Washington DC is an incredible city, and if you’re in town for only a few days, then you’re probably only really going to get a chance to focus on exploring the National Mall. You can find my suggested itinerary for a 2 day visit to the city here.
However, if you’re in town for longer, DC has lots more to offer which is definitely worth exploring. Here are 5 of my favourite things to do outside of the National Mall.
1. Visit Arlington Cemetery
The American National Cemetery in Arlington is under the jurisdiction of the US army. The grounds honour those who have given their lives in service to the country, and around 30 funeral services are still conducted daily. It is common to see funeral processions and mourners at graves while visiting, so always be respectful. Visiting the grounds is a really touching experience – even as someone who isn’t from the US.
Also at the site you can visit the grave of President John F Kennedy, and watch the honoured tradition of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, first brought to Arlington from the battlefields of France after WWI. The tomb symbolised the sacrifice made by so many Americans, and is still a special site today.
Overall a visit to the cemetery is a very moving experience, and one which deserves at least a few hours of your time for both exploring and reflection.
2. Cruise the Potomac River
Washington DC sits on the Potomac River. Spend a couple of hours on the water with the Potomac Riverboat Company to take in the monuments from the water, see the Pentagon (from a distance), or even make a special trip of it and board the boat for lunch or dinner as you watch the sunset.
3. Explore historic Georgetown
Georgetown is an area just to the North West of The National Mall. Georgetown is home to cobbled streets, great shopping and dining options and a waterfront park which is a good spot for a stroll along the river. We particularly liked discovering JFK’s previous home, the place where Julia Childs’ taught her cooking lessons and the famous cakes of Georgetown Cupcake didn’t disappoint.
4. Taste the incredible food on offer
DC has so many incredible food options for all budgets, and if you’re spending a bit more time in the city then it’s really worth exploring the food scene.
I can’t write about the food in the city without talking about the DC institution that is Ben’s Chili Bowl – even Obama has eaten here and it really is delicious. It doesn’t look fancy, and eating in is a diner like option where you order at the counter, but it is the best chilli ever. Other cheap eat options include a visiting Eastern Market or Union Market for artisinal food vendors and farmer’s market options.
If you’re looking for a special meal out, there is no shortage of great options. My favourite was Rasika Indian restaurant – probably the best Indian restaurant I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to a fair few). We didn’t book in advance so couldn’t get one of the great window booths – in fact all that was left was seats at the bar looking in to the kitchen. They were perfect; a ‘quick dinner’ turned in to 3 hours of delicious courses (the palak chaat is AMAZING) with prosecco, talking to the chefs and having the best evening.
Other delicious options include the opulent fine dining option The Oval Room – I must admit feeling a little out of place as I was served a decompressed plum, but it was tasty none the less. Masseria is also incredible if you fancy a Mediterranean option, and nothing beats the firepit at Maydan – which offers North African delights like a whole, spiced lamb shoulder (which melted in the mouth).
Whichever options you choose, you will have to venture from the National Mall to find them – but all are worth a bit of time and effort to enjoy.
5. Watch some sport
One of the best things about America (especially if you’re English) is the sport. We don’t play basketball, football, baseball or ice hockey widely in England. We’re all about football ‘soccer’, rugby and cricket. It’s great to see other sports, learn a bit about them and enjoy them as entertainment – which is exactly what sport is in the US.
We chose to watch a baseball game while in the city and really enjoyed it. You could also watch the Capitals play hockey (we were lucky enough to visit as the Capitals won the Stanley cup in 2018 and it was such an incredible atmosphere!)
Exploring DC beyond the National Mall is a treat – and I hope if you’re planning a trip, this post has been helpful! Stay safe and happy travelling.