Things to Do in Washington DC
That the future may learn from the past.” Colonial Williamsburg’s original motto holds true today, as this 301-acre living history museum recreates the Revolutionary War period with detailed attention on historical accuracy. Williamsburg served as the state of Virginia’s capital from 1699 to 1780, and its proximity to other historical towns such as Jamestown and Yorktown make it a mecca for history buffs and the ultimate vacation destination for families looking to learn while having fun. In Colonial Williamsburg, visitors can experience daily life in colonial times. From how food was cooked without modern technology to the tactics of warfare and weaponry of the time, Williamsburg has it all. Some of the more popular attractions involve visits to the local blacksmith and silversmith, browsing the wig shop and seeing the costumes of the era. In total, Colonial Williamsburg has 35 exhibition sites, 22 sites dedicated to showing off more than 30 18th-century trades.
More than four million people visit Arlington National Cemetery, which contain the graves of soldiers of every war the United States has fought since the American Revolution. The cemetery is also a resting place for such American leaders as John F. Kennedy, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Medgar Evers.
At the end of Memorial Drive is the Women In Military Service for America Memorial, honoring women who have served in the armed forces since the Revolution. On the slopes above are the Kennedy gravesites; an eternal flame marks John F. Kennedy’s grave. The Tomb of the Unknowns holds unidentified bodies from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. Soldiers march before it 24 hours a day, performing an impressive ceremonial changing of the guard every half hour.
A visit to George Washington's Virginia home, Mount Vernon, is an easy escape from Washington D.C. – one that the president himself enjoyed. It's also a journey through history: the country estate of this quintessential gentleman has been meticulously restored and affords a glimpse of rural gentility from a time long gone.
On the Potomac banks, the 19-room mansion displays George and Martha's colonial tastes, while the outbuildings and slave quarters show what was needed for the functioning of the estate. George and Martha are both buried here, as requested by the first president in his will.
The modern Ford Orientation Center is a must-see on the grounds. It features a 20-minute film that shows Washington's courage under fire, including his pivotal crossing of the Delaware River. Another highlight is the sleek Reynolds Museum and Education Center, home to galleries and theaters, which provide more insight into Washington's life.
Thomas Jefferson himself designed much of Monticello, his plantation home. After serving as Secretary of State, the United States's third president incorporated the designs of French villas into his plantation, which features extensive gardens, a small body of water that reflects the house and Monticello Cemetery, where Jefferson is buried.
Today, Monticello, located near the University of Virginia, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The sprawling plantation house serves as a museum with a variety of tours available, all of which seek to educate the public on the life and times of Jefferson. Restoration and archaeological pursuits continue on the grounds, and as recently as the early 2000s, archaeologists uncovered a burial ground for slaves. The controversial topic of Jefferson's ownership of slaves is discussed in many of the educational tours.
Overlooking the Potomac River at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, this statue of Marines raising the American flag on Japanese soil after the Battle of Iwo Jima is dedicated to the military service of U.S. Marines since 1775. Sculpted by American artist Felix de Weldon, the 32-foot soldiers and 60-foot flagpole comprise the largest bronze memorial in the world, while the Stars and Stripes here are made of real cloth. In accordance with a 1961 proclamation made by President John F. Kennedy, the statue’s flag flies 24 hours a day.
The scene depicted by this memorial is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph called Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, taken by D.C. native Joe Rosenthal in 1945. Five of the six soldiers in the scene were Marines (one was part of the Navy Corps), and three died in this famous last battle of World War II.
A Southern, Greek Revival mansion once owned by General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army, the Arlington House is much more than just a beautiful house. Steeped in history and surrounded by hardwood forest, the 1,100 acre plantation was the general’s residence before the war started. It’s now a standing piece of history and a tribute to his military service before, during, and after the war.
Long before it was General Lee’s home, the house claimed its place in US history as the home of George Washington Parke Custis — Martha Washington’s grandson. G.W.P. Custis built one of the nation’s first museums of historic American artifacts, largely from mementos of his childhood at Mount Vernon.
See how America’s first English settlers lived at the Jamestown Settlement, where they landed in 1607. This site, now a living history museum, sits in Virginia at the heart of America's first permanent English colony and explores the history of colonial times through films, exhibits and interactive outdoor experiences.
Visitors are introduced to the settlement and interactions between the Powhatan Native Americans, Europeans and Africans who converged in the area in this time period. Outside, the museum showcases replicas of the three ships that arrived in Virginia from England in the 1600s. Visitors can also walk through recreations of the colonist forts and a Powhatan village that include demonstrators in period garb.
Officially dedicated on Oct. 14, 2006, by President George W. Bush, himself a former pilot with the Texas National Guard, the U.S. Air Force Memorial is one of the newest memorials in the Washington area.
Built to honor the men and women who serve and sacrifice for the U.S. Air Force, architect James Ingo Freed designed the formidable three-spire monument to depict the contrails of three Air Force Thunderbirds, flying in the missing-man formation traditionally reserved for Air Force Funerals. Two granite inscription walls are located at opposite ends of the monument’s central lawn. The Air Force’s three key values ("integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do") and other meaningful quotes are engraved on the south wall, while the north wall lists the Air Force’s Medal of Honor recipients. More than 30,000 people attended President Bush’s keynote address, and it has been an equally popular venue ever since.
Don’t mistake the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum for an antiques boutique; everything in this space is for seeing, not buying. The museum showcases American and British furniture, metals, ceramics, glass, paintings, prints, firearms and textiles from the 17th through the 19th century. There are 15 separate galleries, and the site has a reputation for showing off the “finer things” in life. In particular, the museum holds the largest collection of furniture from the American south and one of the largest collections of British ceramics anywhere outside of England.
To complement the collections, the museum educates the public through lectures and musical events. There is also a Portrait Gallery on the premises, allowing visitors to put faces with the luxury of the lifestyles demonstrated by the collections. The museum opened in 1985 in historic Williamsburg, Virginia, and was named after DeWitt Wallace, a co-founder of Reader’s Digest magazine.
More Things to Do in Washington DC
When Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, wife of John D. Rockefeller, loaned part of her folk art collection to the Ludwell-Paradise House in Williamsburg in 1935, she had no idea that her items would eventually serve as the core of a museum named after her. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum originally opened with 424 objects, all donated or collected by Ms. Rockefeller, but today, the museum features more than 3,000 pieces and is one of the largest collections of American folk art.
Founded in 1957, every inch of the site comes alive with bold colors and intricate craftsmanship, all telling the stories of American folk life. The museum features collections of wooden toys, carvings and needlework, in addition to the art. Many children enjoy the “Down on the Farm” animal-focused exhibit.
Feel the reverence of history and the weight of time at Christ Church in Old Town Alexandria, where visitors today sit in the same pews where George Washington and Robert E. Lee once worshipped. Commenced in 1767, Christ Church is a living testament to American history, and so is the site's cemetery, which memorializes 34 Confederate prisoners of war who perished in prison camps during the Civil War.
Christ Church measures a mere 60 feet by 50 feet, but despite its small size, the brick landmark looms large over the town and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970. The church consists of the main worshiping space, galleries in the upper level, a tower and the cemetery. Today, there are still regular services and events, as well as a congregation of more than 2,000 members. Tradition has it that every new president visits Christ Church on Washington's birthday.
Approximately 15 minutes south of downtown Washington, the 18th-century Old Town – the local nickname for the historic center of Alexandria -- hugs the western bank of the Potomac and blends the area’s cultural melting pot with America’s Colonial era. Originally laid out in 1749, this condensed commercial district full of cobbled streets and the well-preserved 18th century buildings features boutique and mall shopping, restaurants, nightlife, and lots of opportunities for sightseeing.
Many of the neighborhood’s most popular dining destinations offer sustainable takes on American cuisine, like Hank’s Oyster Bar and Restaurant Eve, and vintage pubs and taverns harken back to the area’s early days. Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican and Afghan eateries are common sights in Old Town, reflecting a steady influx of immigrants to Alexandria since the late 1980s.
Dedicated in 2008, this roughly 2-acre site honors the 184 people who died in the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon. Set on the west side of the Pentagon Reservation and landscaped with 85 maple trees, this quiet memorial is largely composed of 184 illuminated benches and reflecting pools which face the south side of the Pentagon, where American Airlines Flight 77 hit the building on 9/11.
Each illuminated bench, as well as a nearby granite wall, bears the name and age of an individual victim; the wall grows higher from east to west in relation to the victims’ ages. Visitors can see that the youngest person killed was three, the oldest was 71, and several of the 59 people killed aboard Flight 77 were family members.
An audio tour of the Pentagon Memorial is available by phone at (202) 741-1004. Parking is available at the Pentagon’s South Lot, and the memorial is adjacent to the Metrorail’s Pentagon station, which serves the Blue and Yellow Lines.
Sure, touring the monuments and museums of Washington DC is an incredible learning experience about the history of our nation, but if all of the touring has left you lusting for a little adrenaline and excitement then a trip to Busch Gardens Williamsburg may be just what you need to get the endorphins back racing again. Located a three-hour drive from Washington DC, visiting the amusement complex at Busch Gardens Williamsburg is like taking a heart-racing tour of the European continent in what is also one of America’s most historic colonial towns.
Modeled after a series of European hamlets, visitors to Busch Gardens Williamsburg can either walk themselves or ride the steam train through villages which are seemingly straight out of Ireland, Bavaria, France, Italy, and a host of other European nations.
Renamed in 1998 in honor of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, this urban airport opened its doors in 1926 and is the hub for US Airways. The airport provides travelers with easy domestic escape from the nation’s capital.
Terminal A, which opened in 1941, is newly renovated, while the brightly lit and gilded halls of Terminals B and C are home to 35 gates that lead travelers to planes departing for dozens of cities across the country. Travelers on extended layovers can enjoy the artistic touches of the ever-changing Gallery Walk exhibits in Terminal A, and updated food options mean there are more places than ever for those on the go to grab a bite.
This international transit hub, which opened in 1962, is Washington, D.C.’s busiest airport, servicing some 22 million passengers every year who are heading to one of at least 125 destinations across the globe. Dulles is a hub for United Airlines and the third largest carrier for American Airlines.
The airport has one major terminal and two midfield terminals, which include Concourses A/B and C/D. All non-United flights and a majority of international ones operate out of the 47-gate Concourse A. Hungry travelers are sure to find exactly what they crave with more than 100 privately-owned restaurants and shops to choose from, and frequent fliers can relax in one of the 30 airline lounges—perfect for relaxing during an extra-long layover.
Since 1990 Hard Rock Café in Washington, D.C. has been serving up classic American fare with a side of rock and roll. Travelers who are familiar with the HRC experience will find the same burgers and wings menu, friendly service and hall of fame décor the chain is known for. But this location has a bit of patriotic flair, since veterans, law enforcement and servicemen sometimes get discounts on cuisine. Visitors will find excellent live music performances nightly, great drinks specials and incredible atmosphere that’s perfect for a fun night out or a filling dinner before taking it out on the town.
Located just south of the Jefferson Memorial, East Potomac Park is a man-made island between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel. It’s also a popular but somewhat overlooked slice of nature that locals consider a best-kept secret.
Roads and paved pathways, including the popular riverside trail, draw cyclists, runners and pedestrians to the park for an easy escape from the bustling city. And there are other recreation opportunities as ewll, including an 18-hole and a nine-hole golf course, mini golf and a public aquatic center, all found within the sprawling green space. In the spring, two types of Japanese cherry trees bloom, converting the park into an incredibly picturesque sea of pink and white flowers. The National Cherry Blossom Festival coincides with the Yoshino cherries bloom that happens about two weeks before the Kanzan cherries open.
Things to do near Washington DC
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