Photo by Brandon Mowinkel on Unsplash

Almost everyone knows the usual suspects of the DC cultural sites: the memorials on the Mall, the Smithsonian museums, the Zoo, the Tidal Basin, etc. Some of the sites on this list are well known, too, but given the choice between the most famous DC sites and the ones listed below, these can get passed over in favor of the other, much more iconic, sites. However, each of the sites on this list are important to American and world history; they offer opportunities to learn and to enjoy. All the sites listed are free to visit.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

This museum is the U.S.’ official memorial to those lives, works, and more were lost in the Holocaust, and provides documentation for the study and interpretation of its history. This memorial’s purpose is to help people confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy. 

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum has collections that together contain over 12,750 artifacts, 49 million pages of archival documents, 85,000 historical photographs, a list of over 200,000 survivors and their families, 1,000 hours of archival footage, 93,000 library items, and 9,000 oral history testimonials. 

African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum

The often forgotten members of the fight against slavery are those who suffered from its effects and at its hands. Over 200,000 African-American soldiers are honored by this memorial and museum, as well as 7,000 white and over 2,100 Hispanic soldiers, and over 20,000 unsegregated Navy soldiers, all of whom fought for the Union in the Civil War. 

Located at the corner of U Street NW, Vermont Avenue, and 10th Street, the memorial can be found upon exiting the U Street Metro on the 10th Street side. The museum can be found across the street, at 1925 Vermont Avenue. The location of this memorial and museum are also significant: the U Street Corridor traditionally has been considered the heart of African-American entertainment and theater in DC.

The museum houses displays that include photographs, newspaper articles, period clothing replicas, and Civil War uniforms and weaponry. It also contains the African American Civil War Memorial Registry, which contains the family trees of over 2,000 descendants of those who served in the United States Colored Troops. 

Washington National Cathedral 

This American cathedral of the Episcopal Church was built in the Neo-Gothic design and modelled after the late fourteenth century English Gothic style cathedrals. It is the second-largest church building in the United States, second only to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, also in Washington, DC, and is the fourth-tallest structure within the city. The church hosts both religious and secular events. It was also the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s last Sunday sermon before his assassination. With stained glass windows, flying buttresses, and vaulted ceilings, among other architectural features, this cathedral is gorgeous and historically and architecturally relevant. 

Arlington National Cemetery 

Arlington National Cemetery offers visitors the ability to visit lost loved ones and to thank fallen service members for their service. This military burial site has been used to inter the dead servicemen and women since the Civil War, when the land, then owned by the Lee family, was seized by Union troops. The cemetery is organized into 70 different sections. An amphitheater that plays host to memorials and other ceremonies is located where Robert E. Lee once had his gardens. Be sure to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded constantly by the Sentinels of the “Old Guard.”