What to Do on a Rainy Day in D.C.

Updated July 8, 2020.

We have had one rainy year in D.C.! It’s not unusual to have several days—or even a couple of weeks!—of rain all in a row in the summer and during hurricane season, but it’s been raining quite a bit more often than usual this year. For the life of me, I could have sworn I already had a post written up on what to do on a rainy day in D.C., but I have not. So here it is! These are the best ways to stay busy and not feel like you’re missing out if your trip to D.C. is a rainy one!

1. Visit the (Many!) Smithsonians

This is very likely already on your list of things to do, so if there’s rain in your trip’s forecast, that’s the perfect time to peruse these FREE museums. Many are on the National Mall, but don’t forget the Renwick Gallery, Postal Museum, National Zoo (many exhibits are inside—the animals need to get out of the rain sometimes, too!), which are farther afield.

Don’t miss the Smithsonian Castle!
For all the details, take a look at A Guide to D.C.’s Smithsonian Museums!

2. Botanical Gardens

If you’re like me, rainy days are not very good for your mood! But bright flowers and lovely water features could be just the thing to lift your spirits! The Botanical Gardens are FREE and near the Capitol Building and House Office Buildings, so it’s an easy thing to add on to a rainy day on the Hill!

Orchids are just the thing to brighten anyone’s rainy day!

3. House Tours

D.C. boasts many worthwhile house museums, all of which are inherently indoors! Next time you find yourself with a rain-out in D.C., take a look at Hillwood Estate and Gardens, Dumbarton House, The Mansion on O, Anderson House, Woodrow Wilson House, Heurich House, the Octagon House, or the Decatur House!

The Octagon House
More here: Obscure Things to Do and See in D.C.

4. U.S. Capitol, Library of Congress, and Supreme Court Tours

A rainy day is best spent on the Hill, I always say! Not only are the U.S. Capitol, Library of Congress, and Supreme Court fascinating places to explore, they are also connected by tunnels so you won’t have to go back outside and through security again to go between them! Be sure not to miss the Library of Congress. It’s the most beautiful building in DC!

A peek inside the Library of Congress.
More here: How to Visit the Capitol and
Your Guide to the Library of Congress

5. Hop On-Hop off Tour

Need to make the most of your limited time in D.C. and want to see the monuments rain or shine? A hop on-hop off tour is your best bet. Bring an umbrella or a rain coat (or perhaps both!), and enjoy the dry bus between stops. You’ll see everything you’ll want to see without spending all your time dodging the rain drops!

6. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is an excellent way to spend anywhere from 1-3 hours here, especially on a rainy day. I do suggest planning something light like a Smithsonian or the Botanical Gardens afterward because it is a sad museum, but certainly worthwhile.

7. Bureau of Engraving and Printing

Speaking of something fun, this is a great tour for adults and children alike! They literally call it the Money Factory, because this is where they make the cash! It’s one of the best tours in D.C., in my humble opinion.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing
More here: How to Tour the Bureau of Engraving and Printing

8. International Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum is one of the few museums you’ll have to pay for in D.C., and one of the only ones that is 100% worth the cost ($20.95)! You will find interactive exhibits, little-known and yet fascinating information, and you’ll see actual artifacts and secret spy stuff! Plan to spend at least half your day here, and perhaps the whole day if you have little ones who will want to try everything!

The International Spy Museum
More here: Your Guide to Visiting the International Spy Museum

9. National Archives

Channel your inner Nicolas Cage and catch a glimpse of these real national treasures! The National Archives is more than just the Declaration of Independence, however. There are also special exhibits to hold anyone’s interest on a rainy day or otherwise! Don’t miss out, and get there early!

Photos are no longer allowed in the dark room of the National Archives, so take a look at this one, taken in 2008 before that rule was put in place!

10. National Gallery of Art

For art lovers, a rainy day may be the answer to prayer! If you need an excuse to spend all your hours in an art museum, a rainy day is the perfect excuse. The National Gallery of Art East and West Buildings are not part of the Smithsonian, but they are conveniently located on the National Mall, and they are FREE!

11. Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen House

Ford’s Theatre is perhaps the most well-known (and notorious) theatre in the country, and with good reason, of course. A play or musical is an excellent way to spend a rainy evening, but the in-house museum and tour is a great way to spend part of your day!

The Presidential Box at Ford’s Theatre
Read next: Visiting Ford’s Theatre

Want more about what to do for rainy day travels? Check out Surviving Rainy Day Travels! Need more on D.C.? Check out my Washington, D.C. Page!

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