If you are looking for things to do in Washington, DC, images of monuments, museums, and government buildings probably come to mind.

But what you may not realize as a visitor is that there is SO. MUCH. MORE. to this city than meets the eye.

Cute neighborhoods, obscurely-themed pop-up bars, and underground art exhibits are all part of the mix. Intrigued yet? I hope so!

To help you plan your trip to Washington, DC, I’ve written this guide, packed with 37 different non-touristy things to do in DC that aren’t museums, monuments, or memorials. This list spans from art installations, embassy parties, outdoors activities and restaurants. I should know, I used to live in DC after all. 

Take your pick to avoid the tourist crowds in DC!

Non-Touristy Things to Do in Washington, DC Besides Museums and Monuments

Check Out Some Local Art at Culture House DC (Formerly Blind Whino)

Blind Whino

Hidden away from all the tourists in the streets of Southwest DC is a formerly abandoned church that fell into a vat of neon pixie dust, and opened its doors to the art community.

Now known as Culture House DC (Formerly Blind Whino), this construction has become an iconic part of DC’s culture, hosting live talks and shows, and exhibits from local artists. There’s also work space for artists to come and learn from each other.

It’s a crucible of creativity housed in what used to be the Friendship Baptist Church that was built in 1886. 

The events and exhibition space is spread out over 15,000 square feet and is used to house an ever-changing rotation of exhibitions – currently “The Body and Infinite Excess by Stephen Benedicto who explores his theme through paintings, sculptures, photography and installation. 


Opening hours differ from exhibition to exhibition. Check out their website for upcoming events and times.

Visit The Dupont Underground

Dupont Underground is another art space, located near Dupont Circle, that welcomes local artist exhibitions and is a key part of the city’s cultural scene. 

It’s literally an underground tunnel created from repurposed urban infrastructural space (a long-abandoned streetcar station) that hosts art exhibitions and live events. These events include the bi-weekly (and deliciously raucous) Drag Underground, which features some of D.C’s best drag queens. If you are looking for fun things to do in DC for adults, look no further.

From street art to photography, light shows to paintings, anything goes here, and most of the exhibits are absolutely fascinating. This is one of the best undiscovered gems in the city. 


For their current exhibit offerings, check their website.

See DC’s Street Art Hotspots

Street Art Washington

All around Washington DC, you can find awesome, colorful, sometimes politically-infused street art. From watermelon houses to psychedelic murals, this city has a lot of street art to offer.

Some, like Adams Morgan’s Madam’s Organ Mural have been around so long they’ve become local icons (that mural was completed in 1997 and has been drawing in admirers ever since). The same can be said of Mural Un Pueblo Sin Murales, a work that was created in 1977 by Felipe Martinez, Carlos Salozar, Carlos Arrien, and Juan Pineda on Adams Mill Road. 

There are much newer pieces to explore too. Blagden Alley in particular, thrives with pieces from local artists including Lisa Marie Thalhammer and Cita Sadeli Chelove.


The best way to find street art in DC is simply to wander through the streets. But, if you need some guidance, you can use this map to help.

Run in a Scenic Road Race

Running is a huge activity in Washington DC, and you can find people running almost all hours of the day on the city’s sidewalks. 

If you’re a runner yourself, you can get to know the city by joining a road race! Races in DC (and in the DC area) happen very regularly, so you can almost always find one if you really want to.

Some of the most popular races are the Army 10 Miler, the Marine Corps Marathon, the Rock and Roll Marathon and Half Marathon, and the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler. Even if you don’t like running, it’s worth heading to the races to spectate if your visit happens to coincide with one of them!

Head to a Show or Concert

Washington Concert

Washington DC’s arts scene is always popping off with a diverse and vibrant range of experiences that cater to pretty much every taste. 

Because Washington DC is so centrally located, many artists (big and small) that are making the rounds in the US stop here. As a result, you can see basically any artist you love at some point in this city.

Venues range from giant stadiums, like the Capital One Arena  or the 9:30 Club, to smaller, more intimate spaces like Black Cat and U Street Music Hall. 

If fine arts is more your thing, check out the listings for touring Broadway plays, National Symphony concerts, or ballet shows. Many of these take place at the iconic Kennedy Center, right on the river. Others are hosted around the city at various venues.

Explore the City By Night

Washington at Night

One of the most beautiful times of day to see Washington, DC is at night, when the monuments are all lit up amidst the night sky.

I know, I know, I promised there wouldn’t be any monuments on this list, but seeing the monuments via the city’s main thoroughfares is a different thing altogether, and you can avoid the hoards of tourists by going at this time.

One of my favorite places to visit at night is the area near the Washington Monument – here, you can see the monument itself as well as the WWII Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Capitol building all lit up.


There’s a really awesome night bike tour of DC you can take to see some of the city’s most beautiful areas in the most tranquil time of day.

Party it Up at an Embassy

Yes, really!

Occasionally,  DC’s embassies from a variety of countries will open their doors to the public for a night of cocktails and events. For example, Mexico’s embassy did a Day of the Dead celebration in November of last year to celebrate this important holiday in their culture.

Some of these events are even free to the public. This is a great way to see DC and avoid the tourists.

Typically you have to buy a ticket in advance for these parties, but it depends on the event. 


If you want to know more about the embassy and cultural events going on here, check out this list.

Visit the National Harbor

National Harbor

DC doesn’t really have a Coney Island, but the closest thing is our National Harbor. Home to different things and sights such as casinos, fantastic dining options, and bustling walking areas, the National Harbor is a great place to spend an evening.

One of the most well-known sights on the National Harbor is the ferris wheel, also known as the Capital Wheel.

Riding the wheel boasts some views of the Potomac River and is a fun way to spend a little while when you’re at the National Harbor.

Admire The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin

Cherry Blossoms Tidal Basin

In early April, one of DC’s most iconic sights is the cherry blossoms, whose pastel pink blossoms can be found across the city. However, the most famous place to view these gorgeous blooms is at the Tidal Basin.

Grab a jacket and take a walk, admiring how the pink colors reflect off the water. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, enter the lottery for the Cherry Blossoms 10 miler and go for a run through these beautiful, flowered streets. It is an excellent complement to a museum day in late March/early April.

Hit Up Jazz in The Garden

In the summer, the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden opens its gates for live jazz music and pitchers of sangria.

On Fridays from June to August, you can see DC’s young professionals flocking there in high numbers to lay down picnic blankets and snack on wine and cheese, catching up about their busy weeks and enjoying the sometimes quaint, but always quality jazz music that fills the air.

When I first moved to DC, this was one of the first events I ever went to! It’s so fun to sit back and unwind with friends amidst the towering sculptures in the garden.

Or Go Ice Skating in That Same Garden

In the winter, the sculpture garden’s fountain area turns into an ice skating rink! For a small fee, you can rent skates and go ice skating there.

Families, hockey players, and young professionals alike swirl around the rink during the day. It’s definitely a fun way to spend some time outdoors in the chill of the winter.

Hop on a Boat Ride in Georgetown

Boat ride georgetown

Summertime is the perfect time to go boating, and Georgetown offers plenty of options. From boozy boats to elegant dinner cruises by the DC skyline, or simple tourist water taxis, there’s something for every kind of visitor here. There are many tour companies that offer boat tours in DC.

Head to The Downtown Holiday Market

During the holiday season, DC steals some of the traditional Christmas market flair from Europe and brings it to its own streets.

What results is rows of street stalls selling artisan items, baked goods, condiments, and more. Of course, along with any holiday market, there are traditional drinks like mulled wine, as well as non-alcoholic delights like hot chocolate.

In the wintertime, bundle up and head to the Downtown Holiday Market to enjoy the sights and sounds of the holiday season.

Explore The Historic Fish Market

The fish market in DC is a strange attraction to see. Filled with a handful of floating stalls on the waterfront, it looks like it hasn’t changed much in a while, boasting decades-old facades and peeling paint. But the charm of the fish market is just how unpretentious it feels – vendors are there to sell fish, and sell fish alone.

Established in 1805 – it’s actually the oldest continuously operating open-air fish market in the US!

Each vendor has ice boxes showcasing their catches of the day, and lines here often get very long to buy the cream of the crop. In addition to buying several varieties of fish and shellfish here, there are also stalls that sell meals like gumbo, fried shrimp, etc.

For seafood lovers, this is a unique place in DC that’s definitely worth a visit, if even just to see where the magic happens.


The market is open from 8am to 8pm.

Wander Through a Farmer’s Market

Except for the winter time, there are farmer’s markets all over the city of Washington DC. Two of the largest ones are Dupont Circle and Columbia Heights, but there are many others you can peruse as well.

Farmer’s markets offer fresh produce, artisan food items, prepared food, live music, and often, the best part…FREE SAMPLES. My favorite farmer’s market is the Dupont Circle market, because it spans a few blocks and seemingly has everything. These are a great place to people-watch, too!

Peruse The Stalls at Union Market

Located in the up-and-coming NoMa neighborhood, Union Market is a newer warehouse-like establishment featuring many indoor food vendors and boutique shops.

This is definitely the most upscale of the markets here, designed to be a place for young professionals and families alike to hang out, sip on a glass of wine, and eat finger foods while catching up with friends.

Or Wander Through the Streets of Eastern Market

Eastern Market is a neighborhood in DC, but it’s also an interesting weekend street market that I didn’t group into the “farmer’s market” category because it is so unique.

During the weekend, street stalls here sell a variety of oddities, from maps to clothing to soaps and more. The weekend flea market is my absolute favourite as it’s a mishmash of old treasures and small, made in DC businesses selling local produce. 

On top of that, there’s a market building that houses meat items, fresh local vegetables, and other foods.

In addition, there are several coffee shops and brunch spots lining the streets, opening their doors to hungry market-goers who need some refreshments. It’s worth spending a whole morning here just wandering around and checking out what’s for sale.

Duck into The Charming Blagden Alley

I mentioned Blagden Alley in the street art entry but it’s such a cool spot that it deserves an entry of its own. 

Tucked behind some unassuming buildings in Shaw is a peculiar alleyway that doesn’t look like much from the street. However, this alley houses a coffee shop and a few restaurants and bars, as well as a street mosaic and strange cobblestone streets. Then there’s the street art – bold and wonderful – a mini-open air art gallery for all to see. 

It’s one of those weird things I would have never known about if a friend of mine hadn’t taken me there and shown it to me. If you’re hanging out in the Shaw area, Blagden Alley is definitely a cool thing to see.

Wander Around The Wharf

Anthem Washington
The new Anthem concert venue – Photo Credit: taedc (Flickr)

One of DC’s newer constructions is a waterfront area in Southwest DC, near Navy Yard, called The Wharf.

Accessible from the metro, this waterfront boasts shops, restaurants, and a brand new performance venue called the Anthem. There are also lots of bars in this up-and-coming area, perfect for a night on the town with friends.

Visit A Historic Home

OK, OK, I know these are ~kind of~ museums, but they never get mentioned anywhere in museum posts, so I thought I’d include them here.  Historic homes are an often neglected attraction in Washington. Because it has been a city critical to the formation of the United States, DC has a lot of historic old homes you can tour.

In Georgetown, the Old Stone House is the oldest house in DC and the only pre-Revolutionary colonial building left in the city. Built in 1765 – more than 85% of the house still dates back to the 18th-century original. Crazy right? There are guided tours throughout the day.

Or, head to the Heurich House, which is a historic home that boasts some odd decor and architecture inside its four walls. Also known as the Brewmaster’s Castle, it was built in the 1890s for German brewer Christian Heurich and showcases many technological advancements at the time including (wait for it…) electric lighting. 

You can tour the museum from Thursday to Saturday with pre-registration or just hang out in the lovely Biergarten which is open from Wednesday to Saturday. 

People Watch at the National Mall

People Watch National Mall Washington

The National Mall is full of museums and monuments, but some of the prime viewing here is of the people around you. Grab a bench, pick up a bag of popcorn and watch the world go by – it can often lead to some pretty funny or interesting insights about the humans of DC.

Food and Drink

Check Out The Latest Pop-Up Bars

Washington DC Bar

Remember the Game of Thrones bar? Or the Cherry Blossom bar? DC is home to some weird and wonderful pop up bars all over the city that rotate throughout the year. One minute, it’s a terrifying Halloween-themed bar, the next, it’s Christmas!

The most well-known pop up bar is located in the neighborhood of Shaw, and it’s worth going there any time of year to see what the new theme is. 

It’s coming up to Christmas now – my current favourites include Miracle at Death Punch Bar, Ciel Chalet at Ciel Social Club, Krampus at Side Door and Sippin’ Santa at Archipelago – catch ‘em quick before they’re gone. 

Think of it as a different adventure every couple of weeks!

Hit Up The Hottest Happy Hours

DC young professionals LOVE happy hour. For many of us (myself included) happy hour is the new dinner. Typically occurring from 4-7 PM, people flock to some of the best bars in Washington, DC for discounted food, drink, and social time.

There are happy hours all over the city, but some of the most popular areas to go are Dupont Circle/Adams Morgan, 14th Street, U Street, Shaw, and Gallery Place.

Visit a Speakeasy

Hidden behind closed doors of seemingly abandoned buildings lie a set of super unique underground bars called speakeasies. Much like the Prohibition era, these bars are difficult to find, but when you stumble upon a good one, it’s a strangely amazing experience.

My favorite speakeasy in DC is called The Gibson – it’s in the U Street area, but I’ll leave it up to you to find its exact location. There are many other speakeasies in DC – for a complete list, visit this site.

Wine and Dine at a Historic Institution

Martin’s Tavern…Old Ebbitt Grill…what do they have in common? They’re all historic dining institutions in DC, where the likes of US presidents would hang out and discuss important political matters.

When you step inside one of these fascinating places, you step into a world of history and grandeur, with wood-paneled bars and tables, and furnishings that look like they’ve been around a century. If you go to Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown, you can even request to sit at the table where JFK and Jackie got engaged.

While Away The Afternoon at a Brewery

Washington Brewery

Breweries and beer gardens are extremely popular hangouts in Washington DC, especially in the summer months. 

Wunder Garten in NoMa is a standout, offering a mix of local brews, German and Austrian beers and food on its large patio. 

The Red Bear Brewing Co is a cool 100% gay-owned brewery with excellent craft beers, while if you love sour beers, you need to head to Right Proper Brewing Co which specialises in the very same. 

Many allow you to bring your own food, sit back with friends, and sip on some local brews in open air. 

Go To One of DC’s Michelin Starred Delights

If you prefer high-class restaurants, the fine dining options in DC are competitive with most major cities in the world. Ranging in type from new American fare to sushi, there’s plenty of variety in the Michelin-star world of DC.

Some of the hottest restaurants on the Michelin list are Plume, Rose’s Luxury, Blue Duck Tavern, and Pineapple & Pearls.

Sit back at a Locally-Owned Coffee Shop (or a Teahouse!)

DC’s coffee scene is fabulous, and this is coming from someone who spends a LOT of time in coffee shops working on…ahem…this site.

You can head to a city favorite like Compass, Peregrine, or La Colombe, or go to a one-off tea shop like Calabash in Shaw.

If you don’t want to decide between your coffee brews and your cocktails, check out Tryst in Adams Morgan, which serves coffee, tea, AND cocktails behind their bar. Why choose if you can have both?

Go Out For a Night Out on The Town

While it’s not Las Vegas, the nightlife scene in DC can be super fun, if you know where to go. Some of the hotspots for night time activity include Adams Morgan and U Street, but there are bars all over the city, from Navy Yard to Columbia Heights.

Some restaurants even turn into clubs at night – the one that always makes me laugh is the club on the third floor of a quaint Russian restaurant, Mari Vanna, in downtown DC.

Sample International Cuisine

Because of the presence of so many embassies and international organizations, DC hosts incredibly diverse and delicious cuisine.

You can find traditional foods ranging from Japanese to Swiss to Senegalese to Georgian, or you can sample fusion foods like Peruvian-Chinese.

One of my favorite fusion restaurants is called Compass Rose, which offers tapas-style shared plates from all over the word, including more obscure places like Georgia and Central Asia.

Outdoors Activities in Washington D.C

Meander Through the National Arboretum

National Arboretum

If you’re looking for a unique outdoor experience, head to the National Arboretum.

This large park is a little bit removed from the bustle of downtown, and for good reason – it houses beautiful old columns form the capital, lovely wildflowers, and winding walking paths for you and your dog (or your imaginary dog…it’s cool, I have one too).

Go To A Dog Park

If there’s one thing about DC that’s true all the time, it’s that it’s a dog city. Everyone and their mother seems to own a dog. Even if you don’t have a dog, you can head to a dog park and watch the dogs sprinting around, barking at each other, and having fun.

It’s always a lift in spirits to be around pups, and even more when they’re running freely in the open air.

Paddle Through the City on the Potomac River

Sometimes people forget that the Potomac River runs right through some of the city’s most spectacular sights, and that you can see a completely different perspective of the US capital from the water.

If you love being outdoors, or are looking for a unique, romantic thing to do in the city, go kayaking in DC and explore the city from the water. You can rent a kayak! Exploring the city from the water will give you a unique perspective that not many visitors get to see.

Join a Drum Circle at Meridian Hill Park

In my opinion, this is one of the wackiest things to do in DC. On Sundays at 3 PM, there’s a large, ongoing drum circle at Meridian Hill Park.

Anyone can join or watch the drum circle, and it’s fascinating to see people just drumming along with complete strangers, nodding their heads with grins on their faces.

You might think it sounds like a bunch of drums beating out of rhythm, but it actually stays pretty in sync. This is definitely something to experience if you’re looking for a unique thing to do in DC.

Go For a Walk in Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park is one of DC’s outdoor gems. With 1,700+ acres of forested park area in the middle of Washington DC, it’s perfect for the outdoor enthusiast or people who enjoy exploring urban green spaces.

There are trails here that go on for miles and miles, and it’s worth spending a whole day here if you enjoy fresh air and walking through nature to the chaos of the city.

Or Do Some Hiking at Great Falls

If you have a car (or access to one), you can’t miss Great Falls. Although it’s located a little bit out of the city on the Virginia-Maryland border, I’ve included it on this list because it is an absolutely spectacular sight.

Here, the Potomac cascades and crashes over sharp rocks in a canyon-like area, causing a mesmerizing set of waterfalls. It’s truly like being in another world there. There are several miles of hiking trails here, ranging from flat, easy hikes to tricky rock scrambles. You can take your pick.

Explore the City on Wheels

There’s really no better way to get around Washington DC than by bike. Because it’s a fairly small city, it’s easy to get around from place to place on a bike. You can get to the main landmarks while still being able to see some interesting sights along the way.

DC boasts a popular bike tour that takes you through some of the city’s iconic areas and through charming neighborhoods, too.

If you’re on a budget, companies like Capital Bikeshare offer rental bikes by the hour for reasonable prices – you grab one and hit the road to explore this weird and wonderful city at your own pace.

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