Visiting Washington - What to See and Do
(Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport DCA, USA)
America's capital Washington
is a fascinating blend of monuments, power brokers, trendy ethnic neighborhoods and poverty. The latter won't be a problem for visitors, as all the top attractions in this vibrant city are located in relatively safe parts of town.
It really is a memorable experience to stroll past the White House on your way to lunch at the Old Ebbitt Grill for oysters and a beer. The monuments around the Washington Mall are outstanding and can easily consume a full day. You can pop into the Capitol Building, check out the US Supreme Court and stare back at Abe Lincoln on his throne.
Washington also has incredible live music, great dining and some of the country's most exciting museums. Its neighborhoods range from gay friendly Dupont Circle to the trendy historic vortex of Georgetown. Best of all, this capital city has a superb subway system, as well as miles of biking paths along the Potomac River and through the monument district, providing a refreshing touch of exercise and fresh air.
Ten things you must do in Washington
- The White House is a marvelous piece of American history and now one of America's principal attractions. It is always exciting to know that the US President is often somewhere just yards from the metal fencing that surrounds the property. It is easy to gaze at the White House from the street, but reserving a free guided tour will always be a highlight. You'll need to book ahead of time, but the inside of the White House is like a living museum of US presidency.
- Among the many top-flight museums in Washington, the Smithsonian is undoubtedly the best. Located right on the Mall, the main building itself is a work of art. Inside, the exhibits are all treasures, from the National Portrait Gallery's 2,000 paintings to the 137 million artifacts retrieved from Smithsonian expeditions over the ages. There are actually 19 separate museums in the Smithsonian family, and each is worth visiting.
- The Washington Monument is one of America's most iconic structures. The obelisk stands right on the Mall at just over 169 meters / 555 feet high. It is a surreal sight to observe from a distance, but riding inside to the observation deck is a real treat. Admission is free, but you need to get a ticket ahead of time for a specific 30-minute window. Tickets always sell out by 09:00, so get here early.
- Georgetown is one of the city's trendiest neighborhoods. It is also the main shopping hub and a superb place to bar hop at night. Its historic streets are lined with lovely old townhouses, and there are hundreds of diverse places to shop, eat and drink.
- Washington DC has several great places to bike, walk or go boating. From a jog around the Mall to a bike ride along the scenic 11-mile / 18-km Rock Creek Park path that starts at the Lincoln Memorial, there are plenty of ways to get some exercise and enjoy the sights. Washington is surrounded by water, with paddle boating on the tidal basin at Independence Avenue or canoeing along the C&O Canal (Chesapeake and Ohio Canal).
- One of the most inspiring of Washington's monuments is the Lincoln Memorial. The design is akin to the Parthenon in Greece, with a huge full-size marble statue of Abe Lincoln seated on a chair. Out front is the reflecting pool, while off in the distance is the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial. You can easily see the memorial in 30 minutes, then stroll on to Jefferson's and other important attractions, like the Vietnam Wall.
- Washington has one of the best performing arts and live music scenes in the country. World-class performances are always scheduled at the Kennedy Center. Smaller theaters like the Warner Theater, the DAR Constitution Hall and the Lincoln Theater regularly host live music, dance and other treats from around the country and the globe.
- Kids and adults alike always leave the National Museum of Natural History in awe. This massive repository of all things natural includes complete dinosaurs, early human remains and lots of fossils and other exotic creatures. It is a very modern venue, with IMAX movies, an amazing Butterfly Garden and the innovative Ocean Hall.
- The National Zoo is a really great zoo, both in terms of its inhabitants and its natural park-like environment. There are many stars on show here, including two giant pandas. Separate areas showcase the wildlife of the world in Amazonia, the Elephant Trails, the Asia Trail and others.
- Sports fans have plenty of action to choose from, depending on when you visit. The city is home to the NFL Redskins football team, the NHL Capitals hockey team, the Washington Wizards NBA basketball team and the DC United soccer club. The newest addition is the Washington Nationals baseball team, playing in their new and very charming traditional baseball field called the Nationals Ballpark, located right in the old downtown area of Southeast DC.