Washington DC is not only America’s capital; it’s a cultural and historic hot spot. At the cornerstone of American politics and culture, this city offers a peek into the evolution of the United States. Over 22 Million visitors come from all over the world to view its towering monuments, sneak a peek inside world-class museums and take part in cultural activities. Washington DC is also home to high-end shopping, world class dining and a vibrant nightlife. Within the city limits, there is something for everyone, no matter your interests.
I was in town for a conference and did my best to see as much of this amazing city as possible.
TIP: Don’t get overwhelmed with what to see and do when you arrive. The best way to start your journey is to choose a hop-on, hop-off tour like Old Town Trolley Tour or the Big Bus Tour. The Old Town Trolley tour has 25 stops at Washington DC’s major attractions and includes an exclusive stop at Arlington National Cemetery. The benefit of this type of tour is you can set your own pace, visit only the attractions you want and avoid distractions like traffic and parking which can easily get overwhelming for the out-of-towner.
Here are a few of my suggestions to add to your itinerary during your stay in Washington DC:
No trip to Washington DC is complete without a visit to the National Mall. This 3km long stretch of land is visited by 24 million travellers a year. Throughout the years, It has been home to many celebrations, protests, movements and important events like Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech”. When you stroll through the grounds, you can enjoy the views, monuments and statues or stop in at one of the bordering art galleries, memorials and museums like the Smithsonian Institution.
Built to honor America’s first president, George Washington, the Washington Monument is the world’s tallest stone obelisk. This towering monument was constructed in two stages and if you look closely you can see a difference in color around the 150 foot mark. Although the monument is currently closed for repairs, you can still admire its exterior from the National Mall and throughout the city.
Arlington National Cemetery
A respite to the hustle and bustle of busy downtown DC, Arlington Cemetery consists of 624 rolling acres of gardens and is the final resting place of over 400,000 of our veterans. It also houses the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the graves of John F. and Jackie Kennedy. Each week, they conduct dozens of funeral services for those men and women who bravely served our country. During your visit there you can take in the breathtaking view, pay your respects or just take a moment to reflect on what it means to be an American.
National Air and Space Museum
One of my favorite attractions was the National Air and Space Museum. In its 22 galleries, you will see exhibits on the history, science and technology of aviation and spaceflight. The National Air and Space Museum is home to the original Wright 1903 Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, a model of the Starship Enterprise and the Apollo 11 command module, just to name a few. Great for all ages, It’s easy to see why this museum is one of the most visited in the world.
National Museum of Natural History
The National Museum of Natural History hosts over 126 million natural science specimens and cultural artifacts. Kids will love their dinosaur exhibits and hands-on activities in the Discovery Room. Be sure to leave enough time to enjoy one of their IMAX films during your visit and give yourself plenty of time to explore!
National Museum of African-American History and Culture
One of the newest and most popular museums in DC is the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Starting on the lowest level of this building you will take a long, symbolic walk through history starting in the 1400’s, through the era of slavery and up to present day. This museum is great for all ages and also explores African American music, art, fashion and folklore. You can get a taste of traditional African American cuisine at the Home Sweet Home Cafe. This museum is sold out months in advance, so plan ahead. Don’t worry if you can’t score tickets for your visit, you can try your luck at the limited number of tickets they release each day.
International Spy Museum
If you are James Bond fans or a spy enthusiast, International Spy Museum is a must-visit! It holds the world’s largest collection of espionage artifacts. Filled with interactive exhibits, film, state of the art audiovisual and hands-on artifacts, this museum has something for the spy in all of us. You can even get an inside peek at the life of a James Bond villian – their lairs, weapons and evil schemes!
Another one of my favorite stops in Washington DC was The Newseum. This 250,000 square foot museum is dedicated to journalism and the First Amendment. You can visit the galleries filled with Pulitzer Prize winning photographs or follow the history of journalism and social media and how it has changed the landscape of the news industry. This museum has something for everyone whether your interests are history, sports or pop culture. Set aside an afternoon (or entire day) to explore all seven levels, 15 theaters and 15 galleries that make up this fun and interesting attraction.
National Museum of American History
Where else could you visit such a wide range of exhibits but at the National Museum of American History. Housed in this building is everything from Dorothy’s ruby red slippers to a piece of Plymouth Rock. The National Museum of American History is a must-see for all DC visitors, even those who normally aren’t museum lovers. Some of the eclectic exhibits you will find are a display of American lunch boxes, Julia Child’s kitchen, inaugural gowns worn by First Ladies and Ella Fitzgerald at 100. You can easily spend an afternoon here walking through the exhibits, so give yourself plenty of time to explore.
National Archives Building
This museum is a national treasure that tells the story of the American journey through their expansive collection. Documents like the Constitution, The Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Louisiana Purchase Treaty and the Emancipation Declaration have found a permanent home there.
The White House
Did you know this iconic landmark was originally painted yellow? There are so many interesting facts about this mansion where every president since John Adams has lived. Did you know that it was Theodore Roosevelt who created the “Oval Office”? In the last two centuries, the White House has seen many additions and alterations. Presently it has 132 rooms, 6 floors, 16 bedrooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, a florist, tennis court, cinema and putting green. If you want to learn more about the White House, stop by the visitors center to explore exhibits and watch a video. The visitors center is open from 7:30 am – 4 pm seven days a week.
The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is known as the largest library in the world and is housed in 3 buildings. It has 38 million books, 14 million photographs, 700,000 rare books and research materials from all parts of the world in more than 450 languages in all, 162 million items. This library is one of the most beautiful buildings in Washington. Although it’s open to the public, only high-ranking officials can check out material.
The Capitol Building
Sitting on top of Capitol Hill, a sought after neighborhood for Washington’s elite, is the magnificent Capitol Building. Under “the dome” is where the laws of this country are made. It was originally built in 1800 but subsequent additions expanded chambers and added a massive dome. There are guided group tours available by reservation or invitation only. Plan in advance and book your tour online.
The Lincoln Memorial & Reflecting Pool
This national monument was build to honor President Abraham Lincoln and has become a symbol of unity, strength and freedom. Located across from the Washington Monument, it anchors the west end of the National Mall and is home of the majestic 19 foot sculpture of Abraham Lincoln. The design, inspired by Greek temples, has 36 columns representing each state at the time of Lincoln’s death.
The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool is located next to the Lincoln Memorial. The reflecting pool is bordered by paths and trees, giving it a serene presence in the heart of DC. The pool is over 2,000 feet long and reflects both the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
Where to Stay
Whether you’re in town for a conference or just visiting the sites, the Marriott Marquis Hotel is a beautiful hotel, centrally located, close to subway lines (walking distance to everything – White House, Washington monument and much more. The hotel has very comfortable rooms with top notch services and tons of amenities.
Have you visited Washington, DC? What was your favorite places to visit? Share in the comments and your favorite attractions below!