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 top ten list of the things that most moved and excited me during my very busy first one-week visit in DC. I have now visited a few more times, so I will also give you a few of my new favorites at the end.
Table of Contents
- 1 1. Arlington National Cemetery
- 2 2. Washington National Cathedral
- 3 3. Embassy Row Massachusetts
- 4 4. Newseum
- 5 5. Take a boat ride on the Potomac.
- 6 6. The United States Botanical Garden
- 7 7. Touch a piece of the Moon.
- 8 8. The Museum of the Bible
- 9 9. Visit the Library of Congress.
- 10 10. Night tour of DC’s Monuments
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. My grandfather was buried here with full honors, which was full of pomp and circumstance, and very moving for my family. 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 a few of my recommendations for short trips from DC, National Harbor or Alexandria.
6. 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!
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. The Museum of the Bible
Although this is one of the few museums in DC that you have to pay for, it is worth a visit. The large museum contains history of the book itself as well as recreations of places mentioned in the Bible. The lobby is free to enter and has the most incredible digital ceilings I have ever seen.
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
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.
Washington DC’s Cherry Blossoms
It has long been on my bucket list to see the cherry blossoms in Washington DC. If you must travel to DC, it is very hard to time your trip to see the delicate flowers which only stay in bloom for one or two weeks. Peak can happen any time in March or April, although the mean date is April 4. And if you get lucky enough to be in DC during the right time, the crowds are incredibly thick and the locals are grumpy.
Tips to Make the Most of Your Time in DC Among the Cherry Blossom
- Go in expecting crowds, and waits and higher prices.
- Visit during the week. The crowds surge on the weekends, especially during the Cherry Blossom Festival.
- Visit early in the morning before the crowds show up.
- The swan boats are a great alternative to walking around the tidal basin, which is where the largest concentration of trees given from Japan are. If you just show up, the wait may be a few hours, but you can book online and walk right onto your boat.
- To follow the Japanese tradition of “hanami” bring a picnic with you to the tidal basin.
Get a Tulip-Filled View of DC at the Netherlands Carillon
This monument given by the Dutch people for our help in World War II is just a short walk from the Marine Corps. Memorial and will give you spectacular views of the city over fields of tulips- and it is free!
Did I miss your favorite thing to do in Washington DC? Please let me know in the comments.
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