17 Fun and Unique Activities in Washington, D.C. (From a Local)

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Washington, D.C. is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. It’s home to world-class museums like the Smithsonian Institution museums, plus beautiful iconic buildings like the White House and the United States Capitol. 

However, Washington, D.C. can be a really fun destination too! 

I was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in nearby northern Virginia. I love visiting the nation’s capital on weekends and nights, and I’m here to let you know about some of the more unique and fun things to do in town! 

“Fun”, of course, is kind of subjective. Many of these activities are great for kids and families (like heading out to a Nationals game or taking a pedal boat on the Tidal Basin, while others are better for adults (like indulging in a unique cocktail experience at barmini.) 

My Top Recommendations for Fun and Unique Things to Do in D.C.
1. Get spooked on the Ghosts of Georgetown Nighttime Walking Tour!
2. Bring your appetite for the Gastronomic Georgetown Food Tour!
3. Go on a Nighttime Monuments Tour!

17 Fun and Unique Activities in Washington, D.C.

Below are my top recommendations for the best fun and unique activities in Washington, D.C.

1. Go on a Ghosts of Georgetown Nighttime Walking Tour

By day, the beautiful and upscale neighborhood of Georgetown probably wouldn’t make you think of ghosts and spirits, but at night be prepared to experience the area in a whole different light! 

Exorcist Steps in Georgetown, in Washington, D.C.

This tour will take you through Georgetown and tell you stories about some of the eerie and supernatural occurrences that occurred in the past. 

You’ll also get a chance to stop by the most famous supernatural spots in Georgetown: the Exorcist Steps and house, which were featured in the classic horror movie. 

👉 Click here to book the Ghosts of Georgetown Nighttime Walking Tour!

2. Go on a Georgetown Food Tour

Bring your appetite and a sense of curiosity for a guided tour of several off-the-beaten-path eateries in beautiful Georgetown!  

A food tour like this is a great way to learn from locals about the best insider restaurants. You’ll also get a chance to go on a walking tour of Georgetown and hear stories about the rich history of the neighborhood. 

It’s a perfect way to experience a different side of town from the typical tourist traps. 

As an alternative, you can book the similar Tastes of Georgetown: Food & History Tour.

👉 Click here to book the Gastronomic Georgetown Food Tour!

👉 Click here to book the Tastes of Georgetown: Food and History Tour!

3. Go on a Nighttime Monuments Tour

I’ve had a chance to see the major D.C. monuments both at night and during the day, and I can tell you that both experiences are incredibly different and well worth it! 

World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. at night

By day, the monuments and memorials, like the Washington Monument; Lincoln Memorial; Jefferson Memorial; World War II Memorial; and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, are much more crowded with tourists. They look very pretty, though, especially against a bright blue sky. 

By night, the monuments and memorials are much less crowded, and they’re lit up to create striking shadows of columns, stairs, and statues, against the intense black background of the night sky. 

You can always explore the monuments on your own (they’re open 24/7). Or you can book a guided tour. Most of the tours are pretty affordable, and they’ll add an extra level of interest with commentary and stories about the famous sites. 

👉 Click here to book a guided tour to see the monuments at night!

4. Walk with Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum 

All of the Smithsonian Museums are excellent, but the Natural History Museum may be the most fun for everyone. 

Museum of Natural History, one of the best free museums in Washington, D.C.

You can be a kid again as you walk among towering dinosaurs and wooly mammoths, get up close and personal with a tarantula at the insect zoo, and gawk at the spectacular Hope diamond plus other gems.  

Some of the other exhibits that you don’t want to miss include Egyptian mummies, a mega-toothed shark, and Bone Hall. 

And the best part is that the museum, like all of the Smithsonian museums, is completely free!

Learn even more about the Natural History Museum and other free museums in D.C.!

5. Rent a Pedal Boat in the Tidal Basin

When the weather’s nice, I recommend renting a pedal boat in the Tidal Basin. 

Pedal boats in the the Tidal Basin with cherry blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial

The area features incredible views of the cherry blossoms (which are in full bloom around late March and early April), as well as the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial. 

You can rent a pedal boat for an hour-long trip. Each pedal boat fits up to four people, which makes it a great family activity.  

Please note that the pedal boats are only open for rental during the spring through fall months. 

Pro-Tip: One of the best times to visit the Tidal Basin is during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which is one of the best Washington, D.C. Spring Festivals!

6. Cruise Down the Potomac River 

Cruising down the Potomac River is a great way to experience many of the most beautiful sites in D.C. 

The Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument with the Potomac River and a boat

There are many cruises to choose from. Some of the most popular options include a leisurely trip that includes Georgetown, the Kennedy Center, the beautiful Memorial Bridge, the Lincoln Memorial, Regan Airport, Old Town Alexandria, and National Harbor. 

While you’re watching these famous sites drift by, you can enjoy a buffet lunch or dinner (depending on whether you booked a day or night cruise), with drinks, games, a DJ, and dancing! It’s great for a special occasion too!

Some great tours to choose from include: 

7. Enjoy a Crafty Cocktail at barmini

I had an incredibly memorable night at barmini with some of my best friends on the day before Thanksgiving one year. 

Smoking cocktails at barmini, one of the most fun activities in Washington, D.C.

The fancy bar is owned by world-renowned chef Jose Andres, and they serve up incredibly creative cocktails in a whimsical setting. 

You can of course find classic concoctions like an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Martini. But the best part of barmini is enjoying a unique modern cocktail. 

Some of their unusual drinks are made with smoked wood (which they smoke at the table), crumbled salted peanuts, and even leather!

Some of the noteworthy cocktails include Ticket to Phuket (with Aquavit, ginger, honey, lime, thai basil, and thai chili), Polynesian Vacation (with citrus vodka, aloe, pineapple, lime, ginger, and yellow chartreuse), and Leatherette (with brandy, rye, Spanish vermouth, East India cherry, lavender bitters, leather-aged.)

You can also book a cocktail flight (they’re pricey, but so worth it!) to get a flavor of all the best that the bar has to offer. 

8. Take in a Show at the Kennedy Center 

The Kennedy Center is one of the premier performing arts venues in Washington. You can find a wide range of performances there, from classical symphonies to jazz, musicals, operas, dance, comedy, and more. 

The Kennedy Center at sunset.

I’ve been to more performances at the Kennedy Center than I can count, and it’s always been a big favorite for my family and me. 

One thing to check out is the daily performances on the Millenium Stage. The performances are free to the public and tend to be even more eclectic than what you’ll find in the Opera House or Concert Hall. On any given day you could hear a Klezmer band, Brazilian music, films, a brass quintet, and more. 

And of course you can always catch the long running improv comedy mystery show Shear Madness, which has been running in the Theater Lab for 13,000 performances and counting! 

You can find a full list of upcoming performances at the Kennedy Center online.

9. Learn How to Cook with a Cooking Class

One of the most unique experiences I had in D.C. was a cooking class that I took as part of a company holiday event.

I’m not much of a cook, but I had a blast getting to learn how to make pasta by hand. Then I got a chance to eat it afterward (and it was quite good if I do say so myself!) 

There are several excellent cooking classes in town, but one that earns high marks and has a great central location is Cozy Meal

You can choose from one of many different classes, including Japanese cuisine, Flavors of Spain, Chinese dishes, and much more.

10. Go Out to the Ballpark for a Nationals Game

Even if you’re not a big baseball fan, Nationals Park is one of the best ways to spend an afternoon or evening in D.C. The park is relatively new and beautiful. 

Nationals Ball Park, one of the most fun activities in Washington, D.C.

Adding to the excitement is the fact that the Nationals won the World Series in 2019 (which was a very exciting experience for us locals!)

Between innings, you can wander the concourse for hot dogs, crackerjacks, beer, nachos, and all of the usual (and overpriced) baseball goodies. Plus, you can snag some Nationals merch at one of the many shops onsite. 

You can also book special tours of the ballpark to get a behind-the-scenes look at everything from the media area, to the dugout, the bullpens, VIP suites, and more.  

Baseball games generally occur from April through September. You can find a full schedule of games online. 

11. Watch a Capitals Game at Capital One Arena

I didn’t think I would be a big hockey fan, and then I got a chance to see a game live at Capital One Arena. The game is really fun, fast-paced, and exciting! 

Capitals game at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.

And the Capitals are one of the most exciting teams around, especially with their star Alexander Ovechkin. As an added bonus, the team won the Stanley Cup in 2018 (also very exciting for us locals!) 

When buying tickets, I recommend getting them behind one of the goals on either end of the rink, rather than near the center of the rink. The majority of the most exciting action in the games occurs near the goals. 

And don’t worry if you’re seated in the upper levels – you can still see the puck and major action surprisingly well. 

The hockey season generally lasts from October to April. You can find a full schedule of games online.

Note that you definitely want to dress warmly for a game. It gets cold inside! 

12. Play Spy at the International Spy Museum  

In a city filled with incredible museums, the International Spy Museum definitely wins the prize for the most fun and interactive. 

International Spy Museum, one of the most fun activities in Washington, D.C.

The city of power and secrets is also the perfect home for a spy museum. (CIA headquarters is just 8 miles away in the Northern Virginia suburb of Langley.)

Some of the special exhibits will teach you about top spy masters of the past, plus give you a chance to see some of the cool gadgets that they used in the art of spying. You’ll get to see some really cool and creative bugs, cameras, weapons, and much more. 

One of the coolest aspects of the spy museum is that you can actually get a chance to roleplay as a spy. 

You’ll be given a secret identity and mission, and then navigate through various challenges throughout the museum, including finding hidden drop sites and making a secret spy gadget. 

It’s the next best thing to being in a James Bond film! 

13. Explore the D.C. Waterfront at The Wharf

The Wharf is one of the newest and most fun neighborhoods in D.C. There are over 80 restaurants and shops in the area, and so you definitely won’t run out of things to explore! 

Some restaurants worth checking out are 12 Stories Bar, which features beautiful skyline views; Bartaco, where you can naturally find chill cocktails and tacos; the Cuban cafe Colada Shop; and Del Mar, which serves up fine seafood and Spanish cuisine. 

When you’re at The Wharf, make sure to check out Camp Wharf, where you can make s’mores at a campfire (my favorite!)

In the winter months, there’s even an ice rink that opens up! 

The Wharf is also one of the stops along the Potomac Water Taxi route. You can take the water taxi to Georgetown, Old Towne Alexandria, and National Harbor in Maryland. 

The water taxi is a unique way to travel around the city and also be treated to amazing water views along the Potomac!  

14. Hang Out on the National Mall

The National Mall is easily one of my favorite places in D.C., and for good reason! The expansive lawn, located between Constitution Avenue and Independence Avenue, is the epicenter of many of the most iconic attractions in Washington. 

Smithsonian Castle and gardens

This is where you can find the striking Smithsonian Castle and gardens, plus most of the major Smithsonian museums. 

One end of the mall is dominated by the U.S. Capitol building, while the other side features iconic landmarks like the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and Tidal Basin. 

You don’t have to stop at all of these landmarks, though, to thoroughly enjoy the National Mall. I’ve spent many days, particularly during nice weather, just strolling along the sidewalks that flank the lawn. 

I recommend stopping at the many beautiful gardens around the Mall, including the U.S. Botanic Gardens and Smithsonian Gardens, and walking among the colossal outdoor sculptures at the Hirshhorn Museum

Learn even more about the National Mall and the best museums in Washington, D.C.!

And when you get hungry, stop for a bite at one of the many food trucks and ice cream trucks as you marvel at the architecture of what I consider to be (without bias) the most beautiful city in the world.   

You can walk around the Mall (though note that it is long! It can take about an hour to walk from one end to the other without stopping). 

You can also rent a bike or scooter for a quicker ride. There are many city bike and scooter pickup locations around the Mall. 

You can also book a guided bike tour around the Mall, with stops at the major museums and monuments. 

👉 Click here to book a guided bike tour around the National Mall!

15. Laugh and Be Merry at Drunk Shakespeare

Drunk Shakespeare started as an off-broadway show in New York in 2014. It has since expanded to Chicago, Phoenix, Houston, and D.C. 

The premise is simple: a group of professional actors get together to perform a Shakespeare play, one of them drinks 5 shots of whiskey, and then they all try to act out the play. Unpredictability and hilarity ensue. 

For an upgraded experience, you can be King or Queen for the show! You’ll get premier seats, champagne, caviar, chocolate, and even a chance to be part of the show!

You can also order drinks throughout the show. You must be over 21 years old to attend. 

16. Experience Other Cultures From Around the World 

One of the coolest resources in D.C. is the International Club of D.C. They have a calendar of upcoming events that center around cultural experiences in town from around the world. 

Wine glass, buffet at party

You’ll find just about anything you can imagine, including tango lessons, chocolate tastings from Spain, a music performance at the French Embassy, a Croatian dinner reception, and much more. 

Many of the events are held at embassies, which are an exciting experience in and of themselves! 

You can sign up for their free newsletter so that you’re the first to know about upcoming events (some of which do sell out.) Or you can just go to their website to find the latest events

17. Explore the Outdoors at Rock Creek Park

The biggest and best outdoor park in D.C. is sprawling Rock Creek Park. It winds through the city from the Potomac River near the Kennedy Center up north past the National Zoo and up to Maryland.     

You can drive through this oasis along Rock Creek Parkway, or you can go for a walk, run, or bike ride along Rock Creek Trail through the 1,700-acre park. 

The park features beautiful woodland trails, with the Rock Creek flowing nearby and massive stone bridges towering along the way. 

How to Get to Washington, D.C.

You can easily get to Washington, D.C. by car, plane, train, or bus. 

When traveling by car, use I-95, which runs along the entire East Coast. Washington, D.C. is about 11 miles away from I-95. Depending on where you’re coming from, you can take I-95 to I-395 from the South, I-95 to Route 50 or the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from the North, or I-66 from the West.

If you’re traveling by plane, the nearest airport is Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). It’s located in Arlington County and just 3 miles from the city. There is a metro stop directly at the airport, which is an easy and affordable way to reach Washington.

The next two closest airports are Dulles International Airport (IAD) in Virginia (which is 29 miles from D.C.) and Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) in Maryland (which is 34 miles from D.C.)

If you’re taking the train, Amtrak offers services from various cities along the East Coast. In Washington, D.C., the main train station is Union Station, which is conveniently located right next to the U.S. Capitol Building.

Union Station is also a major metro station, which makes it easy to travel around D.C. and even into Virginia and Maryland.

By bus, there are many bus routes and carriers with service to Washington, D.C. Most of the busses stop in Union Station. Some popular bus companies are: 

I have personally taken Flixbus (formerly Bolt Bus) and Megabus many times when traveling between D.C., New York, and Philadelphia, and I think they’re a great and very affordable alternative to traveling by train. Some of the fares can be as low as $1, which is crazy!

Where to Stay in Washington, D.C.

There are many great hotels to stay near the National Mall. Below are some of my top recommendations. 

Holiday Inn Washington Capitol

The Holiday Inn Washington Capitol is just blocks from the National Mall. It also has an outdoor pool and it is pet-friendly!

🛏️ Click here to book your stay at the Holiday Inn Washington Capitol! 🛏️

Hilton Washington DC National Mall 

The Hilton Washington DC is another great choice. It is located near both the National Mall and The Wharf, which features excellent shopping and restaurants along the Potomac River. The four-star hotel also has an outdoor pool, bar, and restaurant. 

🛏️Click here to book your stay at the Hilton Washington DC National Mall! 🛏️

Conclusion: 17 Fun and Unique Activities in Washington, D.C.

As you can see, D.C. is more than just museums and history! There are tons of fun and interesting things to do in town for every person and every interest!

Whether you want to take in a ball game, try a smoking cocktail, or get spooked in Georgetown, you’ll find the perfect way to fill your next trip to the nation’s capital!

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