Top things to do near Washington Dulles Airport
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Free to the public 364 days a year, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is the third-most visited museum in the world and, indeed, the most visited in the USA. Its collection of over 127 million specimens is located 27 miles (43.4 kilometers) from Dulles International Airport, exhibiting geology, human origins, paleobiology, mammals, insects, the oceans and human culture amongst many other temporary displays.
It’s just the kind of family activity you’ll need if you’ve got a few hours to kill in DC.
National Portrait Gallery
Another part of the Smithsonian Institution about 28 miles (45 kilometers) from Dulles International Airport, the National Portrait Gallery shares a building with the Smithsonian American Art Museum and focuses on portraits of famous Americans and world stars.
The combination of paintings and photography includes portraits of American Presidents like Lincoln, Washington and Franklin all the way through to Obama and Trump. Artists and entertainers are also represented, including Charlie Chaplin, Beauford Delaney and Ethel Waters, and significant historical figures like John Brown, Frederick Douglass and Osceola.
Many of the pieces are iconic images that are a thrill to see in front of you. Despite this status, the museum is usually comparatively quiet due to its location away from the National Mall, so it’s a real pleasure to explore at any given time.
Home to the US Congress, the Capitol building sits at the top of Capitol Hill about 31 miles (49.9 kilometers) from Dulles International Airport.
The Capitol is an impressive neoclassical building that includes separate wings for the House of Representatives and the House of Congress, all sheltered under a cast-iron dome weighing around 4,500 tons (8.9 million lbs).
Tours are provided daily for tourists with expert guides who wonderfully convey the history and functions of the building and the legislature it houses. There's also a museum, cafeteria and a direct tunnel to the Library of Congress.
The US Capitol is a must-visit for history and politics buffs, but, even for those with a passing interest, it’s a delight to take in the awe-inspiring architecture, murals and sculptures inside.
International Spy Museum
As a unique museum concept and the largest of its kind in the world, the International Spy Museum feels quite fitting in a city that is home to the Pentagon and the FBI.
Based 27 miles (43.4 kilometers) from IAD Airport, the museum covers all aspects of the craft, history and role of espionage, ranging from evidence of spying in Biblical times to present day cyber-surveillance.
There's extensive information on real-world operations and significant figures, particularly through World War II, and regular special exhibitions covering topics like espionage in the movies. Topping off the attraction are interactive experiences simulating a spy mission for visitors to try their hand at; it’s engaging, educational and plenty of fun for kids - don’t leave this stone unturned.
Martin Luther King Jr Memorial
Washington DC has an endless list of memorials dotted throughout the city and particularly around the National Mall, but some stand out above the others; the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial is one of them.
Featuring a simple design approach, it conjures a special kind of atmosphere, particularly when it’s lit up at night. The inscribed quotes from some of King's most famous speeches will inspire you as much today as they did crowds when they were first spoken.
The memorial site, which is situated 29 miles (46.7 kilometers) from Dulles International Airport, covers four acres (1.6 hectares) and, despite its popularity, is a perfect spot for some contemplative thought.
Washington National Cathedral
The sixth-largest cathedral in the world and one of the tallest structures in DC is located only 26 miles (41.8 kilometers) from Washington Dulles Airport.
Designed in the Neo-Gothic style found in many British cathedrals and complete with a striking rose window, vaulted ceilings and intricate stone carvings, the Washington National Cathedral is a building to behold. It features one of the most famous and contemporary stained-glass windows in the world - a commemoration of the Moon landings.
There's so much to take in that you can walk around the cathedral for hours and be stunned by the beauty and craftsmanship of it all. There are tours available to explain much of the history and design, whilst the building also includes an observation gallery with wonderful views across the city.
Blues Alley is a spectacularly authentic back-alley jazz and blues venue in the Georgetown neighborhood, which is only about 25 miles (40.2 kilometers) from IAD Airport.
The legendary spot has hosted an incredible list of exceptional artists over the years; Tony Bennett, Eva Cassidy, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Gil Scott-Heron and Sarah Vaughan are just a small sample of the great names that have graced the stage.
The small and intimate performance room puts the stars within feet of the audience and the bar and kitchen provide the sustenance for gigs almost every night of the year.
Ford's Theatre has been an important theater venue in the city since 1860, but it’s perhaps most famous for being the site of President Lincoln's assassination.
It was closed for decades after the assassination in the belief that staging entertainment there was inappropriate, but it was eventually restored and re-opened as a theater in 1968.
A museum was added in the Petersen House next door in 2012 to create the Ford's Theatre National Historic Site. It's strongly recommended to visit both buildings to truly take in all the history that surrounds the site, which is around 28 miles (45 kilometers) from Washington Dulles Airport.