When you think of the ideal spots to celebrate the birth of our nation, Washington, D.C., is an obvious choice. As our country’s capital and seat of power, it’s synonymous with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—the basis of what Independence Day is all about. And while there are plenty of political sites in the area to peruse—hello, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the White House—The District also provides several other attractions to experience, especially when it comes to 4th of July events. From attending “A Capitol Fourth” concert at the U.S. Capitol and viewing fireworks on the National Mall to seeing the National Independence Day Parade, options abound. So the question remains…how do you decide? That’s where we come in with the tips and tricks for making the most of the holiday when you head there.
Things to Do in Washington, D.C., for the 4th of July
Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., features a host of concerts, festivities, and parades in honor of the big day. Let’s start with one event people across the nation (and even the world) know and love: the National Independence Day Parade. Running along Constitution Avenue from 7th to 17th Streets, spectators in the hundreds of thousands line up for the 11:45am start time to see a range of bands, celebrities, drum corps, drill teams, floats, national dignitaries, and more. Next, let’s consider celebrations happening at two historical sites: Mount Vernon and the National Archives. At Mount Vernon, visitors will get to visit the estate’s museums with its breathtaking gardens and views, which double as the final resting place of George and Martha Washington. Attendees will get to see made-for-daytime fireworks, “meet” George Washington, watch the National Concert Band perform, and observe a ceremony of people from across the globe becoming U.S. citizens. Meanwhile, at the National Archives, family activities include signing a copy of the Declaration of Independence, crafts, games, and greetings from George and Martha Washington re-enactors (among other things…).
Other attractions for peak patriotism include the National Portrait Gallery, an exhibit that features a collection of past presidents’ portraits, other renowned paintings and sculptures, and interactive elements to elevate the experience. Of course, sports fans will gravitate toward a Washington Nationals game, because what’s more American than watching America’s favorite pastime on America’s birthday? As for the star-studded, “A Capitol Fourth”—which begins before fireworks on the National Mall—start time is 8:00pm. The 40-year tradition always highlights some of the biggest names in the music industry and provides the best soundtrack for celebrating Independence Day.
But for those who want to combine food, music, and spectacular fireworks views, the 4th of July Premier Dinner Cruise can’t be beat. This 3-hour experience on the Potomac River encompasses a 3-course plated dinner, innovative cocktails, beer, wine, a live DJ, and stunning sights of the Washington, D.C., skyline and local landmarks that you can take in from the open-air outdoor decks. And once dinner is complete, fireworks will light up the night, and you’ll have a front-row seat to it all….
Fireworks Shows in Washington, D.C., for the 4th of July
Now that you have an idea of what to do in Washington, D.C., 4th of July weekend, it’s time to talk about what really sparkles on this special occasion—fabulous fireworks, and our nation’s capital illuminates them high in the sky. The most popular spot in the city to see them is undoubtedly the National Mall. If you can grab a space near the Jefferson or Lincoln Memorials or the Washington Monument, you’re in luck. The 17-minute show usually begins a bit after 9:00pm. There are specific public access entry points, plenty of road closures, and a list of prohibited items that are important to know before you go, so checking out the National Park Service for insights and updates is a must before you plan anything.
For eagle eyes who love to view fireworks in more upscale settings, rooftop bars throughout the city provide some great alternatives. There’s Smoke & Mirrors at the AC Hotel Washington, D.C., Capitol Hill Navy Yards, the Summit Rooftop at the Conrad, the Top of the Gate at the Watergate Hotel, and VUE Rooftop at Hotel Washington—to name a few. Other options include the Supreme Court Building with its spacious plaza, the Washington National Cathedral with its own elevated vantage point, and Hains Point In East Potomac Park with its beautiful river views. Outside the city proper, those wishing to avoid the crowds may choose to view the fireworks from across the Potomac River at locations such as the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial) or the Netherlands Carillon in Virginia. Be sure to check with each venue to find out about requirements, reservations, and restrictions.
What to Do in Washington, D.C., 4th of July Weekend
Even though you may have come to town looking for things to do in Washington, D.C., for the 4th of July, that doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to strictly Independence Day–related activities. Because The District has other family-friendly attractions designed with fun in mind too. For example, walking tours will help you get a handle on the landscape while simultaneously providing a good boost of exercise. Meanwhile, a variety of museums and monuments await visitors who want to level up their education in art, culture, history, science, and more. Adventurous types might accept a mission to prowl for spies, while foodies are bound to seek out the city’s top dishes and where to savor them. Those who imbibe will want to seek out the hottest cocktail bars to peep politicians, and anyone wanting to head to Old Town Alexandria can discover hidden treasures all over town. When it comes to dining and touring the city by boat, City Experiences serves up gourmet dishes for every meal of the day including a Premier Brunch Cruise, Signature Lunch Cruise, and Signature Dinner Cruise.
Before heading to Washington, D.C., for the weekend, it’s important to remember a few key points. This holiday is a major event for the nation so crowds should be expected no matter where you go. Temperatures can run in the mid to high-80s during the day but could cool down to the mid-60s at night, so dress accordingly and don’t forget your sunscreen. Parking is limited at many locations throughout the city for security reasons, so check with your hotel (or host) about availability and options. Pets may be allowed in some of the places listed above for festivities, but rules do vary, so call to confirm whether or not they’re welcome prior to booking.
Sit Back, Relax, and Enjoy the Show!
The 4th of July is America’s largest party. After all, it’s not often a country commemorates turning 246. In fact, it will only happen once, so there’s no reason not to make the most of it. With everything our nation’s capital has to offer—from Independence Day activities to other attractions and experiences—it’s easy to see that a festive and fun 4th of July in Washington, D.C., is a guarantee.