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.
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 fastest 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. To get around on the mall you can use the Capital Bikeshare or even LimeBike scooters but I recommend riding the metro if you don’t have a car.
Here is my list of the best places to take photos in Washington DC:
The Washington Monument
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.
Plus you can visit the monument 24 hours of the day which makes it a great place to photograph late at night. (Currently the grounds and tickets to the top are suspended until spring 2019)
The US 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.
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.
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 shooting here make a stop by Ice Cream Jubilee for a delicious scoop.
I love CityCenter and its extremely modern look (plus you can stop at Momofuku Milk Bar for ice cream while you’re there). CityCenter has to be one of my favorite instagrammable places in DC. Be careful here since the security guards often hassle photographers here. Telling guards it’s for personal use usually gets them off your back.
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 Friendship Arch in 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. Additionally they’ve painted murals on the crosswalk here that aren’t pictured in any of my photos.
Blind Whino (Super Colorful Church)
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.
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.
Thomas 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Dumbarton Oaks Gardens
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.
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.
American Art Museum / 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.
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.
The Watermelon House
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.
Any Metro Station
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.
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.
Washington DC Skyline from 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 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.
United States Air Force Memorial
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.
Flying In/Out of Ronald Reagan National Airport
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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