There are a seemingly infinite list of things to experience in the US Capital. There is history, inspiration, fun and natural beauty. Even if you only visit the Smithsonian Museums (there are 20), you could easily spend two weeks going through them. So what’s should you do? Here is my list of the things that most moved and excited me during my very busy one week visit in DC.
1. Arlington National Cemetery
Row after row of identical grave markers deftly illuminate the price that is paid for American’s freedom. If you have the chance to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier it is quite a moving experience. Click here for times and tickets.
2. Washington National Cathedral
I admit I am one of those travelers. I go into every church I see. In Rome I must have gone into 50 churches. Stained glass, peace and history are all of interest to me. In spite of its relative youth the beauty and mass of this Gothic cathedral rivals those in Europe. The kaleidoscope colors from all the glass was a marvel to see. And so much history has happened here including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last pulpit sermon in 1968.
3. Embassy Row Massachusetts
If you drive down Massachusetts Avenue, also known as Embassy Row, you will pass many countries. Did you know an embassy is officially the ground the country it represents? In spite of this fact it took many years for Russia and the US to exchange embassies because we kept bugging each others. It is interesting guessing whose embassy is whose based on how the embassy is decorated.
This museum dedicated to first amendment rights is one of the few in town that have an admission fee, but it is also my favorite. It has pieces of the Berlin Wall and the Twin Towers. It explores how media shaped our experience of these and many other events. Don’t miss the Pulitzer Prize winning photographs on the first floor.
5. Take a boat ride on the Potomac.
The Potomac River is said to be the wildest river that flows through a heavily populated area. You will see boats on the river, kayaks, even teams rowing crew. So join these locals in the footsteps of George Washington and Robert E. Lee and get out on “the Nation’s River”. You can catch a water taxi from the National Mall to my next recommendation, National Harbor or Alexandria.
6. National Harbor, Maryland
Although I love DC, it is an intense place to visit. It is an exploration of America’s history, good and bad. During my one week visit to DC, I definitely needed a night of frivolousness. National Harbor is a neighborhood resting on the Potomac River in Maryland overlooking the George Washington Bridge. At National Harbor you will find many great restaurants with water views. We enjoyed Bond 45 for steaks. There is also the Capital Ferris Wheel, tons of shopping and cute statues all along the boulevards. Such a fun place to spend the night. If you want to stay in the area, the Hampton Inn and Suites is right in the middle of the action.
7. Touch a piece of the Moon.
Underneath the lunar module in the lobby of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, you can touch a real piece of the moon. I feel infinitely cooler having done it.
8. Alexandria, Virginia
This colonial city predates Washington DC, Alexandria’ s cobblestoned King Street will bring you back in history while enjoying all the modern restaurants and shopping. You catch the free trolley or do a self-guided walking tour.
9. Visit the Library of Congress.
These last two items are my favorite, along with the Newseum. The Library of Congress is the biggest library in the world. It was started by Thomas Jefferson in celebration of knowledge. The flame motif around the building is Jefferson’s homage to knowledge. Books are one of my favorite things, but aside from that, this is one of the prettiest buildings I have ever been in. Like much in DC, every corner of this building is full of meaning. Be sure to visit my Instagram for more pictures from this incredible building. Anyone over 16 years of age can get a library card and read in the expansive reading room. It is on my bucket list to return and do this.
10. Night tour of DC’s Monuments
Bonus suggestion: The United States Botanical Garden
They have a gorgeous orchid section and a very interesting medicinal plant room. I never had a clue what the poison risin looks like before I visited!
Most of DC’s monuments are located fairly close together around the tidal basin and on the reflecting pond on the National Mall. I recommend arriving at the WWII Memorial right before sunset, so you can watch the reflection of the Lincoln Memorial in the reflecting pond. Then see the Washington Monument, Vietnam War Memorial and Korean War Memorial. If you still are up for more, walk to the Jefferson Memorial and MLK Memorial, although those are also lovely during the day.
Did I miss your favorite thing to do in Washington DC. Please let me know in the comments.
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