The capital of the United States is teeming with museums and monuments, making it easy to fill an itinerary without ever stepping foot off the National Mall. But you’ll find it just as simple and entertaining to venture off the beaten path once in a while.
Rent a bicycle
The best way to break free of the Mall’s temptations is to hop on two wheels. Throughout the District, you’ll see racks of red and yellow bikes courtesy of Capital Bikeshare. The company’s 2,000 bicycles are made available 24/7 as a healthier alternative to catching a cab or riding the Metro. There are a variety of membership options online, or you can opt to swipe your credit card at the rack’s kiosk for a $7 one-day pass.
See a Shakespearean show
Pop quiz: where is the largest collection of Shakespeare materials in the world? London or Stratford-upon-Avon might be your first guess, but this record-breaking collection is actually on our side of the pond thanks to the Folger Shakespeare Library. The museum exhibits rotating historical displays, which might cover anything from Renaissance cryptography to Elizabethan heraldry, and offers free tours of the reading room once a week. The affiliated Folger Theater stages excellent productions ranging from classical Bard works like Julius Caesar to Shakespeare-inspired pieces like Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
Grab a bite in Arlington
There are plenty of places to dine in the city center, but for a more local eating experience, follow in the footsteps of countless commuters and make your way to one of D.C.’s suburbs. Arlington is just a quick Metro trip across the Potomac River and you’ll be justly rewarded for the schlep with a collection of hip restaurants. If a quick snack is all you need, chow down on a taco from the El Chilango food truck or a sandwich piled high with Boar’s Head meats from Rosslyn Coffee & Deli. If a romantic dinner date is more your speed, pull up a seat to Greek-inspired tapas at Cava Mezze in Clarendon.
Explore the Botanic Gardens
The National Zoo might magnetize families with kids and other nature lovers, but you can skip the crowds and still get close to nature at the United States Botanic Garden. Everything from jungle plants to orchids and roses to educational exhibits has free admission, making this stop as easy on the wallet as it is on the eyes. Time your visit for a weekday morning for the shortest lines.
Go dancing at Glen Echo Park
During the day, this former amusement park, is a great attraction for families with summertime drawing classes and rides on the restored 1921 carousel, but to get the full Glen Echo experience head over to the Spanish Ballroom one night. Every Thursday through Sunday, a variety of dance forms take over the park. You’ll see hoppin’ 1940s swing, classical waltzes, and even salacious salsa. No partner or experience is necessary to join in the fun – just turn up for the beginner lesson that kicks off each night.