Washington DC is known for being the nation’s capital. The city has many famous landmarks including monuments, museums, and federal government offices.
Washington DC is a place like no other in America. The three branches of our government reside here amidst a wealth of stately historical monuments. For anyone who wants to learn about America, there’s no better place to go! As an avid history buff and American citizen, I’ll be glad to tell you about some of the many things that Washington DC is known for!
- 23 Things Washington DC is Known For
- 1. The Capitol Building
- 2. The White House
- 3. The Washington Monument
- 4. The Lincoln Memorial
- 5. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- 6. American History
- 7. Smithsonian Institution
- 8. The National Zoo
- 9. Mount Vernon
- 10. The March on DC
- 11. FBI Headquarters
- 12. IRS Headquarters
- 13. The National Cathedral
- 14. International Organizations
- 15. Rock Creek Park
- 16. The Tidal Basin
- 17. The Old Stone House
- 18. Union Station
- 19. Pro Sports Teams
- 20. Dupont Circle
- 21. Ben’s Chili Bowl
- 22. Municipal Fish Market at The Wharf
- 23. Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
- FAQs About Washington DC
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23 Things Washington DC is Known For
1. The Capitol Building
Perhaps the most iconic image of Washington DC is the Capitol Building. The Capitol Building, with its neoclassical style, serves as the home of the legislative branch of the government. The legislative branch consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Construction of the first building began in 1793 and concluded in 1826. Architects created additions over the years, leading to the building we know today. Congress first met in the building in 1800. One of the Capitol Building’s nicknames is “Capitol Hill.”
2. The White House
On par with the Capitol Building for fame is the White House, the home of the President of the United States. The first president to live in the White House was John Adams. Before moving into the White House, Adams (and George Washington before him) lived in the President’s House in Philadelphia.
During the War of 1812, British forces burned down much of the original White House building. Their attack came in retaliation for American attacks on Parliament buildings in Canada. After the war, reconstruction began and was completed in 1817. Later on, President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned the building of the famous West Wing addition.
3. The Washington Monument
While the whole city bears the name of George Washington, specific places within it also commemorate our first president. The most famous of these is the Washington Monument. This tall white obelisk stands at the eastern end of the National Mall–the park in downtown DC where the most famous monuments stand.
❗ Fun Fact: George Washington is the only president to have a state named in his honor. Check out our article, “What is Washington Known For?” to learn more!
4. The Lincoln Memorial
America’s second most famous president also has a stately memorial on the National Mall. The Lincoln Memorial stands on the western end of the National Mall, across the Reflecting Pool from the Washington Memorial. The Reflecting Pool is officially a part of the Lincoln Memorial.
The structure resembles the Parthenon and other Greco-Roman buildings. One early plan intended to build a pyramid instead, but designers rejected it. The 36 pillars of the monument represent the 36 states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s presidency
5. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Another famous monument in the National Mall is the memorial to the more than 58,000 servicemen and women who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. Two 200’ long walls of black granite stand engraved with their names. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the most visited attraction in Washington DC. Each year it draws over 5 million visitors!
6. American History
Washington DC was not always our nation’s capital. The capital had moved between several locations including Philadelphia and New York City. The Residence Act of 1790 selected the current site along the Potomac River to serve as the capital.
The Founding Fathers believed the nation could be best run from a neutral ground. If one state “owned” the capital, it could lead to an imbalance of power. The states of Maryland and Virginia donated land to the cause of establishing the nation’s new capital
Britain sought to take back its former colony in the War of 1812, and even attacked Washington DC in 1814, burning down much of the White House. Washington DC also suffered one brief attack in the Civil War. One of the most remarkable aspects of this war was that the Confederate capital, Richmond, Virginia, lay less than 100 miles away from Washington DC.
❗ Fun Fact: You win some, you lose some. In 1847 DC gave Virginia back the land it donated. Less than 15 years later, Virginia lost much more when West Virginia broke away. Read about it in Meg’s article, “What is West Virginia Known For?”
7. Smithsonian Institution
Washington DC also has America’s most visited museum–the Smithsonian Museum. It might be more accurate, though, to say Smithsonian Museums. The Smithsonian Institution encompasses 19 museums and galleries. Most of these lie within the national mall or elsewhere in Washington DC. Two are in New York City and one in Chantilly, Virginia.
Some of the most noteworthy in Washington DC include:
- The American Indian National Museum (National Museum of the American Indian)
- The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
- The National Museum of African American History and Culture
- The Freer Gallery of Art (Asian Art)
- The National Museum of Natural History
- The National Portrait Gallery
- The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (traditional and modern art)
- The National Gallery of Art
8. The National Zoo
Though not a museum or gallery per se, the National Zoo is also part of the Smithsonian Institution. The zoo consists of two facilities, one in Washington DC itself, and another a short distance away in Virginia.
The facility in DC itself houses creatures of all kinds from around the world. Land mammals, reptiles, tropical birds, and more all reside at the National Zoo.
The Virginia site, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, focuses on wildlife preservation and recovery for endangered species. It has a vast array of plant life of all kinds, from trees to shrubs as well as several endangered species.
9. Mount Vernon
Another place associated with George Washington in the Washington DC area is his home at Mount Vernon. The first president’s historic house stands preserved as a museum with a wealth of information on his life. It’s a great place to get a glimpse at the more personal side of the legendary leader.
10. The March on DC
One of the most famous events to transpire in the National Mall was the March on DC led by Martin Luther King Jr. In 1963, MLK Jr. gave his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech before a crowd of tens of thousands of people. His memory is also enshrined in a memorial just south of the Reflecting Pool.
❓ Trivia Time: Washington DC is known for MLK Jr.’s most famous speech. The state of Alabama is Known For several other famous events in his life. Follow the link to learn more!
11. FBI Headquarters
Washington DC is home to office buildings of other institutions besides the three main branches. The most well-known of these, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has its headquarters at the J. Edgar Hoover Building.
J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI, passed away days before the completion of the building. This cemented the government’s decision to honor the man who helped bring down America’s most notorious crime lord, Al Capone.
The building represents the Brutalist school of architecture. The term “Brutalist” derives from the French béton brut, meaning “raw concrete.” The name carries a certain irony with it because the utilitarian aesthetics don’t always appeal to many people’s ideas of beauty
❓ Trivia Time: Along with the legendary conflicts of federal agents and crime lords, What is America Known For?
12. IRS Headquarters
Everyone’s least favorite part of the government is also headquartered in Washington DC. The Internal Revenue Service processes federal taxes, tax returns, and other tax-related matters. The building stands on Pennsylvania Avenue along with other famous landmarks such as the White House and the United States Capitol.
13. The National Cathedral
One of the most famous landmarks in the greater Washington DC Metropolitan Area is the National Cathedral. The Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul offers a departure from the usual neo-classical style, showcasing neo-Gothic architecture and a wide array of stained-glass windows.
14. International Organizations
Besides the federal government, many international organizations also have headquarters in Washington DC. The World Bank, the United Nations High Commission, and several others, are among their ranks. Other major international organizations at least maintain offices in Washington DC.
15. Rock Creek Park
This park offers a little green amidst the urban cityscape of Washington DC. Congress designated this area as a park in 1890 and the National Park Service oversees it. Rock Creek Park was the third location incorporated into the National Park System. Yellowstone in Wyoming was the first and Mackinac National Park in Michigan was second.
16. The Tidal Basin
Washington DC sits on the banks of the Potomac River, which winds its way down from the Appalachian Mountains to the sea. The basin was built after a severe flood in 1881 to help regulate the flow of the river. Many of the most famous monuments lie along the shores of the Tidal Basin.
The Tidal Basin is known for the cherry trees that grow along its shores also. Each spring, Washington DC hosts the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in honor of the graceful blossoms.
❗ Trivia Time: What States Do the Appalachian Mountains Go Through?
17. The Old Stone House
This historic house is one of the humbler, yet still noteworthy attractions in DC. Located at 3051 M Street NW, the house has stood since circa 1766, and is the oldest building in Washington DC. It now operates as a museum, open from sunrise to sunset.
18. Union Station
One of the best ways to get to Washington DC for many years was by rail. Trains arriving in and departing from Washington DC used Union Station as their base. Known for its beautiful architecture, it became a popular tourist attraction in its own right. Modern visitors also enjoy the exclusive shopping and dining options present here.
19. Pro Sports Teams
Aside from the government, Washington DC is known for its sports teams. Though they may not have the illustrious legacies of sports teams elsewhere in the nation, their games still draw loyal crowds.
DC’s sports teams include:
- The Washington Capitals (NHL)
- The Washington Commanders (formerly Washington Redskins) (NFL)
- The Washington Mystics (WNBA)
- The Washington Nationals (MLB)
- The Washington Wizards (NBA)
20. Dupont Circle
Besides downtown, the DC area has several residential zones. Among the most famous of these is Dupont Circle. Here one can find a wide variety of cafes, clubs, and other urban attractions. The neighborhood’s name comes from the traffic circle around which it is built.
21. Ben’s Chili Bowl
One of the most famous restaurants in Washington DC serves classic American dishes such as the hot dog. Of course, it wouldn’t be truly American unless it added a distinctive local twist. At Ben’s the famous “half-smokes” combine pork, beef, and spices in a hot dog with a more ground-meat texture than other dogs.
22. Municipal Fish Market at The Wharf
Along with grand, historic monuments, Washington DC has some lesser-known claims to fame. One such location is the Municipal Fish Market at The Wharf, the oldest fish market in the United States. DC’s connection to the ocean via the Potomac supplies it with an abundance of fresh seafood.
23. Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
One of the best restaurants to go to for seafood in DC is the Pearl Dive Oyster Palace. Sitting on 14th Street NW, the restaurant gives patrons a taste of the sea’s bounty with a rustic, nautical charm. Though not part of the state of Maryland, Washington DC is known for sharing in the culinary customs of the surrounding area.
FAQs About Washington DC
Is Washington DC part of Maryland?
Washington DC is not part of Maryland, but its own entity. This issue is nuanced and sometimes controversial. Check out our article on the question of “What State is Washington DC In?” for an in-depth examination.
What famous people are from Washington DC?
Famous people from Washington DC include Dave Chapelle, Duke Ellington, and Samuel L. Jackson.
What is special about Washington DC?
Washington DC has a unique array of national monuments built in neoclassical style. It is also the home of the world’s largest museum–the Smithsonian Institution.
What do you call someone from Washington DC?
Local residents of Washington DC call themselves Washingtonians. This does create a degree of ambiguity with the state of Washington. No one seems bothered enough to change it, though.
I hope you have enjoyed learning about what Washington DC is known for! It’s a must for any American’s bucket list!