Washington DC Travel Guide
Introduction to Washington DC
As far as high demand travel destinations in America go, a trip to Washington DC ranks near the top of most traveler’s lists, as it is one of the most influential cities in the world. The political decisions made here have far-reaching consequences throughout the world, be it a trade agreement or a declaration of war.
From the days following the successful conclusion of the Revolutionary War, through the trying times of its traumatic civil conflict and numerous other tumultuous events, Washington DC has stood strong. Being the center of the United State’s federal government, a veritable abundance of monuments and political infrastructure await the cultural traveler here, as sites from the Lincoln Monument to the Vietnam War Memorial and the White House itself will keep them buzzing from dawn ’til dusk.
As if all this wasn’t enough, the status of federal capital has granted Washington DC numerous museums holding collections of national and global interest. Needless to say, you’ll need at least a week of constant sightseeing to properly do this alpha world city justice. Oh, and if you see Obama, say hi to him for us, will you? Thanks!
Cultural Experiences in Washington DC
As you burst out of your accommodation with boundless energy on your first day here, you may as well get the biggest attraction in the city out of the way first, so head to the National Mall and make a beeline for the White House, home to the President of the United States since it was constructed in 1800.
This Neoclassical beauty is partially open to public tours, but with specific restrictions. If you are a resident of the USA, you must submit a tour request through your member of Congress and if you are a foreigner, one must go through their embassy to submit a tour request. In others, one can not simply walk up to the White House and expect to go on a tour … otherwise, you’ll be stuck snapping photos through the wrought-iron fence!
Next up on your agenda should be the US Capitol Building, the building where federal laws are created, debated, and then passed. Fully completed in 1811, its bold Neoclassical style dome has been not only impersonated by legislatures in other American states, but many other foreign countries as well. While terrorist and criminal acts in the past have led authorities to bar unguided access to the interior of the Capitol, guided tours are available, in addition to a visitor’s centre that contains exhibits on the inner workings of its chambers.
Along the length of the National Mall are numerous presidential monuments that honor some of the greatest leaders that the America has had in its storied history. The most prominent of them all is the Washington Monument, which is a 169 metre high obelisk that commemorates America’s lead general in the Revolutionary War, as well its first ever president.
The Lincoln Memorial, which features the seated likeness of Abraham Lincoln, America’s Commander-In-Chief during the days of the Civil War, sits at the base of a lengthy reflecting pool. This monument honors his steadfast leadership during a conflict that threatened to tear the Union in half, a challenging presidency that was violently ended by his assassination at the hand of John Wilkes Booth.
A presidential monument that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as the previous two is the Jefferson Memorial. This statue and rotunda lionizes Thomas Jefferson, the third president in US history. Serving as a Founding Father, standing as a strident opponent of tyranny against the inherent freedom of humanity and presiding over a doubling of the territorial size of America during his two-term presidency, he is a beloved figure among many patriotic Americans. Its architecture has long been a favorite of architects in the district as well, so is it well worth checking out as you explore the National Mall.
There are also two war memorials in this central part of Washington DC that are worth checking out. The first of these is the World War II Memorial, which is located at the opposite end of the Reflecting Pool from the Lincoln Memorial. Composed of 56 pillars, two arches and a sizable fountain, this memorial complex commemorates the sacrifice of over 400,000 servicemen and women in one of the most destructive wars in the history of the world.
Another war memorial that is sobering in its scope is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which commemorates the 50,000 personnel that never made the return trip home from this Southeast Asian conflict. Their names are carved into a black gabbro wall that stretches almost 500 feet long from end to end, and almost ten feet high at its highest point. The sheer volume of names drives home the enormous cost of war to any who visit, making this place a must visit for all that come to Washington DC.
Those looking to comb through world-class museums will find plenty in this globally significant city. The finest of these is the Smithsonian Institution, which administers a collection of museums dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge throughout America and the world.
There are no less than four institutions under its tutelage, which include the National Museum of American History (essential artifacts and exhibits relating to the American story), the Air and Space Museum (the largest collection of aircraft and spacecraft in the world), the Natural History Museum (the most visited natural history museum in the world, with more than seven million visits per year examining over 126 million specimens), and the National Zoo (the oldest zoological park in the USA). All this scientific awesomeness will take a while to digest, so don’t rush – block off at least a full day to take it all in.
Lovers of masterpieces of the visual variety will be well-catered for at the National Gallery of Art, which was created by an act of Congress in 1937. Free of charge, possessing a collection of world art spanning from the Middle Ages to the present day (including the only Leonardo Da Vinci piece in the Americas), and a six acre sculpture garden, this internationally significant art museum should not be missed by any self-respecting culture vulture.
Other Attractions in Washington DC
If all the formal attractions, monuments and museums of the National Mall have you stifling a yawn, then spice up your tour of Washington DC by visiting the International Spy Museum. This collection is the world’s largest relating to artifacts used in international espionage, featuring everything from records of spycraft dating back to the Greek Empire to devices that jam radio frequencies and self-detonate after a set amount of time … and much, much more!
Always have CNN on in the background? Face buried in the newspaper most mornings? If this describes you, then you will find the Newseum to be most interesting. This impressive monument to news media of all kinds opened in 2007, and it features fourteen galleries and fifteen theaters that document the history of the news through newspapers, radio, television and the internet. This 250,000 square foot complex even hosts the studios of Al-Jazeera America, making this place an active producer of media in addition to being a temple venerating it.
If you want to experience the flora from across America and from around the world, then the United States National Arboretum is the perfect place to go to do just that. The climate in the Washington DC area allows many kinds of plants found through the United States to grow here, and together with several sculptures (including an art display featuring columns rendered redundant from a renovation of the Capitol Building), it is a great way to connect with the outdoors after days of skulking through museums.