We already told you about our favorite free things that you can do in DC. Since then, people ask why certain sites didn’t make the list and why. To be clear: we’re not knocking any of these places. However, if your time in DC is limited, these are five overrated DC attractions that you can consider skipping or saving for a future trip.
1. The White House
The White House is the President’s home and office. It’s one of the most important an famous buildings in the entire world! As such, it has intense security and it’s hard work to get tickets to go inside. If you don’t start planning months in advance, chances are that you’re not going to get tickets. In fact, we have an entire post explaining the White House ticket process and another on what to expect on your White House tour.
So why doesn’t this make the top ten list? The public tour of the White House is pretty limited. You do not get to see the Oval Office, the Situation Room, the Lincoln bedroom, or any of the stuff you know from Hollywood movies and shows.
Even from the outside, it’s hard to get a good view these days. The National Park Service is replacing the six-and-a-half-foot fence with a 13-foot fence. In the meantime, you can’t even go up to the fence. The closest you can get from the south is the opposite side of E Street. So, while it’s cool to get to say you’ve been inside the White House, it takes a lot of effort for questionable payoff.
However, the White House Visitor Center (which is across the street) is a cool little museum and doesn’t require reservations. Bonus: it’s open earlier than most attractions and has one of the cleanest public bathrooms around the National Mall.
2. The Washington Monument
It would be almost impossible to visit Washington, DC and not get at least a view of the Washington Monument. But going to the top of the monument might be an overrated DC experience.
Now look, I’m not hating on good views. One World Trade Center, the Sears Tower, or just about any skyscraper with an observation deck, are all probably worth visiting to take in the view. But that’s the problem: the Washington Monument opened in the 1880s—well before observation decks were a tourist attraction.
As a result, there is no floor-to-ceiling glass, no balcony with a glass floor, no bar—nothing like that. It’s just eight small windows, two facing in each direction.
And since it’s a small space, you do need a reservation. If you’re a planner, you can get them in advance on recreation.gov for a small processing fee. Otherwise, you have to visit the Washington Monument first thing in the morning for a timed entry pass. It’s a lot of effort.
An easier (and arguably cooler) alternative is the view from the Old Post Office Tower. It’s not as tall, but you can see the Capitol dome down Pennsylvania Ave and the Washington Monument. Best of all, you don’t need tickets; you can just walk up and go. We have a whole post on visiting the Old Post Office Tower that will give you pointers.
3. The Pentagon
When you see the Pentagon in the movies it’s always accompanied by aerial imagery and something really important is happening inside. In reality it’s an office building. In fact, it’s literally the world’s largest office building and not really a site or attraction like other things in DC.
Most people don’t even know that you can tour the Pentagon. Usually they discover it when they are on their Congress member’s website requesting tours of the Capitol or White House and it’s one of the other options listed.
The tour takes about one hour, so for a building with three times as much floor space as the Empire State Building, you really don’t get to see a lot. I would say that if you’re a big military history buff or a veteran, then it could be worth your while. But if that’s not your thing, this might also be another overrated DC site.
4. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving
This is one of two “money factories” in the country. The other is in Fort Worth Texas. You can see money rolling off the printing presses. And, in theory, that is pretty cool. But as someone once told me, if you’ve seen money, and you’ve seen a printer, then you’ve pretty much seen the Bureau of Printing and Engraving.
If you come during busy season, from March through September, you do need an advanced reservation or you need to make a special trip for a daily timed ticket.
I will say that this is really popular with kids, so if you’re traveling to DC with kids, it might be worth it. But I personally find this to be an overrated DC attraction.
5. Supreme Court
Now, there are a few different ways you can visit the Supreme Court. If you’re in town when the court is in session, you can sit and watch oral arguments. And that is a really unique thing you’re never going to get to do anywhere else.
But you do need to pay attention to the case schedule and will probably need to line up a few hours beforehand if you really want to do it. If you’re visiting on another day, you can do a self-guided walk around the building or listen to a courthouse lecture.
If you’re a lawyer, a law student, or just someone who is fascinated with the law, then this is very much worth it. However, most people are not lawyers, including myself, which is why I consider this an overrated DC attraction.