Washington DC has an extraordinary number of museums, galleries, monuments and other attractions to be such a small city. You can easily spend several weeks just doing the Smithsonian Institute museums full justice. Here we present a small selection of attractions to visit on your visit to Washington DC.
U.S. Capitol Building
The building around which all of Washington DC is built is almost impossible to miss, located on the hill of Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall. The USCapitol Building has become a symbol, not only in Washington DC, but as one of the world’s foremost centers of power. The Capitol, as it is called daily, has no front or back, but most pictures are taken from the National Mall, where the visitor entrance is located. The Capitol began just after Washington DC was adopted as the new nation’s capital, and was commissioned in 1800. The building consists of two main sections, the Senate and the House of Representatives, and is dominated by the large domed vault crowned with the 6-foot tall Statue of Liberty on the top.
At the foot of Capitol Hill, an enormous statue of former US President and Civil War General Ulysses S Grant is ruining the horseback. This is the world’s second largest equestrian statue, standing in front of the idyllic Capitol Reflecting Pool, flanked by other monuments commemorating the American Civil War (1861-65).
The White House
The Presidential Residence The White House has been home to all US presidents since John Adams moved in in 1800. The building was officially called the President’s Palace or Presidential Mansion, but was popularly called The White House. During the war against Britain in 1812, the White House was looted and burned down. It was rebuilt in the period 1815-1817. The building has 132 rooms, the most famous of which is the oval office located in The West Wing. For foreign tourists it is now almost impossible to visit the building, but you may be surprised at how close it is actually possible to walk, without being searched by security guards. The White House has one of the world’s most famous addresses: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
- See AbbreviationFinder for commonly used abbreviation of city Washington DC, United States. Also includes meanings of the same acronym.
National Gallery of Art
Founded in 1937, the National Gallery is located in two separate buildings, the East and West Building, on the National Mall on Constitution Avenue between 3rd and 7th Street. They are connected to an underground tunnel. If you are most interested in classical art, you should prioritize the western department, which is also the largest. Here, the focus is on art from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Here you can see works by masters such as Da Vinci, Monet and van Gogh.
The newer East section has more modern works, by artists such as Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso, as well as some temporary exhibitions from around the world. West of the West Building is the National Sculpture Garden, which opened in 1999. Open from 1000 to 1700 Monday to Saturday, and 1100 to 1800 on Sundays. Free admission. Here you can read more about the National Gallery.
National Museum of the American Indian
This is the newest member of the Smithsonian family. The museum opened its doors in 2004. Here you will be presented with the history of the North American Indians from the indigenous people themselves. The exhibition deals with Native American culture, language, daily life and art, from pre-historic times to the present day. There is also a souvenir shop and a better cafeteria. Free admission, open daily from 1000 to 1730. The museum is located on the eastern part of the National Mall, at Independence Avenue and 4th Street.
National Air and Space Museum
The collection of artifacts from aviation history includes famous aircraft such as the Wright brothers prototype Flyer and Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St.Louis, several WWII fighter jets, a German V2 rocket, US and Soviet nuclear missiles, the Apollo 11 command module, which landed on the moon in 1969, and the Bell X-1 aircraft Glamorous Glennis, the first aircraft to break the sound wall. You can also watch astronaut extracts, take on a real moonstone, or experience the 3-D space on the IMAX cinema. Free admission, open daily from 1000 to 1730. This museum is also located on the National Mall, just west of the Indian Museum on Independence Avenue.
National Museum of Natural History
The Natural History Museum is located just west of the National Gallery on the National Mall. It was founded in 1910 and is part of the Smithsonian Institute. This is the world’s largest natural history museum, with an incredible 125 million objects including plants, minerals, fossils, meterorites and animals. Here are separate departments for mammals, dinosaurs, the sea, geology and an IMAX cinema. Like all other Smithsonian museums, it also has free admission, and is open every day from 1000 to 1730.
In the middle of the National Mall is the iconic Washington Monument, a 169-meter high marble, granite and sandstone monolith that at one time was the world’s tallest building until the Eiffel Tower was completed. It is still DC’s tallest building, and by law no other building can surpass it. The construction was begun in 1848, but was not completed until 1884, partly because of the lack of material. You can still clearly see the color difference where they continued construction with another type of stone, about 55 meters up from the ground level.
From the top of the monument you have a fabulous view of Washington DC. You get tickets in the ticket booth just east of the monolith, but arrive as early as possible, because in high season, these are torn away. The tickets are free if you show up in person, or they can be booked for two dollars on the website.
Madame Tussaud’s Wax Cabinet
Also in Washington DC you will find a section of Madame Tussaud’s wax cabinets. Here you will find stars from film, sports and music, as well as some special American personalities such as the presidents and TV and sports celebrities that most Europeans have hardly heard of. The wax cabinet is located on the corner of F Street and 10th Street, NW. The tickets cost 18 U $ D for adults and 15 U $ D for children up to 12 years. Open from 1000 every day, and closes 1600 or 1800.
At the western end of the National Mall is a memorial to the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). This looks most like a classic Greek temple, with its 36 imperial columns and a six-foot-high marble statue of a seated Lincoln with its gaze facing the Washington Monument and Capitol. The building was opened in 1922 and is made of limestone and marble. You can see the memorial both on the back of the US $ 5 banknote, which has a picture of Lincoln on the front, and on the encent coin.
This museum opened in 2002 and deals with the history of intelligence. Here you can see all kinds of spy related items, from CIA files, KGB documents and German coding machines to more technical stuff of the kind that Q gives James Bond at the beginning of the movies. Here is also an interactive department, Operation Spy, where you are the agent, and must solve codes, open safes and reveal double agents. The museum is located at 800 F Street NW and is open from 1000 to 1800. Entrance 18 U $ D for adults and 15 U $ D for children between 5 and 11 years.
Ford’s Theater / Petersen House
On April 14, 1865, this theater building, and the simple private apartment across the street, were the scene of an episode that left deep traces in the American people’s soul. US President Abraham Lincoln was at the theater show Our American Cousin when renowned actor John Wilkes Booth shot him in the back. (Imagine the headlines if Michael Douglas had shot Barack Obama today!)
Lincoln was transported across the street, home to tailor William Peterson, where he died on the bed in the back room the next morning. Ford’s Theater is still in use as a theater scene, and there are daily guided tours. You can also visit Peterson House for free, and both buildings have been preserved as they appeared in April 1865. The address is 516 10th Street NW, open from 0900 to 1700.
If you intend to bring all of Washington D.C.’s sights and tourist attractions, consider investing $ 40 in a Metrorail day pass, which allows you to travel as much as you want from 0930 in the morning until the subway closes. The city’s subway is consistently called the metro, and is very efficient and safe.
If you want guided transport with information about the sights, consider buying a two-day ticket for about NOK 220 on a Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing bus. This one has 26 regular stops where you can hop off, stay as long as you want and hop on the next bus again.
But don’t forget that most of Washington DC’s sights are in the city’s northwest, and many of them are so crowded that you don’t have to go far to keep yourself busy for a whole day.
If you arrived from Europe, you will probably struggle a bit with jet lag in the first few days and thus wake up very early in the morning. Generally, only the best and most expensive hotels in the United States offer breakfast, and often for a crunchy extra, so the first point of the program will be to find a breakfast cafe. Wear good walking shoes, because today we will go a long way.
If you are not staying in a central hotel, take the subway to Smithsonian Station. You will then arrive approximately in the middle of the south side of the National Mall, which is really a national park in the center of the capital. To the east you will see the Capitol Building, and to the west you cannot help but see the towering monolith Washington Monument, a memorial to the first President of the United States. Head towards the monument, but first go to the ticket booth located just east of the monument. Here you get free tickets to go up the monolith, and if you’re lucky and early, you might be able to do this right away. Visitors are admitted poolside all day, and the ticket has a visitation time, which you must relate to.
After a security check, you’ll meet a statue of George Washington, standing at the elevator door. Oddly enough, women were not allowed to use the elevator earlier, it was considered risky. But they were welcome to take the stairs to the top of this 169-meter-high monument, completed in 1884! At the top you have a glorious view of the National Mall and Washington DC.
Just north you can’t help but see one of the world’s foremost centers of power, the White House. And when you get down to the ground level again, you can go there and take a closer look. The front area is closed off, but at the back there is a pedestrian zone where you come surprisingly close, without being stopped by security guards. Don’t skip the fence and run towards the house while yelling “Allah Akbar!”. The guards have zero sense of humor.
Take a walk through Ellipse Park back to the National Mall and continue west. You will come to a large memorial of World War II American soldiers, located at the eastern end of the artificial lake Reflecting Pool. In the Constitution Gardens on the north side of the lake are memorials to the Vietnam veterans and to the women who served in Vietnam. Be a bit discreet with the camera usage, there are constantly grieving here who do not want to be disturbed.
At the western end of the Reflecting Pool is the most reminiscent of a mix of an ancient Greek temple and an Asian Buddha temple. The Abraham Lincoln Memorial stands at the top of a wide staircase and is dominated by 36 pillars, all ten meters high. Inside is a huge and majestic marble statue of Lincoln looking in the direction of the Capitol. The building was opened in 1922 and is made of limestone and marble. You can see the memorial both on the back of the US $ 5 banknote, which has a picture of Lincoln on the front, and on the encent coin. From the back of the monument you can see to the left the Arlington Memorial Bridge, which extends across the Potomac River to the state of Virginia and the Arlington district.
Continue straight south and you will enter Franklin D Roosevelt Park, which honors the man who many Americans count as the greatest US president, and the only one who has actually sat for three periods, from 1933 to 1945. This memorial extends over 30,000 m 2, and one nearest a small maze with countless statues, pools, fountains and small waterfalls describing FDR’s life and presidential office. The Potomac Park, of which the FDR Park is a part, is decorated with thousands of Japanese cherry trees, lanterns and a pagoda. Stop for a few moments and look around and ask yourself if it really was the way you expected it to look in the middle of the US capital… Here, a new memorial to Martin Luther King will also be posted.
As you follow the path along the artificial lake of Tidal Basin, you’ll come to yet another huge memorial to an American president, this time Thomas Jefferson. He was the third president of the United States, from 1801 to 1809. This is a circular neoclassical marble building that was completed in 1942, reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome, and is one of America’s most beloved buildings. Inside is a 5.8 meter high bronze statue of Jefferson.
Use the Washington Monument as a compass and follow the path north. You cross a bridge across the Washington Canal, passing Raoul Wallenberg’s Square with the Holocaust Museum on your right, before returning to the National Mall. Head towards Capitol Hill and you will pass some of the nation’s best museums and galleries. The palatial building on your right is the Smithsonian Foundation Visitor Center which runs these museums.
If you have not yet had lunch, we recommend Mitsitam Cafe downstairs at the National Museum of the American Indian, located on the south-west side of the National Mall, on 4th Street and Independence Avenue. This diner has delicious dishes based on both traditional and modern Native American food culture. From here you also have a view of some of the museum’s exhibited dioramas.
End the day’s long walk with a closer look at the Capitol Building. The monument of former Civil War general and President Ulysses Grant is one of the world’s largest equestrian statues. The monument is flanked by magnificent memorials to the soldiers in the cavalry and artillery of the American Civil War respectively. And just southeast of these stands a memorial to one of the more forgotten presidents, James A Garfield. He was assassinated in 1881, just months after his inauguration.
After a trip back to the hotel for a well-deserved breather, it might be time to think about dinner. Among the city’s premier restaurant streets are M Street and Wisconsin Avenue in the northwest district of Georgetown. One of the classic eateries here is the seafood restaurant Sequoia, which also has an outdoor terrace overlooking the Potomac River. If you have good advice, try one of the city’s, not to mention the country’s most exclusive restaurants, Citronelle. If you have a slightly tighter budget you can rather dine at the place where John F Kennedy went to his Jaqueline, Martin’s Tavern.
Although it is also a good nightlife in Georgetown, we recommend that you move slightly east to the Adams Morgan area. Here you will experience Washington DC’s multicultural nightlife center. Along Columbia Road and 18th Street, clubs and bars of all varieties abound.
It would be crazy to visit Washington DC without spending time at any of the wonderful museums that the capital has to offer. Most of these are run by the Smithsonian Institute and are located on the National Mall. Common to all of them is free admission, and the fact that you could easily spend an entire day or more on each one of them. Pick out a few museums and focus on these, don’t try to bring everything with you at once.
If you are interested in art, choose the National Gallery of Art, with modern art in the eastern building, classical art in the west and a junkyard to the left of this one. In the Freer Gallery of Art you will find Asian art and the Hirshhorn Museum offers modern art and sculptures by masters such as Rodin and Calder. The National Portrait Gallery is located just off Chinatown, on G Street / 7th Street NW, but naturally has mainly portraits of more or less well-known Americans.
History buffs can choose from the National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of American History, US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Air and Romfartsmusèet. Is nature fascinating, you have the US Botanic Garden, the National Zoo, the National Aquarium and the National Museum of Natural History that many will remember from the success film Night At Museum 2.
In addition, you have countless individual museums such as the International Spy Museum, the DEA Museum (Drug Enforcement Agency), the National Postal Museum and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Cabinet.