There is so much to see and do in Washington, D.C. that you could probably spend a few weeks here and not see it all. It can also feel a bit overwhelming for a first time visitor. But don’t worry, I have a plan and a list of essential experiences that I will be sharing with you. So if you have limited time I recommend the following:
1) Plan ahead.
2) Select your must see attractions – you can use the list I am providing as a guide.
3) Plot them on a map (I use Google maps) to find the best route to connect them all and save you time.
Remember D.C. is a great walking city so you will be able to walk or take public transportation to most of the must see attractions and best of all most of them are FREE. Here is my list of must do’s while in Washington, D.C. :
1)Houses of Government. These include the White House, The Capitol, and The Supreme Court. These days a tour of the White house is extremely difficult to obtain so if you cannot gain entrance you can always take that selfie in front of its gates. If you do want to go inside a house of government then head to The Capitol, which is the home to the federal legislative bodies, the House & Senate, and one of the most recognized buildings in D.C. Or you can chose to visit the Supreme Court which is the highest court in USA.
2) Monuments and Memorials. Washington D.C. is full of incredible monuments and memorials and many are located on what is called The National Mall. The Mall is spread out over 2 miles in the heart of the city. Some of my favorites:
- Lincoln Memorial – this is probably one of the most visited memorials in D.C. and it is one of my eldest daughters’ favorites as she has a fondness for “Proud Abe”. It is surely an impressive site to see. This is a great point to start or end as it is at the West end of The Mall.
- Vietnam Memorial – this memorial honors members of the U.S armed forces who lost their lives (or went missing) while serving their country during the Vietnam War. It contains 58,000 names and it holds a special place in my heart as my father in law served during this war. We are lucky to still have him with us but this memorial is a stark reminder of all who were not as lucky and did not come back to their families.
- WWII Memorial – no matter how many times I visit this memorial it always wow’s me. Not only is the water display beautiful with jets that light at night but it also honors the 16 million Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country. The stone pillars symbolize the 48 states, 7 territories, and the District of Columbia. It is a beautiful site to see by day or night.
- Washington Monument – this is probably one of the most recognized sites in the nation and one you can see from afar from many points while in D.C. It is an impressive site to look up at the tallest stone structure which stands at 555 feet tall. You can ride an elevator to the top and enjoy the views but tickets must be purchased in advance.
- Law Enforcement Memorial – this memorial is the only one on my list that is not on The Mall. Instead it is centered in the 400 block of E street NW and it holds a special place in my heart because of our family’s connection to Law Enforcement. It honors over 20,000 law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty for the safety and protection of our people. This is an ever changing memorial because unfortunately every year new names of fallen officers are added to the monument.
3) Museums. There are no lack of Museums in D.C. the Smithsonian alone includes a combination of 17 museums and galleries in the area. You can pick a few of them while walking the National Mall and cool off inside while enjoying the exhibits. Some of my favorite museums:
- National Museum of Natural History – probably on of the more popular museums and for good reason. Henry the elephant sits in the middle as if protecting the entire collection inside. You can admire animals, fossils, plants, insects, and rocks. And if sparkle is your thing then the ginormous 45.52 carat Hope Diamond or the 23.1 carat Burmese ruby will certainly dazzle you.By Tim Evanson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Air and Space Museum – this one is popular with the kids and it is one of the most visited museums in the world. The museum is divided into themed exhibitions and not only does it display planes and space artifacts but includes plenty of interactive exhibits and an IMAX theater.By Jawed Karim (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- The Spy Museum – Have you or your children ever wanted to be a spy? Or at least find out about all the cool artifacts they use? Well this is your chance as this museum boasts the largest collection of international espionage artifacts currently being displayed. I only recommend this museum if your children are over 10 as the little ones may be bored quickly with the self-guided format and all the information available to read.
4) Outside the city center. There are some notable attractions you may want to visit that require some form of transportation other than walking to get there.
- National Zoo – Lions, Tigers and Bears Oh my!!! the zoo with over 2,000 animals from 400 different species is part of the Smithsonian Institution. About 25% of the animals are endangered. It is about 20 min from the Mall by Metro and there is no cost of admission. It is a nice size zoo so expect to walk quite a bit and most of it will be up and down hills as it sits on a hillside.
- Arlington Cemetery –Arlington Cemetery is where over 400,000 fallen heroes have their final resting place. Visiting this cemetery was one of the most moving experiences I have had. We were able to see the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This takes place every hour on the hour. These soldiers stand guard 24hrs a day, rain or shine, hot or cold. It is truly amazing.
- Udvar-Hazy Center – located in Virginia the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is the companion facility to the Air and Space Museum which located on the National Mall. It has on display thousands of aviation and space artifacts that do not fit in the sister facility including the space shuttle Discovery. Admission to the museum is free but you will have to pay to park if you arrive before 4 pm or alternatively use public transport to get here.
Transportation Tip: if you will be using any form of public transportation I would recommend purchasing a SmarTrip card. Not only is the card easy to use but it will save you money.
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Have you been to Washington D.C.? What is your must see attraction? I would love to hear what you think so leave me a comment below.