The nation’s capitol, Washington DC, is full of things to do for locals and visitors alike. We recently shared the top tourist spots to visit in Boston and we’re kicking off our DC adventures with a list of 10 tourist sites as well. According to a recent article from Business Insider, Washington DC is the 12th most popular destination in the US for travel. You might think that’s a pretty low number but not if you consider Hawaii, New York City and California. I’m proud to say my home city of Chicago is listed at #7! Anyway, I digress. Regardless of DC’s place on any list, it does have a lot of incredible things to do, most of which pay homage to United States history. A few of these sites will also be included on our list of historical sites to visit coming soon. A lot of the tourist sites and historical sites are interchangeable in their category because the historical sites are the ones people most want to see. The number of things to do, not only in DC, but any city could fill up pages of research. So we don’t make your eyes cross, we’ve narrowed the list down to ten. Mention other suggestions that you have in the comments below.
Every city has one building or specific site that defines it. For Chicago, we have the Sears Tower (aka Willis Tower). San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge. New York City, the Empire State Building. In Washington, DC, it’s the Capitol Building. The domed structure is one of the most photographed spots in the city. Many tours can be a waste of time but not this one. Take a tour of the Capitol Building and if you get a chance (and you have the patience for politics), see Congress in session. It’s a memorable experience and you will learn so much. Tour passes are available the day of at the Visitor’s Center but they recommend to schedule one in advance. They make it simple to do so on their website or you can book one through your Representative or Senators. Looking up tours for the next two months, many of the time slots are already full up so this is something you do not want to chance.
Embodying Neoclassical architecture, this memorial was made for Thomas Jefferson, the third president. The memorial is surrounded by water on the National Mall and located near many of the famous Cherry Blossom trees. This is one of my favorite memorials because of how beautiful it is. If it weren’t crowded with people so often, you might even find it a serene memorial because of the water.
International Spy Museum
The International Spy Museum opened in July of 2002 as the only public museum dedicated to espionage. It has the “largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display” according to their website. Many of the people who had a hand in putting this museum together were either spies themselves or involved in the “spy world.” The museum features interactive exhibits for the ultimate experience. One in particular is the “Covers & Legends” experience. Visitors adopt a cover identity and memorize everything they need to know to understand the importance of keeping that cover. Learn about the history of the spy business, go through 50 years of James Bond villains, learn about modern challenges spies face today and more. It’s a fun, educational experiment for people of all ages. This is another one we recommend buying tickets for in advance.
This will forever be the memorial that Megatron destroyed in Transformers to me. Dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, this is one of the more magnificent memorials in DC. It’s considered the most beautiful at sunrise when the sun shines directly on Lincoln. I was not lucky enough to experience this but my cousin has and she assures me it’s a memorable moment and worth the early wake up call. The memorial also includes a carving of the Gettysburg Address on one side of Lincoln.
Memorials - All of Them
There are a few particular memorials included in this list but to include all of them would mean a very long post. I don’t even know what all of the memorials are to include them all! There’s a memorial for both World Wars, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Franklin Roosevelt, Einstein, Theodore Roosevelt, the Navy, The Marines. According to a recent article by CBS, there are more than 160 monuments and memorials. To visit them all, you either need superspeed or months to dedicate visiting each of them. My advice, think about what you’re interested in the most. A certain part of history? Architecture? Specific individuals? Wars? Start from there and narrow down which memorials and monuments pay respect to those interests. Once you have that list, decide which ones you’d most like to visit and hit those. Otherwise, you’ll spend an entire trip to DC seeing a fraction of the memorials it is home to and nothing else.
The National Archives are one of the more interesting sites on this list. This is a huge building full of letters, records, photographs, maps and so much more. If you are a history buff, this site is for you. A few things to do while visiting the National Archives include browsing historical records and presidential papers, records specific to research, attending a public event and more. You can see photographs documenting history, arrest warrants, telegrams, speech notes from public figures. So much! Make a plan and visit.
National Mall + All the Museums
The National Mall is visited by millions of people each year. It’s home to many different monuments, memorials and museums including the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian Museums, White House, Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial and more. The National Mall is a wonderful place to take a minute, slow down and take it all in. The lawns are meticulously manicured and there is no shortage of things to see.
United States Holocaust Museum
The Holocaust Museum is not an uplifting site to visit by any means. It’s sad and sobering in many ways but it’s an experience everyone should have at least once. This is a piece of history that should never be forgotten. Walking through the museum, you’ll be taken through a history of the era with displayed artifacts, video and photographed footage as well as personal accounts. It informs on how the Holocaust came to be and what made it possible to exist. It takes you through the experience as a child which is emotional beyond words. Besides their regular exhibitions, they also have several temporary ones including a look inside Nazi propaganda and the Nazi Germany plans to create a “master race.” It’s not an uplifting experience but it is an important one. You can purchase tickets in advance or buy them same day from March through August only but it’s recommended you buy them in advance.
If the Capitol Building didn’t exist, I’d say the Washington Monument was the one piece of architecture that defined DC. This 555-foot monument is made of marble and was built to honor George Washington. Normally, you can take a ride to the top for spectacular views of the capitol but it’s currently closed for repairs (as of September 2017). You can still take photos of the monument and visit the gift shop where they have fun old-fashioned mugs.
The White House
It would be remiss to not include the White House as part of this list. Visiting is not easy though. If you insist on having a tour of the White House, this is something you have to do in advance. There is a process to being invited inside the house for tours and it means you have to go through your member of Congress. If you’re not a US citizen, this means going through your embassy in Washington DC. If you absolutely have to see inside the building, go through the proper methods to get that tour. If you’re content with taking a photo of the outside, don’t bother. Others may disagree and say that the White House is an absolute MUST when visiting the capitol but it’s not something that I find worth the effort.