New things to do in Washington DC

By: Maxine Sheppard

July 12, 2019

Capitol Building in the summer © Image courtesy

Capitol Building in the summer © Image courtesy

Washington DC has been undergoing something of a renaissance in recent years, with a host of major new attractions and developments. Now that summer has well and truly arrived, the nation’s capital comes alive with free cultural programming, intriguing museums, fascinating exhibitions and fun for the entire family.

International Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum was previously a fixture in DC’s Downtown neighbourhood, but on May 12 this year it opened in a new facility in L’Enfant Plaza, located in the Southwest Waterfront. The state-of-the-art museum offers enough spy-related intrigue and interactive fun to satisfy any would-be James Bonds, with a focus on the secret services of 39 countries.

When you arrive, you’ll have the opportunity to take part in your own undercover mission adventure, which will play out during your journey through the museum as you analyse clues, find sources and collect intelligence. You can also immerse yourself in spy stories dating back to the 16th century and check out espionage artefacts a-plenty, including a Russian coat fitted with a buttonhole camera, a US 1922 silver dollar equipped with a suicide pin, and a German Steinbeck ABC wristwatch featuring a tiny camera. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m and until 8 p.m on Saturdays in summer.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: The REACH

The REACH is the Kennedy Center’s $175 million extension project, which will open to the public on September 7, 2019. There’ll be 72,000 square feet of new performance and events space, along with sweeping new gardens, terrace seating for up to 1,600 people and a scenic walkway leading to nearby monuments and memorials. To celebrate the opening, the Kennedy Center is hosting a 16-day festival of free events, including an open-air performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by the National Symphony Orchestra, concerts by Bootsy Collins and Arrested Development, and a light and sound installation from Mason Bates, the Kennedy Center’s Composer-in-residence. Other highlights include improv workshops, ballet masterclasses, film screenings and a National Dance Day on September 21.

A new extension to The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will open on 7 September © Image courtesy


On a 10-acre site near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Downtown, CityCenterDC offers numerous retail and dining options. Phase II of the project opened this spring, with 30,000 square feet of additional retail space, including a Tiffany & Co., and the 360-room Herzog & de Meuron-designed Conrad Hotel. Shops include Burberry, kate spade new york and Louis Vuitton, along with restaurants like Italian market and diner Centrolina, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse and French American bistro DBGB Kitchen & Bar. Check out CityCenterDC’s walkways and open courtyards for free events this summer, including outdoor exercise classes, farmers markets, art installations and evening concerts. The online calendar has more details.

Fossil Hall at the National Museum of Natural History

The free-to-enter Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has reopened its David H. Koch Hall of Fossils after a long awaited, five-year renovation. The theme of the $110 million exhibit is Deep Time – a term scientists use to demontrate the concept of geological time – and is one of the largest exhibitions to come to DC in years.

Your visit will likely begin from the museum’s rotunda, where an encounter with an American mastodon dated roughly 15,500-11,500 years ago will set the tone for what’s to come. From there, it just gets better – you’ll travel through the age of dinosaurs (where you’ll see a 67 million-year old T. rex preparing to eat a fallen Triceratops), learn about past mass extinctions, see the effects of climate change, and witness the evolution of life from the oceans to the shore.

Deep Time also features around 700 fossil specimens, many of which have never been displayed before, including a giant sloth, a woolly mammoth, a giant deer from 15,200-11,100 years ago, and the brontothere mammal; a 30 million year old fossil from Nebraska and the oldest unchanged skeletal mount in the exhibition.

Virgin Atlantic operates a daily direct flight to Washington DC from London Heathrow.


Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.

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