Things to Do in Washington DC
The U.S. Capitol dome towers above the Roman columns and manicured gardens of this iconic heart of American government. Topped by the bronze Statue of Freedom, the Capitol is the political and geographic center of Washington D.C. The building houses the legislative branch of Congress, with the Senate meeting in the north wing and the House of Representatives in the south wing. When Congress is in session, visitors can watch politicians debate all flavors of legislative issues, as they’ve done here since 1800.
The man whose dream changed America lives eternally in Washington DC. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial opened in October 2011, a few months after the 48th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I have a dream" speech. Set in the greater National Mall area, the memorial occupies four acres of land in West Potomac Park and looks out over Tidal Basin near the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.
The site includes both a commanding 30-foot statue of Dr. King and a 450-foot granite inscription wall, featuring 14 excerpts from King's speeches, sermons and other public addresses.
A 19-foot-tall (5.7-meter-tall) marble statue of President Abraham Lincoln dominates the Lincoln Memorial, situated at the edge of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool on the National Mall in Washington DC. The most visited National Park Service site in the city is an homage to the 16th president of the United States, who helped to preserve the Union during the Civil War and delivered the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, one of Washington DC’s most visited landmarks, is comprised of three parts—the Three Soldiers statue, the Women’s Memorial, and the main attraction, the Maya Lin–designed Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, engraved with the names of some 58,000 fallen and missing Vietnam War soldiers. Visitors arrive to pay their respects and leave notes and mementos at the wall.
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, commissioned by Franklin D. Roosevelt, is a tribute to the third president of the United States, founder of the University of Virginia, and key drafter of the Declaration of Independence. Its Pantheon-esque facade and bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson overlook the Tidal Basin and Washington Monument.
Erected in honor of the nation’s first president, the Washington Monument is the tallest building in Washington DC, reaching 555 feet (169 meters) high. The white, marble obelisk is also one of the capital’s most famous structures, made even more remarkable when seen with its mirror image reflected in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial brings together life-like statues of a patrol squad with a walled triangle inscribed with scenes depicting the Korean War. The steel statues and granite walls lead to the center of a reflecting pool. Dedicated in 1995, the memorial honors the 5.8 million Americans who served in the Korean War (1950–1953).
Set at the heart of the National Mall, the World War II Memorial honors the 16 million American soldiers who served in World War II. The site’s pillars represent each state and territory; it’s arches are dedicated to victories; and more than 4,000 stars symbolize the sacrifices made.
From its source in West Virginia to where it empties out in Chesapeake Bay, the Potomac River is rich in American history, so much so that it's often called "the Nation's River." George Washington, the first president of the United States, was born along the river, and all of Washington, DC, the nation's capital city, lies within the watershed.
More Things to Do in Washington DC
Stretching from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial, the grassy, tree-lined National Mall is a hub of activity in Washington DC. The open space—America’s most-visited national park—between Constitution and Independence avenues is fringed by Smithsonian museums, numerous monuments, and attractions, such as the National Archives.
The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial lies on the National Mall in Washington DC, on the edge of the Tidal Basin. The sprawling site comprises four distinct parts, portraying each of the 32nd president’s terms in office. Bronze sculptures and quotes engraved into the stone walls take visitors on a journey through FDR’s presidency and era.
Located in West Potomac Park, the Tidal Basin is surrounded by some of the most iconic memorials and monuments in Washington DC, including the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. The attractive man-made inlet is also where you’ll find thousands of cherry trees gifted to the nation by Japan.
The impressive, green-domed Museum of Natural History on the National Mall in Washington, DC, was one of the first Smithsonian museums. Since it opened its doors in 1910, the museum has endeavored to inspire curiosity and learning through its collection of over 126 million natural specimens, artifacts, and photographs. It’s considered to be one of the world’s leading resources for scientific and cultural heritage.
There’s much more to Capitol Hill than the US Capitol building that stands atop it. It is both the heart of the American government and a vibrant neighborhood at the geographic center of Washington D.C. From the Capitol Grounds—a lush landscape of sweeping lawns and more than 4,000 trees—to the Capitol Reflecting Pool and Congressional office buildings, there is much to see and do on the Hill.
With 19 museums, nine research centers, and the National Zoological Park, it's no surprise the Smithsonian Institution is one of the most famous collections of museums in the United States and around the globe. Whether you're a history buff, a science lover, or an art enthusiast, you'll definitely want to spend at least a few hours—or maybe even a few days—in these world-renowned collections.
Home to the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, the National Archives Museum displays many of America’s most pivotal founding documents. Housed in a Greek revival building on the National Mall in Washington DC, the landmark invites visitors to see the priceless works, engage with interactive exhibits, and more.
Washington DC’s Library of Congress is the world’s largest library and keeper of the nation’s most important historical documents. It houses more than 160 million items, including maps, manuscripts, films, and prints. Its more than 30 million books line miles of bookshelves in three different buildings—and many are not on public display.
The outdoor U.S. Navy Memorial is a circular plaza with a "Granite Sea" map of the world. Two tall, arced buildings encompass the map in the center, the focal point of the Memorial. Fountains with pools, sculpted panels, and long columns embellish the stately Memorial. The eye-catching statue of the Lone Soldier represents every man and woman who has served in the Navy or other sea services.
Adjacent to the U.S. Navy Memorial is the Naval Heritage Center. A pseudo-museum, it was built to educate the public on the mission and history of the Navy, as well as a look into the life of those who serve in it. In the Center, visitors will find interactive exhibits and a movie theater that screens films about Navy service. There is a Media Resource Center on site, which houses historical text and documents on the Navy, as well as a souvenir shop.
Among the largest and most popular Smithsonian museums, Washington D.C.’s National Air and Space Museum is devoted to all things aeronautics. Its three galleries house historic flying machines, from early airplanes—including the original 1903Wright Flyer—to Apollo command modules, as well as state-of-the-art digital displays chronicling the history and science of flight in the United States. An on-site IMAX theater shows films throughout the day, and a planetarium offers further insight into the wonders of our solar system.
Arlington National Cemetery contains graves of soldiers from every war the United States has fought since the American Revolution. It is a resting place for such notable American leaders as President John F. Kennedy, jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, and civil rights activist Medgar Evers. With some 400,000 graves, famous and otherwise, the 624-acre (252-hectare) site has become a must-see historical site for any trip to Washington DC.
A National Historic Site, Ford’s Theatre is most known as the location where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. It’s one of Washington DC’s most significant attractions, with a focus on history from the 1800s. Today, Ford’s Theatre still hosts productions as well as a small museum dedicated to Lincoln.
Along with the White House and US Capitol, the Supreme Court ranks among Washington DC’s most significant, iconic landmarks. Founded in 1789 and now housed in a neoclassical building that dates to 1935, the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, and visitors are welcome to visit (even when court is in session).
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is headquartered in the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in downtown Washington DC. The bureau is tasked with protecting the United States from internal and external threats, drawing on both intelligence and law enforcement in its work. Tours require some red tape to arrange, but are worth it.
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