Bordered by Maryland and Virginia, and located along the Potomac River, Washington, D.C. is our nation’s capital, a city-state full of America’s historical monuments and memorials to our most influential leaders. It’s a political hot spot and home of the President of the United States and White House, U.S. Capitol Building, U.S. Treasury, Supreme Court, and Pentagon. There’s a wealth of knowledge and history in the city’s many museums, galleries, and other venues.
Monuments in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. is full of monuments! You could spend an entire weekend just walking around the city enjoying the monuments and memorials. All of the monuments are free to see and you can stay as long as you like, soaking up the gorgeous sights and basking in history.
Built in white stone and facing the Washington Memorial from the opposite end of the Reflecting Pool, the Lincoln Memorial is one of the most recognized structures in the United States. It honors Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States, remembered for abolishing slavery. He was also one of the four presidents to be assassinated. Inside the memorial is a statue of Honest Abe with a quote above him that says:
In this temple
As in the hearts of the people
For whom he saved the Union
The memory of Abraham Lincoln
Is enshrined forever
The Lincoln Memorial is free to visit all day every day. Park Rangers are available every day from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. to answer questions and there are interpretive programs every day on the hour from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
The iconic dome-shaped Jefferson Memorial is reminiscent to the Pantheon in Rome and also mirrors a building at the University of Virginia that Jefferson himself built. Thomas Jefferson was one of America’s founding fathers and 3rd president of the United States. He also drafted the Declaration of Independence. The Jefferson Memorial is open all day every day and Park Rangers are available every day to answer questions from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Interpretive programs are provided every hour from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
The Washington Monument is a giant stone pillar honoring George Washington, America’s first president and commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. It’s the world’s tallest stone structure and the tallest obelisk at 555 feet (169 meters) tall. It towers over Washington, D.C. and can be seen from anywhere in the city. The Washington Monument is free to visit day or night. Tickets are free to take an elevator to the top of the Monument (or $1.50 service charge to order in advance).
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
The MLK, Jr. Memorial is situated along the Tidal Basin on a four-acre site. The main attraction is the 30-foot stone statue of MLK, Jr. himself, carved into the Stone of Hope. The Stone of Hope is cut from a boulder behind it, representing the Mountains of Despair. Text from his “I Have a Dream” speech is carved into the side of the rock:
Out of the Mountain of Despair,
A Stone of Hope
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, famous for his use of non-violent resistance. The memorial is available to visit all day every day, with Park Rangers available for questions from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. and interpretive programs every hour on the hour from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
World War II Memorial
The National World War II Memorial honors who served as part of the American armed forces. It’s located at one end of the Reflecting Pool, between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. It contains 56 granite columns that represent the 48 U.S. states, seven federal territories, and Washington, D.C. The Freedom Wall pays tribute to everyone who lost their lives during WWII. The Memorial is open to the public all day, every day, with Park Rangers available for questions from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. and interpretive programs from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Other notable memorials and monuments include the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Women’s Memorial, FDR Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Marine Corps War Memorial, Pentagon Memorial. While I had visited these many years ago (on an 8th grade field trip), daylight was of the essence and I didn’t get to them during this trip, so I’ll just briefly mention them here for future visits.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors members of the U.S. Armed Forces who fought in the Vietnam War. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall is almost 500 feet long and has more than 58,000 imprinted names that you can rub with a pencil onto a piece of paper.
The Vietnam Women’s Memorial is a 2,000 pound, 15-foot tall bronze structure honoring the 265,000 women who risked their lives caring for the wounded and dying during the Vietnam War.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial honors the 32nd president of the U.S. divided into four “rooms,” signifying the president’s four terms in office. It sprawls over seven acres with 21 FDR quotes along with statues and murals.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial is dedicated to the armed forces that fought in the Korean War. It appears as an isosceles triangle intersecting the Pool of Remembrance, with images of troops sandblasted onto the walls and 19 stainless steel statues in the center. When the 19 soldiers are reflected onto the 2 walls, 38 soldiers appear, representing the 38th parallel, which was the dividing line between North and South Korea during the conflict.
The Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, is outside of Arlington National Cemetery just across the Potomac River. It signifies the three survivors raising an American flag at Iwo Jima after the American campaign in the Pacific during WWII.
The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial was dedicated to the tragic events that happened on September 11, 2001. 184 lives were lost, now remembered in this memorial by “Memorial Units” which have the victims’ ages and locations at the time of the attack inscribed on them. The memorial differentiates between the victims who were on American Airlines Flight 77 and those were in the Pentagon. There are 85 Crape Myrtles (trees that grow up to 30 feet tall) and the Age Wall, which grows one inch per year relative to the ages of the victims.
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. Everyone American knows this address: it’s the home of the White House and the President of the United States! Every president since 2nd President John Adams in 1800 has lived in this house. The Oval Office, which is the official office of the president, is in the West Wing of the White House. The White House includes the Executive Residence, West Wing and Oval Office, East Wing, Eisenhower Executive Office Building (offices for the staff and vice president’s office), and Blair House (a guest residence). Self-guided tours of the White House are available upon request from a Member of Congress Tuesdays through Saturdays.
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Who doesn’t love money?! The Department of the Treasury’s address is 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, neighbor of the White House. Its job is to manage government revenue and print and mint all paper currency and coins. The Department also collects all federal taxes through the Internal Revenue Service and manages U.S. government debt. Fun fact: the first Secretary of the Treasury was Alexander Hamilton in 1789, who single-handedly worked out the nation’s first financial system. His portrait is on the front of the $10 bill and the U.S. Treasury is on the back.
The U.S. Capitol, also known as Capitol Hill, is the seat of the U.S. Congress (the legislative branch of the U.S. government). It also houses and important collection of American art. The U.S. Capitol and its dome are international symbols of United States democracy.
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest federal court of the U.S. It has ultimate jurisdiction over all federal courts in the country. It’s also the final interpreter of federal constitutional law in the U.S.
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is a research library that serves the United States Congress. It’s also the national library of the United States. It’s the largest library in the world by collection size (the British Library coming in second) and the oldest federal cultural constitution in the United States. It includes research materials from all over the world in over 450 languages. Two-thirds of the books it acquires each year are in languages other than English.
A symbol for the U.S. Military, the Pentagon is the United States headquarters for the Department of Defense. The Pentagon is a large office building in the shape of a pentagon just across the Potomac River in Arlington County, Virginia. It has five sides, five floors above ground, five ring corridors per floor, and a five-acre central plaza also shaped like a pentagon.
Museums and Galleries
Washington, D.C. has been voted the best museum destination in the world many times, and it’s no wonder why! The city keeps some of the country’s most inspiring artifacts housed in its museums and galleries. It’s impossible to explore all the exhibits Washington has to offer in one trip.
The Renwick Gallery is America’s first building designed to be an art museum. It began in 1859 but almost fell to the wrecking ball in the 1960s. Instead, historians restored it and reopened it in 1972 as the Renwick Gallery, home to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection of contemporary craft and decorative art. Recently, another renovation has revived the art museum. A new exhibit call Wonder is on view through May 8, 2016.
Wonder includes nine contemporary site-specific installations, each taking over a different gallery. These installations turn the building into a larger-than-life work of art. The artists created large-scale installations from unexpected materials like thread, tires, marbles, and blocks of wood, assembled, massed, and juxtaposed to transform commonplace objects and unexciting spaces into incredible works of art to engage visitors in surprising ways. This is the most unique art museum I’ve ever been to and you won’t find anything else like it anywhere! It’s a must-see if you can get to Washington, D.C. by May, 2016.
National Air and Space Museum
The National Air and Space Museum houses famous icons of flight, including the original 1903 Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, SpaceShipOne, Bell X-1, Amelia Earheart’s Lockheed Vega, the Apollo 11 command module, and a touchable moon rock. The museum has different sections featuring different eras of aviation, sea-air operations, time and navigation, and exploring the universe. You can visit the Planetarium, IMAX theater, and flight simulators for a small fee. Fun fact: Transformers 2 was filmed at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center and the SR-71 Blackbird played an autobot named Jetfire. Also, Captain America: The Winter Soldier shot scenes inside the National Air and Space Museum’s Milestones of Flight main gallery.
There are free 90-minute guided tours daily at 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. You can also see IMAX films and planetarium shows daily, with tickets at the box office. Catch a daily demonstrations in the How Things Fly gallery. Flight simulator rides are on the first floor. There is also a food court and museum store.
If you’ve never been to Washington, D.C., you might not be aware that the Smithsonian isn’t one museum; it’s a group of museums. Some Smithsonian museums include the National Museum of American History, National Postal Museum, National Museum of African Art, National Museum of Natural History (which is where Night at the Museum and Get Smart take place), National Portrait Gallery, National Zoological Park, and American Art Museum. All of the Smithsonian museums are free, but getting there early is a good idea because there is a security line at each museum.
Uber drivers, bartenders, or locals recommended other exciting and interesting museums to us, including Newseum, International Spy Museum, National Gallery of Art, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, the National Museum of Crime and Punishment, and the United States Botanic Garden (located inside in case of rain, snow, or cold weather). However, these do charge a fee and there are so many free museums to visit first, it’s best to visit the Smithsonian museums first. My recommendation is, if nothing else, definitely check out Wonder at the Renwick Gallery!
Where to Eat
I can only vouch for one place in all of Washington, D.C., but that’s because we liked it so much we kept going back. The place is Old Ebbitt Grill, next to the White House and U.S. Treasury. It’s a staple when visiting Washington, D.C.! It offers traditional American meals and is famous for its oysters, oyster drinks, and burgers.
Both a local and a Secret Service agent recommended Old Ebbitt Grill to us. Both knew of no other place to get a good burger than Old Ebbitt Grill. You can smell the history in the restaurant and envision politicians from back in the day sipping their bourbon and talking business. It’s still a hot spot for happy hour among locals and visitors alike. Make sure to make reservations well in advance to secure a table or prepare to wait hours, if you can even get one without a reservation. There are four bars though, so it’s usually easy enough to get a seat at one of them to eat, drink, and talk elections.
Where to Stay
Staying near the White House has its advantages. It’s walkable to just about everything, and if something is too far, there’s always an Uber nearby. That said, we stayed at Capital Hilton in Downtown D.C., about a block from the White House. We easily walked to the White House, Old Ebbitt Grill, and monuments in the National Mall. It was about a mile walk from Downtown D.C. to the National Mall, but it was faster to walk in rush hour D.C. traffic than take an Uber. Plus, there was plenty to see along the way, including the White House, U.S. Treasury, and Washington Monument.
Many of the museums are in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. If you’re looking to stay in the middle of everything where you can walk everywhere, I suggest Downtown D.C. The Capital Hilton was a nice hotel at a reasonable price and close to all. The only downside was parking. You could valet only for $58 a night, although there were plenty of parking garages nearby for $12 a day. Just be careful if you’re visiting on a weekend, parking garages don’t open on Saturdays until 5:00 p.m.!
Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C.
Spring is famous in Washington because the beautiful cherry blossom trees bloom for only a short time. The National Cherry Blossom Festival features over 3,000 blossom around the Tidal Basin, serving for the backdrop of the city-wide festival of cultural events and exhibitions. The festival lasts for three weeks, about as long as the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
The Tidal Basin is the central hub to see the cherry blossoms because the trees surround the lake and you can see the monuments in the background. The National Mall is another great spot to see the cherry blossom trees as there are nearly 300 cherry blossom trees near the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and West Potomac Park. East Potomac Park is home to over 1,700 cherry blossom trees, and the pink, white, and blue water form incredible color combinations. The best way to view these is to walk or bike ride the streets and trails, since they are all very close to one another. Washington, D.C. offers bikeshare throughout the city!
Have you been to Washington, D.C.? What is your favorite part? What’s your favorite season to go? Let me know in the comments below!
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