Washington DC |What to see
Posted on January 11th, 2020
I hadn’t realised until we started planning our trip to Washington DC how much culture there was to see and do in the city. Including a walk past the White House – at a great distance!
The Smithsonian Museums are one of the reasons you go to Washington DC. In 1829, James Smithson, a British scientist left his estate of 100,000 gold sovereigns to the US to found an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge. Interestingly he never set foot in the US.
Most of these museums are along the National Mall and are all free, so you can dip in and out without worrying about racking up the entry fees, especially if you are a family.
Washington DC |The Capitol
The Capitol is a must and has an excellent free tour. The history and details they share are captivating. It was one of the best tours we did.
It’s one thing to watch the West Wing, but another to be immersed in the real thing. US politics is without a doubt fascinating.
You will get an insight into American history, the founding fathers and why the US Constitutional system is so different from ours. It is also one of the most beautiful buildings you will step into.
The US Supreme Court is opposite the Capitol and well worth popping in. You can even sit in on court hearings if a session is on from Mon-Thu, but you will need to queue.
Washington DC |The Monuments
Lincoln Memorial – get up early and watch the sunrise from here. Amazing view down the National Mall, watching the sun appear from behind the Capitol. Then grab a bike or scooter and travel the full length of the Mall.
It’s across the river, but Arlington Cemetery should be on your list. Give yourselves a few hours here. It is the final resting place for over 400,000 active duty service members and veterans.
There are notable graves, and memorials that you can visit on the hop on, hop off buses that leave every 45 mins or so. Be sure to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and if you are lucky see the changing of the guard. Its remarkably moving.
Washington DC |Museums
Newseum was the highlight. You won’t find a museum dedicated to the media anywhere else. In 2019 it was voted by Time Magazine as one of the ‘greatest places’. Sadly it closed on 31 December 2019. Hopefully it will have a new home soon so do look it up if you are going to DC.
National Gallery of Art A world class museum comprising two buildings housing an incredible collection that stretches from the contemporary back to the Middle Ages.
Museum of American History |3 million objects that objects that tell the American story.
National Portrait Gallery |Housed in a very impressive building. Don’t miss the America’s Presidents gallery. If you can get on a tour do, we followed a private tour around and it was absolutely fascinating. Download the SmARTify app for a self guided tour of the permanent collection.
Hirshhorn Museum| Modern art in a doughnut shaped building with very funky exhibits – excellent coffee shop in the foyer if you need to rest.
National Air & Space Museum|Well worth a visit, a long one if you have kids. It’s free, so you can whizz around in 20mins if you are pressed for time and not worry about an entry fee.
Artechouse | This is immersive augmented art. It is computer generated and if the alternative art thing interests you, check them out. I personally loved it, and they change the installations every few months. They also have galleries in NYC, and Miami.
If we’d had more time:
There are dozens of museums and galleries, too many to mention, so do your research and pick those that prick your interest. We would have liked to have gone to the Spy Museum, full of international espionage artefacts, and the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
If you are short of time and only have time to catch one or two things, I’d definitely do Capitol Hill and I would do the National Portrait Gallery or National Gallery of Art.
Good walking shoes or boots are a must. Everything looks walkable, but beware that the blocks are deceptively large and streets very wide, so a short walk turns out to be a very long walk… Get your step count up or have alternative arrangements.
Getting around Washington is easy. The metro works very well (get a prepaid card) and there is a good bus system. Mr B had me on one of the hotel’s bikes, but use Capital Bike share or the scooters that are everywhere. There is always Uber and Lyfts when you get tired.
What I would say is plan your day carefully, so that you don’t end up criss-crossing across town which is what happened to us.
Olivia Bardy Luxury Travel booked our tickets where applicable. We queued for our Capitol Hill tickets (free), but it was super quick as we were there out of season.