The Best of Washington DC
Washington DC is a great city to visit and there is so much on offer from fabulous museums to Michelin-starred restaurants – it’s got it all.
Here are some tips that will help you get the most out of this fabulous destination.
Hop On Hop Off Bus
Head out on the Hop on Hop off bus tour run by Old Town Trolley Tours. www.trolleytours.com
Start early – there are 25 stops and this is the only tour that stops at the Arlington National Cemetery. It is the country’s largest military cemetery and serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 military veterans. John F Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy and actor Lee Marvin – are also buried there. Highlights include the Tomb of the Unknown soldier.
The National Mall is like a huge park in the centre of Washington DC and the most visited national park in the US with 24 million last year. It is nicknamed America’s front yard and represents the past, present and future.
Walk along its wide, pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined boulevards and you will see monuments and memorials that honour American founders and heroes. There are 160 monuments and memorials in Washington DC.
It is where Martin Luther King made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and the AIDS Quilt was launched.
The National Mall stretches 3kms from the Lincoln Memorial and reflection pool on the west end and the US Capitol on the east end.
The Washington DC museums are fascinating and fabulous. They include many Smithsonian Institution Museums and the great news is most are free.
With limited time it’s hard to choose but here are the ones you don’t want to miss.
National Museum of African-American History and Culture
The National Museum of African-American History and Culture that opened last September traces the history of African Americans from slavery through to modern day.
Designed by David Adjaye, it is clad in bronze-painted aluminium grill that creates a striking sight.
Timed entry tickets are sold out for months, but a small number are released each day on a first-come, first-served basis.
The museum is laid out in three subterranean levels that cover a period beginning in 1400. You descend in an elevator to the bottom and work your way up towards the light, passing through three distinct eras to reach the present day.
It covers everything from art, fashion, folklore to music – you can see Chuck Berry’s red convertible.
The Spy Museum
The Spy Museum is moving next year to larger premises, but it’s a great place to visit and suitable for all ages.
Visitors take on a spy profile that is fun and sure to interest all those potential James Bonds of the family or those members simply interested in the fascinating subject of spies.
The museum is dedicated solely to espionage and features the biggest compilation of international espionage artefacts. The collection showcases the work of famous spies and crucial espionage actions interactive gadgets which include enigma code breakers.
National Air and Space Museum
This museum is home to the world’s most fabulous and significant collections of aviation and space artefacts, covering all aspects of human flight, together with related works of art and archival materials. The museum sees more than eight million visitors a year and is the most visited venue in North America.
This is a wonderful attraction for all the family and you can see the original Wright Brothers flyer, the Spirit of St Louis and Apollo moon vehicles. Some of them hang from the ceilings.
The Newseum has dedicated itself to free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment- religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.
It is one of the world’s most interactive museums, also tracing the evolution of electronic communication from the inception of radio, to the technologies of today and the future.
There are seven levels of interactive exhibits which highlight important news events through history by covering all of the different news medium, including print, television, photography, and internet.
From the chronicled tables covering the American Revolution, to the FBI exhibit, the Berlin Wall, and further along to the 9/11 exhibit featuring scrap metal from the World Trade Centre – it is a poignant experience.
National Museum of Natural History
Opened in 1910, there are over 126 million natural science specimens and cultural artefacts which include 30 million insects carefully pinned into tiny boxes as well as 7 million fish in liquid-filled jars.There are 400,000 photographs housed in the National Anthropological Archives.
American History Museum
The best time to visit this enormous collection of American artifacts is midweek, midday. Highlights include “The Star-Spangled Banner” display, Julia Child’s kitchen, American Stories (Dorothy’s ruby slippers, a piece of Plymouth Rock) and First Ladies and their glamorous inauguration gowns.
National Archives Building
This is home to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights including many original drafts with editing by early presidents and other historical people. It is also home to an original version of the 1297 Magna Carta, confirmed by Edward 1, together with other important historical documents such as the Emancipation Proclamation and the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, fascinating collections of photography, and other historically and culturally significant American artefacts.
The White House
The White House has had a rocky history. Work started in 1792 and it took eight years to build at a cost of $232,372.
Its name came from the whitewash used to coat the sandstone walls.
Major renovations were done in 1948 after President Truman soaping up a bath tub almost
plunged through the ceiling of the Blue Room into a tea party for the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Today there are 132 rooms, including 16 bedrooms and 35 bathrooms over six levels, 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases, and three lifts plus a florist, tennis court, cinema and putting green.
It’s also been home to quite a menagerie with three alligators owned by John Quincy Adams and Herbert Hoover’s, son Allan. President Woodrow Wilson kept 48 sheep on the lawn while Abraham Lincoln had goats, John F Kennedy ran ponies, Teddy Roosevelt had a snake, William Taft had cows and Calvin Coolidge kept lion cubs.
Drop into the White House Visitors Centre to learn about the White House architecture, furnishings, and the Presidents and first families.
The Library of Congress
It is the largest library in the world with 162 million items on about 1400kms bookshelves.
It is home to 38 million books, 14 million photographs, 700,000 volumes of rare books, including the largest collection of 15th century Western Hemisphere novels.
It is one of the most beautiful buildings in Washington and take a peek from the balcony of the magnificent reading room where you can go to do research.
The Capitol building, the seat of the United States Congress, is certainly worth a tour.
The original building, completed in 1800 and built in a distinctive neoclassical style, has expanded to include the addition of its large dome.
The Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool
It is the largest of the many reflecting pools in Washington, DC, constructed after the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. Situated on the National Mall which is directly east of the Lincoln Memorial with the Washington Monument to the east of it, the pool welcomes more than 24 million tourists a year. It is lined by paths and trees on both sides.
A visit to the stunning Washington Monument that towers above the city bearing his name is a must see. Built in the shape of an Egyptian obelisk and completed in two phases, one private (1848-1854) and one public (1876-1884), it was at that time the tallest building in the world. You can ascend to the top of the building by elevator, and watch a short video as you wait to board.
Secrets and Scandals of Washington DC.
Secrets and scandals are nothing new in Washington DC – over the years many founding fathers have been involved in tales of grisly murder, passionate love affairs, rabid jealousy, rage and revenge.That’s just for starters – then there are the duels, bigamy, curses, crazy family members and ghostly appearances. DC by Foot offers “pay what you want” walking tours in Washington DC and they are very popular. The stories are only from the 18th and 19th centuries.
DC by Foot
Where to Stay
The Hay Adams is a fabulous historic boutique hotel, opposite the White House.
For the best bird’s eye view of the White House, a balcony room is perfect. The hotel lives up to its motto
“where nothing is overlooked but the White House.”It is built on the site of historic homes owned by John Hay and Henry Adams. Hay was Lincoln’s secretary and Adams, a leading academic and descendant of two former presidents both named John Quincy.
Where to Drink
Head to the small basement bar, Off the Record, where people just want to be seen not heard. It’s a popular watering hole for politicians, lobbyists, well-heeled locals and guests – Frank Underwood from House of Cards would fit in well.
For more information visit www.washington.org