From a certain angle on the western bank of the Potomac River, Washington, DC’s trio of iconic buildings—the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol building—look to be practically touching. Alas, this is merely a trompe l’oeil of architecture. The three towering structures are in fact spread across the National Mall, a 2.5-mile stretch of manicured lawns and the symbolic artery that connects America’s past with its present.

Of course, the Mall isn’t all grass. Between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument are the glassy waters of the Reflecting Pool, beside which crowds once gathered to listen as Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed his American dream.

The sweet smell of cherry blossoms fills the air in early spring, when their cottony blooms surround the Washington Monument and the nearby Tidal Basin. Located just across the Basin, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial honors the 32nd president with waterfalls, sculptures, and inspiring quotes. It’s best to tour these monuments after dusk, when crowds are thinner and the buildings are beautifully lit.

Another pillar of DC, the Smithsonian Institution encompasses 19 museums and the National Zoo. The Smithsonian's best-known museums are located along the National Mall, including the National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum.

Of course, there are other things to do in Washington, DC than visit landmarks and memorials. In Dupont Circle, located about two miles north of downtown, foreign embassies housed in historic mansions neighbor hole-in-the-wall bars and boutiques. During the day, crowds gather in Dupont Circle's park to watch chess players hustle on permanent stone-table boards. Here, you can catch a glimpse of the neighborhood’s elaborate centerpiece—the two-tiered, white-marble Dupont Circle Fountain. At night, check out the bars along Connecticut Avenue, which range from Latin lounges to beer pubs and high-end clubs.

Two blocks from the fountain, The Phillips Collection showcases paintings by Renoir, Van Gogh, and O'Keeffe. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in neighboring Foggy Bottom hosts a symphony orchestra, ballet, opera, and the annual Kennedy Center Honors awards ceremony. Take the Metro just a few stops to arrive at Ford’s Theatre, a still-functioning playhouse that includes a museum section devoted to Abraham Lincoln, who was famously assassinated there in 1865.

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