We have been fortunate to have visited D.C. several times since we started living in Boston and every time we go back, we strive to see something different.
The Capital has a network of National Parks, renowned museums, amazing restaurants and a diverse number of neighborhoods that are worth spending extra time to explore.
The National Mall and Its Smithsonian Institutes
On our first trip to Washington D.C., I thought it would be impossible to see half of all the museums that line the city’s vast National Mall. I was right... but with a good city map in hand and being selective, you will be able to visit the ones you are most interested in.
The National Mall is an extensive public park in the heart of the city which runs from the U.S. Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial. Along the Mall, you will find government buildings, memorial sites, historical monuments and a vast collection of museums that make up the Smithsonian Institute.
Since these museums and research centers are administered by the United States Government, they are free for everyone. They are geared towards educating and distributing knowledge to every visitor and as soon as you walk in you will understand how much work and dedication were put towards that objective.
There are two museums you must not miss when you go to Washington: The National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum.
The Air and Space Museum was built to resemble a hangar and has a vast collection of historical aircraft and spacecraft hanging from the rafters. The most remarkable detail about these collections is that most of the exhibits are originals and bear the damages they suffered during their use.
The National Museum of Natural History is one of the most visited in the world and holds a collection with over 100 million examples of plants, animals, fossils and even meteorites. You could spend days inside just looking through their permanent exhibitions, especially their vast National Fossil Hall.
There is a Lot in the Mall, But Try to See Downtown...
As you enter the museums that line the National Mall, you can also visit monuments and other significant sites located nearby. You can walk past the White House, The U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Supreme Court and visit the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial as well as two must stops: The Thomas Jefferson and FDR Memorials.
I also recommend visiting the National Archives Building since it holds the original Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Not too far away you will find the National Museum of American History where the original Star-Spangled Banner is on display.
If you like walking, Washington D.C. is the town to do so! Leave the car aside, grab a map and go explore the city’s mix of wide avenues and small historical streets.
I would highly recommend taking some time to check-out downtown. The area is not precisely defined, but it is where you will find DC's business district, additional renowned museums, historical buildings, green spaces and beautifully designed wide avenues.
The Spy Museum has an extensive collection of authentic spy equipment and offers great interactive displays. The Portrait Gallery is part of the Smithsonian museum complex and its collection highlights some of the most important American figures in US History. The Gallery also hosts a complete portrait exhibit of present and former Presidents of the United States.
Going Beyond Capitol Hill
The Capital Hill neighborhood is widely famous for housing the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court, but it is also home to a quaint residential quarter with some great markets.
When you head to this area, I recommend to first step inside the Library of Congress for at least a quick peek.
This is the world’s largest library and it has a stunning, detailed architecture, perhaps the most beautiful interior in the whole of Washington D.C.
As you explore, if you head to the back side of the U.S. Capitol, you will start entering a very pleasant residential district. This area is a great way to unwind from the busy city center and every Tuesday to Friday they hold a small farmers and flea market located on 7th Avenue.
The Fashionable and Young Georgetown
This upscale and student dominated neighborhood is located in the northwest part of Washington D.C. amidst the main campus of Georgetown University.
Because of its position close to the Potomac River, this area was once a major commercial port. Today, its restored historical buildings are a tourist destination housing several upscale shops and restaurants.
If you go to Georgetown, the heart of town is located on the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street - wandering its side streets while visiting its busy shopping area makes it for a great afternoon.
KEEP IN MIND
The Wrap-Up: I feel that some forget that Washington DC is more than just the Capital of the United States. It is sometimes viewed as a dull town, where politics is the only thing actually happening. The city is much more than that: its attractions are engaging, numerous and most importantly, many are FREE!
The Café: Mitsitam Native Foods Café is located inside the National Museum of the American Indian. The café, on the bottom of the museum, is somewhat pricey but worth a visit since it specializes in authentic indigenous cuisines of the Americas.
The Restaurant: Mozart Café & Bar is a German restaurant near the White House. When you first walk in, you will be met with a deli/market, but continue towards the back and you will find the restaurant. Try: The Brat Combo Platter.