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The Top 10 Things to Do in Washington, DC

My family and I love to travel and explore new places. We have been blessed to travel across the United States.

Early dusk at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington DC

Early dusk at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington DC

For our family vacation in 2017, we drove out to Virginia on a week-long road trip. We spent the first three days in Virginia Beach, which is an incredible place to visit. Then we headed north and spent a day and a half in Washington, D.C. It is home to many different monuments, museums, as well as the three branches of the federal government. There is so much to see and do there. Here is a look at the top 10 things to do in Washington DC.

1. Visit the National Mall

The National Mall is an incredible place to visit. It is in downtown Washington, D.C. and runs between the Lincon Memorial to the west and the U.S. Capitol to the east. It is home to many of the most famous monuments and memorials in the United States including the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and more. It also borders many of the Smithsonian museums and the White House. Each year, the National Mall hosts many different kinds of events. It is also a popular area to stage a protest.

I have been fortunate to be able to visit the National Mall on two different occasions. The first was when I was in college. A group of guys from my school drove to Washington, D.C. to attend Promise Keeper's Stand in the Gap rally. It was amazing to see the National Mall filled with men worshiping God from near the U.S. Capitol past the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial itself. The other time was with my family in 2017. It is a unique place to visit. It is the top thing to do when visiting Washington, D.C.

2. Visit the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. details the history of flight and space travel and is a must see. It is unique in that it is one museum with two locations. Admissions to both museums are always free. Here is a closer look at each.

National Air and Space Museum - Washington, DC

The Washington, D.C. location is near the National Mall. It is at Independence Avenue at 6th Street Southwest. It offers visitors the chance to see the 1903 Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, Bell X-1 that first broke the sound barrier, Lunar Module LM-2, and more. The museum also offers an IMAX Theater, Einstein planetarium, food court, and a gift shop.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center - Chantilly, Virginia

The Chantilly, Virginia location is at 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway. It offers visitors the chance to see the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan, the Space Shuttle Discovery, and more. Visitors can also watch planes fly in and out of Dulles International Airport in Washington.

3. Visit Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery is the resting place of over 400,000 military veterans and their immediate families. It is the largest military cemetery in the United States. It is a great place to pay your respects for those who gave their lives fighting to keep this country free. There are 27 to 30 Arlington National Cemetery burials on an average weekday.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is an absolute must see. It is guarded by the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is a tribute to unidentified fallen soldiers from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The Changing of the Guard ritual is incredible to watch. It happens every hour between October and March. April through September, the guard is changed every half hour.

Arlington National Cemetery Hours and Admission

Arlington National Cemetery is open 365 days a year and is free of charge. April through September, the Arlington Cemetery hours are between 8 am and 7 pm. October through March, hours are between 8 am and 5 pm.

On our trip, we spent about an hour wandering through the different areas. It is a very sobering and humbling experience when you think about the price that the men and women that are buried there paid for our freedom. We also were blessed to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was incredible. An Arlington National Cemetery visit is a must when in Washington, D.C.

4. Visit the White House

The White House in Washington, D.C. is the official workplace and residence of the President of the United States. The south side of the White House faces the Washington Monument and the National Mall. It sits on about 18 acres and offers a park like setting with a rose garden and many mature trees. The White House has three main sections: Executive Residence, West Wing, and East Wing. The President and his advisors are in the West Wing. The Executive Residence is in the center of the building where the president lives as well as offering rooms for ceremonies and entertaining of state officials. The East Wing has additional office space.

History of the White House

The White House in Washington, D.C. has been the residence of every President of the United States since John Adams in 1800. It was set on fire during the War of 1812 by British troops. Only the exterior walls remained, but they had to be torn down and reconstructed. The reconstruction project lasted until 1817. It has been improved several times since including the construction of the East Wing, extensive redecoration by Jacqueline Kennedy, and more.

Take a White House Tour

The White House offers visitors a chance to take a tour. However, advanced planning is required. Tour requests must be made through your member of Congress anywhere from 21 days to three months in advance. Tours are available on Tuesday through Thursday between 7:30 am and 11:30 am. Friday and Saturday tours run between 7:30 am and 1:30 pm. Visitors will get to see the Blue Room, Red Room, Green Room, State Dining Room, China Room, and a view of the White House Rose Garden.

We only had to for a quick White House visit and were able to take some great pictures of the South Lawn and the southern side of the White House. I would recommend taking public transportation if possible. There is not a lot of parking near there. I was fortunate enough to find a spot on the street about two blocks away.

5. Visit the U.S. Capitol Building

The United States Capitol building is iconic to the Washington, D.C. skyline. The architecture of the building inside and out is spectacular. It covers 175,170 square feet of ground area and its floor covers 16.5 acres. The United States Capitol building is at the east end of the National Mall. It houses both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives.

U.S. Capitol Facts

  • Thomas Jefferson held a design contest with America's finest architects.
  • George Washington laid the cornerstone to it in 1793.
  • The first session of Congress held in the Capitol building was on November 17, 1800.
  • The National Statuary Hall Collection has 100 statues.
  • The Capitol Rotunda is a circular room underneath the Capitol dome.
  • The Statue of Freedom sits on top of the Capitol dome.

Tour the U.S. Capitol Building

The U.S. Capitol building tour is 45 minutes long and allows visitors to see historical areas of the Capitol including the Crypt, Capitol Rotunda, and Statuary Hall. Visitors can book a tour online at the www.visitthecapitol.gov or by contacting their Representative or one of their Senators. It is a good idea to make advanced reservations, especially during the summer. Tours are free.

6. Visit the Smithsonian National Zoological Park

The Smithsonian National Zoological Park is part of the Smithsonian Institution, which is the largest museum and research project in the world. It is 163 acres and boasts 2,700 animals. The National Zoo offers animals from all over the world including giant pandas, polar bears, cheetahs, gorillas, and more. Each year the zoo offers events including Snore & Road, Boo at the Zoo, and Smithsonian Zoo Lights.

Smithsonian National Zoological Park Hours and Admission

The Smithsonian National Zoological Park is open between 8 am and 7 pm during the summer. Winter hours are from 8 am to 5 pm and start on September 30th and run through March 15th. It is open 364 days a year and admission is free. The zoo is well worth a visit.

7. Visit the Washington National Cathedral

The Washington National Cathedral is an engineering marvel. Built during the 20th century, it looks medieval with its neo-Gothic architecture. It has 215 stained glass windows including one with a moon rock embedded inside it. The central tower is 30 stories high. The National Cathedral is at the highest point in Washington, D.C. on 59 acres at Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues. Construction began in 1907 with President Theodore Roosevelt in watching. It ended in 1990 with President George H. W. Bush attending. The church is a part of the Episcopal Christian Denomination, though all religions are welcome. Church services and musical performances are free to attend. Tours are $12 for adults, $8 for kids between 5 and 17, and free for kids under 4.

Washington National Cathedral Facts

  • The land was set aside in 1792 for a "great church for national purposes" as part of Pierre L'Enfant's "Plan of the Federal City."
  • There is a crypt level in the cathedral that houses the remains of President Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller.
  • There are 112 decorative rain spouts disguised as gargoyles and grotesques, which are carved stone creatures.

Washington National Cathedral Events

  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower, President Gerald Ford, President Ronald Reagan, and President George H. W. Bush all had their funerals at the cathedral.
  • President Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Ronald Reagan, President George H. W. Bush, President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, and President Donald Trump all had Presidential prayer services at the cathedral the day after their inaugurations.
  • Other people to have funerals are for former first lady Edith Wilson, Senator John McCain, Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson, and Senator Daniel Inouye.

Below is a video clip of Rev. Billy Graham speaking at the National Cathedral right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

8. Visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

The U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is a living memorial to the Holocaust. The museum exists to remind the horrors of one of the world's worse tragedies. Hitler and the Nazi regime believed that Germans were "racially superior" and that Jews were "inferior." Hitler's antisemitism and hate led to countless atrocities against Jewish people and those found helping them. Other victims of the Nazis include the disabled, Gypsies, Polish, and Russians. They held people in concentration camps with the most infamous being Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Planning a Visit to the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

The museum is open year round except for Yom Kippur and Christmas Day. Admission is free between September and February. March 1st through August 31st, tickets are required to reserve a time. There is a $1 transaction fee for those tickets.

9. Visit the National Museum of the Bible

The National Museum of the Bible showcases rare artifacts and items that span 3,500 years of history. It offers a look at the Bible's ongoing impact around the world and offers visitors a personalized experience with the Bible. It also seeks to educate the public on the history of the Bible and its many different types of narratives. Hobby Lobby, the Green family (owners of Hobby Lobby), and the National Christian Foundation are the primary donors responsible for launching the museum.

Exploring the Museum of the Bible - Washington, D.C.

The Museum of the Bible offers seven floors to explore. Visitors enter the museum through 40-foot tall bronze doors. Also, on the main floor, visitors can visit the Milk + Honey Cafe, Museum Shop, Wall of Gratitude, Virtual Reality Experience and Children's experience. The ceiling has a digital display that changes throughout the day. The second floor offers a look at the Bible in America, the Bible in the World, and the Bible Now. The third floor looks at the Hebrew Bible and the World of Jesus of Nazareth as well as having the Galilee Theater and The New Testament Theater. The fourth floor offers over 600 artifacts and examines Bible translating, Revolutionary Words, Written Tradition, The Beginning, King James Bible, Bibles for Everyone, and more. The fifth floor is home to the World Stage Theater, Israel Antiquities Authority, and various temporary exhibitions. The World Stage Theater offers daily immersive Bible readings. The sixth floor offers views of the Washington Monument, Manna Restaurant, and Biblical Garden. Floor B1 or the basement holds temporary exhibits.

Planning to Visit the Museum

The Museum of the Bible hours are 10 am to 5 pm on Monday through Saturday. The museum is open year round except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Admission is $24.99 for adults, $14.99 for kids over six, and free for younger kids.

Insider Tip: Buy tickets on the museum's website and receive a $5 discount for each age group.

10. Visit the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. explores America's rich history. It boasts over 3 million artifacts and an archival collection that is over three shelf-miles long. The museum features the Star-Spangled Banner Flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem during the War of 1812. Another great item to see is President Lincoln's top hat that he wore on the night of his assassination. The National Museum of American History also offers a look at the First Ladies of the United States, America on the Move, American Enterprise, Wegmans Wonderplace (geared towards kids), and much more. Admission is always free, and it is open every day of the year except Christmas Day. I highly recommend checking this museum out.

Don't Miss a Change to Visit Washington DC

Washington, D.C. is an incredible place to visit. It is full of rich history and something for everyone in the family. There is so much to see and do there. My family and I loved our time there and cannot wait to go back again.

Map of the Top 10 Things to Do in Washington DC

© 2019 Eric Cramer

Comments

Eric Cramer (author) from Chicagoland on April 17, 2019:

Thanks Liz!

Liz Westwood from UK on April 17, 2019:

This is an outstanding article. I need to bookmark it for whenever I can make it to the USA.

Eric Cramer (author) from Chicagoland on April 16, 2019:

Thanks RTalloni!

RTalloni on April 16, 2019:

Such a nicely done overview of this to-do list while visiting Washington DC. Thanks for the vicarious visit with great pics and for really helpful tips.