A great nation demands a capital that is equally enigmatic, historic and that which portrays all the spectacular qualities of the nation itself! And if that nation happens to be the ‘United States of America’ then the capital has a huge responsibility of mirroring exactly what the ‘Land of the Free’ stands for. And, believe me, Washington DC does not disappoint! I had the amazing opportunity of visiting Washington DC back in 2016 and the experience left me spellbound and completely captivated. What exactly is it about a place or a destination that attracts us? What makes us feel as if we have really seen, touched and experienced the soul of a city?
For me, the realization that I was in one of the most historic capitals in the world, hit me as soon as I landed at the ‘Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport’. Nothing like a ‘Former President of the United States’ to remind you that you are about to encounter America’s history at its very core. The feeling remarkably settled in as we drove through the historic neighbourhood of Old Town, Alexandria and my cousin (who was also my host in DC) casually pointed out that George Washington lived here. We were in the hometown of the ‘First President of the United States’; the founding father of the nation and the very individual whom Washington city was named after. We were literally driving through history and for someone who had never stepped foot in Washington D.C. before, this was a big deal! That was my introduction of Washington D.C. – could it get any more surreal than this?
Here’s a capital that looks every bit like what an ideal capital should look like. Charming white structures, stunning monuments, iconic museums and a complete business-like yet calming vibe that puts your mind at ease and makes you believe that everything is in order. It’s just perfect! Here are some of the best places to visit in Washington D.C. that will truly make the powerhouse capital worth your while!
1.) The White House
The Powerhouse of America (or as some believe, the entire world)! The White House is the official residence of the ‘President of the United States of America’. A wonderfully white elegant structure built to host the President and his family during the complete tenure of the presidential office. Every President since John Adams has lived in the very same quarters over the last two centuries. The White House is spread across an area of 18 acres with 6 storeys, 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, a (single-lane) bowling alley, movie theatre, tennis court, jogging track, swimming pool and a putting green for playing golf. Together with the Washington Monument to the south, the entire area is known as ‘President’s Park’.
Did You Know?
Electricity was first introduced in the White House during the tenure of the 23rd President of the US, Benjamin Harrison. The President and his family never touched any light bulbs or light switches for fear of being electrocuted.
2.) Capitol Hill
Welcome to the seat of the US Government! Capitol Hill is yet another historic neighbourhood that is home to the iconic United States Capitol, US Senate, US House of Representatives and the illustrious, United States Supreme Court. It is one of the most densely populated and also one of the oldest and most popular residential neighbourhoods of Washington DC. Known for its wide avenues and structures of historical as well as architectural prominence, Capitol Hill combines the aesthetics of both, a residential area and a government district. The Capitol Building, one of the most famous tourist attractions of Washington DC and home of the United States Congress is located on the crest of the hill at the eastern end of Capitol Hill. This historic neighbourhood is replete with 19th-century rowhouses, a farm-fresh produce and handmade crafts market, vibrant nightlife and eclectic dining scenes that brings together politicians, young staffers and tourists alike. Some other places of interest in Washington DC that are located near Capitol Hill are Library of Congress, Folger Shakespeare Library (world’s largest collection of Shakespearean works) and US Botanic Gardens.
Did You Know?
The dome of the Capitol Building is not made of stone! It is completely made out of cast iron and carefully painted to appear as if it is made from the same stone as the rest of the building. The construction of the dome lasted from 1855 to 1866. The crowning glory of the dome, the bronze statue of Freedom stands tall at 19 feet 6 inches and weighs about 15,000 pounds (6800 kgs).
3.) The Washington Monument
A monument of monumental significance! The Washington Monument or The Obelisk as it is popularly known has been built to honour the military leadership of George Washington during the American Revolution from 1775 to 1783. At a height of just over 555 feet, the Washington Monument is the tallest stone structure and tallest obelisk in the whole world. Although the cornerstone of the monument was laid on 4th July 1848, construction was finally completed in 1884 (36 years later) and an elevator was further added in 1889. The Obelisk is located at the centre of National Mall (a landscaped park area that contains most of the prominent structures and memorial parks in Washington DC) between the US Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial. A symbol of the first President of the nation and his contributions towards the American freedom struggle, the Obelisk is one of the most popular places to visit in Washington DC. A must-include as part of your Washington DC tour packages!
Did You Know?
Three different types of rocks namely marble, granite and gneiss were used to build the Monument which included stones from Maryland, Massachusetts and Maine. Although, the cap at the tip of the monument was built using aluminium. Interestingly enough, there’s no cement holding the building blocks together. This style of building is known as free-standing masonry!
4.) The Pentagon
Located in Arlington, just outside Washington DC, The Pentagon is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, including all three military services – Army, Navy and Air Force. The term ‘Pentagon’ is commonly used on its own to indicate the US Military and the Defense Department along with its leadership. Built in the shape of a pentagon star, the structure is spread across an area of 6,500,000 sq. feet and is one of the largest office buildings in the entire world. About 26,000 employees work at the Pentagon; a structure that has 17.5 miles of hallways and three times the floor space of the Empire State Building. Now that’s huge! Construction of the building took place during 1941-43 with the main purpose of consolidating all the offices of the War Department, which until then had facilities in 17 separate locations in Washington DC.
Did You Know?
The structure consists of five concentric pentagons or rings (built one inside the other) with 10 bespoke corridors connecting all the sections. Due to this unique design and innovative construction, it is possible to walk between any two points in the Pentagon in approximately 7 minutes. This can be achieved in spite of the 17.5 miles (28 km) of hallways in the building!
5.) Lincoln Memorial
‘In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever’
An inscription adorns the wall behind the massive yet elegant statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial! The 16th President of the United States stares from his marble throne, in an almost calming yet attentive demeanour that appears as if he still knows what’s happening around the country. One of the fondest memories of my Washington DC trip was the visit to Lincoln Memorial. I remember being completely transfixed by the huge statue (Abe Lincoln was extremely tall in real life too!). The statue was surreal and almost life-like; it felt as if the President would simply get up and start walking towards the city at any point. The location of the Lincoln Memorial in the National Mall is such that you can look over the city from the top of the steps leading upto the memorial chamber (almost as if the President was looking over the city from his vantage point). An American National Monument built in the memory of one of the most famous and prolific presidents of the country, the Lincoln Memorial is one of the major tourist attractions of Washington DC.
Did You Know?
The exterior design of the Lincoln Memorial is based on the popular Greek monument, Parthenon. The architect, Henry Bacon drew upon ideas from classic Greek architectural styles while executing the construction of the monument building. According to him, a monument honouring the man who defended democracy should be modelled after a structure that originates from the birthplace of democracy (Athens, Greece).
6.) Smithsonian Air & Space Museum
For all you aeroplane and space enthusiasts out there, this museum is right up your alley! The Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, located at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington DC, hosts spectacular exhibits from the history of aviation and spaceflight. Among these historic displays are the 1903 Wright Flyer (the very first aeroplane built by Wright Brothers), Spirit of St. Louis, Bell X-1, North American X-1 and a lunar rock that people can touch. The museum has another facility at Chantilly known as the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center which also sports thousands of aircraft and space artefacts spread across two large hangars. The notable exhibits at this centre are the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, Concorde, Space Shuttle Discovery and the Boeing B-29 Enola Gay, the historic bomber aeroplane that was responsible for dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan during World War II in 1945. The Chantilly centre is located about 32 miles away from Washington DC, so choose wisely and visit the museum that is most convenient for your travel plans. On my Washington DC visit, we travelled to the facility in Chantilly where I was completely floored by the aerial exhibits on display!
Did You Know?
The Smithsonian Air & Space Museum is one of the largest and most popular museums for aviation and spacecraft relics in the whole world. The largest among all 19 Smithsonian Museums, this air and space museum has the largest collection of air and space artefacts on Earth with over 50,000 exhibits and even more.
7.) World War II Memorial
This was another beautiful monument that I visited during my Washington DC trip! The World War II Memorial is a remarkable monument built in honour of Americans who served in the armed forces along with American soldiers and civilians who lost their lives during World War II. It symbolizes the spirit, sacrifice and the commitment of the American people towards their nation. The memorial honours over 16 million US soldiers and commemorates about 400,000 lives that were lost in war efforts. Located at the National Mall, between Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial consists of 56 granite columns that stand for the unity of the US states, 7 federal territories (during the WWII period) and the District of Columbia. The main centre of the memorial plaza is adorned with a spectacular fountain and two triumphal arches (each 43 foot tall) that indicate victories in the Atlantic and Pacific region. One of the best places to visit in Washington DC, the World War II Memorial welcomes about 4 million visitors each year and war veterans who pay their tributes remembering their unparalleled service and sacrifice for the country.
Did You Know?
The most unique feature of the memorial is the Freedom Wall located at the western end of the plaza. The wall is adorned with 4048 gold stars (each star represents 100 Americans) that pay tribute to the lives lost at war. A granite plaque in front of the Freedom Wall reads ‘Here we mark the price of freedom’.
8.) National Museum of American History
With a mission that states, ‘We help people understand the past in order to make sense of the present and shape a more humane future’, The National Museum of American History preserves a collection of almost 1.8 million objects and more than 3 miles of shelves containing archives related to American history and mankind, in general. The extraordinary collection consists of a wide range of exhibits from the original Star Spangled Banner (American Flag) to Abraham Lincoln’s top-hat and from the first artificial heart to Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the iconic movie, The Wizard of Oz. The collection covers a vast range of areas such as culture, military, science, medical, entertainment, politics, business, social etc. along with remarkable milestones that have helped shape America as a nation. The archival section at the museum features American history in the form of several documents, photographs and other literary works. Truly, a state-of-the-art museum that is also considered to be a National Historic Landmark, given its location at the National Mall and its significance to the existence of the nation.
Did You Know?
One of the most famous attractions at the museum is the John Bull Steam Locomotive. Back in the 19th century, it was one of the first successful locomotive steam engines of the United States. In 1831, separate parts of the locomotive arrived from England, packed in crates and without any assembly instructions. A 19-year old mechanic, Isaac Dripps and his crew assembled the locomotive and had it running in merely 10 days.
9.) Tidal Basin
A partially man-made reservoir that is surrounded by some stunning monuments! The Tidal Basin is located adjacent to the Potomac River and forms a part of the West Potomac Park in Washington DC. It is the focal point of the National Cherry Blossom festival that is held each spring (late March, early April), owing to the stunning array of cherry trees (approximately 3750) that are planted along the Tidal Basin. The many monuments encircling this wonderful reservoir are Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, George Mason Memorial, John Paul Jones Memorial, Floral Library, Japanese Pagoda, Japanese lantern and the ‘First Cherry Tree Planting’ site. All these amazing monuments can be visited when you follow the Tidal Basin Loop Trail. Spread over an area of 107 acres, the Tidal Basin is a spectacular sight during cherry blossom season and one of the most popular places to visit in Washington DC. Even if you don’t visit each and every monument along the Tidal Basin Loop Trail, make sure to make this attraction a part of your Washington DC tour packages!
Did You Know?
The Tidal Basin was built in an effort to curb the harmful effects of flooding in the Potomac River. A devastating flood in 1881 led to the construction of the Tidal Basin in 1882, which was finally completed in 1897. It was designed in such a way that excess water from the Potomac River and Washington Channel was flushed in the Basin, resulting in controlled levels of both the water bodies. Today, 250 million gallons of water from Potomac River is flushed into the Basin, twice a day, which helps maintain water levels in the Potomac River and the Lincoln Reflecting Pool, as well.
10.) United States Botanic Gardens
Built on the lines of George Washington’s vision, ‘A botanic garden to demonstrate and promote the importance of plants to the young nation’, the United States Botanic Gardens (USBG) is a living plant museum that is home to almost 12,000 specimens of the plant and flower world. Located on the grounds of the US Capitol, the USBG is managed and maintained by the Congress through their federal agency, Architect of the Capitol. The main purpose of the botanic gardens is to inform and educate visitors about the value of plants towards the well-being of humankind and the Earth’s eco-system. The garden is spread over 3 sections, namely, Conservatory, National Garden and Bartholdi Park. The Conservatory contains two courtyard gardens and 10 glass rooms for gardens that total an area of approximately 28,944 square feet. The 3-acre National Garden focuses primarily on the diversity of the American plants. Finally, the Bartholdi Park displays innovative plant combinations in a variety of styles and themes.
Did You Know?
One of the most popular trees at the Conservatory is the Theobroma Cacao tree. It is also known as the Chocolate tree because the ripe pods of this tree are filled with cacao seeds, used in the making of cocoa powder, butter and chocolate. Each ripe orange-yellow pod is the shape of a football and is filled with rows and rows of cacao seeds surrounded by fleshy white pulp.
Bonus Attractions around Washington DC:
Hershey's Chocolate World
Speaking of chocolate, you can also visit Hershey’s Chocolate World in Pennsylvania as part of your Washington DC tour package. Located at a distance of about 130 miles, the spectacular and immersive world of Hershey’s Chocolate is at a travelling time of approx. 3 hours away from Washington DC. If you are determined to visit Hershey’s Chocolate World as part of your Washington DC tour itinerary, then you can even plan a day trip to this amazing place from Washington DC. Discover attraction, experiences, and adventures drenched in chocolate to give you a memorable trip of a lifetime!
If you are unaware about the Smithsonian Institution, let us be the first ones to tell you that there are a total of 19 world-class museums along with several galleries, gardens and a zoo that are operated by the Smithsonian Institution. Of the 19 museums, 11 are located around the National Mall area of Washington DC, 6 other museums and the National Zoo are located in the greater National Capital area and 2 museums are placed in New York City. You can choose to visit any of the 11 museums, each as extraordinary, superlative and informative as the next one, while you are on a tour of Washington DC. Some of the museums located in Washington DC are African American Museum, African Art Museum, American Indian Museum (Native Americans), Natural History Museum, Postal Museum and Cooper Hewitt Museum (Architecture & contemporary design).
For more such interesting museums around the world, also read: Unique Museums around the World - Travel To Be Amused!
Isn’t the capital city an amazing experience just waiting to take you back in time? Washington DC is not just about US Politics, office buildings and structures related to the US government. Yes, it does form an integral part of the capital city but it is so much more than that! The city exudes a charm that is unlike any other place in the United States; having witnessed centuries of American history, changing governments, freedom struggles, basic rights movements and several unique cultures has possibly given the city an identity of its own. You will not just be amazed by Washington DC but you will also remember the city long after you have walked through its charming streets and remarkable monuments. Washington DC sure does capitalize (pun intended :D) on its distinct yet beautiful appeal and makes a place for itself in your heart and mind!
So, when are you travelling to Washington DC?