9 Super Cool Things to Do in Washington, D.C. That Won't Break the Bank

If you're planning to visit Washington, D.C., there are a few things you absolutely must know about: mambo sauce, GoGo music, and which attractions are actually worth your time (and money), for starters.

The Nation's Capital is definitely a must-visit, for more reasons than one. The destination has an array of fun things to offer, from cultural enrichment experiences and impressive architecture, to delicious restaurants and museums galore—there are plenty of things to do in Washington, D.C.

As for me, I'm actually a D.M.V.—D.C., Maryland and (Northern) Virginia—native, but live about 45 minutes outside of the actual city, so I decided to indulge in a little staycation in honor of my birthday weekend. I may be local to the area, but deciding to stay for a couple of nights and being in the middle of it all did not disappoint!

D.C. (short for the District of Columbia), though not even an official state, is broken up into four regions/neighborhoods: North East, North West, South East and South West.

It is a literal playground for history buffs, sprawling with political nods nearly everywhere you turn—obviously, it is the home of the President of the United States, after all. The White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Capital Building, the National Mall, the Library of Congress (...shall I go on?) and other buzzy landmarks likely all come to mind when the location is mentioned.

But personally, I took a more laidback route during my quick weekend getaway, opting for a handful of outings that were still worth the hype.

All in all, whether planning short travel for just a few days or a longer vacay, Washington, D.C., has a wealth of places to go, sights to see, good eats and hidden gems to discover. A girls trip, romantic escapade, holiday break with the kiddos and beyond, there’s truly something for everyone to enjoy.

Below, find my top picks of sceneries, eateries and experiences to check out for time well spent in the District.

Related: Want To Attend the White House Easter Egg Roll Next Year? Here's What To Know

Best Things to Do in Washington, D.C.

1. Stay in a swanky hotel—you deserve it!

There are so many great accommodations to choose from, but Hotel Washington located on 15th St. in North West was the perfect space to lay my head for a good night's rest after a day of city adventures.

The property is themed around the story of the United States, intertwining a playful blend of iconic historic moments and quirky satire in its aesthetically pleasing decor. Inside the lofty venue, you'll find a spa, multiple restaurants, a rooftop lounge, private event spaces, and more, all on-site.

<p>Yasmine Coleman</p>

Yasmine Coleman

<p>Yasmine Coleman</p>

Yasmine Coleman

Hotel Washington offers just the right amount of luxury without breaking the bank, and is situated in the perfect central location to easily access any part of the city you're looking to explore. The rooms are nicely-sized, the beds are comfy, and the luxe shower area was the cherry on top. Most importantly, all the staff members I encountered during my stay were welcoming and pleasant, so the customer service was also a plus.

2. Go out for brunch.

Brunch culture is huge in most major cities nowadays, and D.C. is no exception.

Might I suggest Smoke & Mirrors on the rooftop of the AC Hotel by Marriott in South East?

The decor made me feel like I was in a literal secret garden, and the vibe was immaculate—one of my favorite things is that their playlist features popular songs, sans lyrics, so you're left with the instrumental versions of songs you never knew you needed to hear without the words. It also offers stunning views of the city through gigantic windows, as well as outdoor patio seating.

As for the food, the French Toast and Potstickers are both superb.

<p>Yasmine Coleman</p>

Yasmine Coleman

<p>Yasmine Coleman</p>

Yasmine Coleman

For something slightly more casual, Butter Me Up on T Street in North West is also a solid choice—every single menu item is tasty and it's ultra-affordable, without skimping on quality. Plus, it somehow still manages to offer unmatched vibes necessary for a pleasant brunching experience. Thank me later.

3. Head to the water.

There are two specific waterside scenes worth checking out, with endless possibilities of things to enjoy. 

The National Harbor has the Capital Wheel—where you can see views of the city from a huge lit-up Ferris wheel—a small sandy beach-like area, outlet stores and boutiques for shopping, Gaylord National Resort, MGM Casino and a host of trendy restaurants. Yacht and boat rentals are also available for those who want to hit the actual water, and there's even a carousel if you're traveling with little ones in tow!

The Wharf in South West, on the other hand, offers its own set of exciting experiences depending on the season, like the waterside outdoor Ice Rink in winter, roasting s'mores over a burning fire at Camp Wharf, music/concerts, nightlife, bike tours and more.

Fun Things to Do in Washington, D.C.

4. Kraken

Time to get active!

Kraken is a multi-use activity space that includes the only indoor rollerskating rink in Washington, D.C., as well as Pickleball, axe throwing, rage rooms, corn hole and ping pong.

5. Tipsy Scoop

Because ice cream is always a good idea.

For dessert or simply a sweet snack, you’ll want to hit up Tipsy Scoop in North West for another can’t-miss experience. The new location of the New York-based shop serves up creative liquor-infused ice cream inspired by classic cocktails.

They also offer a few nonalcoholic flavor options for kids or those who prefer to opt for non-boozy varieties, that are just as delicious as their menu of spiked specialties.

I ordered the Tequila Sunrise Sundae made with mango margarita and strawberry white sangria sorbets, and was happy as a clam. 10/10 recommend!

<p>Yasmine Coleman</p>

Yasmine Coleman

<p>Yasmine Coleman</p>

Yasmine Coleman

6. Have a night out!

There is a booming nightlife scene for all (legal) ages—from college hotspot clubs and hangouts to more upscale, sophisticated bars, lounges and speakeasy spots.

Free Things to Do in Washington, D.C.

7. Immerse yourself in the culture.

There are so many museums, art galleries, and memorials that are open to the public and available for tourists and natives, alike, to explore, and most of them cost absolutely nothing to visit. At most, an online reservation may be required.

I recommend the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, National Museum of African-American History & Culture, Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural HistoryUnited States Botanic GardenNational Air & Space Museum, and National Gallery of Art.

8. Busboys & Poets

Bookworms, rejoice.

This laidback bookshop and gastropub offers bites with a side of carefully curated thought pieces. I could easily browse their collection of literature for hours, and though you don't necessarily have to spend any money while visiting this gem, I'm not saying you won't want to—whether on a comfort meal or your newest page-turner.

Busboys & Poets Washington, DC<p>Yasmine Coleman</p>
Busboys & Poets Washington, DC

Yasmine Coleman

9. Rock Creek Park

Explore the great outdoors by embarking on a hike or bike trail at this popular retreat of lush greenery, or pack a basket meal to revel in nature and eat lunch amongst the trees—or even the stars, as the destination is the only national park with an on-site planetarium.

Among other things, "visitors can walk in the footsteps of Piscataway Indians, tour some of the oldest structures and best landscape architecture in Washington D.C., and discover remnants from the Civil War," according to the National Park Foundation.

For the equestrians among us (whether novice or expert), there are even horseback riding opportunities.

Whatever excursion or path you choose, there are more than enough options to appeal to any interest!

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