When you travel to a major city in the United States (US), it’s almost impossible to do everything on your checklist. Often times, you’ll need a second, even third trip back just to get halfway through the must-see attractions. Washington, DC is no different. Just checking out all the monuments and memorials alone can take several days, not to mention all the Smithsonian institutions in the area. If you only have a few days at most and want to maximize your stay in Washington, take on as many of these essential experiences in Washington, DC.
5 Washington DC Essential Experiences
1. Get a Bird’s Eye View of the District at the Washington Monument
There will be no Washington, DC if not for George Washington, the country’s first president. Washingtonian’s love for this great man is really quite obvious (just look around the many buildings that bear his name) but the most important and recognizable of all the monuments dedicated to the man is the Washington Monument. The obelisk-like structure stands in the middle of the National Mall and is the tallest building in the District. Tickets to go up the monument and get a birds eye view of Washington and the surrounding sights across the Potomac River are free and available daily at a first come, first serve basis. If you don’t want to queue, you can also use the online reservation system for a minimal fee. The views are worth it, especially on a clear day.
2. Pay Respects at Lincoln Memorial
After spending some time at Washington’s Monument, walk westward towards the Lincoln Memorial, which was built in honor of the nation’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. One might argue that no other president changed American history more than Lincoln (except perhaps Franklin Roosevelt), since he led the country during the four brutal years of Civil War. Inside, you’ll find carved into the walls, two of his most famous speeches, Gettysburg, and the second inaugural speech, while the views from the outside include glances of the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building, and of Arlington National Cemetery. As lovely as it is during the day, seeing it glow at nighttime is truly one of the essential experiences in Washington, DC.
3. Visit the Capitol Building and See How Laws Are Made
Of the three buildings that represent the branches of government in Washington, DC, the Capitol Building is most likely the best one of them all. Not only is the architecture truly stunning, it’s also the most integral part of the democratic system. Laws are made inside those two chambers and elected presidents make their pledges to protect the constitution on its steps. Guided tours are available every half-hour and visitors are also encouraged to stop by either one of the chambers when Congress is in session (separate tickets are required.) The Capitol is also the most accessible for tourists. Just remember to pack minimally because food and drinks are not allowed inside and expect stringent security checks.
4. Learn About American History at the National Archives Museum
America is a relatively young country but in its mere 200 years of existence, it has accumulated a great number of significant documents, most importantly, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights, all of which are on display at the National Archives Museum. The words inscribed in these original scrolls became the foundation of democracy and the beginning of the government in the United States. The documents are carefully preserved in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.
5. Indulge on a Power Lunch to Get You Through the Day
Despite the term’s origin in New York, no other city in the United States will you hear the terms “power lunch” more so than in Washington, DC. With hundreds of politicians, lobbyists, and consulting firms making up the majority of the population, the terminology stuck and became part of the city’s cultural makeup. It also became, by extension, one of the essential experiences in Washington, DC. After all, the restaurants that cater to the discerning crowds of powerful men and women happen to be some of the best the city has to offer so indulge on a meal or two at classic haunts like Old Ebbitt Grill in downtown or Chez Billy Sud in Georgetown and you may end up sitting right next to the first lady herself.