How to Explore Washington D.C. beyond the Mall

Washington D.C. is undoubtedly one of the most visited cities in the world. It is full of history, museums, and bustling city life. Recently it has become a major hub for startups and new dining concepts. However, there are many locations that are worth exploring away from the monuments and museums on and around the National Mall. Of course, on your first visit to the city, you should take full advantage of the free Smithsonian Museums, Newseum, the Holocaust Museum, and the Georgetown neighborhood. But there is so much more to the city that few visitors get to experience.

Concrete steps lead up to a stone building.

The District is full of parks in all quadrants of the city. However, one park really stands out. Meridian Hill Park is located directly north of the White House, and during the Civil War, it was used as an encampment for the military. Being in the park today feels like you just stepped through a portal and traveled from a bustling urban hub to a lost city in the middle of the jungle. The best time to visit is definitely on Sunday afternoon when the longest-running drum circle echoes throughout the park and creates a really unique atmosphere.

Entrance to the National Zoo with steps and large green trees.

Nearby is the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. While the zoo is a Smithsonian, it might get overlooked by some tourists because of its location. However, the National Zoo offers a number of very unique animals including their famous giant pandas. And, same as the other Smithsonian museums, it’s free. The zoo is designed like a park, with locals walking (or jogging) through the main thoroughfare.

Large green rolling hill at the Hillside Estate

Further north is District’s hidden gem, Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens. This estate was the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the richest woman in the 1950s. She used much of her wealth and her husband’s position as an ambassador to the Soviet Union in the 1930’s to acquire Russian royal art including Faberge eggs that are displayed around the mansion. Surrounding this Russian palace are thirteen acres of immaculately maintained gardens. Enjoy the gardens with a picnic or just grab some tea and coffee and enjoying the surroundings.

Bonsai Tree in front of a cement wall for the United State National Arboretum

Another park worth exploring is the National Arboretum which is a leading center for botanical research. It has a large bonsai exhibit as well as the old U.S. Capitol columns.

Ethiopian Cuisine featuring bright red and yellow ingredients.

Exploring all of these extraordinary parks will likely work up an appetite. I suggest getting some Ethiopian cuisine at the recently relocated Lalibela. D.C. has a large Ethiopian population and their unique cuisine has something to offer for everyone. You can order a plate for two or for four. Each plate is served with your choice of meat or vegetarian options on top of injera, a spongy flatbread which you use to scoop up the food.

A few blocks away is the historic Ford Theater, this is where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The theater has many exhibits describing the night of the assassination as well as information about all of the people involved. The actual pistol that John Wilkes Booth used to fire the shot at President Lincoln is on display at this location.

Photo of a busy street with cars and storefronts

At night, head to the Adams Morgan neighborhood which has numerous local shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, and night clubs. Stroll along 18th street NW where beautiful row houses line the street on both sides, housing many of the restaurants and rooftop bars. One of these bars is Jack Rose Saloon which offers hundreds of high-end whiskeys, bourbons, and scotches. Adams Morgan is also the best place to get late-night food in the city, from pizza to falafels. Finally, if you have time and stamina, you should visit Echostage. This club hosts famous DJs from around the world in an intimate location.

Washington has become a top tourist attraction for a reason. The city has so much to offer and the options grow daily. And, while you should experience the traditional top attractions during your very first visit, you should certainly return to also experience all of the treasures hidden within the city.

Know Before You Go

  • Many of the monuments and memorials surrounding the National Mall are open 24 hours a day!
  • Driving through the city isn’t recommended – walking or taking the Washington Metro are great ways to navigate the city.
  • Be prepared for numerous security checks if you are visiting any government buildings!
Man in a grey suit with a blue tie, standing against a brick wall

This post was written by Hilton Suggests Team Member, Ivo T. Are you interested in traveling to Washington D.C.? Let us know if we can help you with any other recommendations. Tweet us for more great local travel tips!

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