Book lovers rejoice! Washington, D.C. has tons to offer the literary-minded traveler, from famous author landmarks to prestigious playhouses and more. If you’re planning your next D.C. vacation and are looking for a few literary attractions to sprinkle into the mix, check out these suggestions. Visit one, or visit them all!
Planning on doing a lot during your stay? Consider a flexible Washington DC Explorer Pass and save up to 40% on combined admission to top tours, cruises, museums, and more.
Focusing primarily on the history of journalism and media studies, the Newseum appeals to the reader in all of us, whether we prefer historical tomes or simply a few tweets.
This compelling museum features exhibitions ranging from the First Amendment Gallery, where you can explore documents inspired by and related to this important amendment, to the Great Books Room, which showcases texts that had a significant impact on American freedoms and history.
Newseum will also appeal to visitors with an interest in new media, broadcasting, or contemporary history. It’s great for kids and adults alike, and is one of the most popular museums in the city, full stop.
The Folger Shakespeare Library
Home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare folios, artifacts, and other documents (as well as a vast collection of other historical texts), the Folger Library is a mecca for literary lovers. In addition to their research facilities, they also offer tours of their beautiful gardens, distinctive architecture, and stunning indoor spaces.
Walk-in tours are free every day, or you can arrange for a class visit or specially guided tour. Stop by on Saturdays for a stroll through the Elizabethan Garden, featuring plants, sculptures, and other designs inspired by Shakespeare’s plays.
You’ll also be able to attend ticketed performances of Shakespeare plays year-round (I’ve seen Hamlet there and the stage is amazing), so check their website to see what’s currently on.
The Library of Congress
There’s no other library quite like it – the Library of Congress is basically the national library of the United States and is actually the world’s largest library with over 150 million texts, including books, photographs, maps, audio recordings, manuscripts, and more.
Visit the historic Jefferson Building for a glimpse into the beautiful reading rooms, an inspiring view of the public exhibits (which vary but are always fascinating for the book geeks), and stroll through the Great Hall.
You don’t need any tickets or reservations to explore the Library itself, although if you’re interested in examining any texts you’ll need a researcher’s pass (easy enough to get if you’ll be in the area long enough or live nearby). You can also arrange for group tours.
Il John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Anyone who loves the performing arts – plays, opera, music, you name it – absolutely must attend a performance at the world-renowned Kennedy Center. They offer a wide variety of performances weekly, including everything from Mozart’s operas to contemporary theatre and more.
If you don’t have the time or money for a show, you can actually just walk around the building and out to the terrace overlooking the Potomac for free. Don’t forget to scope out the Don Quixote statue in front of the building for a little taste of Cervantes (courtesy of the Spanish government, D.C.-style).
They also have a small but varied gift shop if you’re looking for unique souvenirs.
There are plenty of independent bookstores in Washington, D.C., many of which feature frequent readings and book signings, special events and workshops, and even college-level classes and trips aboard. If you just can’t make it through your trip without a new book, check one of these out.
Kramerbooks in Dupont is a local favorite, and includes a small café / restaurant in the rear. Head here for an excellently curated selection of literary fiction up front and a solid young adult’s section in the back.
Politics & Prose, a little bit further north on the Red Line, has a national reputation as a bookstore with frequent author visits (nearly one every day!), so if you’re in the mood for a shot of culture, see who’s appearing here during your trip. They also offer a wide selection of signed books (courtesy of their many guests) and a great children’s section.
Busboys & Poets on 14th street was actually named for Langston Hughes, because he used to work nearby and was actually discovered by a patron of this restaurant. Enjoy a meal at the restaurant side and then pop over to the adjoined bookstore, Teaching for Change, which features a wide selection of progressive texts and resources.
If you have a bit of time, feel free to tour any of the college campuses in the area and explore their cultural offerings (like GWU’s Pushkin statue), or scope out any book-related exhibits at the Smithsonian Institutions.
From tours of world-famous libraries to the chance to snag your own copy of the latest bestseller, you’ll find a wealth of literary opportunities in our nation’s capital.
If you want to build literary attractions into a larger touring itinerary, be sure to pick up a Washington DC Explorer Pass to save on admission to great places like the Newseum and many more.