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  • Amanda Mercer


Updated: Feb 6

View of the Jefferson Memorial along the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. Cherry Blossoms Beginning to Bloom
View of the Jefferson Memorial along the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. Cherry Blossoms Beginning to Bloom

As goes the saying beauty is in the eye of the beholder - so goes relaxation. What sounds like a lovely de-stressing activity for one person may very well sound entirely torturous to another. And if you are anything like me, that may prove to be the case from one day to the next.

Thankfully, Washington D.C. has an abundance of locations to find that particular thing that will help you unwind and revitalize on that particular day. Whether you want to sit still and take in beautiful surroundings, learn something new, produce some endorphins through exercise, or get creative, this guide includes a variety of unique ideas and suggestions to help you relax in the capitol city.




Looking at Art - with a Twist

(Relaxing in the Art Museums of Washington D.C.)

A woman sitting in an art museum admiring a painting
Washington D.C. has over 80 museums and more than 20 of them are filled with art from every era and culture.

While wandering through an art museum (Washington D.C. has more than 20) and just perusing the artworks can be a great way for relaxing in Washington D.C. all on its own, I'd like to offer a twist...

Years ago I was given a gift of two books: Irving Stone's story of Vincent van Gogh, Lust for Life, and a coffee table book of van Gogh's paintings. Being able to look at a painting in the coffee table book as I was reading about what Vincent van Gogh was going through and thinking about as he painted it was absolutely wonderful. Seeing his paintings in-person after reading his story was the best experience I had ever had in an art museum.

Going beyond the frame and into the story of its creation offers another level of enjoyment. Try bringing a book on the artist (non-fiction or historical fiction) to the museum and then reading it (or listening to) as you sit before the piece of art. Here is a list of a few suggested pairings for masterpieces in Washington D.C.:


(Learn about the artist)

Painting(s): Woman holding a Balance & Girl with a Red Hat by Johannes Vermeer.

Book: Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Painting: Ginerva de Benci by Leonardo da Vinci (The only da Vinci in the USA).

Book: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Painting: Judith Leyster, Self Portrait.

Book: A Light of Her Own by Carrie Callaghan (DC local).

Painting: Mural (1943) by Jackson Pollock.

Book: Jackson Pollock: An American Saga by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith.


(Learn about the subject)

Portrait(s): George Washington by Rembrandt Peal and The Lansdowne Portrait by Gilbert Stuart.

Audio: Listen to BARDEUM's Retiring Becomes Him by Pulitzer Prize winning author Edward J. Larson.

Portrait(s): The Glass Cracked Plate photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken by Alexander Gardner and Portrait of Abraham Lincoln by George Peter Alexander Healy.

Book: Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

EXTRA RELAXATION TIP: Stroll through a local bookstore to find your pairing for a piece of art or artist. Amazing independent bookstores are all over D.C. They are also your best bet at finding a staff member who could recommend additional pairings. Check out: Kramers (with a great café) a D.C. landmark since 1976 located in Dupont Circle. And/or, Politics and Prose in the Forest Hills neighborhood of D.C.


Stop and Smell the Roses

(Relaxing in the Gardens of Washington D.C)

Spring Flowers Blooming on the Parterre in the Enid A. Haupt Garden in front of the Smithsonian Castle in Washington D.C.
Spring Flowers Blooming on the Parterre in the Enid A. Haupt Garden in front of the Smithsonian Castle

It is now well-established that nature plays an integral role in promoting human health and well-being. But now, researchers have found that specifically - the smells of nature - can make us feel relaxed, joyful, and healthy - boosting our overall psychological well-being.

D.C. has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to gardens. It's easy to find a place to get those olfactory senses to work on reducing stress & relaxing in Washington D.C.

The Smithsonian Gardens offer fourteen gardens and landscapes with over 180 acres to stroll through (mostly) along the National Mall.

The Cherry Blossoms along the Tidal Basin. These beauties usually bloom the final week of March and into the first week of April - lasting for about a week.

The Franciscan Monastery An Oasis of Peace in the middle of bustling Washington. This hidden treasure includes flower-edged pathways, grottos, and benches for quiet contemplation.

The United States Botanic Garden is the oldest continuously operating public garden in the United States - maintaining over 44,000 plants. Highly recommend a walk through the glass conservatory.

Dumbarton Oaks is a Harvard University research institute, library, museum, and garden located in Washington, DC. In 2014, the gardens were singled out by National Geographic as one of the ten best gardens in the world. Ticket fee to enter.

Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens was founded by Marjorie Post one of America's most well-known businesswoman, socialite, and philanthropist. Ticket fee to enter.

EXTRA RELAXATION TIP: Download one of the free plant identifying apps and make note of the flowers you might want to plant at home to help you find happiness in your own garden.


Tune Out & Listen In

A woman listening to educational content on her phone via headphones
Listening to music or educational content is a great way to tune out the noise of everyday life and focus on something interesting and/or uplifting.

Distracting yourself from the stresses of everyday life can do wonders for your well-being. Here are some very D.C. specific suggestions to stop you from thinking about your job, family problems, or any other stressors and immersing yourself in something new and different.



On the 9th of April 1939, one of the most notable musical events of the 20th century took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. This critically praised performance, attended by over 75,000 people, was borne from a hateful act of exclusion.

Marian Anderson, a classical singer, known for her wide-ranging vocal talents, specializing in operas and spirituals was refused by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to sing to an integrated audience at Constitution Hall. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt promptly resigned her membership with the DAR and invited Anderson to perform on the National Mall on Easter Sunday.

Take a seat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and travel back to moment in time when Hitler's troops were advancing through Europe, the Depression was taking its toll and two women stood up against racial segregation. Listen to Marian Anderson's Performance.


Attend one of the free choral and classical concerts at the National Gallery of Art on Sundays.

NGA also offers Jazz in the Garden concerts on summer Friday evenings.

Listen to Duke Ellington as you stroll through the U-Street neighborhood where the internationally renowned singer and composer spent his teenage years and performed in his first public concerts.

The Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage offers FREE performances in the Grand Foyer Wednesdays through Saturdays at 6 p.m.



A good story is always a terrific way to relax. Sit on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial on the National Mall as you look out over the tidal basin and listen to the story of how Thomas Jefferson came to be the primary writer of the Declaration of Independence - a document that changed the world - but failed to change it for everyone. To Begin the World Again is written by Laura Kamoie (America's First Daughter, My Dear Hamilton)

Cover art for the audiovisual tour on the Bardeum Mobile app for the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC entitled To Begin the World Again written by Laura Kamoie

In May of 1776, at the age of 33, Thomas Jefferson was one of the youngest members of the Second Continental Congress. A political up-and-comer from Virginia, he was appointed to a small committee tasked with drafting a document to declare that the American colonies were to be free and independent states - absolved from all allegiance to the British crown.

The committee elected Jefferson as the principal drafter of this declaration of independence. Jefferson firmly believed in the necessity of ending slavery, yet knew his own hands were stained with his own tyranny. Could he incorporate abolition into this declaration?



Wander through the World War II Memorial on the National Mall and listen to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's powerful speech to Congress which began: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - A Date Which Will Live in Infamy".

Sit on the East Steps of the Capitol or on the lawn of the National Mall and step back in time to the 20th of January,1961 and listen to John F. Kennedy's Inauguration Speech which included, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

Produce Some Endorphins

Yoga participants on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
Yoga on the National Mall is an annual event in May drawing thousands or participants.

Endorphins are chemical signals in the brain which scientists have found can reduce pain, anxiety & depression. They may also help boost self-esteem, reduce inflammation, and regulate appetite. They are the all-natural pain reliever that the body releases during exercise. Here are some ideas of how to get moving and produce some endorphins in Washington D.C.:



Congressional Cemetery is located on the west bank of the Anacostia River and is the only American "cemetery of national memory" founded before the Civil War. Over 65,000 individuals are buried or memorialized there, including many who helped form the nation. (They allow dog walking with a membership.)

Rock Creek Park is part of the National Park Service. They offer biking, horseback riding, and wonderful hiking trails. The two primary trails are the Western Ridge Trail and the Valley Trail but there are connecting trails in-between which allow you to create your own routes from 1 and 10 miles.

National Arboretum was established in 1927 as an agricultural research center and still acts in the capacity today. There are over 9.5 miles of winding roads to travel along and take in nature's beauty.

Theodore Roosevelt Island is located in the Potomac accessible by a footbridge on the Virginia bank of the river. During the Civil War, it was used as a training camp for the United States Colored Troops. It was later given to the federal government by the Theodore Roosevelt Association in memory of the 26th president. It has wonderful trails including the start of the Mount Vernon Trail which leads to George Washington's home.



Obviously all the above Walk/Hike locations are fantastic for a run as well. The Northeast Track Club also offers a list of the Best D.C. Running Routes.

If you are interested in running with a group - try a running club. Here are just two of many clubs in the area:

DC Front Runners is D.C.'S LGBTQ+ Running & Walking Club - welcomes everyone.



Bike Washington offers a complete list of DC Biking Routes. And there a way more than you might imagine.

Capitol Bikeshare Program allows you to rent bikes via mobile app picking up and dropping off at one of there many parking stations. They offer both standard and E-Bike options.

Bike and Roll and Unlimited Biking DC offer rentals and tours of the Capitol City.



The Key Bridge Boathouse offers kayak rentals and tours on the Potomac river as well as stand up paddleboarding.

The Tidal Basin Boathouse rents paddle boats offering unique views of the Jefferson and MLK Jr Memorials.



Bluebird Sky Yoga offers outdoor yoga at the National Arboretum every Saturday from June through October.

District Flow Yoga offers an hour-long vinyasa outdoor yoga session every Tuesday evening and Sunday morning on Transit Pier at The Wharf.

The Key Bridge Boathouse also offers Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) yoga on the Potomac River.

There are also periodic special Yoga events on the National mall. Check Eventbrite for dates and locations.

Get Creative

Glass blowing classes in Washington D.C.
Glass blowing is believed to have originated in the 1st Century B.C.

Studies have found that engaging in art and creative activities calms the mind and helps release unwanted emotions. (Note: If you have perfectionist tendencies - getting creative may not be very relaxing).

DC has 84 museums. Buy a sketch pad, a pencil, and find something at one of those museums that intrigues you. Sketch it. It doesn't matter if you're any good at it - experts say to just try and enjoy the process.

The National Gallery of Art offers Drawing Salons with an instructor.

The Smithsonian offers all sorts of online studio art classes that you can take from your home.

Try glass blowing. The Washington Glass Studio offers a variety of classes.


BARDEUM offers self-guided audio/visual tours via mobile app. These immersive experiences are written by award-winning & bestselling authors, journalists, and historians.

Available in the App Store and Google Play.

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