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Visiting Washington DC for the First Time? Here's What to See and Do


Visiting Washington DC for the First Time? Here's What to See and Do
Hi, I'm Jen!

Vermont travel writer Jen Rose Smith covers adventure, remote places, and traditional cuisine from a home base in the Green Mountains. Her articles have appeared in National Geographic Adventure, American Way, Nexos, Condé Nast Traveler, Backpacker, AFAR, Rolling Stone, USA Today, and Outside Online.

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Hi, I'm Jen!

Vermont travel writer Jen Rose Smith covers adventure, remote places, and traditional cuisine from a home base in the Green Mountains. Her articles have appeared in National Geographic Adventure, American Way, Nexos, Condé Nast Traveler, Backpacker, AFAR, Rolling Stone, USA Today, and Outside Online.

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From larger-than-life monuments to world-class museums, there’s a lot to experience in Washington DC, and it can be hard for a newcomer to know where to start. To get the most out of your visit, here are our top picks for a first-time visit to America’s capital city.

Go museum-hopping

Make the most of the capital's culture.

Free admission at the Smithsonian Museums makes it easy to sample a little of everything, and guided tours help find the gems in the collections. The International Spy Museum, the National Gallery of Art, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture also invite exploring.

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See politics at work

Where better than Washington DC?

Visit Capitol Hill, where the United States Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court are practically neighbors. Go inside for a glimpse of DC power brokers (and some of the city’s finest art and architecture).

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The US Capitol Building is an unmissable highlight of DC, ideal for first-timers. Photo: Lee Hoagland / Viator

Cruise the Potomac River

For a new perspective.

Hitting the water means big views of DC’s many riverside landmarks. Choose between a lunch or dinner cruise on the Potomac, or opt for an amphibious tour that covers the city by both land and water.

Explore Potomac River cruises

Meet the monuments

Tour the top sites.

Some of America’s greatest leaders and most tragic wars are honored in DC monuments, which you can explore by hop-on hop-off bus, bicycle, Segway, trolley, or tour vehicle. For extra drama, take an after-dark tour and see the monuments illuminated.

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Explore the monuments by moonlight for a different perspective on the US capital. Photo: Lee Hoagland / Viator

Visit Arlington National Cemetery

Pay tribute to a range of people.

Gravestones in this United States military cemetery date back to the Civil War, with moving memorials to soldiers, presidents, and astronauts. Options for exploring include hop-on hop-off tours, walking tours, and more.

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Explore Mount Vernon

A top DC day trip.

President George Washington lived, farmed, and worked from this Virginia plantation, which is easy day-tripping distance away from DC. Since it’s close to Arlington National Cemetery, consider making a day of it by combining the two popular destinations.

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Mount Vernon is one of the most popular day trips from Washington DC. Photo: Lee Hoagland / Viator

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See all Washington DC tours
461 tours & tickets
Things to do in Washington DC
See all things to do in Washington DC
Things to Do in Washington DC This Fall
Things to Do in Washington DC This Fall