Best DC Photo Spots

The 24 Best Places to Take Pictures in Washington DC

After spending years filling my Instagram feed (@someguy) with beautiful photos of Washington DC. Including well known spots like the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and the Tidal Basin to less known spots in the city. The Best Washington DC Instagram Spots // ihitthebutton.com

I want to share my list of the best places to photograph in DC! Additionally I have also included some of the best times to visit specific spots.

The easiest way to get around DC is to use the Metro. You can walk to most of the spots listed by heading to the Smithsonian metro stop on the mall. You can also use Google maps to map any spot and it’ll show you the proper metro stop to get there.

If you aren’t a fan of the metro you can also rent a bike using the Capital Bikeshare or my personal favorite grabbing a scooter. Plenty of companies have popped up with scooters all over DC including Lime, Uber, and Lyft. If you have the Uber or Lyft app you can easily go to them and select to scooter option to see scooters around you. Just remember to check the parking map since a lot of the National Mall is a no parking zone for scooters.

Here is my list of the best places to take photos in Washington DC:

The Washington Monument

View of the Washington Monument from the Tidal Basin with birds

The Washington Monument from the Tidal Basin

The most iconic and recognizable building in DC is hard not to photograph since it’s DC’s tallest building. From the Tidal Basin, steps of the Lincoln Memorial or standing right next to it, the Washington Monument looks great from all angles.

You can also get a unique angle of the Washington Monument from the POV bar at the W Hotel. It’s kind of awkward to walk in and take a quick photo but I have never had an issue doing it.

Plus you can visit the Washington Monument grounds 24 hours a day; which makes it a great place to photograph late at night. (Currently the grounds and tickets to the top are suspended until August 2019)

Washington Monument on Google Maps

The US Capitol

The United States Capitol in Washington DC

East Side of The United States Capitol

Now that the US Capitol is scaffolding free it’s primed for taking photos. There are plenty of views of the Capitol around the city but if you want a more iconic view head to the east side of the building. On the east side of the Capitol there are huge glass panels that are great for getting reflections of the dome in.

If you arrive at the Capitol for sunrise I highly recommend setting up at the Capitol Reflecting Pool which will give you a great reflection of the sky and Capitol dome. For sunrise I typically park on Madison Dr NW which has paid parking starting at 6am.

You can also enter the Capitol if you have tickets. Tickets can be picked up the same day you visit but I recommend viewing their website for full details.

Unique Times to Visit: Head to the Capitol during the holidays and you’ll be able to see the Capitol Christmas Tree lit up on the west lawn.

US Capitol on Google Maps

The Bridge at The Yards Park

The Bridge At The Yards in Washington DC

The Bridge At The Yards Park

If you love unique architecture the bridge at The Yards if a fantastic spot to capture day or night. I wouldn’t recommend heading here too late since you’ll be hassled by security guards after 10pm.

To avoid large crowds avoid this spot when a National’s game is happening. After exploring Yard Park make a stop by Ice Cream Jubilee for a delicious scoop.

The Yards Park on Google Maps

CityCenterDC

Citycenter DC Summer 2019

Palmer Alley at CityCenterDC for Summer 2019

I love CityCenter because it offers an extremely modern look (plus you can stop at Momofuku Milk Bar for ice cream or Dolcezza for gelato or coffee). CityCenterDC has to be one of the most instagrammable places in DC.

In the center you’ll find a massive LED screen which is fun to shoot at night with a friend. Plus there are tons of reflective surfaces including water features and store windows. If you want to see more from CityCenter before visiting you can watch my video where I visit at night.

Unique Times to Visit: During the DC Cherry Blossom Festival (usually in March) CityCenter adds awesome pink lanterns to it’s Palmer Alley. Additionally for July they changed the lights in Palmer Alley to be red white and blue. During the Winter months they had giant snowflakes lining the Alley as well. The themes in Palmer Alley frequently change but if you check the location tag on Instagram you can see what it typically looks like that day.

CityCenterDC on Google Maps

The Friendship Arch in Chinatown

Long Exposure at Night in Washington DC's Chinatown

Friendship Arch in Washington DC’s Chinatown

Probably the most iconic part about DC’s Chinatown is the Friendship Arch right in front of the Capital One Arena. One thing I love about this intersection is that it turns into a 4 way stop allowing you to get into the middle of the road safely for a few seconds.

You can also take a photo of the Friendship Arch from above at the Crimson View bar in the Pod hotel.

There are also painted murals on the crosswalks that aren’t pictured in any of my photos.

Friendship Arch on Google Maps

Blind Whino (Super Colorful Church)

Colorful Church: Blind Whino in Washington DC

Blind Whino (Photo by @golightly)

One of the most colorful buildings in DC is Blind Whino. This colorful church is sure to add a splash of color to anyone’s Instagram feed. The interior is periodically open as well which includes beautiful stained glass and local art shows.

Blind Whino on Google Maps

Tidal Basin

Jefferson Memorial Sunrise at the Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin

Jefferson Memorial Sunrise at the Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin

The Tidal Basin is a staple of Washington DC, I recommend visiting the Tidal Basin for peak cherry blossom bloom for the most iconic photos. The Tidal Basin also offers sweeping views of the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument.

Unique Time to Visit: I highly recommend visiting the Tidal Basin for the Cherry Blossom peak bloom which is usually in March. Do research before visiting since estimates are commonly off by a week or more.

Tidal Basin on Google Maps

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Sun bursting through the Jefferson Memorial in DC

Main hall of the Jefferson Memorial

If you’re walking around the Tidal Basin you can’t miss the Jefferson Memorial. The massive columns around the edges are beautiful and offer a great view of the Washington Monument.

Be prepared to walk to if you’re heading to the Jefferson Memorial. The parking lots are about 0.5 miles away and sometimes an Uber can be tough to get here. I have had luck getting cab on E Basin Dr SW when I have left the memorial.

Jefferson Memorial on Google Maps

James Madison Memorial Building

James Madison Memorial Building's Columns

Columns Outside of the James Madison Memorial Building

Right next to the Capitol and Library of Congress is the James Madison Memorial Building. The external columns located right outside of the building is perfect for stride bys, portraits, or even a background of engagement photos.

James Madison Building on Google Maps

Library of Congress

Library Of Congress Main Reading Room

Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is one of the largest libraries in the world and full of classic DC architecture.

The main reading room is one of the great sights to see in the library. You can view the reading room from a balcony on most days, plus on Columbus & Presidents’ Day you can enter the floor of the main reading room.

Library of Congress on Google Maps

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial from the Arlington Memorial Bridge

Lincoln Memorial from the Arlington Memorial Bridge

There are many great views of the Lincoln Memorial and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. There’s nothing like sitting with the columns of this Memorial during a sunset or sunrise. If you’re at the memorial I recommend walking around back to the west side to photograph the columns with no tourists in sight.

From the steps of the memorial you can also get fantastic photos of the Reflecting Pool. I love going down to the water and photographing the Washington Monument with epic reflections right against the water.

Lincoln Memorial on Google Maps

National Gallery of Art

Multiverse at the National Gallery of Art

Leo Villareal ‘Multiverse‘ at the National Gallery of Art

The NGA is one of DC’s many free and awesome museums with plenty to photograph (check out their rooftop on the east building). I usually stop in at the East building and photography their massive stairwell and light tunnel (perfect for bokeh lovers). There is plenty to see in the West building as well so I recommend exploring the entire thing.

Unique Time to Visit: During the holidays the light tunnel connecting the East and West building includes red and green colors.

National Gallery of Art on Google Maps

National Arboretum

Capitol Columns at the National Arboretum

Capitol Columns at the National Arboretum

The National Arboretum is a great outdoor space to shoot (plus it’s free!). From the Capitol Columns, Bonsai trees on display, and large fields it doesn’t get much better. The Arboretum is also perfect for a picnic or an engagement photoshoot. There are also a few trails to explore in the Arboretum including collections of plants from all over the world.

National Arboretum on Google Maps

ARTECHOUSE

ARTECHOUSE Cherry Blossom Art Installation (Spring 2019)

ARTECHOUSE Cherry Blossom Art Installation (Spring 2019)

One of the newest museums in DC is ARTECHOUSE which is loaded with seasonal interactive art. Before heading to ARTECHOUSE I recommend checking their website to see what exhibit is happening and to buy tickets. In addition to the interactive art spaces ARTECHOUSE has a small bar where they make cocktails that you can interact with using AR in their app.

ARTECHOUSE on Google Maps

Dumbarton Oaks Gardens

Dumbarton Oaks Greenhouse Orangery in Washington DC

The Orangery Greenhouse room at Dumbarton Oaks

Taking a trip to Dumbarton Oaks feels like you’re in a totally different country. With its $10 admission fee it’s well worth the price if you want to be engulfed in unique gardens. The grounds also include a museum to explore as well. People often photograph the Orangery which is a room covered in vines in the gardens.

Dumbarton Oaks on Google Maps

Hirshhorn Museum

Hirshhorn Museum At Night

Hirshhorn Atrium at Night

The Hirshhorn has become a very popular spot to Instagram in DC due to its Yayoi Kusama Exhibit that was in town in 2017. Entitled ‘Infinity Mirrors’ the exhibit offered infinity rooms with stunning reflective views. The exterior is built with a very unique circular architecture.

The Hirshhorn has also acquired a permanent Infinity Room from Kusama which will be open in 2020.

When you’re visiting the Hirshhorn you can also head next door to the Enid A. Haupt Garden next to the Smithsonian castle. Well worth the detour if the magnolias are in bloom (spring).

Hirshhorn on Google Maps

American Art Museum / Portrait Gallery

Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery

Kogod Courtyard at the National Portrait Gallery

The hallways and Kogod Courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery are some of the coolest places in DC to explore and photograph. The Kogod Courtyard also has a cafe and free wifi so it’s a great place to edit your photos. The museum has free entry and is open in Chinatown until 7pm.

One of the Portrait Gallery’s latest additions is Barack Obama’s official presidential portrait which is worth stopping in to see.

National Portrait Gallery on Google Maps

Union Station

Holiday Wreaths at Union Station in DC

Holiday Wreaths at Union Station

Union Station has classic beautiful architecture inside and out. I especially love the corridor just outside the front doors and the newly opened ceiling inside has epic hits of gold.

Union Station also includes a food court which is perfect for a quick bite.

Unique Times to Visit: If you visit during the holidays you’ll be treated to massive wreaths around the entrance. Additional around the 4th of July there are massive American flags in the same spot.

Union Station on Google Maps

The Watermelon House

Watermelon House in Washington DC

The Watermelon House mural in SHAW

If your Instagram account if full of colorful photos you’ll love the Watermelon House. With a massive watermelon mural on the side this house is sweet. Often when people are visiting the Watermelon House they will post a photo of themselves jumping in front of the mural. Additionally there is a cute kiwi mural next to it as well.

Watermelon House on Google Maps

Any Metro Station

Washington DC Metro Stop

Chinatown Metro Stop

Most of DC’s metro stops have the classic “Waffle” pattern pictured below but if you go out of the city a bit you’ll find even more unique stations. If you enjoy more modern architecture be sure to stop at the newly created Silver line stops. I don’t recommend using a tripod in the Metro stations but if you get caught acting like a clueless tourist should get you out of any trouble.

Chinatown Metro on Google Maps

Georgetown Row Houses

This isn’t a specific spot but a neighborhood full of beautiful row homes. If you love posting colorful houses on your Instagram feed this neighborhood is for you. If you visit during Halloween or Christmas you’ll see loads of decorations on people’s steps, windows, and doors.

You’ll have no trouble finding something to Instagram in Georgetown. Parking isn’t too bad and once you are parked I recommend just walking blocks to explore the area.

Georgetown on Google Maps

Washington DC Skyline from Arlington, VA

Washington DC Skyline

DC Skyline from The Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, VA

One of the best views of DC’s skyline is from The Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Virginia. It’s a classic view of the skyline with views of the US Capitol, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial, plus it’s a perfect spot for sunrise.

Also while visiting this spot you can visit the US Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial) which is a short walk away.

For this location you’ll need a lens with a good amount of zoom, I shot this with a 300mm on a full-frame camera.

Iwo Jima Sunrise

Iwo Jima Memorial at Sunrise

The Netherlands Carillon on Google Maps

United States Air Force Memorial

Air Force Memorial In DC at Sunset

Air Force Memorial in Arlington, VA

Just outside of DC is the stunning Air Force Memorial next to the Pentagon. There is a little parking lot here and I’ve never had trouble parking here at sunset. It offers great views of the city if you have a zoom lens plus photos of the memorial itself are fantastic if you have a wide lens.

Air Force Memorial on Google Maps

Flying In/Out of Ronald Reagan National Airport

Aerial view of Washington DC from a Flight Into DCA

View of DC while Flying Into DCA

The best view of DC has to be from flights coming in/out of Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA). A little tip, when leaving DC sit on the right side of the plane, while entering DC sit on the left side of the plane. Sometimes the direction of the wind will affect how you land at DCA but there is a high chance you’ll get the correct flight path for seeing all of DC.


I really hope this jump starts your to Washington DC, be sure to explore all of our beautiful city!

If you’re looking for even more places to photograph you can take a walk around the Georgetown Waterfront, H Street, 14th St, The Wharf and Shaw.

Outside of DC in Maryland you’ll find National Harbor which has great views of DC and Virginia has Old Town Alexandria full of historic homes.

You can also check out my friend Angela Pan’s book with more detailed guides about DC photography. You can find it on Amazon in the link below.


Have a favorite spot to photograph in DC? Let us know in the comments below.

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17 Comments

  1. Thanks for the best of tour in DC. It has been over 20 years since I have been in a city. My world it trees, mountains, lakes, rocks, flowers, plants, birds, moose and wildlife. Photographs are wonderful. My favorite is the cherry blossoms. All photos are amazing

  2. Enjoyed the pictures and commentary very much. I have been in the area for a few years now and have enjoyed many photographic moments, but I hear lately that photography in the district without a permit will be more difficult. This boggles my mind, so I wonder: do you know if this is mainly for commercial photography? I can’t imagine trying to curtail all those tourists!

    Great photos and article. Thanks so much.

  3. Thanks for the tips! visiting DC in the summer this year, looking forward to it. I love your photo at the top of the page with the pink hues in the sky.

  4. Is your photo from the Carillon at sunset??? Maybe I’m turned around? Also, I assume you can’t climb the bell tower? Finally, is that 300mm on full frame or crop sensor?

  5. Can’t wait to try some of these shots when I go to DC in April. Will be my second trip. Last trip I got one good shot but was doing more touristy things. This trip I’m going to try to get more photography in. Get that one epic shot! Thanks for the tips!

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