Fall Guide to Washington D.C. | Hostelling International USA

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These Are the Best Things to Do in D.C. in the Fall

view of washington dc in the fall

By Tierney Plumb

Tierney Plumb is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.

With its colorful backdrop of changing foliage and mild temperatures perfect for exploring its picturesque, monument-packed landscape, the fall is one of the best times to visit the nation’s capital. From hopping in a car to pick pumpkins, to catching a free concert at the National Gallery of Art, to checking out D.C.’s spookiest set of stairs, here are five fall-friendly options across the capital.

1. Stroll around the Wharf

the harbor in washington d.c.

The Southwest neighborhood’s stunning waterfront playground, which opened in fall 2017, is packed with restaurants, bars, and live music venues. The fall brings an array of all-day festivals, waterfront workouts, and boat parades. A free neighborhood shuttle runs frequently between the Wharf and the National Mall, with stops at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station and the International Spy Museum.

2. Free concerts at the Gallery

The iconic National Gallery of Art, a stone’s throw from the U.S. Capitol, boasts a free concert series every fall. The complimentary performances are typically held on Sundays at the West Garden Court and the East Building. The series, which kicked off at the gallery during World War II, is where famed singers Axel Schiotz and Martina Arroyo and the Tokyo and Juilliard String Quartets got their starts.

3. Take in D.C.’s must-see monuments

d.c. capitol with fall foliage

For sweeping views of the leaf-laden, head to the (newly reopened) Washington Monument. Fun fact: this tribute to George Washington and his military is the world's tallest free-standing stone structure, towering nearly 556 feet over the nation’s capital. Same-day, free tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis, starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Washington Monument Lodge. In November, you can commemorate Veterans Day at iconic monuments like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Ceremony, where the annual wreath-laying ceremony is held each year.

4. Get spooked

halloween in washington d.c.

D.C. ups its fear factor every fall. Happenings every October include the Smithsonian National Zoo’s Boo at the Zoo and Night of the Living Zoo; the National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center's Air & Scare; and the Nightmare on M Street bar crawl around Dupont Circle, which is just a 10-minute walk from the HI Washington D.C. Hostel. Congressional Cemetery’s annual “Soul Strolls” twilight tours also occur every fall. Halloween is also a prime time for The Exorcist fans, who can flock to the historic set of stone steps in Georgetown that starred in the 1973 hit horror movie.

5. Scenic drives and stops

Butler’s Orchard in Germantown, a 45-minute drive from D.C., is a popular city escape known for its apples and pumpkins. Want to hop in a car but stay closer to the city? The George Washington Memorial Parkway is designed for a drive this time for year, marked with stunning overlooks planted along the leaf-framed Potomac River. Or, ditch the car and bike or jog along the gorgeous 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail.

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7 Non-Touristy Things to Do in Washington D.c.

Many people think the museums and monuments in the National Mall are all there is to experience in America’s capital city. But those looking to go off the beaten path will find that there are plenty of non-touristy things to do in Washington DC – the type of things that locals like to do away from the crowds.