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Things to Do and See in Washington, DC

Updated on November 30, 2013

Free Things To Do in DC

One of the best things about visiting Washington DC is that there are free things to do in DC, such as catching a free show at the National Theater. Some of these free things include the excellent Smithsonian Museums, visiting the Monuments, and touring the public buildings, such as the Bureau of Printing and Engraving or the Library of Congress (with advance arrangements for the latter two).

Washington DC, formerly known as Washington City, is a bustling city and the security around the White House will demonstrate nothing short of a police man for nearly every block in the vicinity. They are on bicycles, in cars, on foot, and on motorcycles. Emergency response is immediate in the city the President calls home.

Where else can you gross out a child with a prehistoric human head? How about the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History?
Where else can you gross out a child with a prehistoric human head? How about the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History? | Source
It's not every day scientists let you directly "see" the sun! ** Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space
It's not every day scientists let you directly "see" the sun! ** Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space | Source

Smithsonian Museums - Highlights

No matter which one a visitor seeks, the Smithsonian Museum of choice will not disappoint. They are most thoroughly completed and demonstrate full collections, from pottery of the pre-American cultures to the impressive technological marvel of one of the Hubble telescopes, from the airplane flown by Amelia Earhart to the handmade canoes of the Aymara people.

Some highlights of visiting the Smithsonian Museums are surprising:

  • hands on learning centers for children
  • docent led activities and explanation of events and phenomenon
  • working scientists will share knowledge from their labs or in lab rooms set up for visitors
  • finding out about things you didn't know that you didn't know

There is only one downside to visiting the Smithsonian Museums: parking nightmare paired with meter restrictions that don't let you see the entire museum without completely moving your vehicle. It is suggested that visitors bus or taxi ride to the Smithsonian Museum they choose to visit.

For a comprehensive list of all 19 Smithsonian Museums (with descriptions) and information on the Smithsonian zoo (aka The National Zoo), click here.

Washington DC

Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial | Source
Jefferson Memorial - side profile
Jefferson Memorial - side profile | Source

Monuments and Memorials in Washington DC

Here's a little inside detail on visiting the monuments and memorials that might be overlooked by the newbie visitor... These places are mobbed by school kids on field trips, all day and all night. Mainly of the teenage variety, these minor visitors will be shepherded by teachers and chaperones who will holler at them or hold up colorful umbrellas to corral them to one direction or another. But these same small hordes of young adults will show no respect or reverence to the dead and departed. They will not quiet down when NPS rangers attempt to give insightful talks of Jefferson. They will walk in front of anyone's camera aimed for a photo - even yours.

If the experience you seek is a reverential and respectful one, then go at sunrise. Teenagers are well-known not to rise with the sun and are less likely to show up at that hour. Plus, it's stunningly beautiful for the rays of the sun to stream upon the Lincoln Memorial or the glistening waters of the nearby Potomac. A visit to Martin Luther King, Jr. is more impressive in the awakening hours of the city. For a list of DC monuments, click here.

The Library of Congress Is Not Just a Library - It's a Work of Art

Source

Have You Visited DC Before?

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The DC Tours!

Contact the office of the local Congressman or Senator to arrange a tour - well in advance - to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, the Library of Congress or the White House. Here's the least you need to know before you go:

  • Take the confirmation of your reserved tour (the one that is emailed to you) to the tour site. Without it, visitors are sometimes turned away.
  • When going on the tour, remember there is a security checkpoint (because it is a Federal building) so leave any problematic objects at the hotel or at home.
  • Some tours do not allow photographs or video recordings. To avoid having a cell phone or camera confiscated (yes, they do that) be sure to turn it off and not touch it on your tour.

For information on how to get a White House tour, click here.

The White House at night.
The White House at night. | Source
George Mason (with my kids), a slave holder, refused to sign the Declaration on the grounds that slavery ought be banned.   Jefferson incorporated his concepts into the framework of the Declaration of Independence. He sits near the Jefferson Memorial
George Mason (with my kids), a slave holder, refused to sign the Declaration on the grounds that slavery ought be banned. Jefferson incorporated his concepts into the framework of the Declaration of Independence. He sits near the Jefferson Memorial | Source
Underneath the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials are mini-museums.  Here my son is in the underground area beneath the Lincoln Memorial.
Underneath the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials are mini-museums. Here my son is in the underground area beneath the Lincoln Memorial. | Source

Quick Tip for Parking in DC

Have a credit card handy for the meters that take them (most do) and plenty of change for the ones that do not. It is not inexpensive to park there and most meters allow only 2-3 hours of parking. A lucky find is the rare street allowing up to 5 hours of parking but - if you must drive - meters are less expensive than paying private lots to house your vehicle for you.

Curious Little Facts Related to DC History

  • President Washington never said he could not tell a lie nor did he chop down a cherry tree. That was a story made up by biographer Parson Mason Weems after the death of Washington.
  • It rains more in DC than in Seattle. It rains all the time there!
  • President Lincoln is said to have disliked being called "honest Abe" - yet there is no record of his rebutting the nickname. This was a nickname that is supposed to have originated because once - before he was an attorney or politician - he made incorrect change in a store for a lady and, when he learned of his mistake, he walked six miles to give her the correct change!
  • Every time a soldier is buried at Arlington Cemetery, an Arlington Lady is present to ensure no soldier is buried alone. There have been volunteer Arlington Ladies since 1973.
  • The Library of Congress has the first map that shows the Americas... the real map! It also has one of the few Gutenberg bibles that actually exist - in the world.

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