10 Best Things to Do in Downtown D.C.

Updated July 20, 2020.

There is so much to do in Washington, D.C.! Sometimes it’s easiest to choose things that are close together and knock them all out at once. That’s very doable with my new neighborhood guides just like this one! Here are the best things to do in Downtown D.C.!

10. Eat at Old Ebbitt Grill

The best way to experience a place is through the food, right? If that’s true (and we know it is), then Old Ebbitt Grill should definitely go to the top of your “must do” list. Multiple presidents have eaten here, as it’s conveniently located just two blocks from the White House, and rumor has it some of the taxidermy on the walls is courtesy of Teddy Roosevelt! Not to mention the food is legendary in D.C. as well. Pro tip: get a reservation on Open Table to make sure you get a seat!

Brioche French Toast for Brunch at Old Ebbitt
Read on: Legendary Restaurants in D.C.

9. Visit the DAR

The headquarters for the Daughters of the American Revolution is right in the heart of Washington, D.C., just a few blocks from the White House. There is a huge research library inside, and a museum with changing exhibits, too. So if you’re a member of the DAR or just interested in Revolutionary War history, make time for a quick stop inside!

Keep reading: FREE Things to Do in D.C.

8. Take the Red Cross Headquarters Tour

Right next door to the DAR Headquarters you’ll find the Red Cross Headquarters! You can take a FREE tour here, and you’ll learn all about the history of the Red Cross and nursing through the years. The best surprise on the tour was pictures of famous people who have been members of the Red Cross over the years!

Red Cross Headquarters
More here: How to Tour the American Red Cross Headquarters

7. Visit the Decatur House

The Decatur House is just north of the White House, right off of Lafayette Square. This historic home is now a museum and part of the White House Historical Association. First it was a home for Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr. and his wife, then an accommodation for visiting dignitaries, and became the unofficial residence of Secretaries of State from 1827-1833. Eventually the most recent owner gave the Decatur House to the White House Historical Association, and you can take a tour or visit the gift shop!

Read on: D.C. Tours You Never Knew You Could Take

6. Visit St. John’s Church

On the north side of Lafayette Square, you’ll find St. John’s Episcopal Church. Every sitting president has sat in Pew 54 (the “President’s Pew”) and attended a worship service here. Feel free to walk in and see the Pew, the 25 historic stained-glass windows, and the steeple, which houses a bell cast by Paul Revere’s son in Boston!

St. John’s Church
Read on: Religious Sites in D.C.

5. Tour the Octagon House

What’s the Octagon House, you ask? It served as James Madison’s White House after the actual White House was burned by the British in 1814! It’s literally octagon-shaped, which is highly unusual for a house, and you might not ever know about it unless you walk around downtown (or read this blog)!

The Octagon!
Read on: Obscure Sites in D.C.

4. Visit the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery

There are more Smithsonian Museums than just the ones on the National Mall! The Renwick Gallery is an American art museum and was always intended to be a public art museum. It was the original Corcoran Gallery of Art (currently a couple of blocks down the street, and it was built by James Renwick, Jr., who designed the Smithsonian Castle as well! It’s been referred to as the “American Louvre”, and admission is FREE!

Read on: Ultimate Guide to D.C.’s Smithsonian Museums

3. Tour the U.S. Department of the Treasury

This is definitely a tour to book in advance! They only offer these tours on Saturdays, and you have to get a background check for a chance at getting on the tour, but it’s definitely worth doing to go inside and hear all about the history of the building and all the history that was made inside!

The U.S. Department of the Treasury
Read on: How to Tour the Treasury Department

2. Take a White House Tour (or White House Garden Tour!)

A White House tour is at the top of everyone’s list, but did you know you have to book well in advance? It’s well worth doing the little bit of prep work to get inside this coveted, FREE, self-guided tour. Or, if you’re in town the right weekend, there is also a FREE White House Garden Tour, open to the public, no reservations necessary, in the spring and fall! Check their website for details.

Inside the White House with my Dad and my Love!
You’ll enjoy live music and beautiful scenery this close to the White House on one of their seasonal tours!
Read on: How to Tour the White House
and How to Take the White House Garden Tour

1. Dabble in Photography

D.C. is one of the most photogenic–and most photographed–cities in the world! Bring your camera or just your smartphone and make some lasting memories!

This is as close as you can get without a White House tour!
Read on: Instagrammable D.C.

Need more D.C. eats, tips, itineraries, and more? Don’t miss my Washington, D.C. Page!

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