early April, when the basin is surrounded by beautiful pink and white cherry blossoms. This is the best time of the year to see the Tidal Basin, but also by far the busiest time to visit there and one of the busier times in D.C., period. However, even in the rest of the year when it is quiet and calm, the Tidal Basin remains one of the best parts of the city not only for its monuments but for the beauty of the water and the trees around it. It is great to visit during both the day and the night. In the day, especially on nice days, the Tidal Basin is radiant and beautiful. At night, the monuments create a very striking picture with the water and their reflections.
2. Dumbarton Oaks
Dumbarton Oaks, located in the northwest part of the city, features some of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in the city. If you like walking through trees and parks, then this is a great place to go. It is definitely one of the less well-known parts of the city. You will rarely find it on top lists of the city, but that is more because it is not as well known and also in a different part of the city than many of the touristy attractions in D.C.
Connected to the park is a museum of art. The exhibitions are rotational and change from time to time — so if you have already been here, it may be worth coming back to see the new exhibitions.
Dumbarton Oaks and its museum are definitely a worthwhile part of the city to visit, especially if you’re heading northwest to visit the zoo or Embassy Row
3. Asian and African Art Museums
The Asian and African Art Museums are located off of the National Mall, like many of the other Smithsonian Institution museums. However, they are a little less busy than many of the other Smithsonian museums, and many people do not even realize they are there. However, they are a great way to spend some time if you are in the area. They are not huge, but they are more sizeable than they seem. They go deep underground, so while the aboveground portion of the building may seem small, they are bigger than you might think. Connected by an underground passageway, they can easily be done individually or as part of the same trip.
Georgetown, home to the famous, world class university, is also a wonderful district of the city. It features a beautiful waterfront, great shops and some of the best restaurants in the city, and a beautiful campus.
If the weather is nice, it is wonderful to walk along the waterfront. Stretching from Foggy Bottom to the campus, the waterfront is gorgeous and has a nice collection of places to sit and walk.
The downtown area in Georgetown has some of the best restaurants in the city, ranging from cheaper options to expensive ones. It also has a bunch of little shops that are great for spending your day at. Some of the things unique to the area include Georgetown Cupcakes, which many would argue are the best cupcakes you can find in the city. They are a little pricey, but absolutely worth the money. If you are visiting with your significant other, it is a great place to go on dates.
The campus itself is also great to visit. The buildings are very cool and the grounds are beautiful, and you can easily make a few hours out of just hanging out on campus.
5. Renwick Gallery
The Renwick Gallery, one of the smaller museums in the Smithsonian Institution, is home to American craft art. This includes pottery, ceramics in general, cloth, other textiles, and other similar sorts of art.
While it may be small, it is a very cool and underrated gallery. Right across from the White House, it is very easy to fit it into a schedule while also walking around the White House.
It may not be the largest, but it is a great way to spend an hour or two. The galleries do tend to change from time to time, so even if you have been there before it might be worth going back to check out what is new.
6. Folger Shakespeare Library
The Folger Shakespeare Library houses a few things. For one, if you are a researcher, you can access their special library of rare books. This is only relevant to a select number of people, but the library in general is a unique and extraordinary place to visit regardless.
The library houses an Elizabethan theatre, which is a rarity for the United States, or anywhere, as well as exhibits of various pieces of their collection.
Definitely worth checking out, and it is something that you will not really find elsewhere.
7. Kennedy Center free concerts
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is one of the largest performance venues in the country. It has a number of stages and theatres for concerts and performances ranging from small ensembles to orchestras to theatre performances. There are multiple events every day, but most of them cost money to visit.
Why is the Kennedy Center on the list? Well, almost every day there is a free concert, usually at 6 P.M. This will not usually be the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera, or the Washington Ballet, but it will be a different sort of interesting performance every time. This is definitely one of the best options for free performing arts in the city, and it comes with a high recommendation that you check it out.
8. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Located on the campus of the Catholic University of America, near Brookland, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest basilica in the United States. It is free to visit and walk around.
To get there, just take the Red Line to the Brookland-CUA stop. From there, it is a short walk to the basilica.
The inside is very large. On the ground floor, the crypt is massive, and you can easily spend quite a while looking at the different tombs and names around the area. There are rooms devoted to certain parts of the world and certain individuals or groups. Upstairs is the main room, which has beautiful architecture, glass, and art. Whether or not you are Catholic, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is a beautiful building. You can spend time worshiping there if you are religiously inclined to, or simply take in the art and beauty of the building. It is larger than it looks from the outside, and you can easily spend a long time exploring the building. Pay special attention to some of the smaller rooms on the side devoted to certain parts of the Catholic church around the United States and the world, as they are some of the most beautiful.
9. Washington National Cathedral
The Washington National Cathedral is one of the most famous churches in the United States. It is the second-largest church in the country, and the largest in the city. It is an Episcopalian cathedral that has been attended by almost every President of the United States since its construction at the turn of the twentieth century. It has a gothic design reminiscent of some of the great cathedrals in Europe, and it is definitely worth a trip if you like architecture or if you are Episcopalian. Its services on Sunday mornings are the most highly-attended in the Episcopalian church.
It is commonly used for events, so it is not always open to the public, but most of the time you can visit it. Be sure to check out all the stained glass and the beauty of the interior and exterior architecture.
10. Visit the Pentagon
The Pentagon, the largest office building in the world, is the home of the United States Department of Defense, as well as the Department of the United States Army, the Department of the United States Navy, the Department of the United States Air Force, the United States Marine Corps, the United States Defense Intelligence Agency, the United States National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and a number of other military and national security-related agencies. It has miles of tunnels, and is almost a city to itself considering that there are over twenty five thousand workers that work there on a daily basis.
The Pentagon is not the easiest place in the city to get a tour with, but they do regularly conduct tours. You have to register in advance for a guided tour, as self-guided tours are only available if you know someone that both works there and has escort privileges. However, as long as you register far enough in advance (tours are limited and fill up quickly and you have to register only within a window of 90 days in advance to two weeks out), you can take a tour.
When you go for a tour at the Pentagon, make sure you arrive very early for the tour (half an hour to an hour is recommended). After going through full, airport-style security, you will wait in an area with a gift shop and photo opportunities. Your tour will be announced by honor guards from a branch of the military, and then you proceed into the tour.
The tour itself is about forty five minutes to an hour. It is led by two honor guards from a branch of the military. The leader of the tour will stand in front, walk backward (Which is quite impressive), and give speeches about the building and the branches of the military. It is a very rushed tour, and you will not have time to read the plaques on the walls, but it is a cool experience. Be warned, it is very strict about the rules of following your tour guide and avoiding electronics. It is not recommended to do the tour if you have mobility issues, as they keep you walking almost the entire time.
11. National Postal Museum
The National Postal Museum, located next to Union Station, is regarded by many who have visited as one of the more underrated places to visit in the city. It is located in a beautiful building, and despite the lack of fame is a fairly sizeable museum. As part of the Smithsonian Institution, it is free to visit, and is perhaps a good place to go just because of the fact that it is less crowded than many of the other museums.
It is easy to get to, being right next to Union Station. Not only is Union Station connected to the red line, but it is connected to Amtrak and other passenger services such as Greyhound and Megabus. Furthermore, if you need food there are a number of options within Union Station.
It is a good place to go if you are hanging around the area near the United States Capitol Building, being almost directly north from the Capitol, and is recommended as a bit of a deep cut within Washington, D.C.
12. United States Botanical Garden
The United States Botanical Garden is a fantastic set of indoor gardens. The enormous greenhouse space features gardens, flowers, and plants from around the world, and is right off the National Mall.
If you love flowers and plants, you can easily spend a long time at the Botanical Garden, and the warm interior is a nice break from the cold, windy winters in the city.
Being on the National Mall, it is also a good option to throw in to a gap in your schedule if you are spending the day doing Smithsonian museums. However, it is definitely large enough to be worth a trip in and of itself.
13. Phillips Collection
The Phillips Collection, unlike many of the other places in this list, is not free. However, it also is not expensive. It serves as a museum of 19th and 20th century art, as well as impressionist works. It is one of the best museums in the city, for one that is not so well known. It’s very nice to walk around, especially on Thursdays when it is open late.
Located just northwest of Dupont Circle, it is located very close to some of the best restaurants and bookstores and shops in the city, as well as public transportation.
Washington, D.C. has a lot of deep cuts that should not be ignored when visiting the city. From the Phillips Collection to Dumbarton Oaks, the city’s lesser-known destinations are some of its best. Hopefully this list helps you prepare for your next visit to the city, and hope you enjoy your travels.