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What to See in Washington, D.C.
Including contributions from Lauren Kahn (LSKahn)
This capitol city makes an ideal educational vacation spot for families or adults seeking a learning experience. Walking through the beautifully kept streets and admiring the ancient inspired building facades, one cannot help but acquire some facts about the history and government of the US.
For the art lover and knowledge seeker, the collection of museums in one contiguous space is a delight. Well maintained park grounds and picturesque photo opportunities are abundant. The metro and bus transportation systems are incredibly efficient, well-priced, and permit easy access to almost everything.
Finally, as a major city DC contains a plethora of diverse dining and hotel options for every taste and budget.
The Main Sites
Most standard DC trips will already have budgeted time for these very worthwhile and important sites:
The amazing and educational Monument Walk, about 4 miles round trip
including the tidal basin. Peak cherry blossom bloom times can be found on
the web site.
At least some of the 14 Smithsonian Museums including Air & Space,
American History, National History, Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture, Freer
and Sackler, Postal Museum (a child's favorite due to the technology based
hands-on and uncrowded activities), and the National Zoo.
National Archives to see the originals and reflect on the wisdom
of the Founding Fathers.
Bureau of Printing & Engraving for a short but entertaining 20 minutes
in which you watch millions of dollars actually being created and learn about
high paying jobs you never knew existed.
Ford's Theatre to see where Lincoln was shot and the incredible
basement museum, and Peterson House just across the street to see where he
National Cathedral to view the gargoyles, the tombs of Helen Keller,
Anne Sullivan, and Woodrow Wilson, or just to contrast a very new cathedral
with the older European variety.
The Overlooked Delights in the City
Next time try visiting some of these more overlooked delights in the city:
Hillwood Museum and Gardens for its unique collection of French
and Russian artifacts (including real Faberge eggs), and its absolutely stunning
collection of gardens. Reservations required.
Franciscan Monastery for its full scale replicas of Holy Land Shrines
and Roman Catacombs. It is both spooky and engaging! Free tours on the hour.
Naval Observatory for a very up-close and unique look at the stars
and time keeping. Only offered every other Monday night at 8pm. For security
reasons, you must apply on-line 6 weeks in advance.
Library of Congress for its gorgeous frescoed interior, one of only
three remaining perfect Gutenberg bibles, and the most beautiful 22 "reading
rooms" in the world. Free informative tours.
Folger Shakespeare Library for the Elizabethan architecture, frequent
productions and the largest collection of Shakespeare folios outside of England.
Free tour at 11am.
Arlington Cemetery for the changing of the guard at the Tomb of
the Unknown Soldier, the Kennedy graves, the mast of the USS Maine, the Challenger
memorial, and the statue of Iwo Jima set amongst the tulips and bells given
to the US by the Dutch. Tourmobile tours begin at the information center.
National Building Museum for its Renaissance Palazzo architecture
and setting of all inaugural balls, and the only other Presidential seal outside
the Whitehouse. Free tours on the half hour.
Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Museum for its 33 authentic
period rooms worth 1000 words each. Free tours at any time.
The new Spy Museum, more gadget-type fun for kids.
State Department Rooms for the most lavish fine arts and collectibles
you have ever seen gathered in one place. Free tours for those 12 and older.
Reserve through your Congressman at least 6 months in advance through www.house.gov or www.senate.gov.
Gardens galore including the US National Arboretum, US Botanical
Garden with thousands of orchid species, Constitution Gardens and Bartholdi Park, and Dumbarton Oaks.
Sit on the lap of the Einstein Statue in front of the National Academy of Sciences or on the hand of The Awakening statue in East Potomac Park.
The army's National Museum of Health and Medicine for its very unique
collection of medical oddities. You need a car for this one.
Air and space fanatics will enjoy the new Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center out at Dulles airport. This new addition to the Smithsonian Air & Space collection
houses the Enterprise space shuttle, the B-29 Enola Gay, a Concorde, and hundreds
of other aircraft. Drive or take the shuttle bus from the front of the Air
& Space Museum.
Miscellaneous Tips to Enhance your Visit
Buy a National Parks Passport. This small book, which lists information about national parks all over the US, makes a wonderful souvenir. Children especially love to seek out the passport stamp that is available at all national park monuments. There is one hidden station on the National Mall that contains all 21 Washington area stamps!
The Whitehouse Visitor's Center truly enhances the Whitehouse experience. There is a 30 minute movie along with many engaging exhibits.
Although the view from the top of the Washington Monument surely brings to life L'Enfant's plan for the city, the view from the top of the Old Post Office Tower allows you to see just how big each of our government buildings really is. Just how many employees are there in the Department of Commerce?
If you visit during the warmer months, take advantage of the many and varied free concerts around the city. They are frequently staged by members of the armed forces and are highly enjoyable.
The Millenium Theatre at the Kennedy Center has free performances
every single night of the year at 6pm. Check out the schedule before you go
and plan on arriving early to secure tickets.
The National Theatre has free performances every Monday night of
the year at 6pm and 7:30pm. Some planning is required.
Remember that most sights have free admittance as they are already funded through taxpayer dollars. This means that you can plan ahead of time to use the extra dollars on a dining experience, theatre, or new hotel. Private sights do charge (sometimes hefty) admission fees. Investigate the attraction before paying. Make sure it is something you want to do or see. There is no requirement to heed the recommendations of others (including mine)!!
Lastly, I recommend walking as much as possible. Washington DC is a clean, safe, beautiful city. There are scores of attractions not listed here. You may pass right by one and decide to go inside!
Lauren Kahn (LSKahn), August 2006
For something unusual, try a Segway tour.
DC's Cultural Tourism website will tell you everything going on
during your stay.
For an in depth tour, check the schedule at Washington Walks. They
have some bus tours as well as walking tours, usually themed around subjects
missed by the conventional bus tours. For example, they have tours focused
on movies filmed in DC (you see "The Exorcist" steps) and Washington's Black
If you have kids, they will love a DC Ducks tour. Part of the tour
is on land. Then the "duck", a World War II type land/sea vehicle, takes you
for a dip in the Potomac River.
Half price same day tickets to theatrical events can be found at
Ticketplace, 407 7th St, NW (Archives Metro). Sometimes they sell tickets
ahead of time as well. You can always check the night before to see what is
available. Please note, tickets for the long running play "Shear Madness"
(DC's answer to London's "The Mousetrap") are almost always available at Ticketplace.
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