Washington, DC and its surrounding suburbs are the closest geographical place I have to call home. I’ve spent nearly half of my life in the area, but didn’t come to truly appreciate all that is has to offer until our temporary assignment here in the fall of 2014. I took the time to explore a few places I had never before seen, taking in our nation’s capital with new eyes.
Mapped out on a grid, Washington is easy to navigate on foot and by Metro, the city’s subway system. Within the District of Columbia, numbered streets run north to south, while lettered and named streets run east to west in alphabetical order, beginning first with single letters, then with one-syllable names, then two-syllable names, and finally three-syllable names, all the way to the Maryland line. Streets named after U.S. states run diagonally across the grid.
One could spend months exploring Washington and its nearby suburbs. Below, I have highlighted some of my favorite places to visit.
Looking for a good place to eat? Check out my Washington, DC-area restaurant guide for a few suggestions.
The National Mall
A visit to Washington, DC would not be complete without a stroll along the National Mall. Stretching 2.5 miles from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol, the National Mall is home to some of the USA’s most famous and important memorials and monuments, including the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the African American Civil War Memorial, among others.
A short diversion from the National Mall into West Potomac Park will take you to the Tidal Basin, where you can walk underneath the famed cherry blossom trees and visit the Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Arrive early to avoid crowds.
The National Mall is also lined with numerous Smithsonian Institution museums, including (but not limited to) the Air and Space Museum, Museum of Natural history, Museum of American History, National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden, Hirshhorn Museum, Corcoran Gallery, African Art Museum, and Museum of the American Indian. Currently under construction is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, due to open to the public in 2016. With free entry and thousands of exhibits, the Smithsonians offer something for everyone.
The National Archives
Until recently, I had never visited the National Archives, home of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as well as many other important documents that have helped shape our nation. I visited on a cool December morning when it was nearly completely empty. If you like history, a stop here is not to be missed. Admission is free, but the line can be long. To avoid waiting in line, pay a nominal service fee to reserve advanced tickets.
Arlington National Cemetery
Just west of the Lincoln Memorial, on the other side of the Memorial Bridge, lies Arlington National Cemetery. Open 365 days a year, the cemetery offers free admission and miles of paths on which to stroll while paying one’s respects to the fallen. If possible, try to arrange your visit to include a Changing of the Guard Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Hungry after all that sight-seeing? Check out some suggestions for a few of my favorite spots.
Want to go for a run in our nation’s capital? Washington, DC has many options!