Tips on What To Do in Washington D.C.
The monuments, memorials and government buildings that make Washington, D.C. recognizable around the world are the main reason for visiting. However, in addition to touring the Lincoln Memorial and U.S. Capitol, travel writers recommend enjoying the city's free Smithsonian museums, enjoying a night at the theater, and partaking in the varied nightlife. Keep in mind that White House and Capitol tours need to be reserved, sometimes several months in advance.
A number of monuments and memorials pepper Washington's landscape, mostly dedicated to past U.S. presidents and casualties of war. The biggest concentration lies on the National Mall, where the Washington Moument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the National WWII Memorial are all within walking distance. Although it's a bit more out of the way, recent visitors rave about the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, located south of the White House and along the Tidal Basin in SW. For a real thrill, consider taking a nighttime tour of these sights; several companies sponsor nighttime tours by foot, taxicab, trolley and even segway.
Travel sites also say not to miss the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where thousands of fallen soldiers have been laid to rest, from wars that date from the American Revolutionary War to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Arlington is also the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his brother, the late U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
Ranging from the White House, the Capitol Building and Ben's Chili Bowl (all in Northwest D.C.) to Arlington National Cemetery and Mount Vernon (both in Virginia), Washington bursts with historical importance.
Also within a one- or two-hour drive are the Civil War battlegrounds of Pennsylvania's Gettysburg and West Virginia's Antietam. About three hours away in Virginia is Monticello, the former home of President Thomas Jefferson.
Along the National Mall, visitors will be overwhelmed by the number of free Smithsonian museums that vary in subject matter. Get a history buzz at the Natural History Museum and the National Museum of American History, your art fix at the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and sate your appetite for aviation at the Air and Space Museum.
The Holocaust Memorial Museum, an artfully designed yet sobering museum, comes highly recommended by both experts and leisure travelers. Other renowned museums include the Phillips Collection in Northwest's Dupont Circle neighborhood and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, which sidles the White House. Recent visitors also highly recommend the Newseum, which explores journalism through the years, as well as the interactive Spy Museum, both in Penn Quarter.
Attractions for Kids
Amid all the politicians, lobbyists and activists, Washington, D.C. is actually a very kid-friendly destination. Several of the museums, including the International Spy Museum, Madame Tussaud's and the Natural History Museum, have exhibits geared to a younger set.
And if the kids grow tired of the museums, the city offers numerous parks to burn off excess energy. Kids might also enjoy visiting the animals at the free National Zoological Park.
Although some say Georgetown's open-air shopping scene is overrated, others are simply impressed by the sheer number of shops clustered on M Street, Wisconsin Avenue and other surrounding streets in Northwest Washington.
For more of a local scene, head to the U Street Corridor or Adams Morgan, also in Northwest, and if you're around Dupont Circle on a Sunday morning, the farmer's market is not to be missed. In the Northeast quadrant is the beautiful Union Station. In addition to its main role as the city's train station, it also houses an array of shops and even a movie theater.
New wine bars and trendy après-work watering holes open up all the time in Washington. For a collegiate night out, hit up Georgetown's scene of bars, many of which offer live music and dancing but also charge cover. The neighborhoods of Adams Morgan, U Street and the center of D.C.'s gay community, Dupont Circle, enjoy a vibrant nightlife scene, too, but one that is more geared to young professionals. The Capitol South area also has a range of more casual sports and dive bars. Visitors will also find a number of techno-pulsing nightclubs in Dupont, Adams Morgan, Georgetown, too. Be aware that Happy Hour is very popular in D.C.
If you're more in the mood for music, Northwest Washington boasts a vibrant entertainment scene. There is open-mic nights at Busboys & Poets and live music at the Black Cat to the opera at the Kennedy Center and plays at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Writers also recommend taking in a show at Ford's Theatre, where President Lincoln was assassinated, and at Warner Theatre — both of which are also in Northwest.