9 Hidden Gems of Washington DC That You Can’t Miss

Washington, DC is filled with landmarks, monuments, museums and many other diversions that will keep anyone occupied for days or weeks. The White House, the Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial, the National Gallery of Art, Arlington National Cemetery, and the United States Capitol Building are but a few of the iconic attractions of the capital city of the United States. However, there are also quite a few hidden gems in Washington, DC that you cannot miss on your next trip.

We are talking about another side of Washington, DC that few know about. The quirky side. The hidden part. The swath of DC that is concealing hidden bars, little-known historic sites lurking in plain sight, and underground spaces await that are beyond the typical tourist attractions—these are the best hidden gems of Washington, DC.

While the city may be brimming with fascinating landmarks, today we are going to show you to a lesser-known side of Washington, DC. Photo credit: Daniel Lobo

DC History Center

Located in Mt. Vernon Square and founded in 1894, the DC History Center isn’t as bland as the name suggests. Here you can immerse yourself into the city’s fascinating history. The “Big Picture” exhibit features 74 plus-sized of the city spanning the 20th century. You’ll leave here with a better appreciation for this city of 700,000 people.

By Bobak Ha'Eri - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4760039
The non-profit organization is located inside the  Carnegie Library, which is in the center of Mount Vernon Square. Photo credit: Bobak Ha’Eri

Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument

On Capitol Hill and housed in a brick federal-period building that was burned by the British during the War of 1812, the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument is home to the National Women’s Party, which for 90 years was the epicenter for the struggle for women’s rights. In 2016, President Barack Obama designated the building a national monument.

When you go, make sure to ask at the entrance about the ranger-led tours they offer. Photo credit: Wayne Hsieh

Dupont Underground

Literally under Dupont Circle, this subterranean space was once a trolley station. It lay abandoned until an arts organization moved in. Today you can explore the underground space while taking in an art exhibit. Dupont Underground offers a series of art-leaning entertainment. In addition to contemporary art, there are talks and performances too.

underground tunnel with a wall full of graffiti
This is the place to go if you want to get a good look into DC’s vibrant arts and culture scene. Photo credit: Daniel Lobo

National Law Enforcement Museum

In a city crammed with museums, some smaller institutions get overlooked. The National Law Enforcement Museum is one of them. This immersive, hands-on museum is much more interesting than the name suggests. Here you can try your hand at apprehending a criminal (you even get to hold a fake pistol) and can be a 911 operator for a few minutes, taking (fake) emergency calls.

Fun and informative for both kids and adults, this museum is a great stop for families. Photo credit: NCinDC

Smokey Bear’s office

“Only you can prevent forest fires.” Smokey Bear’s famous line. Pop into the lobby of the Forest Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to see an animatronic Smokey the Bear who comes alive to repeat his signature line about forest fires. There’s also a mini forest and a lodge, modeled after a lodge from the 1920s with real century-old artifacts. 

National Arboretum

 Established in 1927, the National Arboretum is 446 verdant acres of plants, trees, and greenery. The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, located within the arboretum, exhibits a legion of stunning miniature Japanese and Chinese trees. 

Another highlight of the arboretum are the National Capitol Columns, a collection of 22 Corinthian columns that were part of the east portico of the US Capitol in 1828. During the course of the construction of the building, designers realized a structural flaw in the columns and removed them and now they’re here, making for a very popular photo op.  

When the Capital’s dome was completed in 1866, the city had to find a place to relocate the original Corinthian columns. Photo credit: Kirk Morris

Mt. Zion Cemetery

This 19th-century burial ground is a spot in Georgetown that was used to lay enslaved and freed Black slaves to rest. It’s worth a visit just for the historical ambience of the place and to reflect on a terrible chapter in American history. But the one feature you should seek out is an unassuming brick building. This structure was actually used as a waystation on the Underground Railroad for as many as 9,000 African Americans who were escaping slavery. Couple your visit to Mt. Zion with a walking tour of Georgetown

This historic graveyard really is a must-see on any visit to DC. Photo credit: AgnosticPreachersKid

Denson Liquor Bar

In the shadow of Capital One Arena in the Penn Quarter is a hidden bar. When you’re at 66 F. Street, head down the metal staircase and you’ll soon  reach the alley. Look for the unmarked double doors. Open them and enter. Welcome to Denson Liquor Bar. This hidden and handsome cocktail bar shakes up a great old fashioned and stirs a fine dirty martini.

Plan a day trip to Mount Vernon

If you’re looking for even more adventure when visiting DC, why not take a day trip to historic Mount Vernon, home of America’s first president, George Washington?

The historic Mount Vernon is located just 15 miles south of Washington DC so it makes for an excellent day trip. Photo credit: m01229

Join us on a journey through history with a fully guided tour of Mount Vernon estate and Potomac River. Delve into the life of George Washington as you explore his beloved home and grounds, while also enjoying a scenic river cruise showcasing iconic sights of Washington, DC. Get to know these rich stories and significant landmarks that shaped America’s foundation.

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About the author

David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes at https://www.tripout.online/ and https://dfarley.com/index.html

More by David Farley

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