When my friend Lize emailed me a couple of weeks ago requesting a post on Washington DC, I got to work and churned out a couple of fairly comprehensive pieces on the restaurant scene and nightlife. While lunching at one of my suggested spots, she scored a date! I jokingly told her that if she ends up marrying this guy, I basically introduced them.
I also facebooked her some quick tourist, daytime activity suggestions. She was already in DC, and I didn’t have time to mold the information into a post. I have a second chance at blogger redemption, though. Some family friends are venturing to the capital in a couple of weeks, so without further ado, here is a list of what to do on a visit to Washington DC.
- Visit the Washington Monument and all of the memorials on and around the national mall: Lincoln, Jefferson, FDR, World War II, Vietnam War, Korean War, DC War. You can accomplish this in two to three hours on foot, either starting at The Lincoln or The Jefferson, making a loop down Constitution Ave and around the tidal basin. See National Geographic’s walking map below (points 1, 2 & 3). Note: The memorials are stunning at night, especially the erie Korean War soldiers, the light casting shadows on their all-to-human-like faces. If you have the time, check out the memorials during the day, then head to Lincoln and Korean War at night for a revisit. My favorite memorial is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (FDR). With it’s park like setting, serene waterfalls and artistic flair, it is one of the more memorable memorials. It’s more of walking experience than the others. The Lincoln and The Jefferson are the most stately and impressive. Towering Abe left a lasting impression on me the first time I visited the giant seated president at age five.
- Stroll around the tidal basin while the cherry blossoms are blooming, their pink and white puffs lining the lake like flowering clouds (if you can time it right). This can be combined with a walking tour of the memorials or a leisurely activity on its own. The Cherry Blossom Festival coincides with the bloom schedule: March 20-April 14 this year, the blossoms peaking between April 6-10. If you just google the expected peak dates each year, you should have a good idea of when to plan your trip. This year’s peak is the latest date in many years.
- Check out all of The Smithsonians. This could take you weeks! The Smithsonian Museums are the best in the country, if not the world. And they’re free! If you only want to spend a day or two (or half a day), and depending on your interests, focus on The Natural History Museum (my favorite- I love the dinosaurs and Hope Diamond), The Air and Space Museum (There is a second Air and Space Museum in Virginia by Dulles Airport that is even better than the one on the mall. It houses The Discovery Space Shuttle!), and The American History Museum (fun, kitschy, Americana lovelies like Dorothy’s ruby slippers, the first car driven across the U.S., a two-story timber house, and Julia Child’s kitchen!). If you have more time, check out The Freer and Sackler Art Galleries, The Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (modern art), National Museum of African Art, and The Smithsonian Institution Building Castle. Skip the Native American Museum (there’s just not much on display).
- Spend time at The National Gallery of Art, housing one of the world’s finest collections of sculptures, paintings and graphic arts. We love the East Wing, which contains modern masterpieces like Caulder’s mobiles and Pollock’s Number 1.
- Tour the Capitol Building, and hear someone whispering from across the room, as if they are standing right next to you, in the National Statuary Hall.
- Tour The White House, or take a stroll around the exterior at the very least.
- Visit The Supreme Court while an argument is being heard, or simply tour the building itself. The marble is from all over the U.S., and the architecture is beyond impressive.
- In the same general vicinity, stroll through the U.S. Botanic Gardens. This is my favorite spot on a blistery winter day. It’s so warm and tropical in the gardens. Bring a book and cozy up next to the waterfalls. You’re in the jungle, baby!
- History buff? Head to The National Archives to view The Constitution and The Declaration of Independence.
- Spend some significant time at the sobering Holocaust Museum, one of the best museums I’ve ever experienced. I would allot at least three hours, if you can.
- Make like 007, and explore The Spy Museum. Tickets are $20, but it’s worth it. We spent three hours in there and felt a bit rushed through it. There’s lots to see, and it’s set up kind of like a Hollywood movie set or an experience in Disney World.
- Catch up on the news at the Newseum. I’ve never actually ventured to this museum, but I’ve always wanted to check it out. It is a favorite of locals, even with the $22 cost of admission.
- Check out the pandas at The National Zoo. This is one of the greatest zoos in the country, and admission is free, as it is part of the Smithsonian Institution.
- Venture across the Potomac and pay homage to our brave, fallen soldiers at Arlington Cemetery. Make sure you see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and witness the Changing of the Guard.
- While you’re across the river in Arlington, VA, take a stroll or jog along the Potomac River on the Mount Vernon Trail, soaking in the most scenic views of DC, from Georgetown to the memorials on the mall.
- Continue all the way (13 miles or so) down the Mount Vernon Trail to George Washington’s estate at Mt. Vernon, if you have the stamina! Or you can just drive there and tour the stately home and grounds. They also periodically host excellent wine festivals. Sipping vino and noshing on cheese while lounging on Washington’s lawn overlooking the Potomac is a pretty special moment.
- Since you’re pretty much already there, spend some time strolling the streets of picturesque “Old Town” in Alexandria, VA. It’s reminscent of Georgetown but even more quaint and colonial. There are some excellent restaurants in Old Town as well, like Restaurant Eve (mentioned here as the best lunch deal in DC).
- A bit off the beaten path, explore the U.S. National Arboretum. This was our oasis in the city, with miles upon miles of trails through gorgeous terrain. Some of my favorite areas include: the dwarf conifer forest, azalea hill, the state tree corridor (every state is represented!), and the Japanese garden. There are also some cool bonsai trees on display in the main building. The original capital building columns live here as well.
- Enjoy a warm spring or summer evening at The Nationals ballpark. Socialize at the massive outfield bar or steak out a good seat with a hot dog and hefeweizen. The presidential race is the best. Baseball is America’s favorite pastime. It doesn’t get more patriotic than this!
20. If you’re visiting in the fall-winter, and sports are your thing, take in a Caps hockey game. The Caps have been an exciting team as of late, consistently making it to high rounds of the playoffs. Or opt for football and grab some tickets to see the Redskins play.
TIP: Use the Metro to get around the city. It’s very easy, fast, and cost efficient. Check out this blog, which explains how to use the metro, or visit WMATA to plan your trip and see the train schedules. Alan thinks the underground stations of the metro are some of the most beautiful construction in the city.
What are your favorite things to do in Washington DC?
Thanks for stopping by!