Washington can get very cold in winter, and in the height of summer, it can be hot with crowds of people coming to see the City and therefore long queues at some of the main museums and galleries. The best time of the year is probably in late March/early April to see the Cherry Blossoms. There is a Cherry Blossom Festival at this time too. You will almost certainly do a lot of walking seeing Washington – so wear comfortable shoes, and enjoy the atmosphere. You might also consider hiring a bike. There are 2500 ‘bike share’ bikes in Washington, with bike and Bike Docks across the city and at most popular locations. (See www.bikeshare.com). You will also notice that most of the main Avenues in Washington are named after US States – such as Pennsylvania Avenue, Rhode Island Avenue and others, while the cross streets are named using numbers with a NW (North West) or SW (South West) following the number.
National Mall – this is a large green space/park area 1.9 miles long stretching from the Capitol Building and Capitol Hill on one end of the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial (the statue of him sitting) on the other. In between you will also find the Reflecting Pool, World War II Memorial and the Washington Memorial tower, built in marble, while to the left side of the National Mall you will find the many of the Smithsonian Museums and Galleries – including the National Museum of the American Indian, the spectacular National Air & Space Museum, Smithsonian Castle, Freer Gallery, Ripley Center, Sackler Gallery, African Art Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, as well as the Martin Luther King Jnr Memorial and Korean Veterans Memorial, while on the right side (from Capitol Building) is the National Gallery of Art (West Building), National Sculpture Garden, National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of American History, Newseum, White House Visitor Center and Vietnam Veterans Memorial. You could easily spend a week just looking and seeing all that is here. As you can see, there are so many places to see, so it is best to decide early which Museums or places are your priority. Most are free to enter.
The Capitol Building – This landmark building with its cupola dome shaped roof top is where Congress and the Senate are located, in the south and north wings of the building. There is a Visitor Center and you can also book tours (See www.visitthecapitol.gov Tel: 202 225 6827. Also www.house.gov and www.senate.gov) for more information.
Library of Congress – is located behind the Capitol Building in the Jefferson Building. It is said to be the biggest Library in the world, also giving its name to the Library of Congress Catalogue system used by libraries worldwide.
Eastern Market – is at 225 7th Street SE on Capitol Hill where there are lots of food stalls to enjoy.
Supreme Court – is located off Capital Street SE. This is the highest court in the USA and it is possible to visit and also see some of the exhibits.
There are 19 Museums and Art Galleries, as well as the National Zoo that come under the control of the ‘Smithsonian’, and their information center and shop is at 1000 Jefferson Drive in the Smithsonian Castle. Consider using the Metro to arrive here, with the Metro Smithsonian Mall stop is right here.
The most popular of all the Museums is the National Air and Space Museum where there are 1000 historic planes, rockets and also the Apollo II spacecraft here. The museum is closest to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro stop.
National Museum of Natural History – see everything from an ant to an elephant and dinosaurs here.
National Museum of American History – where American history comes alive.
Freer, Sackler and Ripley Center Galleries – are all near the Smithsonian Castle.
Newseum – at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue is dedicated to ‘journalism news’- the stories that made history – from crimes, wars, natural disasters, people.
Washington Monument – is 555 feet and 5 inches high, and you can get tickets to enable a climb to the top, but need to book to do this.
The White House – is east of the Washington Monument, and how close you will get to it depends on security at the time of your visit. You will however be able to visit the White House Visitor Center to the north west of the Washington Monument.
National Gallery of Art – has one of the best art collections in the world, with more than 100,000 artworks on display.
National World War II Memorial – is next to the Reflecting Pool – and honors the 400,000 Americans who lost their lives in World War II.
Lincoln Memorial – this famous statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting has been photographed millions of times, and it stands close to the Potomac River end of the Mall.
Tidal Basin – is a lake just off Independence Ave SW, with Memorial Park and East Potomac Park beside it. You can also hire a Paddle Boat during the summer months at 1501 Maine Avenue (See www.tidalbasinpaddleboats.com Tel: 202 479 2426).
Thompson Boat Hire – See www.thompsonboatcenter.com 2900 Virginia Avenue NW next to the Potomac River near Rock Creek. They also hire bikes too.
OVER THE RIVER – The Potomac River flows through Washington, and in the middle of the river is Theodore Roosevelt Island and Lady Bird Johnson Park and on the other side of the river is the massive Arlington National Cemetery and The Pentagon.
Arlington National Cemetery – is where over 300,000 marines, navy, army and other veterans have been laid to rest and also some family members too. The Cemetery covers over 600 acres of ground and you will be able to see the Military ‘Changing of the Guard’ ceremony every half hour during the summer daylight hours. John F. Kennedy’s gravesite is here next to his wife Jacqueline. There are tours available here too – See www.arlingtoncemetery.mil Tel: 877 907 8585).
The Pentagon – is the Military headquarters for the US Department of Defense, and it is a 5 sided building constructed over 5 floors. It is a huge building covering 6.5 million square feet of space, with 17.5 miles of corridors connecting its various offices and facilities all within its 583 acre site. In the September 11, 2001 Terrorist attack on the Pentagon, some 189 people lost their lives, and it took over half a billion dollars to repair the damage. It is possible to take a tour of the building, but you have to book in advance (14 to 90 days). See www.pentagontours.osd.mil