As the capital city of the United States, Washington D.C. is not only the place to go if you’re looking to experience American politics, but is also where a lot of U.S. history has taken place and is stored in museums. Since the city has a lot to offer (a lot more than I can cover), this post is going to be a bit longer than my usual bucket list posts. Although there is a lot of interesting stuff to do and see in Washington D.C., I’ve only included museums, tours, festivals, and historic places to visit, since after all, this is the place where U.S. history is made.
Capitol Hill is mostly associated with the iconic U.S. Capitol Building where Congress is housed, but is in reality a historic neighborhood that stretches to the East of this famous building along wide avenues. The beautiful row houses found here were built over a lengthy period of time as members of Congress began to make D.C. their permanent residence, and follow the original 1791 street plan for the country’s new capital. Although the houses are a big draw to the neighborhood, you’ll also find historic churches and plenty of restaurants, parks, and boutiques that offer a large variety for everyone.
International Spy Museum
Since it opened in 2002, the International Spy Museum is both the only public museum dedicated to the topic in the United States, and the only one to cover the topic on an international level. With the largest collection of espionage artifacts on public display, the museum strives to cover every facet of the spy-craft trade through stories, videos, artifacts, and photos. As you travel through time and learn about international spying at various points in the world’s history, you’ll also get a look at how espionage has been covered in popular culture through films and radio, and see toys inspired by the real thing. In case none of that is enough, you can always try out your own spy skills at one of the museum’s interactive exhibits to see if it’s time for a career change.
National Cherry Blossom Festival
Since 3,000 Cherry trees were given to Washington D.C. by the Mayor of Tokyo in 1912, these beautiful flowering trees have become just as historic as any monument D.C. has to offer. As a way of honoring this gift and the lasting friendship between Japan and the United States, the National Cherry Blossom Festival is held every year during the Spring (March-April), and gifts are exchanged between both countries. While originally the festival was nothing more than a simple tree planting ceremony, today it attracts visitors from all over the world and features a parade, a bloom watch and various scheduled events throughout the city.
The National Mall
Consisting of over 1,000 acres of green space in the heart of Washington D.C., the National Mall is home to some of the most iconic places in the capital. These include:The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, WWII Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and the DC War Memorial among the many smaller memorials, fountains and historic sites found within the park. Having been to some of the places listed above previously, keep in mind there will be a lot of walking when you plan your trip. I’d suggest breaking it up for a 2-day visit.
National Museum of Crime and Punishment
As one of the top rated museums in Washington D.C., the National Museum of Crime and Punishment sounds as if it would be a hard museum to skip during your trip. Opened in 2008, this museum strives to teach the public about the history of crime, the consequences of committing a crime, forensic science and crime scene investigation. Made to be an interactive and entertaining educational experience for people of all ages, the museum uses real forensic scientists for its workshops and a police driving simulator like the ones found in training facilities across the country. They also offer various walking tours and provide an ever-changing rotation of both permanent and temporary exhibits to help visitors learn about crime from ever available angle.
National Museum of Health and Medicine
Established during the Civil War as an Army Medical Museum to document and research specimens to help further field medicine, the National Museum of Health and Medicine has gone through a lot of name changes since it’s debut in 1862. Admittedly this museum sounds a little weird (which is why it made my list), but will probably end up being incredibly educational if you take the time to visit. The exhibits here range from anatomy and pathology, to military medicine, and bio-medical engineering. You’ll get to see artifacts like old medical instruments, human remains, organs, and prosthetic legs as you explore. and will get a look at how medical research has changed over the years.
Made up of 19 museums and galleries in the Washington D.C. area alone, as well as the National Zoological Park, it would be useless to try to cover everything the Smithsonian has to offer in this section. As the world’s largest museum and research complex, there is bound to be something to interest everyone. Since all the museums are free to the general public and open daily, I’d suggest checking out http://www.si.edu/Museums for more information and questions.
White House Tour
As the only way an average person can see the inside of the president’s home, no trip to Washington D.C. would be complete without a tour of the White House. Unfortunately this isn’t the type of tour one can just show up for. Well in advance of your trip you’ll need to contact a member of congress from your state to get permission to see inside the house of the most powerful man on earth. It’s encouraged that you submit your request as soon as possible (up to 6 months in advance) because spaces are limited and tour hours change with seasons and White House functions.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Created to be a living memorial to the Holocaust, this museum not only focuses on the horrific events of WWII, but also looks at genocide and hatred on an international level with a small focus on past and current events from around the world. With over 900 artifacts and 3 floors of information, videos, photos, and testimonials from survivors and eyewitnesses alike, this museum covers ever facet of the Holocaust from concentration camps, Nazi policy and propaganda, to the refugee crisis following the liberation of camps across Europe. Although I believe everyone should make a point to visit the concentration camps and museums of Europe dedicated to the topic, this museum is the best America has to offer and shouldn’t be missed if you’re in the area.
U.S. Capital Tour
You could probably just visit the Capital building visitors center and be perfectly content with yourself, but what would be the point without also taking the tour? In order to do this you’re going to have to book in advance through your local representative. Although it might seem like a hassle to set this up in advance, the tour will take you to the Crypt, the Rotunda, and the National Statuary Hall, and features a short video about the history of the building and the country’s struggle to establish the Democracy its famous for. Plus you’ll be walking the halls of THE building where national decisions are reached and history was made.