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Three Days in Washington DC

Traveling has always been one of my passions. I love the joy of experiencing new cultures and the excitement of exploring our amazing world.

The US Capitol with the Washington Monument behind it.

The US Capitol with the Washington Monument behind it.

Having not visited our nation’s capital since I was a kid, I was truly excited when we were invited to a wedding just outside of Washington DC. We quickly decided to make it a long weekend and planned a Wednesday to Sunday visit around a Saturday evening wedding. With just about three days to explore the city, we knew we probably wouldn’t get to see everything, but we sure as heck tried. Considering we only had the better part of three days, I think we actually saw quite a bit. For anyone planning a long weekend in our nation’s Capitol, you should be able to use this as a guide to what is feasible with a little planning and limited time.

On the Mall heading to  the WWII and Lincoln Memorials

On the Mall heading to the WWII and Lincoln Memorials

Early evening is a great time to be in Washington DC. It is also a great time to visit a few of the monuments along the National Mall. One of the things you will notice is that this is a very active area with people running, biking, playing softball, and of course the hordes of tourists. I was very surprised at the number of people out exercising, but Washington DC is clearly attractive to a younger generation, and they seem to be embracing and enjoying all that the city has to offer.

The monuments that line the Mall are all beautiful in their own right, but at dusk, as they begin to light up they become stunning to see. Certainly plan on one evening to visit a few of the memorials to see them in all their glory.

Granite Pillars of the World War II Memorial

Granite Pillars of the World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial

Having opened to the public in 2004, the World War II Memorial is one of the newer memorials on the National Mall. It’s a beautiful memorial with 56 granite pillars surrounding the WWII Memorial Fountain and a large plaza. The 56 pillars are inscribed with the names of each of the 48 states at the time of the Second World War, plus the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Philippines. We took some photos, sought out the pillars containing the states here in New England, and headed off to the Lincoln Memorial.

World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

With the sun beginning to set, Washington DC becomes even more beautiful as the city begins to light up. The view from the Lincoln Memorial back toward the Washington Monument is really an amazing site. The walk along the reflecting pool with Abraham Lincoln guarding one end, and the Washington Monument at the other end is certainly one of the more beautiful strolls you can take around the city.

Dedicated on May 30, 1922, the Lincoln Memorial is a fitting tribute to one of the countries more endearing leaders, and certainly a must-see on any visit to Washington DC.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

The Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial

The Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial

Washington Monument

From the Washington Monument, you can gaze in every direction and marvel at the sites around you. Perched on a bit of a hill it really gives you a great view of the National Mall, and from this vantage point, you can see the Capitol, the White House, the WW II Memorial, and of course the Lincoln Memorial.

When you look at a map of the Mall area of Washington you get an inaccurate sense that everything is fairly close. In reality, be prepared to do a lot of walking. Even though the public transportation system in the city is highly regarded, and should be utilized, you will still do a lot of walking during your visit.

If you would like to go to the top of the Washington Monument now that the repairs from the August 2011 earthquake are completed you will need to plan ahead. We tried to get tickets a month before our trip and they were already sold out. They do give out a limited number of first come first serve tickets each morning starting at 8:30 am, but these tickets go very quickly.

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For Advance Tickets to the Washington Monument

Washington Monument

Washington Monument

White House Tour

Tours of the White House can be scheduled up to three months in advance and can be done through your Congressman’s website. It does involve a background check, and it can take a few months to hear back so if you want to go into the White House plan ahead.

We had a great visit to the White House, and while we did not see the President or the First Family we did get to see Bo and Sunny, the Obama’s two Portuguese Water dogs. The tour is self-guided, but there are secret service personnel in every room to answer questions. Plan on about an hour to go through the White House.

They do not allow you to take much of anything into the White House except smartphones, and a small camera that does not have a detachable lens. No backpacks, large cameras, bags, pocketbooks, etc., so be prepared. If you want to bring these items into the city with you, you can store them in the Smithsonian American History Museum, which is right at the end of 14th Street and just five minutes from the White House. As you enter the museum the locker room is to the right and they have lockers of various sizes

Visitor Information

Public Self-Guided Tours

  • Tuesday - Thursday: 7:30 am to 11:30 am.
  • Friday - Saturday: 7:30 am to 1:30 pm.
  • No fee to visit.
  • Requests must be submitted through your Member of Congress.
  • All visitors 18 and older must present a valid government-issued photo ID.
  • Foreign visitors must present their Passport.
The White House

The White House

US Capitol Tour

Similar to visiting the White House, you can schedule a tour of the US Capitol a few months prior to your visit. Tours can be arranged through your Representative or Senator. The US Capitol Visitor Center also has an online reservation system that can be used to arrange tours.

A guide leads this one-hour tour and the groups can be quite large with up to fifty people in each group. They do use headsets so you can hear your guide above all the hustle and bustle of noise. I was a little disappointed in the depth of this tour, and if you want to see the Senate and House Galleries apparently you have to make yet another special request in advance, which we were not aware of. Despite my personal disappointment the US Capitol is an amazing building with an interesting and storied history and is certainly worth touring.

Visitor Information

  • Monday to Saturday: 8:30 am - 4:30 pm.
  • Admission to the US Capitol Visitor Center and tours are free of charge.
  • All visitors must go through a screening process. No food, water, large bags, etc., are permitted.
The US Capitol

The US Capitol

Library of Congress

From the US Capitol, there is a tunnel that takes visitors underground to the Library of Congress. To be honest, this wasn’t high on our list of must-see sites, but we were so close that we decided to head over via the tunnel. This turned out to be a good decision as there was literally no one but us in the tunnel, which was a nice change of pace from the hordes of tourists in the Capitol. Once in the Library of Congress, the beauty of the interior was a welcome surprise. This was easily the most beautiful building we would see during our stay in Washington DC. The interior of the library reminded me of the grand palaces of Italy, and I’m not sure the photos do it justice.

Visitor Information

  • Open to the public Monday to Friday: 8:30 am - 4:30 pm.
  • Closed Sunday’s.
  • One-hour guided tours are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Inquire at the information desk. Tours are free of charge.
Library of Congress

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

With some of the finest museums in the world here in Washington, and they are all free of charge, you would be remiss if you did not spend some time in any of the Smithsonian Museums. One of my personal favorites is the Air and Space Museum.

Located just down the Mall from the Capitol and the Library of Congress, the Air and Space Museum is an amazing tribute to American ingenuity and innovation. You could easily spend an entire day exploring the halls of this incredible collection of historic artifacts. All I can say about the Air and Space Museum is, do not miss it.

Even if you aren’t an aviation junkie seeing the actual Apollo, Mercury, and Gemini Space Capsules, the original 1903 Wright Flyer, and the Spirit of St. Louis was quite a thrill.

Visitor Information

  • Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.
  • Closed Christmas
  • Admission is free
  • Daily tours are offered at 10:30 am and 1:00 pm. Tours are free of charge and last ninety minutes.

Smithsonian American History Museum

The National Museum of American History takes visitors on a virtual trip down memory lane. The numerous exhibits are really a showcase of everything that has defined America throughout it’s long and turbulent history. Among the numerous exhibits on display are: the First Ladies inaugural gowns, Dorothy’s ruby red shoes from the Wizard of Oz, an exhibit on the World’s Fair including a vintage Ford Mustang, the giant flag that flew above Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner, and so much more. Just imagine all that history contained, and on exhibit, in a single building for You to enjoy.

Visitor Information

  • Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.
  • Closed Christmas.
  • Admission is free.

Smithsonian Natural History Museum

Dedicated to inspiring curiosity, learning, and the discovery of the natural world, the National Museum of Natural History is the preeminent institution for the research of nature. Their numerous exhibits span the globe with displays on animals of the world, marine life, dinosaurs, gems, ancient Egypt, the evolution of man, and of course the stunning Hope Diamond. There is certainly something of interest for everyone.

To give you some idea of the scope of the museum’s collection, they have over 126 million specimens, including 30 million insects individually pinned into tiny boxes, and over 7 million fish stored in liquid-filled jars. Just incredible!

Visitor Information

  • Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.
  • Extended hours to 7:30 pm during the summer.
  • Closed Christmas.
  • Admission is free.
Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

Egyptian Mummy

Egyptian Mummy

National Archives

There are many must-see sites in Washington DC, and I consider the National Archives to be one of them. In addition to many of our nation’s most cherished documents, this is where the original Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are housed. Getting into the National Archives involved the longest wait time we had during our visit but it was worth the effort. Let me stress that these are the original handwritten documents that our forefathers established for America. Enough said!

Visitor Information

  • Rotunda and Exhibit Hall Hours: Open daily from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.
  • Closed Christmas and Thanksgiving.
  • Admission is free.
  • Advance reservations are accepted and recommended, there is a $1.00 convenience fee.
  • Guided tours are available from Monday to Friday at 9:45 am.
National Archives

National Archives

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery has to be one of the most revered and sacred pieces of property in our vast country. The list of those interred here reads like a who’s who of American history; John, Robert and Edward Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, General Omar Bradley, William Rehnquist, Abner Doubleday, President Howard Taft, boxer Joe Louis, astronauts Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee, and the remains of the Space Shuttle Challenger crew to name a few. Needless to say, the cemetery is the final resting place of countless American heroes who gave their lives for their country.

The cemetery has a wonderful Visitor Center, and you are encouraged to explore the grounds on your own or through a tour. Among the more visited sites is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier including the Changing of the Guard, the Memorial Amphitheater, and of course the John F. Kennedy grave site.

Visitor Information

  • Open 365 days a year.
  • April thru September: 8 am - 7 pm.
  • October thru March: 8 am - 5 pm.
  • Admission is free.

Arlington is located just across the Potomac River at the end of Memorial Avenue.

Tours of the cemetery are available throughout the day and tickets can be purchased at the Welcome Center.

  • General Public:​ Adults: $13.50
  • ​​​Children age 4 to 12: $6.75
  • ​​​Veterans: $6.75
  • ​​​Active Military in uniform: ​Free
Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

JFK Tomb and the Eternal Flame

JFK Tomb and the Eternal Flame

National Zoo

After spending so much time inside visiting the wonderful Smithsonian Museums why not consider a visit to one of the world’s premier zoo’s, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. The National Zoo has a wide variety of animals from all over the world including lions, tigers, bears, elephants, and a fascinating great orangutan exhibit. Dedicated to the conservation and survival of all species, the zoo is leading the global effort to ensure a healthy and lasting wildlife population.

One of the highlights for us was certainly seeing Mei Xiang, the female Giant Panda and her cub, Bao Bao. The cub was asleep in a corner while we were there, which made getting a good picture of her difficult, but it was exciting never-the-less to see the family of Giant Pandas.

Visitor Information

Open every day except Christmas Day.

Hours:​

  • ​​Grounds:​ 8 am to 5 pm (7 pm from March 15 to Sept 30)
  • ​​Exhibit Buildings:​ 9 am to 4 pm (6 pm during summer)
  • ​​Visitor Center: 8 am to 4 pm (6 pm during summer)

Admission is free.

Parking is not: $30

Tours, special events, and educational programs are available throughout the year, consult the website.

Mei Ziang, the female Panda at the National Zoo

Mei Ziang, the female Panda at the National Zoo

Giant Panda Mei Xiang

Orangutans

Orangutans

If you are planning a long weekend in Washington DC, it is a wonderful place to see some of the most historic monuments, buildings, and museums that this country has to offer. Be prepared to do a fair amount of walking, and don’t be afraid of using the metro, which is clean and efficient. With just two or three days you will not see everything so pick your sites, and save those you can’t get to for your next visit. If you would like to see the White House, US Capitol, and go to the top of the Washington Monument, plan ahead as these popular sites require advanced tickets and/or background checks.

I hope you enjoyed this long weekend in Washington DC and found it helpful in planning your own trip to our nation's capital.

Washington DC

© 2014 Bill De Giulio

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