For information about sporting events and venues, go to our page on spectator sports. But if you prefer to work up your own honest sweat, Washington offers plenty of opportunities in lush surroundings. See “Parks & Gardens" for complete coverage of the city’s loveliest green spaces. And look to the waterfronts: In addition to Georgetown Waterfront Park, the Capitol Riverfront’s Yards Park is a magnet for parents who let their little ones play in the fountain and canal basin, and a popular spot for outdoor festivals and concerts. Best of all is the Wharf at the Southwest Waterfront, which offers a smorgasbord of outdoor recreational opportunities, including boat and bike rentals, yoga on the pier, fitness classes, sailing lessons, strolling, ice skating, you name it. Furthermore, East Potomac Park lies directly across the Washington Channel and a free ferry ride away from the Wharf; there you can play golf and tennis, swim, and jog (see those categories, below).
Biking is big in D.C., not just as a leisure activity but as an environmentally friendly form of transportation. Much of the city is flat, and paths are everywhere, notably around the National Mall and Memorial Parks. Rock Creek Park has a 9-mile paved bike route ★ from the Lincoln Memorial through the park into Maryland. Or you can follow the bike path from the Lincoln Memorial over Memorial Bridge to Old Town Alexandria and on to Mount Vernon (see "side trips"). For a less-crowded ride, check out the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail; its 12 miles (of a planned 20-mile stretch) go from the Tidal Basin to the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, and along the Anacostia River into other waterfront communities. Warning: Bike-path signage can be confusing or even missing altogether in the waterfront area and you may have to bike on neighborhood streets to pick up the path linking the Southwest Waterfront to the southeast portion of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail.
The C&O Canal Historical Park’s towpath is a popular bike path. The Capital Crescent Trail goes from Georgetown to the suburb of Bethesda, Maryland, following a former railroad track that parallels the Potomac River for part of the way and passes by old trestle bridges and pleasant residential neighborhoods. (Note: Parts of the trail nearby Bethesda may be closed due to a new train construction. Check the web site before you go.) You can pick up the trail at the Thompson Boat Center in Georgetown, and at Fletcher’s Cove along the C&O Canal; visit www.cctrail.org for info.
Capital BikeShare stations are located conveniently near the Tidal Basin and the National Mall; If you’re here for more than a few days, consider a Capital BikeShare membership (www.capitalbikeshare.com; "Getting Around").
Bike rental locations include:
- The Boat House at Fletcher’s Cove, 4940 Canal Rd. NW (www.fletcherscove.com; tel. 202/244-0461).
- Bike and Roll/Bike the Sites (www.bikeandrolldc.com; tel. 202/842-2453), with two locations: near the National Mall, at 955 L’Enfant Plaza SW, North Building, directly behind the new International Spy Museum location, daily tours and rentals (Metro: L’Enfant Plaza); and Old Town Alexandria, One Wales Alley, at the waterfront, self-guided tours, full-day advance-reservations rentals, and same-day walkup rentals (Metro: King St.). See organized tours by bike for info about their guided tours. Rates vary depending on the bike you choose but always include helmet, bike, lock, and pump; there’s a 2-hour minimum.
- Big Wheel Bikes, 1034 33rd St. NW, near the C&O Canal just below M Street (www.bigwheelbikes.com; tel. 202/337-0254).
Boating & Fishing
An enterprise called Boating in DC (www.boatingindc.com) operates many of the boat rental locations that I list below. Before you access the Boating in DC website, however, it might be helpful to read my descriptions, which provide information geared toward visitors as much as locals.
Thompson Boat Center and the Boat House at Fletcher’s Cove both rent boats from around March to November. Thompson has canoes, kayaks, SUPs, and rowing shells (recreational and racing), and is open for boat rentals daily in season. Fletcher’s is on the C&O Canal, about 2 miles from Key Bridge in Georgetown. In addition to renting bikes, canoes, rowboats, and kayaks, it sells fishing licenses, bait, and tackle. Fletcher’s is accessible by car (west on M St. NW to Canal Rd. NW) and has plenty of free parking.
Key Bridge Boathouse, 3500 Water St. NW (www.boatingindc.com; tel. 202/337-9642), located along the Georgetown waterfront beneath Key Bridge, is open daily mid-April to November (check website for hours) for canoe and kayak rentals. Foggy Bottom is the closest Metro station. A sister boathouse, Ballpark Boathouse, is located on the Anacostia River in the Capital Riverfront neighborhood, at Potomac Avenue SE and First Street SE. and the Wharf Boathouse, at 700 Water St. SW, in the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood.
Also part of the Boating in DC dynasty are paddleboats ★, with foot-pedals to propel the boat over the surface of the Tidal Basin. The Tidal Basin is located between Independence Ave. SW and the Jefferson Memorial. Available from 10am to 5pm daily mid-March to mid-October are four-seaters at $32 an hour, two-seaters at $20 an hour, and motorized two-seater “swan boats” at $36 an hour.
The District’s best and most convenient public golf course is the historic East Potomac Golf Course on Hains Point, 972 Ohio Dr. SW, in East Potomac Park (www.golfdc.com; tel 202/554-7660). Golfers use the Washington Monument to help them line up their shots. The club rents everything but shoes. In addition to its three courses, one 18-hole and two 9-hole greens, the park offers a miniature golf course. Open since 1930, it's the oldest continually operating miniature golf course in the country.
Hiking & Jogging
Washington has numerous hiking paths. The C&O Canal offers 184.5 miles stretching from D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland; hiking any section of the flat dirt towpath or its more rugged side paths is a pleasure (and it’s free). Hiker/biker campsites along the way provide a picnic table, grill, and chemical toilet. Theodore Roosevelt Island is 88 1/2 acres of wilderness but allows hikes on only three short trails. Rock Creek Park boasts 20 miles of hiking trails (visit www.nps.gov/rocr/planyourvisit/maps.htm for maps).
Joggers can run on the National Mall, along the path in Rock Creek Park, and around the 3.5-mile roadway that loops the 327-acre East Potomac Park (part of National Mall and Memorial Parks, www.nps.gov/nama) and takes you to Hains Point, the East Potomac Golf Course (see above) and Tennis Courts (see below).
Georgetown’s waterfront complex, The Washington Harbour, at 3050 K St. NW (www.thewashingtonharbour.com/skating; tel 202/706-7666), operates an ice rink that, at 11,800 square feet, is the largest outdoor skating venue in the city. The season runs November to March.
For a truly memorable experience, head to the National Gallery Sculpture Garden Ice Rink ★, on the Mall at 7th Street and Constitution Avenue NW (tel 202/289-3360), where you can rent skates, twirl in view of the sculptures, and enjoy hot chocolate in the Pavilion Café next to the rink. It's also open daily, November into March.
The Capitol Riverfront neighborhood has its own figure-eight-shaped ice rink in Canal Park, open daily from November through February.
The Wharf’s ice skating rink, ), located on the Transit Pier in the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood, offers a rather small rink and unprotected exposure to the wind-whipping cold, but great views of the river.
Each of these ice rinks charges for skate rentals and skating.
If it’s summer and your hotel doesn’t have a pool, you might consider one of the neighborhood pools, including a large outdoor pool at 25th and N streets NW (tel. 202/727-3285) and the Georgetown outdoor pool at 34th Street and Volta Place NW (tel.202/645-5669). Keep in mind that these are likely to be crowded.
One of the best places open to the public for swimming in summer and for other outdoor sports year-round is East Potomac Park’s Hains Point, which lies within walking distance of Independence Avenue and has a large outdoor swimming pool (tel. 202/727-6523.)
For a list of public indoor and outdoor pools in D.C., access the DC Parks and Recreation website, www.dpr.dc.gov, and click the “Find a Pool” link in the “Parks and Facilities” tab.
Many of the same recreation centers equipped with pools also have tennis courts, so you’ll find four courts at the 25th and N streets NW location, and two courts at the Volta Place location, both cited above. In the same Georgetown neighborhood is Montrose Park, right next to Dumbarton Oaks, with four courts, but no pool.By far the best public tennis court facility is East Potomac Park Tennis Center at Hains Point (www.eastpotomactennis.com; tel. 202/554-5962), with 24 tennis courts (10 clay, 9 outdoor hard courts, and 5 indoor hard courts), including three illuminated at night; the park rents rackets as well. Fees vary with court surface and time of play. For a list of public tennis courts, go to https://dpr.dc.gov/page/tennis-courts.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.