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Washington, DC (District of Columbia) is the capital of the USA and one of the most important cities to the modern world. It was planned as the nation’s permanent capital in the late 17th century. Washington is considered the international center of power, diplomacy and magnificence. The city is a hub of governmental activity and houses the Capitol, White House, Supreme Court, and FBI, among other powerful institutions. The Washington Monument, Lincoln and Jefferson memorials are some the nation’s prominent heritage markers located in the National Mall.
In addition to celebrating the Political history of the nation, Washington DC offers the opportunity to explore many aspects of discovery, invention, and life.The National Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the National Zoological Park are among the 20 exhibitions of the Smithsonian Institution, the largest museum complex in the world. The Smithsonian museums and galleries offer free admission and countless hours of activity and discovery. It’s conveniently located within reasonable driving distance to several other exciting cities. It is a 4 hour and 15 minute drive from NYC (227 miles), 1 hour from Baltimore (40 miles), 2 hours and 48 minutes from Philadelphia (138 miles) and 2½ hours from Williamsburg (150 miles).
Top 21 Must Sees
1. The U.S. Capitol Building – Construction on this beautiful, iconic structure began in 1793 and it remains a true must-see. Enter the place where bills are passed and laws are created. Admire the work put into the 4,644 square foot ceiling fresco, the Apotheosis of Washington. Take a free tour to see it all. We recommend booking your tour in advance to ensure your spot.
2. The White House has been the home of every president since John Adams and holds the most popular address in the United States. It is the oldest public building of Washington. In the 18th century, the building was burned down during the war, and was painted white to remove its black stains and thus acquired its name “White House.” It is spread across 6 levels, having 35 bathrooms, 8 staircases, 3 elevators, 28 fireplaces, 147 windows and 412 doors. Tours are free, but must be scheduled through your appropriate member of congress 21 days-6 months in advance of your visit.
3. The Washington Monument has been the tallest object in the District of Columbia since 1884. At 555 ft, it’s currently the third tallest monument in the country and it was actually the tallest structure in the world at the time of its completion. Ride the elevator to the top of this white stone obelisk to learn about the buildings history. Pay close attention to the exterior and you will see two different hues of stone which show when construction was temporarily stopped during the Civil War. Admission is free, but you do need to book your ticket in advance.
4. Lincoln Memorial – This 19 foot white marble statue of Abraham Lincoln, seated inside of a large columned structure commemorates President Lincoln as the Great Emancipator. As you walk inside, you will be able to read some of his great words inscribed on the wall. This is where Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. The 36 columns represent each of the states in the Union at the time of the Lincoln’s death. The iconic memorial is located at the west end of the National Mall and is open 24/7 (aside from Christmas Day) with free admission.
5. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is currently the most popular of the 19 Smithsonian Museums. Discover the history of flight when you see for yourself the Apollo 11 command module, the original Wright Brothers airplane, and the original model for the Star Trek Enterprise. You can even touch an actual moon rock… and it’s all free!
6. Jefferson Memorial - Celebrate our 3rd president, who authored the Declaration of Independence, at this monument. This iconic, dome-shaped monument is also open every day aside from Christmas. Be sure not to miss it, as it is a little off the beaten path along the Potomac River. It’s also free.
*Take a moonlight walk by the Lincoln Memorial, White House, and Capitol, and see the Washington Monument light up the night sky.
7. Arlington Cemetery – When I first visited this cemetery in the 8th grade, I wondered “why would I travel all the way to our nation’s capitol to visit a cemetery?” I ended up enjoying it immensely. Since it was established in 1864, this 624 acre cemetery has gathered over 300,000 grave sites. Notable burials include John F. Kennedy (whose grave is marked with an eternal flame), William Howard Taft, and three unidentified service members who are buried at The Tomb of the Unknown (a 24-hour honor guard watches the tomb). The Arlington House (1802), along with slave quarters and a small museum, are available for tour as well. Admission is free; parking prices are nominal.
8. The National Museum of American History – See The Star-Spangled Banner, Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz, 24 First Ladies’ gowns (including Michelle Obama’s), Abraham Lincoln’s top hat and suit, and the desk on which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence (which is opened all the way out every 4th of July), all at the nation’s largest institution devoted to American history. Admission is free of charge.
9. Library of Congress – At the largest library in the world, book lovers will be swept off their feet, architecture enthusiasts will be amazed, and and history buffs, fully entertained during a free tour. The Library of Congress is the base for the U.S. copyright office, and adds about 10,000 items per day. The collections of the library are said to be as long as nearly 900 miles if they were lined up. Free of charge.
10. The National Gallery of Art - Find the only Da Vinci painting in the U.S at the USA. Expect to see works from all of the masters, including Picasso, Miró, Matisse, Pollock, and Rothko. The building is a work of art in and of itself, as it was the largest marble structure in the world at the time of it’s completion. Free admission.
11. Catch an animal stage show at The National Zoological Park, which hosts nearly two thousand animals from all over the world, including pandas. Admission is free; it receives over 2.2 million annual visitors, making it the 6th most-visited zoo in America.
12. Visit the United States Botanic Garden, which is the countries oldest continually operating botanic garden – it was established by Congress in 1820. We consider it to be the 5th best botanical garden in the USA.
13. Picnic at the expansive Rock Creek Park. This urban space is full of greenery and has a planetarium, an amphitheater, picnic spots, golf course and a boathouse.Come in the spring when the cherry blossoms, a 1912 gift from Japan, are in full bloom.
14. Stroll through the magnificent Washington National Cathedral to see the 6th largest cathedral in the world. This Gothic structure is home to over 200 stained-glass windows
15. National Archives - See the country’s most important original documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights. Be sure not to miss viewing the original 1297 Magna Carta, on display as you enter the Rotunda; the document is one of only a few known to exist, and the only original version residing permanently in the United States. Admission is free.
16. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial - The memorial debuted on August 28, 2011, exactly 48 years after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his momentous “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the nearby Lincoln Memorial to the 200,000 people who had gathered on the Mall during the “March on Washington” to pressure Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act. Set on a 4-acre parcel of land surrounded by the capital’s famous cherry trees, the gigantic sculpture rests on 300 concrete piles driven into the muddy basin terrain. A 28-foot-6-inch-tall statue of Dr. King in a business suit, arms folded, stands front and center. Admission is free.
17. Vietnam Veterans Memorial - Featuring two long, black-granite walls in the shape of a V, each inscribed with the names of the men and women who gave their lives, or remain missing, in the longest war in American history, the walls list close to 60,000 people. Vietnam veterans had received almost no recognition of their service before the memorial was conceived, so the nonprofit Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund raised $7 million and secured a 2-acre site to erect a memorial that would make no political statement about the war and would harmonize with neighboring memorials. Admission is free.
18. Watch the Supreme Court in action or have a visit with your congressperson.
19. If you want to “see” a celebrity (but can’t seem to find one) stop by the Madame Tussauds wax museum to see life-size wax replicas of people like Beyonce, Tiger Woods or Barack and Michelle Obama, and all 44 US presidents. Save 20% when you buy your tickets online. Online rates are $17.20 for adults and $13.60 for children.
20. Six Flags America is Maryland’s only theme park featuring over 100 rides, slides, shows and attractions. Buy tickets online for up to 50% off tickets at the park. General admission is $59.99 for adults and $39.99 for children
21. International Spy Museum - The the first and only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to espionage and the only one in the world to provide a global perspective on this all-but-invisible profession, this museum houses 68,000-square-feet of space devoted to espionage and teaches you about the tricks and trades of spies, both historic and fictitious, with plenty of hands-on and interactive exhibits. Trick equipment includes a shoe transmitter used by Soviets as a listening device and a single-shot pistol disguised as a lipstick tube. Keep in mind that neither the main museum nor its special features are recommended for children 11 and under. We consider it to be one of the 27 Coolest Museums In America! General admission is $20.95 for adults, $14.95 for children, and $15.95 for seniors.
The Source – Owned by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, experience fine dining at this three-level restaurant at the Newseum. They offer two distinct dining experiences, with the ground floor bar and lounge offering a Japanese Izakaya menu, while upstairs features contemporary interpretations of Asian dishes. One of the most notable features is the two-story wine wall that holds over 2,000 bottles.
Karma Kitchen – Located in Northwest Washington, this revolutionary concept allows diners to pay as they wish. You even have the opportunity to volunteer if your pockets are empty. Generosity is at it’s finest here – what a great way to pay it forward.
Medieval Times Dinner Theater - Located in the Baltimore/DC area. This is a family dinner theater featuring staged medieval-style games, sword-fighting, and jousting performed by a cast of 75 actors and 20 horses. It is housed in a replica 11th-century castle.
Hard Rock Cafe – Hard Rock Cafe’s “Embassy of Rock-n-Roll” opened its doors on January 1, 1990 and has been creating raving fans ever since! It is located next to Fords Theater, across from the FBI building, and just a short walk from Metro Center, The White House, Capitol Hill, and the Smithsonian Museums, Hard Rock Cafe is both a perfect stop on your sight seeing adventure and a unique late night hang out for DC locals. They have 17 plasma displays to entertain as you dine with the stars and marvel at their world famous collection of memorabilia. Visit the Rock Shop, where you’ll find everything from edgy new rock-n-roll garb and hot accessories, to traditional favorites.
3 Star- Holiday Inn Washington – Central/White House (Avg. price $140-$290) Hotel prices in this area are VERY high but I was able to come across this hotel, which if affordable considered to other properties in the same area. Is it a luxury hotel, does it look eclectic? No, but it’s all you really need. Other amenities include complimentary WiFi, coffee/tea makers and refrigerators. The location is ideal, 6 blocks from the White House.
4 Star- Gaylord National (Avg. price $251-$399) Located in nearby Oxon Hill, MD, 20 minutes from downtown DC. Lovely grounds on the river come hand in hand with a large glass atrium that reaches 18-stories high, an indoor pool, full-service health spa, marina and nightclub make up some of the hotels amenities. Just imagine… sitting on your own private indoor balcony in your very own bathrobe, taking in the scenic atriums. This large, 2000 room hotel and convention center is the largest non-gaming hotel and convention center on the East Coast of the US.
4.5 Star- Williard InterContinental Washington (Avg. price $257-$595) This well preserved, historic, luxury hotel is located just 2 blocks east of the White House. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the current 12-story structure opened in 1901. Martin Luther King actually wrote his “I Have A Dream” speech in his hotel room here in 1963, how cool is that?! Steven Spielberg show the finale of his film Minority Report at the hotel, as well. Other celebrity guests include Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Abraham Lincoln (1861). Every president since Franklin Pierce has either slept or attended an event here.
5 Star- The Hay-Adams (Avg. price $317-$689) Opened in 1928, this 145 room hotel is located in a fantastic location, across from the White House. Room amenities include 37’ HDTVs, custom Italian bed linens, micro fiber bathrobes and slippers, Bose CD music system, complimentary choice of morning newspaper, and so much more. It has won dozens of awards that consider it to be one of the nicest hotels in the world.