The American capital is unlike anywhere that I’ve ever experienced. Perhaps that’s not a surprise given that it is one of the most important and powerful cities in the world. The city is steeped in history and has something on offer for each and every type of visitor; from fascinating museums, plenty of open green spaces, shopping opportunities – my list could go on! Last Easter I spent two and a half action-packed days in DC and did as much exploring as possible. Despite that I still feel like I only just scratched its surface.
Whether you are just passing through the city, or have longer planned to discover the city in depth, here is my guide to the city and my top things to see and do in Washington DC…
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Stroll Down the National Mall
On a normal day the two-mile long, tree-lined boulevard is full of life, with locals and tourists alike using the thoroughfare, which runs from the Capitol Building at one end, to the Lincoln Memorial at the other. Between two of the city’s most famous landmarks, you will find a number of well known buildings, museums, green parks and memorials. Known as ‘America’s Front Yard’, the entire stretch of the National Mall is listed as a National Park and is one of the most visited areas in the whole of the US.
Pay the Capitol Building a Visit
Home to the House and Senate, the Capitol Building is at the centre of American democracy and attracts millions of tourists every year. If restricted by time, you can admire the shining white building from the gardens surrounding it on Capitol Hill, but if you do have the time to spare I would highly recommend booking a (free) guided tour in advance.
Take an Obligatory Selfie at the White House
It wouldn’t be a visit to the capital of America without a snap of the White House, one of, if not the most famous house(s) on the planet. Free guided tours are offered four times a week depending on the busy government schedule, but these must be requested up to six months in advance of your visit date.
Look up at the Washington Monument
Whilst unfortunately I didn’t make it up to the viewing gallery of the 555ft tall spire, I very much enjoyed my experience of visiting the Washington Monument as the sun was setting. Perhaps the most iconic building across the whole of the city skyline, the beautiful monument encircled by a ring of American flags, was probably my favourite building in the whole of Washington.
Discover the Memorial Parks
Washington DC is a city of monuments and memorials honouring the generals, politicians, poets and statesmen who helped shape the American nation. Whilst the majority of DC’s most famous monuments and memorials are situated on the National Mall, many statues and plaques can be found on street corners around the city. Having just a couple of days in the city, we decided to focus on the memorials along the National Mall – the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials were particular favourites of mine, especially with the latter framed by blossoming cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, with the serene World War II Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr Statue taking joint third place! I would also suggest visiting the monuments both during the daytime and after sunset, when they are lit up.
Explore the Many Museums
Washington is home to 17 Smithsonian Institution museums and galleries, including the National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Air and Space Museum, famous around the world. Each museum is free to enter for the public and offers something different, whether you are 4, 14 or 40! Sadly on our trip we didn’t make it into any of the museums but they are top of my list for any future visits to DC!
Explore the Streets of Georgetown
The perfect intersection of historic charm and upscale modernity happens where M Street meets Wisconsin Avenue in the heart of picturesque Georgetown. The quaint cobblestone sidewalks, grand homes and the peaceful stretch of the C&O Canal offers visitors to the city an escape from the busy streets of Downtown. The pretty tree-lined neighbourhood is home to some of DC’s fanciest shops, tastiest restaurants and most luxurious hotels.
Say Hello to the Animals at the National Zoo
Located in the residential Woodley Park neighbourhood to the north of the city, Washington Zoo is set in over 160 acres and is home to over 2000 animals. Whether you are looking to see elephants, giraffes, tigers or the famous giant pandas, the zoo offers an alternative to the historic sights and hustle and bustle of the inner city.
Take a Trip to Arlington Cemetery
Just across the Potomac River from Washington DC is the Arlington National Cemetery, America’s largest military cemetery and the final resting place for more than 400,000 military veterans and their immediate family, from the fronts of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the World Wars, the Korean conflict, Vietnam, the Cold War and America’s Civil War. The site is open to the public 365 days a year with free admission for those who wish to visit the site and pay their respects.
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So there we have it, my guide to the top things to see and do in Washington DC. I have to admit that before my visit I didn’t know much about the US capital besides its political importance and its iconic buildings, but I must say that during my short visit, I absolutely fell in love with the place. With so much to see and do, its friendly and laid back atmosphere, beautiful buildings and charming neighbourhoods, not to mention the plethora of incredible landmarks to visit, I’m sure that you too will fall in love!
Have you ever visited Washington DC? Do let me know what you thought of your visit and what you most enjoyed! I’d love to hear your thoughts!