Smithsonian Castle on a cloudy day

6 Ideas for Rainy Day Activities in Washington, DC

Washington, DC, often looks best in nicer weather. The National Mall and the monuments are spread out with minimal coverage, there are parks to explore, and all the neighborhoods require a lot of walking. If you find yourself in the city on a rainy day, here are a few rainy day activities in Washington, DC. Grab your umbrella, raincoat, and waterproof shoes!

1. Visit the Museums on the National Mall

You might arrive in Washington, DC, on a rainy day, take one look at the National Mall, and think that wide-open outdoor space is not going to be fun. But with some waterproof shoes and an umbrella, you can scurry into a museum and spend a day exploring.

Visit museums that take a lot of time: The National Museum of Natural History and The National Museum of American History can take at least 4 hours to explore. They do not require timed tickets, so these are great options for a surprise rainstorm. The National Museum of African American History can easily take an entire day if you visit all of the floors. This museum does require timed tickets and may only be an option if you can plan ahead. These museums are all fairly close together on Constitution Ave so you could do a half day at each.

Museums Focused on Art: The National Museum of Asian Art and The National Museum of African Art are small compared to other Smithsonian museums but are connected by underground hallways. You can easily visit both without stepping outside. After exploring these two museums, continue your day with contemporary art at the Hirshhorn Museum right next door.

Meals: Food can be limited on the National Mall. Plan to eat a big breakfast before you start your day, and then pick out a restaurant near the National Mall ahead of time. This way, you can grab an Uber or quickly walk straight there when it’s time for dinner.

African Elephant
Natural History Museum

2. Explore Capitol Hill

To avoid a lot of walking outside, keep your rainy day activities close by choosing 3 to 4 attractions on Capitol Hill. You’ll still need a good umbrella to walk between spots, but planning your trip around the Capitol Hill area will help keep you inside and dry as much as possible.

Capitol Building Tour
Open every day except Sunday
Tours run 8:30 am to 4:30 pm (the last tour leaves at 3:20)
Free

Start your day with a 1-hour tour of the Capitol Building! Reservations are highly recommended. Some tickets are available the day of, but go early to make sure you get a spot. You can get walk-up tickets until 2:30 or until they run out.

The National Gallery of Art
Open daily
10 am to 5 pm
Free

To the left of the Capitol Building (if you are looking at it), you’ll find the National Gallery of Art. This museum has two buildings: the East Building holds contemporary art, and the West Building holds European and American art from the 11th to 20th centuries. Depending on how much you want to see and read, you could spend between 1 and 4 hours here. If you are bouncing between attractions, I’d recommend picking only 1 of the wings to enjoy or treating the whole museum like 2 attractions fully. There are tours throughout the day in both buildings, so check online or ask the information desk when you arrive. Despite its location on the National Mall, the museum is not part of the Smithsonian but is free to enjoy.

US Botanic Gardens:
Open daily except December 25
10 am to 5 pm
Free

If you need a little nature in your rainy day, head to the US Botanic Gardens to the right of the Capitol Building. My favorite part of the conservatory is the tropics area with a canopy walk so you can see the planets from high up. You can also explore other plant life like world deserts, Hawaii, plants that make medicine, orchids, and more.

The Supreme Court:
Open Monday to Friday except federal holidays
9 am to 3 pm
Free

While there are no guided tours at the Supreme Court, you can see explore some part of the building at your own pace and enjoy exhibits. Exhibits discuss topics like how the Supreme Court works, the rise of women attorneys, and the history of key cases like Brown v Board of Education.

3. Spend the Day at The Wharf

First things first. Get yourself a warm treat and coffee from District Doughnuts or Colada Shop. Don’t start the day on an empty stomach. Then, stay dry by spending a day at the Spy Museum. This interactive museum will keep your group busy for at least 4 hours. Ticket prices vary slightly by day but generally range between $30 and $35 for adults. Children under 6 are free. Try to grab tickets and least a day in advance because they usually sell out by the day of.

Next, grab a cab or rideshare to Artechhouse, an art hall with rotating exhibits that uses light, sound, and technology to bring an idea to life. Exhibits rotate approximately every 3 to 4 months so there’s always something new to see. There’s also a bar which features themed cocktails based on the current exhibit. Tickets are $27 for adults over 16, $19 for kids 4 to 15, and $22 for DC locals. Plan to spend about 1 to 2 hours.

Photo of Kelley at Artechouse in DC with a drink and background of pink and purple flowers
Artechouse March 2024

Finally, grab a meal at one of The Wharf’s cozy restaurants. Kirwan’s Irish Pub and Mi Vida both have cozy, rustic atmospheres – perfect for a rainy day. Or if warm, grab-and-go food is more your speed, grab burgers from Shake Shack or Lucky Buns or seafood from Gordan Ramsey’s Fish and Chips.

4. Hang Out at a Brewery

Many of the breweries in Washington, DC are along the Metropolitan Beer Trail, a section of the Metropolitan Branch Trail generally centered around the Rhode Island metro stop. Generally, I’d recommend exploring the beer trail on a nicer day but there are few good indoor spots for a rainy day. Plus, if you’re hungry, stop by Union Market. This indoor food hall has a variety of beloved DC food vendors, from full meals to sweet treats. Breweries with covered space along the trail include:

  • City State with indoor space and a covered patio
  • Dew Drop Inn with several levels of covered space
  • Lost Generation with a long bar and picnic-style tables inside
  • Red Bear Brewing with indoor bar seating and tables

Other breweries with cozy indoor spaces include:

  • Hellbender near Fort Totten but plan to grab an Uber from the metro
  • Bluejacket in Navy Yard (metro accessible)
  • Right Proper in Shaw (metro accessible)

5. Adams Morgan and the National Zoo

A day exploring Adams Morgan and the National Zoo works better on a light rain day because there is more time outside involved. First, grab breakfast or lunch at Open City or Dukes Counter. Dukes is directly across the street from the zoo. Next, head to the zoo where you can stay dry in the Small Mammal House, The Great Ape House, and the Reptile Discover Center. All of these buildings are close to each so you can hop between them easily and center your visit around these indoor spots. The National Zoo requires free timed tickets but there are usually plenty available with short notice.

After the zoo, head to Adams Morgan for a cozy meal. You’ll have to cross the William Howard Taft Bridge, which can get windy. Grab a cab or Uber if needed. Enjoy a cozy meal at Retrobottega (Italian), Jack Rose Dining Saloon (whiskey bar), or Perry’s (sushi). Adams Morgan is a late-night spot filled with bars so if you have kids or don’t want to brave the bridge, stay near the zoo and grab dinner at Nando’s Peri-Peri or District Kitchen.

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