7 cool things to do in Washington DC

Guest blogger Jillian Tobias from Ishouldlogoff.com offers an alternative Washington guide, for those of you who enjoy their sightseeing with a bit of a twist…

There’s a lot more to do in Washington, DC than just Smithsonian museums and government buildings. It’s got a great restaurant scene and lots of great neighborhoods to explore off the national mall. The entire area is crawling with interesting and out of the way historical sites that won’t put you to sleep. The best thing about DC is that a lot of places are free or offer student prices, so don’t be afraid to pull out your student ID and ask.

1. Jazz in the Garden

7th and Constitution Streets, NW

The Smithsonian opens their sculpture garden to free live jazz concerts Friday evenings from 5-8:30pm through September. From progressive to swing and Latin, the groups are always changing, but the atmosphere is young, hip and a lot of fun. Get their early, bring a blanket and take a picnic. There’s a cafe on site, but it’s a little pricey. You can see this years schedule here.

2. Ben’s Chili Bowl

1213 U Street, NW

This place is starting to become mainstream, but that’s ok because it’s got the best chili and great atmosphere. It’s good when you’re in the mood for a delicious and cheap greasy spoon. Obviously it’s famous for chili, but eat like a Washington local and order a chili half smoke. The place is a historic landmark and well known by politicians and locals alike – Obama has been spotted here! Despite the name it’s vegetarian friendly. Go next door to Ben’s Next Door for a more refined atmosphere.  A chili dog and fries is under €7.

3. Eastern Market/Barrack’s Row

8th & Pennsylvania Avenues, SE

While Georgetown boasts the high end shopping, DC is full of neighborhoods that still house local shopping districts, with local merchants and boutiques. On weekends, Eastern Market is a great place to look for antiques, funky items and something you’re unlikely to find at home.It’s hungry work rummaging, so grab a quick bite at the market (it’s really a farmers market that happens to have lots of unique crafts!) and make a cheap and enjoyable day out of it.

4. Library of Congress

101 Independence Avenue, SE

You’ll probably visit more than one museum in DC, but don’t skip the Library of Congress no matter what your guidebook says. The main building is spectacular and the exhibits are interesting and, unlike all the other museums, not crowded. You’ll get a thought provoking look into America’s history standing within the walls of world class architecture! Definitely don’t miss the new map that’s on display, it’s believed to be the first map to call the Western Hemisphere the Americas. Ooh, and it is free!

5. Monuments by Night

Your mom will probably be angry if you go to DC and don’t take pictures of yourself at the monuments. But do your friends a favor and give them some unique pictures to look at – go at night. Yes, those monuments don’t shut down at night. The bathrooms might be locked, but they light up like Christmas trees when the sun goes down, giving your pictures a little something special. Besides the incredible atmosphere and lighting, the sites are also significantly less crowded, giving you time to look around especially if you time your excursion after the night tours, which generally start around 8pm. I’m doing you budget travellers right again – there’s no charge for visiting the monuments at night.

6. Microbreweries

The DC area is home to a lot of local microbreweries (does politics drive us to drink?) Be sure to sample a pint or two at Capitol City Brewing Company (2 Massachussetts Ave, NE) in the city, or if you want to get out of town, head to Gaithersburg for Dogfish Head Ale House (800 W. Diamond Ave, Gaithersburg) or Alexandria for Shenandoah Brewing Company (652 S. Pickett Street). If a global assortment of beer is what you’re looking for, head to Penn Quarter and check out RFD Washington (810 7th Street NW). Look for happy hour specials each day.

7. Kennedy Center

2700 F Street, NW

In the mood for love? Take your crush of the moment to the top of the Kennedy Center at night. Sure the place is gorgeous to begin with, but you will probably have the rooftop to yourself. That means you are in for a free, romantic and secluded view of the city and the Potomac river. Score bonus points by going to the free Millenium Stage show held every night at 6pm before grabbing dinner in Georgetown. If the date survived dinner, head back to the Kennedy Center for star gazing and breathtaking views of the monuments by night.

You can’t skip the typical touristy sites in DC, but take a few steps off the beaten path and you’ll see another side to this hip, friendly city! If you need a cheap place to stay, try a Washington youth hostel or check out our top 3 cheap Washington hostels.

Thanks to Reading Tom, fortherock, jiazi, rjs1322, EvinDC and ShashiBellamkonda for the images off Flickr! Please note, all images were suitable for use at time of publication according to the Creative Commons License.

If you know of  any good hidden gems in Washington, please share them with us below!

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