Top 10 Attractions in Washington DC
By: Danielle Max | Jul 4 2017
If you are a museum buff, Washington DC is the place for you. Best of all, many of these world-class destinations are completely free of charge (thanks Smithsonian Institution!). Once you’ve had your fill of education and information, explore the monuments and memorials on the National Mall, get close to nature at the zoo or botanical gardens or simply take in the eclectic architecture of the city that Charles Dickens called the “City of Magnificent Intentions.”
Cherry Blossoms in DC
The White House
Have a once-in-a-lifetime experience and take a self-guided tour of the White House and see some of the public rooms of one of the most famous buildings in the world. If you want to visit the White House, make sure you plan ahead. Tour requests must be submitted through your Member of Congress (or through your embassy for foreign visitors).
Wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first served basis from the officer at the Visitors Entrance. Access from the Visitors Entrance is via ramp to the ground floor and by elevator from the ground floor to the State floor.
Visitors who are blind or deaf should contact their Member of Congress if they require assistance.
Guide dogs are permitted in the White House.
Public Transport: Blue and Orange lines to Federal Triangle, Blue Orange or Red lines to Metro Center or Blue and Orange Lines to McPherson Square.
Top tip: “Go” before you go. There are no public restrooms in the White House.
In front of the Lincoln Memorial
Take some time away from the museums and visit the memorials on the National Mall and pay homage to leaders and events that have shaped the United States. See where Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous “I Have a Dream” Speech or recreate Jimmy Stewart’s emotional visit to the Lincoln Memorial in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (a must-see movie before any first-time visit to Washington) or just soak in the history and grandeur of this unique outdoor space.
All of the major monuments and memorials are wheelchair accessible. A limited number of wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first served basis at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the World War II Memorial (photo ID needed).
Wheelchair-accessible restrooms are located at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and near the World War II Memorial and Washington Monument. All of the museums on the National Mall have public restrooms.
Closed captioning is available for the films in the Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson Memorials and the Washington Monument.
American Sign Language interpretation is available by request. Email or call the Accessibility coordinator on 202-426-6841 at least three weeks in advance.
Braille brochures are available for the Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Vietnam Veterans, and Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Washington Monument from the Survey Lodge Ranger Station.
A large print version of the Gettysburg Address is available at the Lincoln Memorial from the on-site park ranger.
Parking: Accessible parking is available at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt and World War II Memorials and near the Washington Monument and the Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln, Korean War Veterans, and Vietnam Veterans Memorials; at the Tidal Basin.
Click here to find out more.
Top tip: Come prepared. It’s two miles from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building, so come prepared with food, drink and comfy clothes.
They say that laws and sausages are two things you should never see being made. We say, ignore that dictum and visit the Capitol Building to discover exactly how laws and lawmakers work. On a guided tour, you’ll see the Crypt, the Rotunda and National Statuary Hall and go on a journey into the struggle to establish the world’s first representative democracy.
Wheelchairs are available from Capitol Visitor Center staff wearing red vests or at one of the Information Desks in Emancipation Hall. The Capitol Visitor Center Office of Visitor Services provides an on-demand shuttle service for those with mobility limitations or in manual wheelchairs. The shuttles run from the southwest corner of Capitol Square at Independence Ave. and First St. SW to the Capitol Visitor Center entrance at the center of the Capitol’s East Plaza.
Listening devices with audio description of the orientation film and exhibition are available at the Information Desks in Emancipation Hall.
Email in advance to order sign language interpretation for tours. All films have open captioning.
A public TTY is located near one of the gift shops on the Upper Level.
An audio-descriptive tour of Exhibition Hall provides a self-guided experience of the Capitol Visitor Center’s exhibits. The narration is available on a free handheld device which visitors may request at the North Information Desk in Emancipation Hall or it can be downloaded onto a personal device.
Copies of all Capitol Visitor Center brochures in alternative formats (large print, braille, HTML) are available at the information desks.
Both the Senate and House have accessible galleries which include televisions with closed-captioning. In addition, the Senate has informational materials available in alternative formats.
For accessibility questions, call the Office of Congressional Accessibility Services on 202-224-4048.
Click here to find out more.
Public Transport: Orange, Silver or Blue lines to Capitol South (6-minute walk) or the Red line to Union Station (11-minute walk).
Top tip: Make sure to book a tour of the Capitol in advance as it is a very popular destination.
The model of the tobacco ship “Brilliant” introduces visitors to ''On the Water'' exhibition Virginia for Liverpool, England in 1775.
National Museum of American History
There’s no place like home, and there’s no place like the National Museum of American History either. After all, where else can you see the nation’s top treasures including artifacts as diverse as the original Star-Spangled Banner and Abraham Lincoln’s hat to Dizzy Gillespie’s angled trumpet and the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz all in one free museum?
Free wheelchairs are available at either entrance to the museum. All restrooms are wheelchair accessible. Companion restrooms are available on the first floor, East and West wings opposite the escalators, and on the second floor, East wing only.
An accessibility map can be downloaded here.
Videos with narration are open captioned. Recorded audio description is also available in the ‘America on the Move’ exhibition via a touch screen on the main label in each section.
Assistive listening devices for Highlights Tours and theater programs are available. Several brochures produced by the museum and The Smithsonian are available in alternate formats, braille, large print, audiotape, and CD. Visitors must bring their own players for electronic media.
To request an audio-described tour or a sign-language interpreter, contact the Department of Visitor Services at least one week in advance. Email or call 202-633-3717 or 202-357-1563 (TTY).
Click here for more information.
Parking: National Park Service designated accessible parking spaces are located on Madison Drive across from the Museum. Click here for more information.
Public Transportation: Blue and Orange lines to Federal Triangle (5-minute walk) or Smithsonian (7-minute Walk).
Top tip: Be aware that there is a security check at the entrance, so keep baggage to a minimum.
The 14th Street entrance to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Photo: Timothy Hursley / United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is America’s national institution for the documentation, study and interpretation of Holocaust history, and serves as this country’s memorial to the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust. The museum is also dedicated to helping to confront hatred and strengthen democracy to ensure the events of the Holocaust can never happen again.
The museum is fully accessible to visitors who use mobility assistive devices. Wheelchairs are available from the coat check on the main floor of the museum. Elevators are available to access all floors and ramps are available where there is a change in floor height. Wheelchair-accessible restrooms are available on every floor of the permanent exhibition and on the museum’s lower level.
Visual assistive devices (flashlights and magnifying glasses) are available at the information desk.
Guided highlights tours are available for visitors who are blind or who have low vision. They include visual descriptions and touchable objects. Requests should be made two weeks in advance. Email, call 202-488-6100 or fill out this form.
All multimedia in the exhibition spaces are captioned, and most multimedia that use audio are equipped with T-coil technology for guests who are deaf or hard of hearing. All First Person programs are open-captioned in real time.
For more information, download the accessibility guide here.
Parking: The National Park Service has designated 10 accessible parking spaces at and around the Washington Monument, along Independence Avenue west of 14th Street and at the Tidal Basin parking lot for vehicles with tags.
Public Transport: Orange, Blue and Silver metro lines to Smithsonian (6-minute walk).
Top tip: Visitors may be dropped off on the 14th Street side of the building for easier access to the building by car.
International Spy Museum
In a city that has seen its fair share of espionage (and then some) the International Spy Museum focuses on human intelligence and reveals the role spies have played in world events throughout history. The museum features the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display and includes the KGB Lipstick Pistol (AKA, the Kiss of Death!), Enigma Machine and Incredible Shrinking Bugs.
The permanent exhibition and store are fully wheelchair accessible. Wheelchairs are available at the information desk on a first-come, first-served basis (photo ID needed). Elevators provide access to all floors and exhibits. All restrooms in the museum complex are wheelchair accessible.
There is minimal seating in the permanent exhibition, with the exception of three theaters located at the beginning, middle and end of the galleries.
Many places in the museum feature tactile objects or audio components. For guests with sighted companions, a text-based map with descriptions of these points can be downloaded or found at the information desk. A tactile map of the museum’s floor plan is also available at the information desk (photo ID needed).
The museum offers a free 90-minute audio-described tour covering the key content, labels, and sites in the permanent exhibition, and includes tactile artifacts. Call 202-654-0991 or fill out a request form at least five days in advance.
The International Spy Museum’s Spy’s Eye™ captioning system enables guests who are deaf or hard of hearing to activate captions on videos in the galleries with a credit-card sized triggering device worn around the neck. The triggering devices are available at the Information Desk (photo ID needed).
For guests who are hard of hearing, headphones are available for all Operation Spy tours with one-hour advance notification.
Sign language and oral interpreter services or real-time captioning is available for public programs with 48 hours to one week’s advance notice. Call 202-654-0991 to request this service.
Click here to find out more.
Parking: Metered parking is available on all streets around the museum. Designated accessible spots are available free for four hours at any meter with a red top.
Public Transport: Red, Yellow and Green metro lines to Gallery Place/Chinatown (3-minute walk) or Orange, Blue and Red metro lines to Metro Center (6-minute walk).
Top tip: If you can only visit on a weekend, aim to arrive early or later in the afternoon to avoid crowds and lines at this popular museum.
Take a break from the museums and head outdoors to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), more commonly known as the National Zoo. While the pandas are the main attraction, the zoo cares for about 1,800 animals representing 300 species. SCBI scientists study and breed more than 20 species at their headquarters, including those that were once extinct in the wild, such as black-footed ferrets and scimitar-horned oryx. Best of all, as part of the Smithsonian, the museum is free.
Free wheelchairs and electronic vehicles (members $25/ non-members $30) are available on a first-come, first served basis. While all of the exhibits are wheelchair-accessible, the zoo is located on hilly terrain in Rock Creek Park. There are wheelchair-accessible restrooms in the Visitor Center as well as the restrooms located along Olmsted Walk.
For more information, call the Guest Services Office on 202-633-4480 or click here to find out more.
Parking: Limited paid parking is available at the zoo. Click here for more information.
Public Transport: Red metro line to Woodley Park (9-minute uphill walk) or Cleveland Park (11-minute walk).
The L1 and L2 buses stop in front of the main entrance.
Top tip: If you want to see the pandas, it’s best to come early to avoid the large crowds and long lines. Visitors can attend a giant panda keeper talk as part of the zoo’s daily animal demonstrations.
Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue
Photo: Maria Bryk/Newseum
A city where everyone has an opinion – even if it’s not a popular one – is a logical location for a museum dedicated to free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. The Newseum also traces the evolution of electronic communication from the birth of radio, to the technologies of the present and the future. The museum’s exhibits include the 9/11 Gallery featuring the broadcast antennae from the top of the World Trade Center, the Berlin Wall Gallery, whose eight concrete sections are one of the largest pieces of the original wall outside Germany and the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery which features photographs from every Pulitzer Prize-winning entry dating back to 1942.
The Newseum’s exhibits and store are fully wheelchair accessible. Free wheelchairs, mobility scooters and walking aids are available on a first-come, first-served basis from the coat check on Level 1 (photo ID needed).
Elevators provide access to all floors and exhibits, and are located on the east and west ends of the building. All restrooms are wheelchair accessible and located on the east end of the building. There is minimal seating in the exhibit areas.
Large print and braille visitor guides are available at the information desk (photo ID needed).
The Newseum offers one-hour Guided Highlights Tours for visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing and use American Sign Language on the first Saturday of each month at 1:30 p.m. The tours are on a first-come, first-served basis and do not require advanced notice. Additional ASL tours can be provided. Email or call the AccessUs Hotline on 202-292-6453 seven business days in advance.
The majority of the Newseum’s films and videos are open captioned.
Assistive listening devices (headsets/loops) are available at the information desk (photo ID needed).
Click here to find out more.
Parking: Paid parking available in the Newseum’s building at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. Click here for more information.
Public Transport: Green and Yellow metro lines to Archives/Navy Memorial/Penn Quarter (4-minute walk) or Red line to Judiciary Square (7-minute walk).
Top tip: Buy your tickets in advance to receive a 15% discount and remember that you can use your ticket on two consecutive days.
Ford's Theatre Interior
Photo: Maxwell MacKenzie/Ford's Theatre
Ford’s Theatre has gone down into notoriety as the place where President Abraham Lincoln was shot while enjoying a performance of ‘Our American Cousin’ as the Civil War drew to a close. Today the theater celebrates the legacy of Lincoln and explores the American experience through theater and education as a working theater, historical monument, museum and learning center.
There is an elevator from the lower-level museum to the lobby and balcony levels. The Center for Education and Leadership also has an elevator to exhibit levels and to the back porch of the Petersen House.
Wheelchair-accessible seating is offered in both the rear orchestra and the balcony sections. Click here to purchase accessible tickets or seats for an audio-described, captioned or sign-interpreted performance, or call 888-616-0207. Tickets can also be purchased at the box office.
Ford’s Theatre also offers sign-language interpretation upon request for walking tours, ‘One Destiny’ and one-night only events that are not part of the regular theatre season. Email at least two weeks in advance to request a sign-language interpreter.
Click here to find out more.
Public Transportation: Red, Blue, Orange or Silver lines to Metro Center (5-minute walk), Red, Green or Yellow lines to Gallery Place (5-minute walk) or Yellow and Green lines to Archives/Navy Memorial/Penn Quarter (7-minute walk).
Top tip: If you purchase a ticket to a performance at Ford’s Theater, your ticket can be used to visit the museum before performance time and during the intermission.
U.S. Botanic Garden
Practically everything has a noble purpose in Washington DC and the U.S. Botanic Garden is no exception. Far from just a collection of plants, the garden is dedicated to showing “the aesthetic, cultural, economic, therapeutic and ecological importance of plants to the well-being of humankind. The U.S. Botanic Garden is one of the oldest North America and is a living plant museum that informs visitors about the importance, and often irreplaceable value, of plants to the well-being of humans and to earth's fragile ecosystems.”
Complimentary wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-serve basis (photo ID needed). Information about specific accessible routes through the Conservatory and outdoor gardens is available at the visitor information desk. Accessible restroom facilities and water fountains are located in the rear of the Conservatory.
Assisted Listening Devices (headsets and receivers) are available for all guided tours and public programs. The headsets are compatible with hearing aids.
The Garden's audio tour is accessible by cell phone.
Guided tours for visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing, and for visitors who are blind or have low vision, are available upon request. Email to arrange tours and to find out more (tours should be scheduled three weeks in advance).
Braille and large print guides are available at the front desk. A PDF version of the large print guide may be downloaded.
For additional information or assistance, call 202-226-8333.
Click here to find out more.
Parking: Metered street parking spaces are available within a few blocks of the U.S. Botanic Garden. A limited number of accessible spaces are available in front of the Conservatory on Maryland Avenue SW for vehicles bearing valid disability parking placards or license plates.
Public Transport: Orange, Blue or Silver lines to Federal Center SW (6-minute walk).
The #32, #34 and #36 buses stop behind the Conservatory at Independence Avenue.
Top tip: Ask for the balloon-tired wheelchair to use in the graveled outdoor areas.