Washington DC is a grown-up city brimming with museums, monuments and great cultural institutions. That said, the capital city of the USA is also cosmopolitan and international with, as you’d expect, strong political connections.
Browse the vast collections at the Smithsonian Institution
Located on The National Mall in Downtown DC, The Smithsonian Institution was founded in 1829 by the British scientist James Smithson shortly before his death. In founding this establishment, Smithson stated that his goal was “the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” Several art galleries and scientific museums are operated by the Smithsonian, including:
- The National Gallery of Art—The collection of paintings and sculptures displayed here represent the best in America’s and Europe’s rich artistic heritage.
- the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design and Decorative Arts
- the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory—for studying the physical and chemical processes that occur in outer space
Since 1987, Smithsonian has also owned Folkways Records, a recording company founded in 1948 devoted to preserving the traditional music of people all over the world.
See the world-famous White House up close
Few buildings in Washington are more beautiful than the White House. (Incidentally, it was not officially known by that name until 1901!) Visitors to the legendary Downtown Washington location can see the State Dining Room; the Red Room, which was furnished in the style of 1810 to 1830; the Blue Room, much of whose furniture was ordered by President Monroe; the restored Green Room; and the East Room. Other rooms are reserved for the President and his staff. The South Lawn is filled with plants grown by past presidents.
Explore George Washington’s former residence; Mount Vernon
The home of George Washington is about fifteen miles south of the capital, on a high bluff overlooking the Potomac. It is a large and comfortable house with white pillars and appears to be made out of stone, but it is actually a wooden building with the siding arranged to resemble stone. Mount Vernon has been restored as closely as possible to the way it was when first build by Washington’s father in the 1730s. Take the interesting Mansion Tour, see Washington’s Tomb and visit the Slave Memorial and Burial Ground site.
Learn a little at the Lincoln Memorial
Washington is full of monuments to presidents and other prominent political and military figures. The Lincoln Memorial is a massive marble building that ranks among the most handsome of its kind from the 1900s. This memorial was built on The Mall to honour the 16th USA president Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln died in 1865 and this massive Beaux-Arts style structure, which spans 66 hectares, took 10 years to build, opening in 1922. Besides the famous and imposing statue, one may see two paintings made by the American muralist Jules Guerin, titled Emancipation and Reunion. Other memorials in Washington include the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. You may be inspired to pick up some historic documents for sale after your visit.
Note; The peace rally scene in Forest Gump (where Tom Hanks wades through the waters) was filmed here at the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool. Some 1,500 extras were altered to make the crowd appear much bigger.
Discover the U.S. Capitol Building
The United States Capitol is where congress meets. The building itself was started in 1793 and is built in Neoclassical style with a massive iconic dome. Many of the 540 rooms in the Capitol have mementos from our country’s past as well as works by some of the greatest artists who have ever lived. For instance, the Westward Expansion Corridor, completed in 1993, has maps and paintings that chronicle the westward movement across the continent, from colonial days until the entrance of Alaska and Hawaii into the Union. National Statuary Hall houses statues of famous Americans—Carlo Franzoni’s Car of History clock may be seen here.
Explore the Washington National Cathedral
Located in DC West, the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is the official name for this neo-Gothic Episcopal Church, which is the world’s sixth largest cathedral. The National House of Prayer is part of the church, and the funerals of Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan and Ford were held here. Features include the flying buttresses that characterized the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages. The cathedral is open for services 7 days a week.
Also in Washington West is the National Zoo where the main draw is a pair of giant pandas. The zoo was founded in 1889 and is an important panda-breeding and research center. This is one of the most family-friendly things to do in Washington DC.
Experience the Washington Monument up close
About halfway between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial is the Egyptian-style obelisk known as the Washington Monument. One of the tallest monuments on earth, it is hollow inside, but the view outside is impressive. Pope Pius IX and the Japanese Ryukyu Kingdom are among the many who donated stones for the monument. Rising majestically to a height of 169m, construction was started in 1848.
Enjoy the National Cherry Blossom Festival
On March 27, 1912, the Mayor of Tokyo donated some cherry trees to Washington. Since then, the National Cherry Blossom Festival has been held every year for two weeks in March.
Take a moment at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
This museum was first dedicated in 1993. It is devoted to the study not only of the Holocaust but of genocide in general and how it may be prevented. Located opposite to the National Mall, the modern museum opened in 1993 and is a sombre and thought-provoking experience.
Walk The Old Town of Alexandria
The Old Town in Alexandria is the historic center of the city. Its historic reminders include:
- the George Washington Masonic Memorial—built in 1930s to resemble the ancient lighthouse in Alexandria, Egypt
- a reconstruction of Washington’s office and town home on 508 Cameron Street (unfortunately the original burnt down)
- Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary—dates from the late 1700s
The Old Town is a maze of cobblestoned streets lined with around 4,000 buildings which date back to the 1600s. This is one of the most interesting things to do in Washington DC as the area also features many shops and quality restaurants.