Interesting Washington DC facts

105 Wondrous Facts about Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C. is the capital of the United States. It is known for the dozens of significant buildings and monuments in the Capitol area.  

Find out what is “The District” is known for with these fun and interesting facts about Washington, District of Columbia! (If you’re looking for the state, head over to my facts about Washington state post!)

General Washington DC Facts

  • Washington D.C. is both the capital city and federal district of the United States of America.
  • Washington refers to the city, while D.C. (District of Columbia) refers to the federal district, but they occupy the same area.
  • According to the Constitution, the capital should not exceed “10 miles square” (not 10 square miles, but a square that is 10 miles on each side). Washington D.C. is presently 63.84 mi2 (177 km2), or less than 10 miles square.
  • Thus, when it was established in 1790 from lands ceded from Maryland and Virginia, it really was square-shaped, with each side measuring 10 miles, so it was actually 100 mi2. Later, the Virginia land was given back, bringing it back down to near its current size.
  • Washington D.C. could fit into Rhode Island, the current smallest state, 22.6 times.
  • If it were a state, Washington D.C. would have the highest population density in the US, with 11,295 people per square mile (4361 per square kilometer). That’s 10 times higher than the population density of New Jersey, the most dense state.
  • If it were a country, Washington D.C. would be larger than 6 others. It is 336 times larger than Vatican City (the country inside Rome), and also larger than Monaco, Nauru, Tuvalu, San Marino, and Liechtenstein.
An aerial view of Washington DC, with a wide multi-lane road leading to the Capitol building
Wide boulevard in Washington DC
  • Washington DC is located on the east bank of the Potomac River, with Virginia state on the western side of the river. It is bordered on all other sides by Maryland.
  • The city sits at the same latitude as Ibiza, Spain.
  • Previous US capitals before Washington D.C. included New York City, Trenton (New Jersey), Annapolis (Maryland), Princeton (New Jersey), York and Lancaster (Pennsylvania), Baltimore (Maryland), and the most recent one, Philadelphia (Pennsylvania).
  • With 670,050 residents, Washington D.C. is the 23rd largest city in the United States, putting it between El Paso, Texas and Boston, Massachusetts in terms of population.
  • The Greater Washington DC Area, which includes Arlington and Alexandria in Virginia, has a population of 6.4 million, making it the 6th largest metropolitan area in the United States.
An aerial view of Washington D.C., with the Washington Monument sticking up, and a bridge across the tidal basin in the foreground
Washington Monument viewed from across a tidal basin on the Potomac River
  • Greater Washington has more people than Greater Philadelphia, but less than Greater Houston.
  • The highest temperature ever recorded in Washington DC was 105°F (40.6°C) in 2011, while the lowest was −18°F (−27.8°C) in 1984.
  • Washington was named after George Washington, the 1st president of the US.
  • Columbia is a female version of Columbus, as in the explorer Christopher Columbus. She is the female personification of the United States. At the time the city’s founding, the 13 colonies, and sometimes the entire New World (Western Hemisphere) were called Columbia.
  • The official abbreviation for Washington D.C. is D.C., while the Washington Dulles International Airport code is IAD. It is named after John Foster Dulles, the secretary of state who served under Eisenhower and was born in DC.
A subway pulling into a metro station in Washington DC
The Washington DC metro
  • With a daily ridership of over 200,000, the Washington Metro is the 2nd busiest in the US, after New York City’s.
  • Some common nicknames for Washington D.C. are D.C. and The District.
  • Slogans for Washington D.C. have included “Washington DC: The American Experience”, “Celebrate and Discover”, and “Taxation Without Representation”.
  • People from Washington are called Washingtonians.
Washington DC's flag, which has two red stripes and three red stars on a white background
The official flag of Washington DC
  • The Washington DC flag features a white backdrop and shows three red stars above two horizontal red bars.
  • Washington DC has 15 sister cities, including Tshwane, formerly known as Pretoria (South Africa), Ankara (Turkey), Dakar (Senegal), and Seoul (South Korea).

Interesting Facts about Washington DC Places

  • The most important buildings associated with the Washington capital city are located in a cross-shaped park called the National Mall. The whole park is administered by the United States National Park Service.
The Washington DC White House viewed across a manicured lawn
The White House
  • The Capitol’s rotunda, or round-shaped building, is directly below the Capitol’s dome. Two stories below the rotunda is a crypt containing a tomb that was supposed to be for Washington’s body. However, the body was never moved from its resting place at Washington’s property in Mount Vernon, Virginia.  
  • The White House was named by Theodore Roosevelt in 1901. It has a private bowling alley, swimming pool, tennis court, jogging track, and movie theater. The two presidents have even had pet alligators there (Herbert Hoover and John Quincy Adams).
  • The Lincoln Memorial has been the site of several famous speeches, such as Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech in 1963.
A view of the whole Lincoln Memorial building with dark blue sky behind and the Lincoln statue lit up inside
The Lincoln Memorial
  • Other major events that have taken place in front of the memorial include the March on Pentagon against the Vietnam War (1967), We Are One Obama Inauguration (2009), and President Biden’s memorial for 400,000 who died from COVID (2021).  
  • The Washington Monument, built in memory of George Washington, is 554 ft (169 m) tall, making it the world’s tallest stone structure and obelisk. It was the tallest structure in the world from 1884 to 1889, when the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France surpassed it.
The Martin Luther King Memorial with some cherry blossoms in the foreground
Cherry blossoms in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
  • There are around 3800 cherry blossom trees in the National Mall, which bloom in spring. The first cherry blossom trees on site were a gift of friendship from Japan in 1912.
  • Washington DC is divided into four districts, with all street letters (A, B, and so on) radiating out from the Capitol. There is, however no J street because in old times it looked too similar to I.
Front facade of the Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
  • The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with 171 million items, and the official research library of the United States. It lies just east of the Capitol building.
  • The Pentagon is considered part of Washington DC, but is actually located in Virginia. It is located just west of the Potomac River’s high water mark, which is the official border between Virginia and Washington DC.
  • Washington DC has more embassies (178) than any other city in the world. London has 164 and Paris has 160.
A bridge across the river with buildings and churches of Georgetown, Washington D.C. in the background
Georgetown, Washington DC
  • The tallest building in Washington DC is Waldorf Astoria (home to a Hilton Hotel), which has 12 floors and stands 315 ft (96 m) tall.
  • Some of the trendiest and most popular neighborhoods in Washington DC are the Capitol area, Downtown (which is just north of the White House, Georgetown, Anacostia, and Adams Morgan.
  • Washington DC is home to 75 National Historic Landmarks, a list that includes historic churches, a courthouse, a cemetery, schools, a post office, patent office, naval observatory, and more.   
  • There are no UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Washington DC, but the meeting to determine the first two UNESCO sites (Mesa Verde in Colorado and Yellowstone in Wyoming) was held in Washington DC in 1978.
A footbridge leading across the river to Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington DC
Footbridge to Theodore Roosevelt Island
  • There are no national parks in Washington DC, but the National Parks Service manages most of the 14 mi2 (36 km2), about 1/5th of the district’s area, that is owned by the government. This includes National Mall, Rock Creek Park, Theodore Roosevelt Island, and several more parks.
  • The US Department of Agriculture manages the United States National Arboretum, which includes a National Grove of Trees, National Capitol Columns from the original Capitol, and a herbarium with 800,000 species.

Washington DC Economy and Society Facts

  • Washington DC is home to three Fortune 500 companies: Fannie Mae, Danaher, and Toll Brothers.
A George Washington bust at George Washington University with "Founded in 1821" on it
George Washington University
  • Washington has one of the most educated populations in the country, ranking #1 in college degrees per capita.
  • Washington DC has one of the highest rates of student debt in the country. The average student owes over $40,000.
  • The Washington Dulles International Airport is the 25th busiest airport in the US. It served 24,817,677 million passengers in 2019.
A road with trailing lights of cars leading to the main building of Washington Dulles International Airport at night
Washington Dulles International Airport
  • Highly frequented shopping malls and centers in Washington DC include CityCenterDC, Gallery Place, Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, and Georgetown Park.
  • Washington DC has 12 billionaires, who have a combined net worth of over 280 billion USD. Overall, the city has one of the wealthiest populations in the country.
  • The richest person in Washington DC is Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, with a net worth of 201 billion USD.  Jeff Bezos lives between Washington DC and Seattle, Washington state – he owns properties in both cities.
  • The second richest person in Seattle is heiress and investor Jaqueline Mars, with a net worth of over 31 billion USD.
  • Washingtonians drink more wine per capita than any state in the US.
  • Washington DC received 24.6 million visitors in 2019, more than the cities of Honolulu (Hawaii), Nashville (Tennessee), or Boston (Massachusetts).
A whole bunch of tourists at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC
Tourists in Washington DC
  • 15% of people in Washington DC live below the poverty line.
  • 45.4% of city residents are Black (including the largest population of Ethiopians outside of Ethiopia), while 42.5% are White. It is also the city with the most Salvadoreans outside of San Salvador (the capital of El Salvador).
  • Washington DC has the 18th highest percentage of LGBTQ+ people in the US, at 8.1% of the city’s population.
  • 92.15% of District of Columbia residents voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
  • Movies filmed or set in Washington DC include Mars Attacks, Enemy of the State, Dick, State of Play, Without Remorse, The Accountant, and Salt.
An American flag flying on the side of the Capitol building
US flag on the Capitol building
  • TV shows filmed in Washington DC include House of Cards, X-Files, Bones, Covert Affairs, The Handmaid’s Tale, Criminal Minds, and K.C Undercover.
  • Inventions from Washington DC include America’s first clock, the Binder clip, blood banks, and telegraph messages.

Washington DC Sports Facts

  • The Washington Commanders won the NFL championships in 1937 and 1942, and the Super Bowl in 1983, 1988, and 1992.
  • Two notable players for the Washington Commanders were Sonny Jurgensen (quarterback) and Bobby Mitchell (wide receiver). Both were inducted in the Hall of Fame in 1983.
A mosaic of the logos of Washington D.C. sports teams
Professional sports teams from Washington DC
  • The Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals play their home games at the Capital One Arena (formerly Verizon Center).
  • The Wizards made four NBA Finals, and finally won in 1978.
  • The Washington Wizards have had a total of 28 playoff appearances, won four conference titles and seven division titles.
  • D.C United played their home matches at Kennedy Memorial Stadium before moving to Audi Field. The DC Defenders also play there.
  • From 1996 through to 2000, D.C United won eight of their twelve major titles with players such as Ben Olsen, Marco Etcheverry, Roy Lassiter, Raúl Díaz Arce, Jaime Moreno, Eddie Pope, and head coach Bruce Arena.
  • Four numbers have been retired by the Capitals in honor of the following players: Yvon Labre, Mike Gartner, Dale Hunter, and Rod Langway.
A hockey game and cheering crowd inside Capital One Arena in Washington DC
Capital One Arena by clydeorama is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
  • The Washington Mystics have reached the Stanley Cup Finals on two occasions, once in 1998 and a second time in 2018 – they won the latter.
  • In addition, the Mystics have 12 division titles and three Presidents’ Trophies.
  • The Washington Spirit won their first NWSL Championship in 2021.
  • In 2020, the Defenders won the first game in modern XFL history.
  • Kevin Durant, considered one of the best basketball players of all time, was born in Washington DC.
  • Sugar Ray Leonard Washington DC won an Olympic gold medal and six World Championship titles in boxing.

Famous Washington DC People

  • Al Gore, environmentalist at 45th vice president of the US, was born in Washington DC.
  • Actors Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Ealy, Jon Bernthal, and Laz Alonso, as well as comedian Dave Chappelle, were born in Washington DC.
  • Actresses Taraji Penda Henson, Katherine Heigl, Regina Hall, and Alyson Hannigan were born in Washington DC.
A mosaic of famous people from Washington DC
Famous Washingtonians Marvin Gaye, Al Gore, Samuel L. Jackson, Alyson Hannigan, Kevin Durant, and Bill Nye the Science Guy (clockwise from top-left)
  • Singers Marvin Gaye, Tank, Stacy Lattisaw, Amerie, and Ginuwine were born or lived in Washington DC.
  • Other musicians and bands from Washington DC include Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Fugazi, Rites of Spring, and Bad Moves.
  • Bill Nye the Science Guy, journalist Connie Chung, and the first director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, were also born in Washington DC.
  • Benjamin Oliver Davis of Washington DC became the first African American general in the US army.
  • Inventors from Washington DC include Louis Baltzey (binder clips), Dr. Charles Drew (blood plasma preservation), and Samuel Morse (Morse code).

Washington DC History Facts

  • Human settlement in the Washington DC area goes back at least 4000 years.
  • The Algonquian-speaking Nacotchtank people were the original inhabitants of the Washington DC area.
Exterior of the main, castle-like building at Georgetown University
Georgetown University was the first university in DC
  • In 1662, George Thompson and Thomas Gerrard were granted lands in the area, becoming the first colonists in there, including the land that is now Capitol Hill.
  • Georgetown, in what is now Northwest Washington DC, was established in 1751, and Georgetown University followed in 1789.
  • In 1791, President George Washington proclaimed the Territory of Columbia and City of Washington as the new capital. The land’s area was ceded from Maryland and Virginia, though the Virginia portion was later given back.
  • The construction of the White House began in 1792 and the Capitol building in 1793. Both were completed in 1800.
  • The City of Washington was incorporated in 1802, and a mayor-council government was established.
A black and white photograph of an old Ford Lincoln car parked on a road in front of the Washington Capitol buildin
A Ford Lincoln in front of the Capitol building in 1925
  • In 1814, the Capitol building was partially destroyed in the Burning of Washington during a British invasion of the city.
  • In 1818, a central heating system was installed in the Capitol building.
  • The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad began running to Washington DC in 1835.
  • The Baltimore-Washington telegraph began operating in 1844.
  • Construction of the Washington Monument began in 1848 and was completed in 1884.
  • In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation from Washington DC, bringing slavery to an end.
  • The Lincoln Memorial was constructed between 1914 and 1922. The Reflecting Pool was added from 1922 to 1923.
The Lincoln Monument reflecting in the Lincoln Reflecting Pool with some tourists visiting
The Lincoln Reflecting Pool
  • The population of Washington DC reached half a million in the early 1930s.
  • In 1949, the Whitehurst Freeway was opened, running from Key Bridge in Arlington, Virginia, across the federal district to Silver Spring in Maryland.
  • In 1964, residents of DC were able to vote for president for the first time.
  • In 1976, the Washington Metro began operating.
  • In 2020, The District locked down for the first time in history due to COVID-19.
  • On January 26, 2021, President Donald Trump stirred up mob that went on to attack the Capitol building, with $30 million in damage, 5 deaths, and 138 police being injured. 895 were eventually charged.
  • In mid-2022, Washington DC was reported to have the most monkeypox cases per capita in the US.

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