As a history major and former museum employee, I often visit museums or historic sites when traveling and easily made a list of the top things to do in Washington, D.C. One of my favorite cities to visit in the United States is Washington, D.C. There is so much to do there, and it’s a great place to visit with kids or family.

I attempted to sift out my top 10 things to do in Washington, D.C. for the history lover!

Visit the White House

The White House is integral to the history of the United States. Incredible pieces of legislation have been signed by presidents, great speeches have been made here, and so much more. Tours of the White House are available through your U.S. Representative’s office.

The White House - Washington, D.C. - History Edition
The White House – Washington, D.C.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

As the newest addition to the Smithsonian museums, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is essential. Beginning underground with the history of the slave trade, you slowly move through time with huge artifacts and representations of the African American experience: the good, the bad, and the ugly. When visiting, you can sit at a counter in the 1960s, learn about the Black athletes & music, and take some time to reflect.

National Museum of African American History and Culture
National Museum of African American History and Culture – Washington, D.C.

Holocaust Museum

The Washington, D.C. Holocaust Museum is immersive and emotional. You enter and are given a card representing a person of jewish descent from the early 1900s. As you tour the museum, you follow the path of your person and learn what they might have experienced. This is a very difficult experience as you walk into a dark rail car where folks would be crammed to head to either their death or a concentration camp. In the end you find out if your person lived or died, and you can listen to testimonials of survivors as you process what you learned.

Holocaust Museum
Holocaust Museum – Washington, D.C.

National Mall

The National Mall is full of incredible monuments to past wars and presidents. From the Washington Monument to the Vietnam Memorial, there is something for everyone. You can remember your ancestors, or have a picnic with your family on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s a great place to visit with kids because it’s outdoors and they can play around between memorials.

The National Mall
The National Mall – Washington, D.C.

National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is where you will find the nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House. These are not the official White House portraits. You will also find Former First Lady, Michelle Obama’s portrait by artist Amy Sherald here too.

George W. Bush and Laura Bush posing in front of their portraits at the National Portrait Gallery
National Portrait Gallery – Washington, D.C.

Arlington National Cemetery

This is where John F. Kennedy is buried alongside Jackie Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Edward Kennedy. You can also find supreme court justices here, war heroes, astronauts, medal of honor winners, and foreign nationals. Most famously, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is at Arlington. The tomb is guarded and there is a wreath laying ceremony daily. 

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery – Washington, D.C.

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is an impressive collection as it is the world’s largest library. There are exhibits, events, and resources for educators. Plus if you’re a big fan of National Treasure, this is a must visit!

Library of Congress
Library of Congress – Washington, D.C.

National Archives

Speaking of National Treasure, a visit to Washington, D.C. wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the National Archives and Records Administration. This is where you will find the Declaration of Independence, the original Constitution, the Bill of Rights among other original documents from the executive branch.

National Archives and Records Administration is located in Washington, D.C. and is one of the things people like to do when they visit D.C.
The National Archives and Records Administration – Washington, D.C.

National Cathedral

While you may not often visit churches when you visit cities in the United States, the National Cathedral is the world’s sixth-largest Cathedral with an iconic history. Each window and bay tells a different story of history. Services for both presidential inaugurations and funerals have taken place here. Many popes have visited as well as foreign dignitaries.

The National Cathedral is a place where folks who love history go when visiting Washington, D.C.
The National Cathedral – Washington, D.C.

The National Building Museum

The museum is off the beaten path, but worth the trek. While this museum’s focus is just as it says, buildings, it is unique, modern, and hands-on. From exhibits about housing inequity to exploring how things are built, this museum is a must for adults or families. Plus, it has a great gift shop!


When you are ready to immerse yourself into a history filled trip one of our Journey Planners would love to help you plan every step! Fill out this form to get started. We’d love to help you see these top 10 things to do in Washington D.C. – history edition

A special thank you to Embrace the Journey Company Manager, Amanda Melancon, for writing this blog post for us.