This man-made reservoir located in West Potomac Park offers some of the most extraordinary views of Washington, D.C.’s most spectacular sites. Whether visitors wander its parameter or hire paddleboats and cruise out into its waters, they will surely be treated to a picture-perfect look at the Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr. and George Mason Memorials. Close proximity to the National Mall, Washington Monument and all of the top museums make if the perfect place to spend an afternoon wandering, biking and exploring in D.C.
Stretching from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall is a wide, tree-lined expanse of open space between the Constitution and Independence avenues. The Mall is the center of D.C. tourist attractions, fringed by the Smithsonian museums and dotted with monuments.
For here is the iconic Lincoln Memorial, fronted by its long Reflecting Pool; nearby is the Washington Monument, the top of which offers some of best panoramic views of the city. Pause to reflect on the fallen soldiers at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, or marvel at the 56 granite pillars at the National WWII Memorial. If you come in late March or early April, the cherry trees at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial will be blazing pink.
You could spend days and days studying the treasures at the Smithsonian museums on the Mall. From the massive collections in the National Gallery of Art and the National Museum of Natural History.
Designed by American architect Willoughby Edbrooke, this enormous Romanesque Revival building was the largest office building in D.C. when it opened in 1899. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was far from beloved in its own era. Considered dowdy by the time it opened for business, when architectural fashion had turned to rounded, more romantic Beaux-Arts design, it was soon abandoned in favor of a new mail depot building over by Union Station; 15 years after it was built, it was commonly referred to as the “old” post office.
By the late 1920s, popular sentiment in Washington was that the building should be torn down, but the Great Depression prevented the demolition; instead, the Old Post Office was left to molder for about 40 years. In the 1970s, it was saved by community support and the National Endowment for the Arts, which now has its headquarters here.
The somber, sobering Holocaust Museum is unlike any other museum in Washington D.C. In remembering the millions murdered by the Nazis, it is brutal, direct and impassioned. Its exhibits leave many visitors in tears and few unmoved.
The Holocaust Museum uses its collection of more than 12,500 artifacts to reveal the Jewish experience in three parts: Nazi Assault, Final Solution, and Last Chapter. Visitors are given the identity card of a single Holocaust victim, narrowing the scope of suffering to the individual level while paying thorough, overarching tribute to its powerful subject.
Apart from the permanent exhibits, the candlelit Hall of Remembrance is a sanctuary for quiet reflection; the Wexner Learning Center offers text archives, photographs, films and oral testimony available on touch-screen computers. If you have young children in tow (the museum recommends not bringing children 11 and under).
The larger-than-life Star Spangled Banner gallantly streams from the walls of the National Museum of American History in Washington DC. This top-rated museum showcases the best of American memorabilia and memorializes iconic eras, events, and people in American history. The most popular exhibit is the original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that was raised at Fort McHenry in Baltimore on September 14, 1814 to celebrate a victory over the British forces in the war of 1812. Another popular exhibits showcase dresses American First Lady’s have worn. Other significant artifacts include Archie Bunker’s chair, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, and a replica of an 18th-century Massachusetts home.
Unlike her lifelike figures, Madame Tussaud was a real human being, a wax sculptor in 1770s Paris who became an art tutor at the Palace Of Versailles. During the French Revolution, she was forced to prove her allegiance to King Louis IVX by making death masks of executed aristocrats; lauded for her work, she eventually left for Britain with many of her works in tow. In the early 19th century, a showcase for her wax likenesses of famous -- and infamous -- contemporary figures was built in London; the Madame Tussauds brand has since become a popular global franchise, spreading across Europe to Asia, Australia and several American cities.
The Madame Tussauds in D.C. focuses largely on famous political figures; one of the most photographed wax figures here depicts Marion Barry, the city’s controversial (and now deceased) former mayor. All 44 past presidents are represented, as well as President Barack Obama.
Ford’s Theatre has served many functions since its construction was completed in 1833. Once a church, a warehouse, a theater and then an office building, the landmark is now known as a National Historic Site. By and far, the historical building is most infamously known as the theater where actor John Wilkes Booth shot and killed President Abraham Lincoln on that fateful night of April 14, 1865. Lincoln had been there to see a production of Our American Cousin with his wife, and since that night, Ford’s Theatre has been one of Washington D.C.'s most important historical attractions.
Immediately after being shot, President Lincoln was moved across the street to the Petersen House, where he ultimately died. Nearly 70 years later in 1932, both buildings were designated national historical sites, and today, Ford’s Theatre is overseen by the National Park Service.
This popular stretch of pavement once known as the Western Plaza was renamed Freedom Plaza in 1988 after Martin Luther King, Jr. His famous “I have a dream” speech was said to have been crafted nearby this space. Today, Freedom Plaza serves as a gathering spot for political protests and rallies—paying an homage to the words and actions of King. While Freedom Plaza does not offer much in the way of a destination, travelers who come to this iconic square can also see the John A Wilson Building and the National Theater, which are located nearby.
Situated between the Potomac River and major city roadways is one of the nation’s foremost centers for performing arts, a cultural and entertainment hub for the city of Washington D.C. With more than 2,000 performances annually, it is the busiest performing arts center in the United States. World-class live theater, classical music, ballet, jazz and opera shows all take place at the venue. Three main theaters including a concert hall and opera house ensure a variety of shows offered. Free performances are held on the Millennium Stage in the Grand Foyer daily.
Outside of the performances and stages, the center also has a Hall of Nations and Hall of States to explore, with collections of American and international flags. Also see the many paintings and sculptures gifted to the center from other nations throughout. The building also has great views of the Potomac River and the Georgetown area from its windows and rooftop terraces.
Straight off the wire and into the museum, the Newseum makes today’s front-page news part of its exhibits. More than 700 daily newspapers from around the world submit a digital front page to the Newseum and more than 80 are printed for display.
These front pages collaborate to tell the rest of the museum’s stories, too, as most of the major exhibits began as front-page stories. Permanent exhibits include the 9/11, Berlin Wall and First Amendment Galleries; hands-on experiences in both the NBC Interactive Newsroom and HP New Media Gallery; and the awe-inspiring Pulitzer Prize Photographs gallery that shows the world’s largest collection of winning images. And the Newseum doesn’t ignore the struggles and sacrifice that come from covering the world’s biggest stories, either, as the Journalist Memorial Gallery is updated each year with the names of brave journalists, photographers, editors and broadcasters killed in the line of duty.
Open to all faiths and creeds, the Washington National Cathedral conducts services for many faiths and peoples. Martin Luther King Jr gave his last Sunday sermon here; now it's the standard place for state funerals and other high-profile events. It’s often considered the country’s most beautiful church.
The building is elegant, but also powerfully Neo-Gothic. With its pale limestone walls, flying buttresses, intricate carving and exquisite stained glass, it is intended to rival Europe's great cathedrals. Take the elevator to the tower overlook for expansive city views; posted maps explain what you see. Chapels in the main sanctuary honor the Apollo astronauts, Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln, and abstract ideas like peace and justice. The endearing Children's Chapel is filled with images of real and imaginary animals. Famous folks like Helen Keller and Woodrow Wilson are buried downstairs in the crypt.
Fronting the Potomac River, Georgetown is an evocative neighborhood, combining the most elegant, wedding-cake exterior décor of Washington D.C. with a genuine sense of lived-in bustle. The neighborhood is rich with American Federal and Victorian architecture, their gardens bursting with flowers and their gables dripping with antebellum charm. You’ll find high-end shopping arcades, hushed restaurants, and a vibrant nightlife scene. It’s also the home of Georgetown University, the city’s most prestigious school.
In spring and summer, Georgetown is green and gorgeous, with the trees waving and the laughing co-eds and well-off families. In fall and winter, Georgetown becomes dignified and reserved, her old-school atmosphere enhanced by the change of leaves or flicker of gas lamps on snowy nights. Spend an afternoon strolling M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, its main thoroughfares, taking detours down side streets at your leisure.
Centered around an elegant traffic circle at the intersection of Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts Avenues, this upscale yet urban neighborhood is full of refined pursuits, as well as much of the city’s gay community. While here, be sure to soak up the people-watching scene around the fountain at Dupont Circle itself, and stop into the unique Kramer Books & Afterwords, a combination café and well-curated bookstore.
Dupont Circle’s graceful marble fountain was designed and built by the same architectural team behind the Lincoln Memorial. Installed in 1921, the fountain replaced a memorial statue of Civil War rear admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont that was moved to the prominent Du Pont family’s estate in Wilmington, Delaware. In the neighborhood surrounding the traffic circle and fountain, you can feast your eyes on Impressionist masterpieces at the elegant Phillips Collection; tour the 19th-century Anderson House.
It’s impossible to dress appropriately for a visit to the United States Botanic Garden; each room you enter is a completely different environment. Set one block southwest of the U.S. Capitol Building, the garden nurtures plants from around the world – including subtropical, tropical, and arid regions. There are a variety of gardens and rooms, all connected through intertwining, labyrinthine paths. Two of the most interesting features are the ever-beautiful rose garden and a room designed solely for fragrances. Perhaps the most unique exhibit is Return of the Titan. This exhibit celebrates the titan arum, also known as the corpse flower or stinky plant. The corpse flower can grow up to 12 feet tall. The flower bloomed for the first time in July 2013, and it may be several more years before it does so again.
The United States Botanic Garden is also well known for its holiday displays.
An iconic Chinese Gate called the Friendship Arch greets visitors as they enter Chinatown, a historic neighborhood near downtown Washington DC. Chinatown has about 20 Chinese and Asian restaurants, some of which are well known and loved. Chinatown Express, for example, makes homemade noodles daily. Patrons and passersby pause to watch the proprietors cut and cook the noodles through a glass window. An annual Chinese New Year’s parade is held in Chinatown every year; it’s the most famous event in the neighborhood.
Today, Chinatown is primarily known as a commercial shopping and entertainment neighborhood. New condo buildings give way to mid-range clothing stores like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. The Verizon Center – the largest arena in DC – by and far draws the most crowds to Chinatown. The Verizon Center is home to the Washington Wizards basketball team, the Washington Capitals hockey team, and the Georgetown University men’s basketball team.
Located next to the White House, the Old Executive Office Building houses the majority of offices for the White House staff. The building dates back to 1871, when it housed the State, War, and Navy Departments. The imposing building is also known as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
The Old Executive Office Building represents one of the best examples of French Second Empire architecture in the United States. Its unique style catches the eye, a contrast to the many somber classical revival buildings around the city. The building has played host to an incredible number of high-level events. It housed offices for Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Gerald Ford, and George Bush before they became President. Foreign dignitaries have met with the twenty-four Secretaries of State who have called this building home. The Old Executive Office Building is a must-see attraction in Washington DC.
Affiliated with but not a part of the Smithsonian, the National Gallery needs two buildings (connected by an underground tunnel) to house its stunning collections (more than 110,000 objects) of painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the Middle Ages to the present. Kids love the walking escalator that traverses the two buildings and conveniently empties into the airy cafeteria.
The original neoclassical building, known as the West Building, exhibits primarily European works, from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, including pieces by El Greco, Monet, and Cézanne.
Across 4th Street NW, the angular East Building is where you'll find the Calder mobile along with other abstract and modern works. Across 7th Street from the West Wing sits the National Gallery Sculpture Garden, a beautifully landscaped park of open lawns, a pool with a spouting fountain, and 17 sculptures.
This seven-acre public park, named in 1824 for a French marquis who fought in America’s Revolutionary War, is surrounded by some of D.C.’s most historically significant buildings. In addition to the White House, the Square is adjacent to the Old Executive Office Building, the Department of the Treasury, and the Renwick Gallery.
Set directly across the street from the White House, the park here was part of the White House grounds during Thomas Jefferson’s administration, but set apart when John Adams approved the plans for Pennsylvania Avenue. Formally landscaped in 1851, the Square features walking paths and formal hedges, as well as four horse-mounted monuments to foreign heroes of the American Revolution. The Square’s proximity to power turned it into a fashionable 19th-century address for political luminaries like Martin van Buren, John Milton Hay, and Henry Brooks Adams.
One of the newest branches of the Smithsonian, this 2004 museum is dedicated to the history, arts and culture of Native Americans throughout the Western Hemisphere. Its permanent collections, which contain thousands of artifacts, are supplemented by those at its sister institution, New York City’s long-established Museum of the American Indian.
Set on the National Mall along Independence Avenue, arguably D.C.’s most condensed museum mile, the NMAI stands on its own, a modern, curvilinear design amidst landscaping reminiscent of the American Southwest and Midwestern plains. The focus of its collections leans heavily towards native tribes of the United States, but its extensive object, media, photo and paper archives also illustrate the history and cultures of tribes from Canada, Central and South Merica, and the Caribbean.
If you've ever wanted to step into James Bond's shoes and live a glamorous spy life, the International Spy Museum is the place to learn the secrets. One of Washington D.C.'s hottest attractions, the museum is flashy, over the top - an engaging, fun museum that illustrates high-tech gadgetry, notorious spy cases, secret methods, and the not-so-pleasant consequences of being an international person of mystery.
The much-acclaimed museum of espionage gives spy fans their fill of cool gadgets and interactive displays. All visitors are invited to play the role of a secret agent by adopting a cover at the start of their visit. Throughout the museum, you can try to identify disguises, listen to bugs, and spot hidden cameras. A lot of the exhibits are historical, focusing on the Cold War in particular (a re-creation of the tunnel under the Berlin Wall is an eerie winner).