Downtown, Washington Activities

Part of our Washington travel guide; our list of the best attractions in Downtown, including The White House, Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  • The best activities in Downtown Washington: The White House

    The White House

    1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
    The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia Creek sandstone in the Neoclassical style. It has been the residence of every U.S. president since John Adams. When Thomas Jefferson moved into the house in 1801, he expanded the building outward, creating two colonnades that were meant to conceal stables and storage.
    Downtown food nearby
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum

    Smithsonian American Art Museum

    8th St & F St NW
    The collection here is a walk through encyclopedia of American Art—Gilbert Stuart's stern presidential portraits through Nam June Paik's house-sized America sculpture of neon and televisions.
    Downtown eat nearby
  • Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

    Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

    1661 Pennsylvania Ave NW
    The building that now houses the Renwick Gallery was originally the home of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. It was designed by James Renwick, Jr., and construction began before the Civil War. Near completion, it was used during the Civil War as a government warehouse, and construction was finally completed in 1874. By 1897, the Corcoran Gallery collection outgrew the space and relocated to a new building on 17th St. The building was transferred in 1965 to the Smithsonian Institution for use as an art gallery.
    Downtown restaurants nearby
  • National Portrait Gallery

    National Portrait Gallery

    8th St & F St NW
    The renovation is the talk of the town. The new enclosed courtyard has received universal accolades (Conde Nast Traveler calls it one of the seven modern architectural wonders of the world) and its cafe is certainly one of the most attractive places in the city to break out your laptop and enjoy the WiFi. Back to the museum—its most popular exhibit is the Hall of Presidents, although the current hot gallery is that of Contemporary Portraiture.
    Downtown food nearby
  • Regal Gallery Place Stadium 14

    Regal Gallery Place Stadium 14

    701 7th St NW
    Children: $8, adults: $10.75. The Regal cinema shows all the popular, current movies. Beware, though, that this movie theater is popular among the teens (especially on weekends and in the evenings) who can get rambunctious.
    Downtown eat nearby
  • Ford's Theatre

    Ford's Theatre

    511 10th St NW
    Tours: 9AM-5PM daily. Shows: $40-55, tours: Free. This is where John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, and he was taken across the street to the Petersen House where he died. Ford's Theatre is not only a historic site, but remains a working theater, with regular performances. Theater here is usually the most traditional of the downtown venues, offering dramatic work that is "as eloquent, intelligent and respectful of humanity as Mr. Lincoln." The truly coveted tickets are for the annual Christmas Eve performance of A Christmas Carol. The daily tours take you through the theater and the onsite museum, and also spill across the street to the Petersen House, where Lincoln died.
    Downtown restaurants nearby
  • National Postal Museum

    National Postal Museum

    2 Massachusetts Ave NE
    The Smithsonian's own philatelist Shangri-La has one of the world's largest collections of rare stamps, as well as exhibitions of how mail has been delivered throughout history, and other ways that the mail shapes culture.
    Capitol Hill food nearby
  • National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial

    National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial

    605 E St NW
    Law enforcement is probably the most dangerous profession in the U.S., and this monument bears the names of nearly 20,000 officials who lost their lives on the job. A big law enforcement museum is being built underground across the street, but for the time being you'll have only the memorial to walk around.
    Downtown eat nearby
  • Newseum


    555 Pennsylvania Ave NW
    9AM-5PM (closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's). $22 adults, $18 seniors, $13 minors, free 6 and under. Of all the most hyped, overpriced museums in D.C., this one actually deserves the hype and even the admissions fee—it's an incredible, one-of-a-kind museum. With seven floors, it has a lot to see, and the exhibits are an interesting blend of high tech (a "4-D" theater) and low tech historical documents, all about the news, how it shapes American society, and how indeed the first amendment is so central to the nation's history. Check the nation-wide newspaper row in front of the Pennsylvania entrance. For foreigners, while the museum is a testament to the free press, be prepared for some solid pro-US bias in its selected news.
    Downtown restaurants nearby
  • National Aquarium

    National Aquarium

    1401 Constitution Ave NW
    9AM-5PM daily; feedings: 2PM. Adults $9; Children: $4; Under three: Free. Located in the basement level of the Department of Commerce building, the National Aquarium is much smaller than the one in Baltimore—if you can, make a point to go there instead. The aquarium was recently renovated, though with its small size, there are no dolphin shows. It offers the "America's Aquatic Treasures" exhibit which takes approximately 45 minutes to see. In addition to standard Aquarium fish, there are sharks, eels, alligators, turtles, and other reptiles.
    Downtown food nearby
  • D.A.R. Constitution Hall

    D.A.R. Constitution Hall

    1776 D St NW
    Constitution Hall, 1776 D St NW, ☎ +1 202 628-1776. M-F 9AM-4PM, Sa 9AM-5PM. Free. D.A.R. Constitution Hall is a smaller venue for concerts and other events. It is also home to the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum, which displays fine arts, ceramics, quilts, and other items, and period rooms. Special events held at Constitution Hall have included filming of the popular game shows, Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. Architect John Russell Pope designed the building, which was completed in 1929, and is designated a National Historic Site. It was originally built to house the annual D.A.R. convention, and was home to the National Symphony Orchestra, prior to the opening of the Kennedy Center.
    Downtown eat nearby
  • National Museum of Women in the Arts

    National Museum of Women in the Arts

    1250 New York Ave NW
    M-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su noon-5PM. $8 adults, $6 students/seniors, free 18 and younger. This is the world's only museum devoted to art made by women. Its special exhibits can be really interesting, often featuring works from a specific part of the world. The big, beautiful building is a historic former Masonic Temple. The gift shop is extraordinary, with a collection of very unique handmade gifts from around the world.
    Downtown restaurants nearby
  • Shakespeare Free for All

    Shakespeare Free for All

    610 F St NW
    The locals' choice for best summer festival might be the free annual performances by the renowned Shakespeare Theatre Company in the new Harman Center for the Arts. No longer held at Carter Barron Theatre, the shows now are ticketed using an online lottery in addition to the same-day tickets available at the door (via queue) in the morning.
    Downtown food nearby
  • National Building Museum

    National Building Museum

    401 F St NW
    M-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 11AM-5PM. Free to enter main hall and shop. Exhibits require $8 for adults, $5 for ages 3-17 and those 60+. Located in the Pension Building, the building itself is highly recommended for its architecture, with an expansive open interior space with massive columns. The space is used on occasion for special events, including Presidential inaugurations. There is a small cafe inside, to the right of the entrance, and places to sit and relax, as well as a gift shop. The National Building Museum features long-term exhibits on the planning and building of Washington, D.C., and on green building and communities, along with various short-term exhibits and special events.
    Downtown eat nearby
  • International Spy Museum

    International Spy Museum

    800 F St NW
    9AM-5PM or 9AM-6PM daily, last admission one hour before close. Adults: $20, seniors: $16, children (7-17): $15, 4 & under: Free. D.C.'s newest hot attraction's principal claim to fame among locals is the extraordinarily long line that usually winds out the doors (not to mention the high price tag). Its popularity, while a bit disproportionate given all the other great free museums in town, is not unwarranted—its exhibits are interesting to anyone even marginally interested in espionage and Cold War history, and it also has a great exhibit tailored specifically to kids.
    Downtown restaurants nearby
  • Old Post Office Tower

    Old Post Office Tower

    1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW
    Memorial Day–Labor Day: M-W,F-Sa 9AM-7:45PM, Th 9AM-6:45PM, Su noon-5:45PM; Labor Day–Memorial Day: M-Sa 9AM-4:45PM, Su noon-5:45PM. Free. At 315 feet this is one of the tallest buildings in D.C. Enter through the food court and take the elevators to the 270-foot observation deck for excellent views of D.C. Bell-ringing practice is held on Th 7PM-8PM.
    Downtown food nearby
  • National Crime and Punishment Museum

    National Crime and Punishment Museum

    575 7th St NW
    Fall/winter: Su-Th 10AM-7PM, F-Sa 10AM-8PM; spring/summer: M-Th 9AM-7PM, F-Sa 9AM-8PM, Su 10AM-7PM. $22 adults, $20 seniors, military, law enforcement, $15 children 5-11, children under 5 free. Discounts for online purchases. This museum is the "other" flashy, and exceptionally expensive, East End tourist attraction (other than the Spy Museum, that is). The whole history of crime and punishment is on display, from Colonial times, through the Wild West, and even up to today's white collar jerks. On the punishment side, you can explore the interior of a recreated police station, jail cells, or (rather disturbingly) an electric chair and a lethal injection machine. The simulators are rightly popular—try a car chase or the FBI firearms training. The museum is also home to the old America's Most Wanted TV show studio. Not good for kids.
    Downtown eat nearby
  • Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

    Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

    641 D St NW
    This is the top theater company downtown for seeing new plays. Drama here is edgy, takes real risks, and is almost always memorable. If in doubt, go to see the absurd, hilarious, infamous, long-running Chicago sketch comedy show Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.
    Downtown restaurants nearby
  • Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

    Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

    1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW
    It's not clear whether the small-government Republican would enjoy having one of the biggest, most expensive recent federal buildings ($768 million), filled with agencies like USAID and U.S. Customs, named in his honor. But it is an impressive sight inside and out (especially inside). The building itself has several restaurants fast-food and otherwise, public artworks, shops, D.C.'s visitor information center (see above), and enormous conference and party space, popular for political galas, business conferences, and expensive wedding receptions. Free WiFi throughout.
    Downtown food nearby
  • Blair House

    Blair House

    1651 Pennsylvania Ave NW
    The Blair House was built in 1824 for Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Lowell, and sold in 1837 to real estate mogul, Francis Preston Blair and inherited by Montgomery Blair. The adjacent house was owned by the Robert E. Lee family. The U.S. government bought the Blair House in 1942, and has since used it as the official guest house for state visitors, at the insistence of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who was tired of running into Winston Churchill and other visitors roaming around the White House in the middle of the night. Today, the Blair house not only consists of the original townhouse, but includes the Lee House and two other adjacent townhouses. The total space of 70,000 sq ft exceeds that of the White House.
    Downtown eat nearby
  • Historical Society of D.C.

    Historical Society of D.C.

    801 K St NW
    historical society occupies the enormous building at the center of Mount Vernon Square, and has a research library and exhibit on D.C. history open to the public. The library is open Wednesdays 10AM-4PM, and the Window to Washington Exhibit is open M,W 10AM-4PM, Th 10AM-6PM.
    Downtown restaurants nearby
  • National Museum of Natural History

    National Museum of Natural History

    10th St & Constitution Ave NW
    The National Museum of Natural History is a natural history museum administered by the Smithsonian Institution, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., United States. With free admission and open doors 364 days a year, it is the most visited natural history museum in the world. Opened in 1910, the museum on the National Mall was one of the first Smithsonian buildings constructed exclusively to hold the national collections and research facilities. The main building has an overall area of 1.5 million square feet with 325,000 square feet of exhibition and public space. In total, the museum has the space of 18 football fields and houses over 1,000 employees.
    Downtown food nearby
  • Flashpoint


    916 G St NW
    Flashpoint is a non-profit, city funded "incubator" of local artistic talent and new cultural institutions. The bulk of the performances in their (very small) Theater Lab are theatrical, and of lesser known plays (mostly foreign), but they also do stand up comedy, dance, etc. Their art gallery is a great place to see contemporary works by local artists, and is open Tu-Sa noon-6PM.
    Downtown eat nearby
  • Corcoran Museum of Art

    500 17th St NW
    M,W,F-Su 10AM-5PM, Th 10AM-9PM. $6.75; seniors: $4.75; students: $3 students; families with young children: $12. This is the oldest art gallery in the American capital, housed in a beautiful, large Beaux-Arts building. The special exhibits are the big reason to come pay the admissions fee (when you could otherwise walk to some of the world's best free art museums at the Smithsonian), that and the fact that the Corcoran does a better job keeping up with contemporary art. The exhibits here are geared towards a more art-fluent audience, rather than your average curious tourist, and are accordingly a bit edgier and less accessible to a casual visitor.
    Downtown restaurants nearby
  • U.S. Navy Memorial

    701 Pennsylvania Ave NW
    's memorial to the U.S. Navy is not as jolting as the big memorials, but it is nice to walk around. Make sure to see the famous Lone Sailor statue, and who knew that Neil Armstrong was in the Navy!
    Downtown food nearby
  • Westminster Presbyterian Church

    400 I St SW
    Blue Monday Blues: M 6PM-9PM, Jazz Night: F 6PM-9PM; food: 6PM-8:30PM. $5 admission. This church hosts extremely popular (and crowded) weekly live music nights: Blue Monday Blues and Friday Jazz, both featuring local musicians.
    Downtown eat nearby
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EDIT THIS ITINERARY Our list of activities in Downtown Washington uses some content from Wikipedia and Wikivoyage.