“I’m glad we were here together in our nation’s capital.”– Forrest Gump (1994)
As I have mentioned before, Washington D.C. is one of my favorite cities (well I say that, but I really love Paris. Boston. Philadelphia. Vancouver. Mont Saint Michel. The list really goes on and on), and the city I have visited the most (outside of Florida). Anywhere I can explore history, walk around aimlessly, and eat great food tends to become my favorite city at some point.
As for our Nation’s Capital, there is never a moment of boredom, there is an unbelievable amount of sites to see, and galleries and museums to visit. The first time we visited the National Gallery of Art we were so impressed by the number of famous pieces that we had so close to home! We were able to view Sunflowers by Van Gogh and The Water-Lily Pond by Monet which was the background of my phone for several years only to be replaced with Monet’s Nymphéas [Water Lilies] that is on display at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. In addition to seeing work by Monet, my favorite artist, we also got to see work by all of “The Turtles” (i.e. Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci, Donatello). In addition to art, D.C. also has on display artifacts from the Apollo Space Mission, the evolution of flight, and a great IMAX theater with unique showings at the Air and Space Museum. No matter what your interests, there is a museum that you would find interesting! I will share all of my favorite places in D.C. but there is still so much more to do in this city, that I have not yet done or don’t know about!
Museums and Galleries
The first thing that is important to recognize is that the city is really oriented around the Washington Mall which is the open-area national park that runs between the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol Building, with the Washington Monument near the center. Here you can find 11 of the 20 Smithsonian museums and galleries. There are 6 other Smithsonian museums located elsewhere in D.C.- basically you have access to enough museums to keep you busy for a year! A comprehensive list of the museums and galleries can be seen on the Smithsonian website, here you will find the hours of operation, highlights, addresses, and the individual websites of the museums you are interested in most. All of these museums have free admission, and most of them do not require tickets. I have collected a list of the Smithsonian and affiliate museums and galleries, linked to their individual websites, I have visited over several trips to the city.
- National Air and Space Museum
- National Museum of African American History and Culture (*requires timed-entry passes for certain peak times; I spent four hours here when I visited, and unfortunately had to leave at close, so I zoomed through the last floor. Be sure to stop at the information desk for a map and an explanation of the exhibit design.)
- National Gallery of Art
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (*tickets are only needed from March 1 to August 31 to visit the Museum’s Permanent Exhibition, which tells the history of the Holocaust from 1933 to 1945. Tickets are not required to enter the Museum or to view any other Museum exhibitions. Tickets are free, however, tickets can be reserved online before your visit and have a $1 transaction fee.)
- National Museum of the American Indian
- National Museum of Natural History
- National Museum of American History
- U.S. Botanic Garden
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
- National Portrait Gallery
- Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle)
- National Zoological Park (National Zoo). The Zoo is located a bit outside of the city center in Rock Creek Park.
Depending on how long you like to spend in museums you can visit as many of these in a day that suits you. We can spend hours in a single museum with no issue. My favorite places to visit on the Mall are the Air and Space Museum, African American History and Culture Museum, Gallery of Art, Holocaust Museum, American Indian Museum, and Museum of Natural History. Additionally, throughout D.C. there are several other museums that you can visit. Here are two museums that we have enjoyed visiting that are not part of the Smithsonian Institute:
- International Spy Museum: (Adult ticket $15) The only public museum in the world solely dedicated to the tradecraft, history, and contemporary role of espionage.
- The Newseum: (Adult ticket $19.95) A 250,000-square-foot museum of news.
Buildings and Memorials and Monuments, Oh My!
Like the galleries and museums, there is no shortage of important buildings, monuments, and memorials that should be visited. A comprehensive list of all of the monuments and memorials can be found on the Visit DC website. Below is a list of some of the stops around the Mall; the best way to see these various memorials is by picking up a scooter or renting a bike from one of the many share stations around D.C. This is the easiest and quickest way to see all of the memorials and monuments around the Mall.
- White House: free tickets are available to visit the White House, but there are additional requirements for admittance and ticket reservation. On my first visit to D.C. we were lucky enough to have been granted access to the White House (thanks to my friend who was able to request access for us) right before they ceased admittance for quite a while due to security reasons. We were able to walk through the portrait gallery of presidents and see the room where Abraham Lincoln’s body was taken the day after we was shot at Ford’s Theater in 1865. He stayed there for four days before he was taken to the Capitol Building Rotunda where he stayed for a few more days, before being sent to his home in Springfield, Illinois for burial. So crazy, right!?
- Washington Monument: tours are currently unavailable indefinitely due to the unreliability of the elevator and renovations. On one of our visits, between renovations and security issues, we were able to get tickets to visit the top of the monument which is absolutely remarkable; to be able to see the entire city at that height is unreal. Before your trip to D.C. you can check the website to see if they are operating tours, if so you can visit the monument the day you would like to visit the top, and receive your timed tickets.
- Arlington National Cemetery: for more information read Our Virginia Voyage post.
- National Archives Building
- U.S. Capitol Building: tours are available, however I have not yet done one!
- The Supreme Court
- Jefferson Memorial
- Korean War Memorial
- Lincoln Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- FDR memorial
- WWII Memorial
- MLK Jr. Memorial
Getting Around D.C.
Pro tip: Don’t bother renting a car in D.C. since you will likely get stuck in traffic, and have difficulty finding parking which you will pay for at the main attractions. We have never rented one and never will. The Metro is super easy to navigate if you want to cross the city, and the Capital Bike Share allows you to rent a bike throughout the city and drop it off at any of the 140 stations across D.C. and Arlington. You can easily rent a bike at the kiosk and return it to any station near your destination. On many of our trips to D.C. we have rented bikes to explore the city and it is a real time saver.
Recently D.C. and other metropolitan areas have introduced Electric Scooter rentals. These are rented by downloading the application (i.e. Bird, Lime) on your smartphone and scanning the code on the individual scooter you would like to rent. These. Are. So. Fun!
What should I eat?
Old Ebbitt Grill , founded in 1856, is Washington’s oldest saloon. At that time, innkeeper William E. Ebbitt bought a boarding house in what is now thought to be on the edge of present-day Chinatown. It later moved locations a number of times throughout its existence, before landing it’s current location (just East of the White House), and has served the “Who’s Who of American History.” Each table has a card that reads: “Many other famous statesmen, naval and military heroes, too numerous to mention here, have been guests of the house.” Let me just tell you, beyond the neat history and authentic decor, they serve some of the best french toast I have ever had! I have never ordered anything else because the french toast is that good. They are also known for their oysters which I hear are delicious- but not my thing. Reservations are accepted and recommended- especially for dinner.
A two minute walk from Old Ebbitt is the W hotel by Marriott with an amazing rooftop bar, where you can look over the city from a different vantage point while drinking delicious cocktails. My friend who has lived in D.C. for several years showed me this spot when I was in D.C. for a conference.
There are so many other places that are a joy to eat at, I have eaten at The Hamilton (around the corner from Old Ebbitt) which is yummy and historic, DC Tacos is a great place for quick tacos, &Pizza is a pizza place where you can order your individual pie just the way you like it (like MOD Pizza or Blaze). But when in doubt Andrew and I swear by using Yelp, we use this app in every city we go to and it never leads us astray. Follow our simple rule: eat at places with at least 20-30+ reviews with 4+ stars and you will never have a bad meal.
So about now you are probably wondering, “what about dessert?” Well, there are plenty of places to get dessert throughout D.C., but I especially enjoy Sprinkles and Georgetown Cupcake: both serve some amazing cupcakes! These shops are located in Georgetown which is about a 20 minute metro ride from the White House. In this neighborhood you will find cobblestone streets, quaint shops, college bars, and great restaurants which are all located near a waterfront park and Georgetown University.
Other than the history and museums that are strewn across the city, there are always special events, parades, holiday celebrations, and various rallies that occur. We have gone to D.C. twice to participate in the Women’s March (2017, 2019) to take our own part in history. On January 21, 2017, we participated in the inaugural worldwide march, which was the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. This was one of the most emotionally-charged events that I have ever witnessed, and will absolutely never forget. When in D.C. be sure to check out eventbrite to see if there are any rallies you would want to join, it is sure to be an experience of a lifetime.
In summary, you can see why D.C. makes it to the top of my “favorite city” list- the amount of history and things to learn and see is countless. In addition to all of these amazing places we have visited, there is still so much more to see and do, here are a few places I have yet to visit, but are on my list:
- Freer Gallery of Art (on the Mall)
- National Museum of African Art (on the Mall)
- Renwick Gallery (Lafayette Square)
- Smithsonian American Art Museum (Penn Quarter)
- National Cathedral (18 minute drive from the Mall)
- U.S.M.A. War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial) (near the Arlington National Cemetery)
- Albert Einstein Memorial
What is your favorite Museum to visit? Do you have a favorite exhibition? The Louvre (Paris, France) and Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto, Quebec) are ginormous and diverse, but I think I would have to say the Musée de l’Orangerie is my favorite since it is filled to the brim with Claude.
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