According to the Washington, DC Tourism Commission, more than 15 million visitors – both foreign and domestic – head to America’s Capitol each year. About half of those individuals arrive in DC to pursue business of some sort. The other half come for vacation, hoping to enjoy the many fascinating museums, landmarks, and historic and cultural sites that make Washington, DC one of America’s most popular tourist destinations.
Regardless of your political views, the seat of America’s government is a fascinating place. Packed into 67-square-miles is an attractive city that boasts a bit of something for everyone. America’s most photographed landmarks pierce the sky, the nation’s finest and largest museum thrills visitors from around the world, and world-class theatrical and musical productions are commonplace. Add to that some of the area’s best five-star restaurants and a bevy of top-notch luxury hotels and you’ll have an unforgettable holiday.
The beauty of Washington, DC, however, is that even those on a tight budget can enjoy the city without breaking the bank. Almost all the landmarks and museums in DC are free! That means sightseeing won’t cost an arm and a leg. Furthermore, accommodations just outside the downtown area are quite affordable and a reliable Metro system means you’ll have easy access to the city regardless of where you’re lodging.
Planning an Itinerary
To truly appreciate everything there is to see and do in Washington, DC, you’ll need at least 3 days, especially during peak summer tourist months, when lines can be long and free tickets required to visit certain landmarks can be hard to come by.
However, if you only have a day or two, you’ll need to decide where your preferences lie. If you’re a museum lover, spend an entire day (or two) exploring the galleries of the Smithsonian Institution, America’s most fabulous museum. If it’s American history you seek, schedule visits to such popular landmarks as the U.S. Capitol, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, and other such sites. If you prefer a bit of both, choose just one or two of the museum’s buildings and combine that with historical sightseeing.
The best way to get from place to place is aboard the city’s wonderful Tourmobile, which stops at the most popular landmarks and allows all-day re-boarding. You can choose where to stop, stay as long as you like, and climb aboard once again when you’re ready to roll. Tickets are very affordable and can include a visit to Arlington National Cemetery as well.
What to See
It’s a good idea to do a little advance research before you arrive in Washington, DC just so you can get a grasp on the wide variety of attractions available for your enjoyment. For example, if you’re traveling there with kids in tow, you might want to avoid some of the museums that are better suited to more mature visitors and opt for more kid-friendly fare. Here’s a list of some of Washington, DC’s most visited sites:
- The Washington Monument – Everyone recognizes that unique thin, white obelisk that dominates the skyline of the U.S. capitol. A trip to the top of the Washington Monument, named – of course – for the first American President, provides visitors with an amazing view of the city. Tickets are free but must be acquired at the kiosk at the base of the monument. One person can request up to 6 tickets. For $1.50 each, tickets may be purchased in advanced from the National Park Service.
- The Lincoln Memorial – A tribute to America’s 16th president, this memorial is easy to reach via the 87 grand steps that lead to the marble statue of Lincoln. Martin Luther King also delivered his famous “I Had a Dream” speech here.
- The Jefferson Memorial – Similar to the Lincoln Memorial, this is a tribute to great American forefather, Thomas Jefferson. It’s circular design is quite attractive and makes for a great photograph or two.
- The U.S. Capitol Building – The seat of American government, the Capitol is open to the general public for guided tours every Monday through Saturday (except Thanksgiving and Christmas). Even if you’re not interested in government, the wonderful artwork inside the building makes it worth the visit. Little ones may be bored by the free tour, which is likely to be over their head.
- The White House – The home of America’s president and his family, regulations for scheduling White House tours have changed frequently since September 11, 2001. Currently, public tours of the White House are available for groups of 10 or more people, but requests must be submitted through one’s member of Congress and can be scheduled up to six months in advance.
- The Vietnam War Memorial, Korean War Memorial, and the National World War II Memorial – All of these wonderful memorials are worth a visit. The Vietnam memorial evokes an eerie feeling of sadness, while the Korean memorial, with its marching soldiers, seems to portray the feelings of a proud military going off to fight. The most recently built memorial, constructed in honor of those who served or gave their lives in WW II, is a contemporary masterpiece that was a long time coming.
- Smithsonian Institution – The world’s largest museum complex consists of 14 different buildings/museums and an amazing permanent collection of everything from art to space ships. Kids will love the National Air and Space Museum best! However, there’s something for just about everyone, including an American history museum, natural history museum, several art galleries, a museum of African Art, an American Indian building, and an interesting little postal museum. The Smithsonian also owns the wonderful National Zoo.
- Bureau of Engraving and Printing – Offering tours from March through August (except when the terror alert is Code Orange or higher), this is where the U.S. makes their paper money. Tours are fascinating and a big hit with all ages.
- International Spy Museum – This newer addition to the Washington, DC museum scene is a huge favorite for kids who’ve always dreamed of being “secret agents.” Dedicated to the art of espionage, exhibits include artifacts, photos, videos, and great interactive displays.
- Arlington National Cemetery – Just outside the city, across the Potomac River, you’ll find this historic cemetery, where the graves of John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy take center stage. You’ll also find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well as a variety of other gravesites of famous Americans.
The Cherry Blossom Festival
Head to Washington, DC in late March/early April and you’ll be treated to a feast for the eyes. The annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, a fixture here since 1912, features not only 3,000 blooming cherry trees but also a host of events the whole family will love. If you plan on visiting at this time, be sure to make hotel reservations far in advance. This is one of Washington, DC’s busiest times of the year.