Washington DC is the capital of the United States, arguably a global superpower and the seat of the idea that anyone can achieve their dreams through hard work and perseverance. It’s also a global capital of corruption and dirty politics, but let’s stick with the optimism, shall we?
As an American, it is almost a rite of passage to take a bus, drive across the country, and visit the nation’s capital in high school. Oh, you didn’t do that either? Ok, maybe it’s just a Midwest thing. In any case, I visited over 50 foreign countries before finally making it to my birth country’s capital last year. Why did I wait so long? I loved it!
I was in Washington DC in the beginning of October, when the autumn colors were in full swing and the air was crisp but not cold. It was a perfect time to visit and explore the booming metropolis ripe with possibilities. With that, today we’ll continue our “things to do in…” series with 12 special things to do in Washington DC. This list includes things I loved, and things I wish I’d done that are on the list for the next time.
1. Start at the National Mall
The National Mall, confusingly, is actually a large open area and park, around which the monuments to Lincoln, Jefferson, etc. are located. It is a large park-like area that stretched from the White House down to the Potomac. This is a perfect spot to walk to the moments, rollerblade, bike, or scooter.
2. Visit the monuments and read the inscriptions
Visiting the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Washington Monument were unexpected highlights of my trip to Washington DC. I thought they were just where people went to take pictures (silly me, I know).
But I was struck by the deep wisdom engraved into these monuments and the spiritual essence on which the US was founded. Even with the crowds of people there was a silence and reverence in the moments that made them centers of tranquility in the city.
3. Explore the Smithsonian Museums
This one is both a “did it, loved it” item and a “want to do more” item. That is because there are 21 Smithsonian museums in all, plus the National Zoo. Be sure not to miss the Natural History Museum and the American History Museum. You can also check out the International Spy Museum (how did I not know about this?), the museum of African American History and Culture, and the Air and Space Museum.
4. Take in the White House
I realize this doesn’t really need to be on the list because, duh. But I thought I’d include it anyway. If you are in Washington DC, it’s worth looking at the White House. Just follow the crowds to find it. Don’t be like me and ask where the White House is when you are standing on the side of it.
Take the obligatory tourist photos. But most of all, be inspired by the grand majesty of the building and the history it holds and is unfolding. If you really want, you can also join a scheduled tour of the White House to get a first hand glimpse of this historic building.
5. Visit the Library of Congress
Yes, this sounds like a super nerdy activity, but between the majestic architecture and the historic exhibits, it is worth it. You can also get your own library card. You can join a tour or take a self-guided tour. It’s worth getting a tour because there are so many details or history, religion, and culture built into the architecture.
To get more ideas before visiting the Library of Congress, check out this article: https://freetoursbyfoot.com/library-of-congress-tours/
6. Explore the National Archives
This is where you can see the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. It is also where countless scholars have lost years of their lives in research. But in all seriousness, it is a wealth of information, knowledge, and history.
7. Absorb the beauty of the art galleries and museums
The Smithsonian museums were already mentioned, but the National Art Gallery and Sculpture Museum deserves its own mention. This DC landmark will give you the opportunity to experience history through the eyes of artists and take in some of its many exquisite collections. When you’ve had enough art indoors, head out to the sculpture garden to take in the unique sculptures and fountains.
The Phillips Collection is a little-known gallery recommended to me by a local. It has an extensive collection of impressionist and modern art. The Phillips Collection is housed in a brick building near Dupont Circle.
I can’t make a list without one point about shopping, and being the nation’s capital, DC doesn’t disappoint in the shopping department. From one of the largest TJ Maxx stores to the many large designer storefronts, there is something for everyone. There is plenty of shopping within walking distance from the National Mall (the park, remember?). Or you can venture to Union Market for a variety of gourmet food stall and shopping options. Another good shopping area is Dupont Circle, also not so far from the National Mall.
9. Join a free exercise group
There are so many free fitness groups in Washington DC. If you’ve always wanted to try Yoga in the Park, this is your chance. Check out eventbrite.com for Yoga, running, cycling and other free events in the city.
10. Spend time along the Potomac
Am I the only one who didn’t realize this magnificent river winds right through Washington DC? Maybe don’t answer that. In any case, a walk, run, bike, or scooter trip along the Potomac is a fun way to take in the city’s sites and the beautiful river setting. You can also rent kayaks or paddleboard to explore from the river itself.
Just be sure to plan your Potomac adventures for the middle of the day, as it’s not the safest area after dusk.
11. Visit Ford’s Theatre
This historic theatre is still in use today. You can take a historical tour, or catch a show. There are usually family friendly shows playing there, so this is a fun activity to do with kids as well. If Ford’s Theatre doesn’t have what you are looking for, there are many other theatres in Washington DC, including a lively Jazz scene. You can see the full list here: https://washington.org/find-dc-listings/theater-performing-arts
12. Eat everywhere
There are so many incredible restaurants in Washington DC, including many that serve organic menus. From the healthy fast food to upscale restaurants, and from Dupont Circle to Bethesda, DC has incredible food options. I recommend trying everything that looks good!
More to explore
As you can see, there are so many options in Washington DC. From the rich halls of history to the many outdoor activities, there are options to fill every taste. I personally like a to mix it up: a little history, a little outdoors, a little art, and a lot of good food. Whether you have a day or a week, Washington DC is sure to make you discover new parts of yourself and new part of our world.
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