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Washington, DC has plenty to offer visitors: Free access to museums, a long list of historical sites, and arguably one of the best zoos in the nation. If you’re visiting for the first time, you’ll want to check out DC’s monuments and memorials, Smithsonian museums, and iconic buildings such as the U.S. Capitol and the White House. But if you’re looking for ways to experience Washington, DC without the crowds (or beyond its most famous landmarks), try one of these hidden gems, private tours, or things to see in DC that we consider to be (some of) the best attractions the city has to offer.
Private Tour of the National Cathedral
Sure, a museum is a great place to wait out a rainstorm. But the Kogod Courtyard, connected to the National Portrait Gallery (this author’s personal favorite Washington, DC museum), is an incredible wonder beyond the paintings and sculptures. With a glass canopy and airy space, it’s a site to see unto itself—when it rains, you seem to be surrounded by the sky, but when the sun is on full display, a lattice pattern is painted across the entire courtyard, revealing interesting sections you likely would have missed. While it’s free to enter both the museum and courtyard, we recommend a private tour to learn hidden insights and a few subversive stories about the portraits on display.
Kogod Courtyard and National Portrait Gallery Tour
Located in an upper northwest neighborhood of Washington, DC, near good shopping and restaurants, is the National Cathedral. While the cathedral is open to the public, you’ll want a more private viewing. Tickets aren’t readily available—you’ll need to request a private tour via their website—but you’ll get access to parts of the building most people never see. There are 215 stained-glass windows and 112 gargoyles—perhaps the most popular being the grotesque limestone bust of Darth Vadar. If you’re a Star Wars fan, this tour is a must.
This is not only a great way to tour the city, but a great date idea for locals. This DC by moonlight private tour, which lasts about three hours, allows guests to see top attractions like the monuments, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court, all lit up and without crowds. You’ll have time to get out and take photos, too.
Experience springtime in Washington, DC during the Cherry Blossom Festival with two very special private tours. The first tour takes you through the city’s top landmarks via car, with cherry blossoms in full view (great for the perfect photo opp), while the second allows you to be immersed in the blooms while on a bike. Both tours provide a guided history of the cherry blossoms’ meaning and history.
Away from the bustle of Washington, DC, visitors can nuzzle up to horses at Rock Creek Horse Center. Just seven minutes from downtown Washington, DC, you can walk along wooded trails in Rock Creek Park for about an hour. After your ride, visit the barn for a behind-the-scenes tour and “meet and greet” with the horses. Trail rides and barn tours are priced separately.
Private Tour of the International Spy Museum
Led by former intelligence officers and historians, this cool private tour of the International Spy Museum is a great way to uncover the shadowy history of espionage. You’ll have access to intelligence other visitors won’t, and you’ll unearth the secrets to certain exhibits (we wish we could divulge more). This books up quickly and is only accessible via a request. No security clearances needed.
The Mini Golf Course at East Potomac is the oldest operating mini-golf course in the country—it’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Just a quarter mile from the famed monuments on The Mall, this mini-golf adventure is located on Hains Point, which to locals is the best place to escape humid DC summers because the course is between two bodies of water—the Washington Channel and the Potomac River, so golfers will be delighted by a cool breeze.
One of the best haunted tours of Washington, DC is the Ghosts of Georgetown. On this walking tour, you’ll learn eerie facts, hidden histories, and the darker past of this upscale neighborhood. You’ll visit the “Exorcist stairs” as well as locations with active ghost sightings, and hear true crime and supernatural stories while walking through the city’s oldest neighborhood with a licensed guide.
Or, try the Boos and Booze tour, which takes guests to the city’s most historic haunts and spookiest bars on a four-hour tour. Listen to stories of paranormal sightings and ghastly ghosts said to haunt some of DC’s oldest bars.