21 Wonderful Things to Do Alone in Washington, DC (2024)

Despite being of a compact size, Washington, DC packs a punch.

Whether you’re looking to explore history, tuck into some fine dining or see world class art, there’s no shortage of things to do, especially for those traveling by themselves.

Plus, for those interested in politics and history, you’re sure to have an absolute field trip visiting this politically rich and influential city.

In this list, we take you through 21 wonderful things to do alone in Washington, DC. 

Want more ideas of things to do solo in your favorite American cities? Check these out!

1. Stroll along National Mall

National Mall in DC
Image: National Mall. YoTuT. [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

The National Mall is the ideal starting point for most people on a solo trip to Washington, DC, giving you the perfect kick off to explore many of the key sights and attractions of this impressive city.

The Mall itself is a landscaped stretch, spanning a walkable distance from the Capitol Building to Lincoln Memorial.

From the Mall you’ll also see the Smithsonian Museum and the White House.

On a sunny day, the Mall can be busy with both locals and visitors ambling along the route so it also makes for a prime people-watching spot. 

2. Tour the White House

The White House

If you go to Washington, DC and don’t make a trip to the White House, it’d be akin to visiting London town without stopping by Buckingham Palace.

The White House isn’t just the official residence of the President, it’s also home to several museums, galleries and beautifully landscaped gardens that are also open to the public.

While public tours are available, they do need some pre-planning and tours are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you’re a US resident, a request to tour the stately building must be submitted through your Member of Congress.

Foreign visitors can also seek a tour of the White House but remember to book in advance and bring ID.

3. Visit the National Gallery of Art

Image: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA. Domenico Convertini. [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

Located on National Mall, the National Gallery of Art is an impressive building that is worth a visit, even if you’re more interested in architecture than art.

Following an extensive renovation, the museum shows a world class collection of modern art and classics, from a self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh to the iconic giant rooster on the roof.

The National Mall is a great place to spend a few hours soaking in the grandeur of Washington, DC and the National Gallery of Art is an ideal place to begin.

4. Visit the Lincoln Memorial

Any trip to Washington, DC must include at least a brief stop at the Lincoln Memorial.

One of the most iconic memorials in the country can be found on the Western end of the National Mall.

The giant marble sculpture of President Lincoln is the main attraction when visiting the memorial, but be sure to take in the surrounding views of the Potomac River, the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument.

For any Washington, DC solo traveler, a visit to the Lincoln Memorial is one of the most memorable things to do.

5. Go fine dining

Photo credit: Le Diplomate Facebook page

Who said you can’t enjoy a fine dining experience alone?

In fact, having a meal alone at Le Diplomate is arguably the best way to really enjoy the delicious cruising and exquisite atmosphere, without interruption.

This European style restaurant has all the trimmings of a traditional French restaurant, with baskets filled with freshly baked bread, burgers topped with a miniature French flag and a seafood tower to write home about.

For an unforgettable dinner experience in Washington, Le Diplomate should be one of the top places on your list.

6. Visit the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Other than being a mouthful, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History also packs a punch with its diverse and impressive range of exhibits, artwork and sculptures dedicated to the evolution of humans, wildlife and more.

A visit here is one of the most fun things to do alone in Washington, DC.

Chances are you won’t get time to see everything at the museum, but some of the highlights that are worth a look in, include the stuffed animals exhibit, the gem and mineral collection, the Kenneth E. Behring Hall of Mammals and the Hall of Human Origins.

If you’ve ever been curious about the evolution of the human race, this is the place to get your fix of evolutionary history.

7. Explore Eighth Street

Eighth Street in DC
Image: IMG_3071. Elvert Barnes. [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

For things to do alone in Washington, DC at night, you’ll want to head to Eighth Street, also known as Barracks Row.

This pulsating strip has a line up of stellar restaurants, shops and historical attractions that draw both visitors and locals alike.

It’s easy to spend an evening hopping along this main street, choosing from one of the many restaurants and cuisines that line the busy thoroughfare, with a view of the Marine Barracks on the other side of the road that give this street its popular name.

8. Be awed by the National Archives

National Archives in DC
Image: National archives #dc. Elizabeth K Joseph. [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

The National Archives are a jaw dropping collection of documents, photographs and artifacts, recording the development of the United States of America in granular and profound detail.

Many objects of historical and national significance can be found in the depths of the National Archives, including the Charters of Freedom and the very gun that shot President John F Kennedy.

If you’re overwhelmed by all the history and artifacts, the catalog is a good place to start to get an overview of all the treasures stored here.

9. Visit Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Smithsonian Zoo in Washington DC
Image: Smithsonian Zoo. Amy Meredith. [CC BY-ND 2.0], via Flickr

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is not only a popular place for families and those with young children, it’s also a great place for all visitors to explore when visiting Washington.

While you’re there, check out the various permanent and rotating exhibits, including the ever-popular pandas and lions.

If you’re planning to visit, make sure you check the website beforehand as (free) entry passes may be required.

10. Visit the US Capitol Building

Capitol Building in Washington DC

The Capitol Building is the home of the U.S. legislature, being the political arm of lawmakers who set the laws of the country.

Visitors can request a tour of this grand building by either requesting an entry pass from their state senator or by simply purchasing tickets to join the tour, from the entry gate located outside the building.

Even if you don’t have the time to join a full tour, a walk past the impressive facade is definitely worth your time.

11. Have breakfast at the iconic Compass Rose

Compass Rose
Photo credit: Compass Rose Facebook page

One of the most popular places to have breakfast in Washington, DC is the woman-owned and run cafe and restaurant known as Compass Rose.

Just a stone’s throw off 14th street is where you can find this globally inspired menu, boasting dishes that are a testament to the owner, Rose’s travels around the world.

Some of the most popular dishes include the khachapuri, a Georgian dish made with bread, cheese, butter and a raw egg.

For egg lovers there’s also a much loved shakshuka, made with a generous serving of eggs, onions, cheese and herbs.

12. Spend the day on the water

Spending a relaxing afternoon sailing in Chesapeake Bay is one of the most wonderful ways to spend the day alone in D.C.

You can find a number of tour operators scattered around Annapolis that will allow you to indulge in a few peaceful hours sailing around the bay area.

Many of the tours also include a seafood lunch, making the most of the excellent crabs that can be found in the area.

Before heading back to the main city district, make sure you spend some time exploring the nearby US Naval Academy and St John’s College.

13. Explore the National Museum of African American History and Culture

National Museum of African American History and Culture
Photo credit: National Museum of African American History and Culture Facebook page

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is one of the most significant institutions detailing the history, culture and influence of African American people in the country.

The Museum includes exhibits, galleries and artifacts covering the history of slavery as well as the significant contributions made by prominent and lesser known African Americans on modern day America.

Part of the Smithsonian, this Museum is an insightful place to visit to learn more about the history and culture of America.

14. Visit the Library of Congress

Library of Congress
Image: Library of Congress. angela n. [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

The Library of Congress serves an important purpose as being the official research library for the US Congress.

But luckily for the rest of us, visitors can also request a free Reader Identification Card that allows them to enter the library and peruse the extensive collection of literary works.

Alternatively you can also take a free, one hour guided tour of the main library building, stopping through the various galleries and exhibitions that form part of the grand structure.

15. Grab a coffee and people watch at Busboys & Poets

Busboys and Poets
Photo credit: Busboys and Poets

This local institution is not only a cafe, but also a meeting place for artists, activists and the curious minded.

When Iraqi-American owner, Anas ‘Andy’ Shallal opened the first cafe, it quickly became a go-to for many of DC’s anti-Iraq war activists.

Nowadays, Busboy & Poets have six locations in the city and they act as venues for artists and performers from all over to perform their talents and share their stories.

If you’re in the mood for a thought provoking evening and a chance to meet fellow like-minded travelers, Busby & Poets makes for a great place to visit.

16. Explore Eden Center

For what to do alone in Washington, DC on a budget, Eden Center, also known affectionately as the Little Saigon, is the place to go when you’re craving authentic Vietnamese food and culture.

The district has a number of popular food outlets, selling delicacies such as pho, banh mi and barbecued pork.

Once you’ve had your fill of delicious steaming noodles or fragrant spring rolls, spend an hour or two wandering around the shops and the giant Falls Church that are popular meeting points amongst locals.

17. Grab a gourmet goodie at Union Market

Union Market Washington DC
Photo credit: Union Market Facebook page

If you’re after a more fancy snack, you’ll want to head towards Union Market, the self-described ‘epicenter of culinary creativity in DC’.

This artisanal market has a mixture of vendors selling both local and imported items, from samples of local cheese and extra virgin olive oil to noodles, burgers and desserts.

If you were looking for a souvenir, there are also stalls selling coffee beans, spices and other trinkets to take back home.

18. Head down to Key Bridge Boathouse in Georgetown

The Key Bridge Boathouse is the main gateway to the best water activities DC has to offer.

If you are visiting during summer, getting on the Potomac is one of the most fun ways to explore the city, and you can choose from canoeing, kayaking and stand up paddle boarding.

There is equipment available for hire from the Boathouse as well as tours that you can sign up to, which take you on a water-journey past various DC monuments, such as Lincoln Memorial and the Kennedy Center.

19. Catch a flick at Landmark’s E Street Cinema

Landmark Cinema
Photo credit: Landmark Cinema Facebook page

One of the quirkiest activities in DC is watching a movie at Landmark’ E Street Cinema.

If you’ve spent enough time sitting alongside couples cosying up in DC’s restaurants and food halls, the cinema is a great idea for what to do by yourself in Washington, DC.

The cinema was built in the early 2000s and specializes in indie films, documentaries, foreign language films, and classic revivals.

There’s also a great concession area with your favorite movie theater classics.

20. Watch a show at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Photo credit: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Facebook page

With a focus on producing quirky and edge plays, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company is one of the hidden gems in D.C’s artistic community. 

Founded in 1980, the Company has put on independent shows for the local community to promote arts, culture and creativity. 

Whilst the size of the theater itself is small, the stage and set up create a cozy and intimate atmosphere, making for a great way to feel connected to fellow theater-goers whilst enjoying the thrilling performance.

21. Visit the International Spy Museum

international spy museum in washington dc
Photo credit: International Spy Museum Facebook page

One of the most fun things to do alone in Washington, DC is visit the Washington Spy Museum.

This espionage themed museum is not only full of exhibits and memorabilia that were once used in real life missions, but also gives you a chance to test your own spy skills. 

There’s a fee to enter but if you’re interested in the history of covert missions and the gadgets used by brave operatives trying to protect state secrets, this is one of the most fun and highly rated activities in Washington, DC.

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