20 Things Washington DC is Known and Famous For

Our nation’s capital is a bucket list destination for many, and for good reason. There’s an endless amount of history to explore here. Even if you’re not a history buff, there are tons of other exciting things to discover in DC. 

Washington DC is famous for museums, memorials, and the Metro. It’s also the home of our country’s political leadership with notable buildings like The White House and the Capitol Building. Since its founding in 1790, DC has been a very important American destination.

Let’s take a look at 20 things Washington DC is known for:

1. The Mall

Washington Monument at sunrise in Washington DC, USA

No, this isn’t the place to go on a shopping spree. The National Mall in Washington DC is an iconic spot for locals and tourists alike.

This 2-mile stretch runs from the US Capitol in the east to the Lincoln Memorial to the west and features dozens of other important landmarks. One of the most notable would have to be the Washington Monument.

No trip to DC is complete without a visit to the Mall. You can stroll along the glittering reflecting pools, relax on the lawn, and ponder all the important historical moments that have taken place here. If you only have limited time to explore the city, make this your number one priority.

2. The Capitol Building

Landmarks around Washington DC includes Capitol Building, Supreme Court, Washington monument, national mall.

This building has been in the news recently for some unfortunate reasons, but that shouldn’t tarnish its reputation as an iconic DC landmark. Washington DC is famous for being the country’s political heart, and the Capitol plays a large part in that. It’s the meeting place of Congress and the home of the legislative branch.

The original building was completed in 1826, but it was remodeled shortly after to accomodate the needs of our growing country. The familiar dome we know today was completed in 1868, and it’s been a symbol of American democracy ever since.

3. The nation’s capital

Washington Monument and national flag of USA, Washington DC, USA

Now let’s talk about a different kind of capital. Washington DC is famous for being the capital of the United States. But as any good history buff will tell you, that wasn’t always the case. As the current capital city was being built, Philadelphia served as the nation’s capital from 1790 to 1800. 

If we look back even further, we can find some other cities that briefly served as the capital. Cities like Baltimore, Annapolis, Trenton, New York City, and even Lancaster hosted the Congress of Confederation in order to avoid advancing British soldiers. 

4. The White House

White House on deep blue sky background

This next item on the list needs no introduction. The White House is probably the most famous building in the country, and it’s located right in Washington DC at the famed address of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s so famous that it’s even used as a catch-all term to describe the President and his advisors.

The White House has served as the home of every US president since John Adams in 1800. Its well-known columned facade is emblazoned on our $20 bill, and its image is recognized by people from all over the world. 

5. Politics

The United States Supreme Court in Washington, DC

With so many important buildings and figures located in DC, it’s no surprise that politics is the star of the show. Inside the Capitol, White House, and Supreme Court building, you’ll find the heads of all three branches of government. Everyone who’s anyone in politics can be found here.

The running joke in the area is that if you don’t work for the government now, you will in no time. So many jobs in the area revolve around the government, so it’s almost impossible to avoid. If you’re not interested in politics, Washington DC may not be the place for you. 

6. Embassies

Embassy of CUBA - Flag and chancery building
Editorial credit: DCStockPhotography / Shutterstock.com

Washington DC is famous not only for American politics, but global politics as well. There are more than 175 embassies, ambassador’s residences, and international cultural centers located in DC. Most of them are located on Embassy Row in the northwestern part of the city. 

When taking a tour of the area, make sure you stop by and check out the stunning architecture. You can even try your hand at geography and try to guess all the countries from the flags flying outside the embassies. 

7. Not being a state

District of Columbia (Washington, DC) Flag

DC plays a key role in American politics, but it’s known for not actually being one of the official 50 states. So if it’s not a state, then what is it?

If we look at what “DC” actually stands for, we’ll get our answer. “DC” stands for District of Columbia, making Washington DC a district. It was established this way by the Constitution in 1790, and it’s been this way ever since.

Residents of the city still have to pay taxes and serve on juries, but they don’t have the same voting power as those living in established states. This discrepancy has led some to push for official statehood. This motion would require action from Congress, so until then, DC gets to live in its own little district world.  

8. Lettered streets

Street sign of Infamous K Street in Washington, DC, legendary home to lobbyists (although now K St, is mostly symbolic).
Editorial credit: Bob Korn / Shutterstock.com

When getting around DC, you might notice its unique street naming system. It is divided into four quadrants, with the Capitol building at the center. Streets that run north-south are numbered, while streets that run east-west are given a letter. 

One quirk about this seemingly simple system is that the letters J, X, and Z are not included. The story is that the letter J was not included because it too closely resembled the letter I, so the architect Pierre L’Enfant thought it would be too confusing. 

9. Traffic

Traffic moves at a crawl along Interstate 395 in Southwest Washington. The city has some of the worst road congestion in the nation.
Editorial credit: Daniel J. Macy / Shutterstock.com

Although the street names are fairly easy to decipher, that doesn’t mean that the traffic in DC is all smooth sailing. In fact, Washington DC is known for having some of the worst traffic jams in the country, especially during commuting hours.

Many people work in DC, but not all of them live there. The suburbs surrounding the area are quite popular, which means millions of people are commuting here every day. This huge influx of commuters is often too much for the current highway system to handle, so backups of several hours are unfortunately all too common.

10. The metro

Washington DC Metro Tunnel

One tool to help cut down on the traffic is the metro system. This network of railways helps locals and tourists explore the area without having to deal with the insane gridlock. The metro is the second-busiest rapid transit system in the country, behind the subway in NYC.

Much like the New York City subway, however, the metro is often plagued by construction and delays. The system was opened in 1976, so significant upgrades have been needed over the years. Despite the delays, local residents still love the convenience of the metro system.

11. The National Zoo

Hungry giant panda bear eating bamboo.

While riding the metro around town, make a stop at Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan to explore one of DC’s major destinations: The National Zoo.

It’s one of the oldest zoos in the country, but that doesn’t mean it’s outdated. The National Zoo is still an amazing place for those of all ages to explore.

The zoo features a wide range of animals, but they are most known for their giant pandas. The first giant pandas in the country arrived here in 1972, and the panda program has lived on ever since.

The best part about this zoo is that it’s part of the Smithsonian Institution, so it’s completely free.

12. Museums

The African Elephant in the Museum of Natural History in WASHINGTON DC.
Editorial credit: Tinnaporn Sathapornnanont / Shutterstock.com

The zoo isn’t the only free attraction you can find in Washington DC. There are actually 17 Smithsonian museums and galleries that you can enjoy completely free of charge. For those on a budget, DC is a great place to explore.

Depending on what you’re interested in, there’s a museum or gallery for you. History buffs will feel right at home at the American History Museum or Natural History Museum. Art lovers will fall in love with the Renwick Gallery or National Portrait Gallery.

There’s also the Air and Space Museum, African Art Museum, American Indian Museum, and so much more.

13. Georgetown

Georgetown shopping district along M Street. M street hosts a large variety of shops from indie to home design, high-end boutiques and national and international retail.
Editorial credit: Mihai_Andritoiu / Shutterstock.com

Besides amazing monuments and museums, Washington DC is also famous for its many vibrant neighborhoods. The most famous of which would have to be Georgetown. This quaint neighborhood in the northwest part of the city is known for its restaurants and historic charm. 

You can walk along old brick streets, pop into a cozy cafe, or grab dessert at the well-known Georgetown Cupcake. Georgetown is also home to Georgetown University, a prestigious private university with almost 20,000 students. Its beautiful campus and close proximity to the river make it a picture-perfect destination.

14. Sports 

A Major League Baseball game takes place at Nationals Park June 25, 2009 in Washington, D.C.
Editorial credit: Christopher Penler / Shutterstock.com

Georgetown University is known for its basketball team, but there are plenty of other sports to enjoy here in DC. Baseball fans can watch the Nationals play at Nationals Park, and basketball and hockey fans can catch the Wizards, Mystics, and Capitals at the Capital One Arena.

Soccer nuts can catch DC United at Audi field, while the local NFL team the Commanders can be found at Fedex Field right outside the city. No matter your sports obsession, you’ll find a club here in Washington. 

15. Freemasons

Scottish Rite Of Free Masonry Museum and Library
Editorial credit: Eric Glenn / Shutterstock.com

Speaking of clubs and organizations, let’s talk about the Freemasons. This secret society may have gained popularity from the film National Treasure, but it’s always been a big deal here in Washington DC. Many of the founding fathers were part of this exclusive club, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

There are many buildings here that were influenced by the Masons, and the headquarters of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry is even located right here in the city. If you want to learn more about this undercover club, you can take a tour of the building.

16. The Potomac River

Washington DC, USA skyline on the Potomac River.

You can get to know DC on land, but you can get an even more unique perspective of it from the sea. The city is bordered by the Potomac River, which provides a stunning backdrop to the historic architecture. Hop on a boat cruise and float down the river while enjoying the iconic skyline.

There have been many historic battles waged in the DC area, and it’s no surprise that the Potomac has played a big part in some of them. Its importance has even earned it the nickname of “the Nation’s River.” It’s fitting, then, that it runs along our nation’s capital.

17. Cherry blossoms

Sun rising illuminates the Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin. The bright pink cherry blossoms frame the monument in Washington DC during the annual cherry blossom festival

The beauty of the Potomac can be enjoyed year round, but there’s another aspect of DC that can only be appreciated in the spring: cherry blossoms. Washington DC is known for having stunning cherry blossom trees that only bloom for two weeks out of the year.

The trees were originally planted here in 1912 as a gift of friendship from Japan. You can find them mainly in the Tidal Basin, as well as a few other parts of the city. Photographers flock to DC every year to capture the remarkable beauty of these beautiful pink flowers.

18. Mumbo sauce

Retail grocery store Capital city barbeque mambo sweet hot
Editorial credit: Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock.com

The color palette of this city is marked by bright pink cherry blossoms, red and blue flags on every block, and distinctly reddish-orange mumbo sauce. This flavorful mix of barbecue, ketchup, and hot sauce is a required topping for DC street food.

Although the sauce gained popularity here, it was actually created in Chicago in the ‘50s. But despite its origins, the people of Washington DC have come to claim it as their own. Whether you call it mumbo or mambo, it still makes a delicious sauce for whatever fried food you’re craving.  

19. Oysters

Oysters with lemon and parsley on ice

If you’re not eating fried food in DC, then you should be eating oysters. Washington DC is known for having amazing raw bars all over the city.

Places like Hank’s Oyster, the Old Ebbitt Grill, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, and the Dabney are all famous for serving up fresh and delicious oysters on the half shell.

When it comes to oysters, there’s really no wrong way to eat one. Some like lemon juice, others prefer a cocktail or mignonette sauce. No matter what you top it with, there’s nothing better than a fresh platter of local oysters.

20. The Maine Avenue Fish Market

The Municipal Fish Market, alsol called the Maine Ave Fish market, and the DC Fish Market, is an anchor for the newly developed DC Wharf complex on DC's South West water front.
Editorial credit: TJ Brown / Shutterstock.com

If seafood is your thing, then don’t just stop at oysters. Washington DC has some of the best seafood in the country. It’s also home to the Maine Avenue Fish Market, the oldest fish market in the country. It was opened in 1805, 17 years before the famous Fulton Fish Market in New York.

Whether you’re looking for crabs, clams, shrimp, or whole fish, this place has what you need. It features raw and cooked seafood, so you can go there on a shopping trip or even just for lunch. 

Washington, D.C. skyline with highways and monuments.

Washington DC is one of the most iconic destinations in the country, and for good reason. It holds so much of our country’s history, yet still feels fresh and modern.

When you think of DC, what comes to mind? Let us know in the comments.

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