Washington, DC, is chock full of history and culture: marble monuments and imposing government buildings share space with award-winning international restaurants and the 19 free Smithsonian museums. Outside the downtown area—the beating heart of American democracy—you’ll find constantly evolving neighborhoods with historic mansions housing foreign embassies near parks along the Potomac River.
- The National Mall is a must-see for first-time visitors. The park stretches 2.5 miles east from the Lincoln Memorial, past the soaring Washington Monument, to the Capitol Building on the other end.
- Monuments by Moonlight: This nighttime trolley tour takes you past landmarks such as the World War II Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial when they’re dramatically lit up.
- The US Capitol offers free tours. You can obtain passes from the offices of Senators or Representatives to see Congress in action in the Senate and House Galleries.
- Smithsonian Institution: If your time in DC is limited, it’s best to focus on one or two museums. Head to the National Air and Space Museum to see Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and the Wright brothers’ flyer, or stop by the National Museum of Natural History to ogle the 45.52-carat Hope Diamond.
More Than Monuments
- Dupont Circle is a quick ride away on the Metro and is home to art galleries, historic brownstones, and the center of DC’s LGBT life.
- U Street Corridor: Go to the former stomping grounds of jazz legend Duke Ellington for a night of live music. Everyone from John Coltrane to the White Stripes have performed in the supper clubs and hipster joints here.
- Georgetown was founded in 1751 as its own city and predates Washington itself. Take a self-guided walking tour past 200-year-old mansions before continuing on to the upscale shopping on M Street and the extensive gardens at Dumbarton Oaks.
Where to stay
- InterContinental the Willard: Martin Luther King, Jr. finished writing his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 at this Pennsylvania Avenue hotel; oval suites overlook the Capitol
- The Jefferson is one of the city’s most prestigious hotels, renowned for its painstaking attention to detail and presidential spa treatments
- Fairmont Washington D.C.: This Georgetown hotel offers kid- and pet-friendly services and an elaborate Sunday champagne brunch