A travel guide to Washington D.C.’s landmarks, cultural institutions and historic sites.
Visiting Washington D.C. is a popular way to both take a vacation and take in American culture and history. It can also be overwhelming for the unprepared. With so many landmarks and cultural sites, navigating Washington D.C. can be difficult even for seasoned travelers. Fortunately, a clear plan for sightseeing and some knowledge of Washington D.C. can alleviate any concerns and make your trip to America’s capital an enjoyable and memorable one.
First off, it’s important to get some ground rules down for visiting Washington D.C. To start, plan your arrival and departure times carefully. The city’s highway loop, officially known as Interstate 495 but commonly known as the Capital Beltway, is infamous for traffic congestion. Thus, try to avoid travel on it during rush hour unless absolutely necessary.
Fortunately, Washington D.C. itself offers many travel options. The city’s subway system, the Washington Metro, is an efficient and effective way to get around. Buses and taxis are also available. Many attractions, such as those within the National Mall, are all within walking distance.
Washington D.C. has a temperate climate but four distinct seasons so dress accordingly. Crime, while declining in recent years, is still a problem in some neighborhoods so keep an eye out for safety. While Washington D.C. is not unbearably expensive, costs can add up fast. Hotel rooms, gas, food and souvenirs can all burn a hole in your wallet faster than you’d expect, so proper budgeting is essential.
The cultural heart of Washington D.C. is the National Mall, a vast expanse of green space flanked by some of the most important institutions in American history. Here, you can see the Lincoln Memorial, the U.S. Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
Also pay a visit to the many museums that ring the mall, including the famous Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum and the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden.
Finally, make a point to take advantage of the National Mall’s stunning views for a photo op. The Reflecting Pool is a grand spectacle when viewed from the best angles, especially at sunrise or sunset.
The White House
No visit to Washington D.C. is complete with out stopping at the White House. Although no longer open to public tours due to security reasons, the White House is still worth the visit for an iconic photo op and maybe even a chance to see the President if one plans in advance or is very lucky.
The National Zoo is not only free but also boasts one of the largest and most diverse animal collections in the U.S. Everything from elephants to reptiles to lions and exotic birds are viewable to visitors. The National Zoo was undergoing a series of expansions and renovations to make it even better. In 2012, The American trail was reopened to the public. The zoo is open to public every day of the year except for the Christmas day.
The National Cathedral, located in northwestern Washington D.C., is world renowned for its beautiful architecture and stunning interior. Head there to see its neogothic architectural design and learn about its unique history.
Arts, Music and Culture
For music and the arts, pay a visit to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. This institution boasts the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera and the Washington Ballet.
Other notable theaters in the city include the Warner Theater, the National Theater and the DAR Constitutional Hall. Ford’s Theater is also a functioning theater but much better known as the site of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
The Potomac River
Finally, don’t forget about Washington D.C.’s natural gem: the Potomac River. The Potomac offers incredible views, river cruises, Theodore Roosevelt Island, and the iconic cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin.