A Visitors Guide to DC
Washington District of Columbia. The central hub of our government. Our Capital. I’ve had the pleasure of living in what is known as the “suburb” of DC (AKA Northern Virginia), about 20-30 minutes away in no traffic, for the past 2.5 years. It’s been a time of exploration, seeing all there is to see in our Capital city and enjoying every minute of being in this place. There are constantly multiple things going on from Political, to Arts/Leisure, to Yoga on the National Mall and it is easy to feel overwhelmed with so many different options of things to see and do.
Luckily, I’ve had 2.5 years to narrow down some of the must- see spots and I’m sharing those with you! Below I’ve listed some of what I’ve figured are Must-See on any trip to the area. I’ve included spots in both DC AND Northern Virginia, and have tried to give a variety of options.
Walk the Tidal Basin through The National Mall – I think this is an essential stop on any Washington DC trip. You can choose whether you want to start at the Lincoln Memorial and pass through several of the war memorials, or the Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin. Either way, you’ll hit several of the other memorials, monuments, and lead straight into the National Mall. On either side of the National Mall will be Smithsonian Museums, such as the Museum of Natural History, The Castle, The Art Sculpture Garden, The National Art Gallery, and Air & Space. The Mall ends at the Capital Building, so you’ll get to see that too!
Museum of American History – I’ve only placed a couple of museum type items on here as I find those can vary based on personal preferences, but this one is hands down the coolest. It will have something for everyone (including a pretty good kids area and some nifty American flag items) and is a place that I love to go to time and again. They will switch out exhibits and there is always something new to discover!
Library of Congress – As a reader, this one of my favorite spots! It is pretty cool to not only see some of the exhibits that they have, but to also get a peak into the actual Library! It is just walls and floors lined with books!
National Archives – Another must see as they have the original Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution on display. A Definite must see as there is just so much history.
Ford’s Theatre – If you can get tickets for Ford’s Theatre, I highly highly recommend it. It’s one of the spots that no one really thinks of. Or they think of it and don’t end up making it. You can go through and tour a museum portion of the theatre itself (which is still a running and working production theatre), see real artifacts from the night Lincoln was shot, as well as see the boarding house where he died and a further museum about his death, funeral, slavery, and how he changed the course of our nation. It is full of so much information and is such a gem to see.
National Cathedral – Another must see for anyone, the National Cathedral is not only full of incredible history and architecture, but also has some of the most incredible views of the city and surroundings. A tour is not necessary, but is a nice addition as they can give you some of the fun facts. Keep an eye out for the little details in this stop as there are several little hidden items throughout the Cathedral (think snake/lion heads in seats a la WW2).
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (National Air and Space Museum) – This is NOT the air and space museum that is along the National Mall. That in itself is an incredible museum and one you may want to see, but I find this companion facility in Chantilly VA so much better. It is two large air hangers that are full of different planes and artifacts. From Space Shuttle Discovery to the Enola Gay, to a Concorde plane it has so many different planes and things to view.
Mount Vernon – The home of George Washington, this spot combines history with a beautiful walking area. You’ve got unparalleled views of the Potomac River and a beautiful landscape. Both George and Martha Washington are buried on the property and walking through the house and grounds you get a very good picture of what their lives would have been like. They’ve also got livestock, as well as folks that come in and show you how they would have cooked, and worked in that time period.
Great Falls (Northern Virginia) – This last spot is a hiking one and located in Fairfax VA. We are a hiking family and this is one of the prettiest spots we’ve been to in this area. It is definitely a walk, but the views and nature all throughout are spectacular. If you are interested in getting away from the city/people and into nature, this is a great spot to check out!
A couple of tips on getting around the area:
There are a lot of people in this area and not a lot of space. As well as A LOT of work being done, both in terms of construction, and in terms of running the country. Be aware of this when you come here and prepare for what that will mean for you.
There is ALWAYS traffic. You will never not run into traffic, construction, closed streets, or some sort of back up. The Metro is your friend. I recommend getting a metro card and using it as there is ALWAYS traffic in DC and trying to get around in your car, plus finding parking, can be a bit of a nightmare. Save yourself the headache!
A lot of the parking garages are going to be valet parking and some may close early in the morning due to reaching capacity. There are a couple of phone apps that you can get and “reserve” a space for parking (Parking Panda is one that I know of). If you want to drive, this is definitely something to keep in mind!
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