Things You Should Know Before Visiting Washington DC
Washington DC is America’s capital city. Known as ‘The Federal City’ or ‘The District’, the area nestled between Maryland and Virginia is home to the President, Congress, the Supreme Court and millions of people. The city, broken into quadrants instead of grids, is officially south of the Mason-Dixon line putting it in the southern portion of the United States. Washington DC attracts over 16 million visitors annually.
Due to the giant metropolis and the surrounding two states, anything within the boundaries of Washington DC is referred to as in the District or within the DC Metro Area. Although the city is home to many residents, it’s often known to be a city of transients as many are constantly on the move. With many consultants, lobbyists, politicians, military men and women and embassy personnel, the city has shifts in political elections and times of year. As one of America’s most visited cities, many come for the historic sights and soon learn that there’s far more to the DC Metro area than government and politics.
The college campuses of American University, Howard University, Georgetown and George Mason surround the city while University of Maryland isn’t far away. Hundreds of green spaces are available, the waters of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers are ever present, the Chesapeake Bay isn’t far and it’s an easy ride to the beautiful Shenandoah Mountains. The city is filled with eclectic eateries and Union Market is one of the best spots to sample food and fare.
For slimmer crowds and more mild temperatures, visit during spring and autumn. Take in the colorful fall foliage in the third quarter of the year and the beauty of the Cherry Blossom Festival in the spring. Although winter sees much colder temperatures, there are holiday extravaganzas and tree lightings that warm the evening air. In summer months, take advantage of the extended hours of many of the Smithsonian’s museums.
Summer is the busiest season for visitors. Regardless of the time of year, there are some tickets that are more difficult to get than others. Order your tickets for White House tours, Capitol tours, National Museum of African American History and Culture and those of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum online and in advance. The Capitol building does offer some same day tickets early in the morning. The heaviest crowds often surround monuments in the afternoon; but all monuments are open 24 hours a day and offer beautiful evening views. Union Station can be visited in the evening and the National Gallery of Art is best in the morning light. At any time of day, feel free to pop into the offices of your Congressperson and if the office isn’t busy you might be granted a tour.
Tours and Transportation
Washington DC is best traversed outside of your own motor vehicle. Drive as little as possible, walk if you can and utilize all other modes of transportation available such as the Metro rail and Metro bus. Offering vistas from various vantage points, tours of the city by land and sea provide history, sights, and access to attractions. Old Town Trolley Tours, which offers over 100 points of interest along the way, is a hop-on-hop-off tour that traverses the entire city. There’s a Monuments by Moonlight Tour, which allows you to see the lights of the city on critical historical elements. And check out the views from the Potomac in the ‘fully restored 1942 military vehicles’ of DC Duck Tours and end your tour at Gravelly Point directly underneath the flight path of some of DC’s landing planes.
Sights and Attractions
Washington DC is filled with educational entertainment extraordinaire. Whether you’re checking out the city from the water views of the DC Duck Tours or winding the pathways on foot, you’re bound to find history and lessons at every turn. With hundreds of things to see and do and a plethora of places to spend your time, this city delights visitors who come once and offers countless opportunities for those who tend to return. Outdoor educational excursions are everywhere. Visit Arlington National Cemetery to see the iconic eternal flame and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Stand in the footsteps of history along the National Mall in between the height of the Washington Monument and the staring eyes of Abraham Lincoln. Feed the ducks in the reflecting pool and plan a day of natural history in the surrounding spaces.
Educational Monuments and Museums
DC monuments are open 24 hours a day. In order to avoid the afternoon crowds, consider visiting bright and early in the morning or later in the evening. The museums of the Smithsonian are all free to enter. Hang with the animals in the National Zoo or check out the signature aircrafts at the Air and Space Museum. With many monuments and museums to take in, visitors continue to return to DC for a new experience each time. Some of the many significant museums, monuments and educational experiences are listed below.
- Air and Space Museum
- National Museum of American History
- National Portrait Gallery
- Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
- Museum of the American Indian
- National Museum of African Art
- African American History and Culture Museum
- Hirshhorn Gallery and Sculpture Garden
- Jefferson Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
- FDR Memorial
- Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool
- World War II Memorial
- Korean War Memorial
- Washington Monument
- Smithsonian National Postal Museum
- National Archives
- Arlington National Cemetery
- US Botanical Garden
- US Navy Memorial