Washington DC On a Rainy Day: 8 Things To Do
Washington DC is hopping from March to May and again from September to November. Usually, the shoulder months, spring and fall, are not the most popular times to visit a city but the capital of the United States is not a typical city at all!
With that being said, there are always tourists streaming through the city checking out famous landmarks and learning more about the inner workings of the U.S. government. So what do all these tourists do when the skies turn cloudy and rain bursts forth? They head indoors to check out the numerous museums and art galleries as well as arcades, entertainment venues, and of course, eateries.
Washington DC on a rainy day is never a wash, there is always something fun and exciting that can be done indoors and out of the elements. So, when you are planning your trip, whether it be 3 days in Washington DC or a full week, have a rainy day contingency plan so you don’t miss a beat and still get to see everything on your to-do list.
Heading inside to find rainy day activities in Washington DC? Drop your belongings at a luggage storage locker for safekeeping. With millions of people vying for indoor fun on a rainy day, you do not want to be left in the rain holding your overly large backpacks and bags.
The National Mall and Smithsonian Museums
Address: Constitution Ave NW, Washington DC
The National Mall is home to 17 Smithsonian Museums and you can easily spend your entire vacation exploring every single museum. The best part is that admission is free for any Smithsonian Institution museum, although special exhibits may charge a small fee. There are two museums that are the most popular so you may want to check those out during off-peak hours to avoid the bigger crowds.
The National Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Natural History are almost always hopping with visitors, especially families, enjoying the many galleries and collections filled with artifacts, historical references, and interactive exhibits. They are the perfect place to learn more about air and space technological advancements and see full dinosaur skeletons while learning about Neanderthals and Egyptian pyramids.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
The National Air and Space Museum has 23 galleries encompassed inside a huge hangar-like building. The architecture alone is something amazing to see. Aircraft are suspended overhead as you walk through the galleries and you can even check out some of the spacecraft that have been retired through the years.
Take time to stroll through the Universe in the Planetarium and check out Space, Universe, and Man’s Quest which is another interesting exhibit that will impress. With thousands of artifacts on display, you will need a few hours to check it all out. Nab tickets to the IMAX Theater to catch one of their shows on the five-story tall screen. A rainy day at a national museum is just the ticket.
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
Exhibits fill every spare spot in the Museum of Natural History where you will learn about ancient and modern animals including birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians, marine animals, and of course, mammals. Interactive exhibits teach you about fossils, geology, and gems.
Dinosaur exhibits including fully assembled skeletons of these fascinating creatures will leave you in awe and wonder just a little bit what it would be like if Jurassic Park were real and dinosaurs once again roamed the Earth. Differing cultures are examined in some of the exhibits and provoke thought as you discover what makes each of these cultures unique.
National American History Museum
While not as popular as the National Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Natural History, the National American History Museum is the perfect place for history buffs to hide away during a rainy afternoon. The culture of the United States is transformed throughout the years through social and political influences.
Visiting a zoo on a rainy day may not seem ideal, but the National Zoo has several interesting and fun indoor exhibits and ecosystems to check out so that you do not have to be in the rain for long. With thousands of animals calling the National Zoo home, there really is so much to see such as the Amazon Rainforest or the South African Safari.
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Address: 610 F Street NW Washington DC
Adding a little culture to your Washington DC trip may just be the thing to do on a rainy day. Sit back and watch Shakespeare’s works come to life in one of the most ornate theaters in DC. Shakespeare is not the only playwright showcased here. Wilde, Shaw, Ibsen, Schiller, Tennessee Williams, and so many more are enacted here.
If you are a Shakespeare buff, the company does do several of his plays including Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Winter’s Tale, and more. The Shakespeare Theatre Company has two theater spaces inside the building, the Sidney Harman Hall and the Michael R. Klein Theatre. There have been over 150 productions done at this theater through the years.
The Phillips Collection
Address: 1600 21st Street, NW Washington DC
Art galleries may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the Phillips Collection is the best place to dive into the art world. This is an internationally renowned art museum located in the Dupont Circle neighborhood and makes an excellent rainy day indoor activity. While art lovers will find this art museum fun and exciting, non-art enthusiasts will also find it interesting and a little bit fun.
Immerse yourself in paintings by Diebenkorn, Van Gogh, Rothko, and Renoir, just to name a few of the Impressionist works that are displayed in the Phillips Collection. Contemporary and modern artists are also showcased in a way that you feel moved by each piece and want to learn more about the artist and the subject. It is free to visit on weekdays, but there is an admission fee on the weekends.
National Postal Museum
Address: 2 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington DC
Another fabulous Smithsonian Museum, the National Postal Museum teaches you about the history of the United States’ postal service. From the Pony Express to present day delivery services, this museum walks you through history and makes you want to learn more. The museum opened in 1993 as a joint venture between the United States Postal Service and the Smithsonian Institute.
The huge display of commemorative stamps is very interesting, even if you are not that into stamp collecting or even the postal service in general. There is even a section highlighting stamps and philatelic materials from across the globe through the ages. John Lennon’s own childhood stamp collection was donated to the museum and is on display for all to see. Admission is free, just like all the other Smithsonian Museums.
Explore Union Station
Address: 50 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington DC
Most major cities have their own Union Station that is filled with shops, kiosks, coffee shops, and restaurants. So, what makes DC’s Union Station any different and why is it one of the most interesting indoor activities in the city? Washington Union Station was the first Union Railroad terminal in America and is only a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol Building.
There is definitely a shopping center that is just waiting to make your wallet a little lighter. Spend an afternoon taking in the amazing architecture of the terminal, shopping, and eating while the rain pours outside. Hop on the train to get to your next activity and stay out of the rain as much as possible. It is free to visit Union Station.
Venture to the Penn Quarter
Address: East Downtown Washington DC
There are plenty of indoor activities in the Penn Quarter that will grab your attention and make a rainy day not seem so bad. Why not try the International Spy Museum in L'Enfant Plaza?
Who hasn’t dreamed of being 007 and diving into the exciting world of espionage? At the International Spy Museum, you will be transported into the shoes of some of the most notorious spies in the business. This museum is home to the biggest collection of espionage artifacts that have been gathered from around the world.
Spine chilling stories about intrigue, daring, and true spy missions will give you pause and make you want to keep learning more. Test your own skills as a spy by going on your own mission by breaking codes and assuming a different identity.
The National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum are also terrific spots to duck in out of the rain. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is another fantastic activity that gets you out of the rain and face-to-face with some rather famous people, or rather their wax counterparts.
Kramerbooks & Afterwords
Address: 1517 Connecticut Ave, NW Washington DC
One of the lesser-known attractions in Washington DC is Kramerbooks & Afterwords, a former indie bookstore that dates back to 1976. The bookstore was converted into a one-of-a-kind café that is the very first bookstore, café, and bar that provides full-service breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Brunch and late supper are also available on certain days.
The American menu is filled with upscale dishes and you can grab the latest bestseller or well-worn classic to read while you wait for your friends or if dining alone, waiting for your meal. The full-service bar offers live entertainment most evenings. You do not want to miss the chance to check this unique place out.
Washington National Cathedral
Address: 3101 Wisconsin Ave, NW Washington DC
The National Cathedral has been called the spiritual home of the nation and is open for tours and sightseers to come in and visit. Spend time going through their calendar to see if there are any concerts or guest speakers scheduled for when you are in town.
The Cathedral does charge for tours to come in, but it is a nominal fee, and children under five years are free. The National Cathedral is open for visitors Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Washington DC in the rain
From history museums to art galleries, there are plenty of fun things to do in Washington DC when rain is in the forecast. Rather than wander the streets under the dome of an umbrella, plan to stay indoors and check out some of the most unique and interesting activities the city has to offer.
Shopping in Washington DC is always a good rainy day activity, but so is the Smithsonian Institution with its free entry to the museums. Historic sites and nearby cities also offer plenty of things to do during a rainstorm.
Looking for even more things to do in Washington DC on a rainy day? Check out these other guides:
Best Brunch In Washington DC: The Definitive Guide
Everything You Need To Know About Shopping In Washington DC
The Best Museums In Washington DC