What to See and Do in Washington, DC: A Guide for First-Time and Returning Visitors

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By Mike DuBose, Blake DuBose, and Debra DuBose

Washington, DC is the home of the American government and a symbol of the American way of life, making laws to govern the country in the future, guiding it in the present, and honoring its past. It’s a fascinating, vibrant city, and every American should try to visit at least once in their lifetime! No matter how many times you visit, there are always interesting new things to see and do.

Washington, DC (the “District of Columbia”) was founded in 1791 to serve as the capital of the then-young United States. Named in honor of first president and Revolutionary War hero George Washington, it is located on the Potomac River. The District is governed exclusively by Congress and is not part of any state. However, more than 6 million people live in the region of Washington, which stretches to Virginia and Maryland, making it the seventh-largest metropolitan area in the US. It is home to numerous historical sites, museums, and monuments, as well as bustling restaurants and retail stores.

Getting There: When driving by car from our home in Columbia, SC, it is about 500 miles to Washington, DC. Typically, you can expect your journey to take 7 or 8 hours by car—however, it depends on traffic in DC, which was named the worst in the whole nation in a 2015 study, according to Fortune magazine! Parking is also very limited in Washington, DC, so we don’t recommend trying to drive there (or while visiting). Instead, we suggest flying into the modern, convenient Reagan airport; Dulles is farther away from the city center and takes longer to reach, especially at peak traffic times.

Where to Stay: There are hundreds of hotels in Washington, DC. The closer to the Capitol you decide to stay, the higher the rates. On our most recent trip, we lodged at the Residence Inn by Marriott on 333 E Street SW, which we would rank 3+ stars (average). It was a great location close to the sights, served free breakfast, and had full-sized kitchens in the large rooms.  

Traveling within the City: Once you arrive in Washington, you can get around by walking, city bus, Metro (train), taxi (they are abundant and easy to flag), Uber/Lyft, or Big Bus tour (our preferred option). Big Bus is one of 12 different bus operators and they are known by their large, red buses with an open-air seating area on top and enclosed seating on the bottom. They drive throughout the city, stopping at all the famous monuments and areas, and you can plug in the provided headphones for an audio tour as you ride.

We use the Big Bus in most places we visit as an easy way to get from place to place: once you have bought a ticket, you can simply hop off at any site you want to visit, then hop back on when the next bus comes by every 15-20 minutes (depending on traffic). We recommend obtaining a Big Bus tour map prior to arriving to determine the different routes, what you desire to see, and the location of the drop offs. If you choose to utilize the Big Bus, enter their 800 number into your phone in case of any issues. (On our trip, traffic was delayed by a concert and the bus took longer than 30 minutes to arrive, so we had to call the main office.) Any sights that aren’t directly on the Big Bus route are usually within walking distance. Tickets are offered for 24 and 48 hours of unlimited rides, with 48-hour tickets costing $54 per adult ($32 per child) and 24-hour tickets $44 per adult ($22 per child) when purchased online (there are no senior discounts). When you do the math, it’s a more cost-effective route than taking taxis everywhere, and easier to maneuver than the bus or Metro! Buy tickets online at http://eng.bigbustours.com/washington/home.html. There are also 14 different walking group tours for those physically able, 16 private excursions for individuals who want privacy and more individualized attention, and six food tours. If you are really into history and heritage, there are an additional 13 tours available that focus on those areas.

Security: Over the past few years, security at most sites has significantly increased due to fears of terrorism. Screening is stricter and more thorough than in years past, and lines to enter popular tourist sites can get very long. (Tip: if you do not carry a bag or backpack with you, you may be able to go through shorter security lines.) With this in mind, think carefully about when to schedule your Washington visit to avoid some of the crowds. Spring (especially during the Cherry Blossom Festival) and summer tend to be peak times.

Areas of Interest: One of the greatest things about Washington, DC is that many of the attractions (at least those related to the government or Smithsonian Institution) are free! Most monuments are also open 24 hours a day, allowing for scheduling flexibility during your visit. We’ll describe many of the main areas and sites, although this is but a small sampling of the many interesting attractions in the area, and new museums and exhibits open frequently. TripAdvisor.com offers helpful suggestions and reviews. Read on for some of the top sights recommended by us (and other travelers) that you may want to see:

Governmental Buildings

Washington, DC is the heart of all three branches of the United States government (executive, legislative, and judicial). Each has a grand building in the city: the White House for the executive, the Capitol for the legislative, and the Supreme Court for the judicial. All are worth visiting to marvel at their beauty and think about what has happened in their halls!

The White House may be the most famous building in all of the United States. Standing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it has been home to all American presidents since John Adams moved in 1800. Both the structure itself and the décor have evolved over the years (the West Wing, for example, was added in 1901), but the Neoclassical sandstone building remains one of the most recognizable symbols of American democracy worldwide.Although security levels are high, it is possible to go inside the White House on the State Floor and see the Green, Blue, and East Rooms. To schedule a tour, you must contact the office of your Senator or House Representative at least 21 days before your desired visit (preferably, six months in advance). Tours take place Tuesday through Saturday and are free, but they are subject to last-minute cancellation if security or other issues arise. If you can’t obtain a tour, though, you can still see the White House Visitor Center (1450 Pennsylvania Avenue NW), which offers interactive exhibits and over 90 artifacts. It’s free and is open from 7:30 AM until 4 PM daily, except on January 1, Thanksgiving, and December 25.

The Capitol is the seat of Congress, which is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is perched on Capitol Hill on the eastern side of the National Mall, stretching 751 feet long and 350 feet wide at its widest point. The original structure was completed in 1800, but because the United States grew over the years and more states sent representatives to Congress, several expansions have been necessary since then. One of the Capitol’s most notable features is its huge dome, with a rotunda containing a statue of George Washington below. US News and World Report called it “the most magnificent building in Washington!” In the past, visitors were able to literally walk into the Capitol building, but that is no longer possible. Now, you must participate in a guided tour for security reasons. Some same-day passes are available at the Visitor Center, but it’s your best bet to reserve in advance, either through the office of your House Representative or Senator, or by contacting the Visitor Center at https://tours.visitthecapitol.gov/cvc. While you cannot see it, underneath the Capitol is a small train that takes legislators between buildings. Mike once rode this train with former Senator Strom Thurmond! Even if you can’t enter the Capitol itself, there is an underground Capitol Visitor Center with room for 4,000 tourists that does not require reservations. It is relatively new (opened in 2008), and features exhibits about the Capitol and Congress. Enter at First Street and Capitol Street, underneath the East Front plaza of the Capitol building. It is free and is open 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM Monday through Saturday.

The Supreme Court is where the nine justices of the Supreme Court meet to debate interpretation of our laws. The building stands immediately east of the Capitol at 1 First Street NE. (In fact, the Supreme Court met in the Capitol building before the Supreme Court building was finished in 1935.) There are five floors, with the courtroom where the justices meet located on the first floor (below is the “ground floor,” which houses administrative offices, the gift shop, and a cafeteria). There is a gym on the top floor with a basketball court that some refer to as “the Highest Court in the Land!” It is possible to tour the courtroom and parts of the ground and first floors, and there are some exhibitions and marble busts of previous justices to view. Guided tours are not offered, but trained docents give 30-minute lectures on the Supreme Court, the building, and its history every thirty minutes from 9:30 AM-3:30 PM Monday through Friday, except when court is in session (when this happens, lectures are only available after the court has adjourned for the day). The Supreme Court’s website, www.supremecourt.gov, advises getting in line at least 15 minutes before the lecture you want to attend begins, as they are first-come, first-served.

The Library of Congress is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States, serving as a research library to both Congress and the American people since 1800. It is housed in three buildings on Capitol Hill: the Thomas Jefferson Building, the James Madison Memorial Building, and the John Adams Building. With 21 million books, manuscripts, sound recordings, maps and photographs, the Library of Congress has the largest collection of any library in the world! Only members of Congress can actually check out materials from it, although you can view much of the library’s collection at www.loc.gov, its website.Free one-hour tours of the Thomas Jefferson Building are open to the public Monday through Saturday, beginning at 10:30 AM and ending at 3:30 PM during the week and 2:30 PM on Saturdays. On federal holidays, the first tour begins at 9:30 AM. If you wish to take one, visit the Jefferson Building’s ground floor information desk at least 20 minutes beforehand.

United States Botanic Garden is“a living plant museum that informs visitors about the importance, and often irreplaceable value, of plants to the well-being of humans and to earth's fragile ecosystems,” according to its website, www.usbg.gov. It is nearly 200 years old, having been established by Congress in 1820. Plants from around the world—from normal roses you might see in your neighborhood, to exotic orchids—bloom in this series of gardens. The Conservatory is home to most of the rare plant species (some parts give you the feeling of being in an African jungle!), but there are also outdoor spaces with regional flowers and plants. Admission to the United States Botanic Garden is free, but hours vary for the different sections; see www.usbg.gov/hours-and-location-0 for details to help plan your visit. It is located at 245 First Street SW.

The National Mall

If you want to pack in the most sights you possibly can during your visit, go to the National Mall: it is full of them! This area, which receives a whopping 24 million visitors per year, is managed by the National Parks Service. It is roughly defined as the space in between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol, which is about 2 miles long. The National Mall contains many famous landmarks, including:

The Washington Monument, which was completed in 1884, stands at 555 feet and was once the tallest building in the world (it is still the world’s tallest stone structure). The granite, marble, and bluestone gneiss obelisk commemorates our first president, George Washington. It is situated east of the Reflecting Pool and Lincoln Memorial and is free to visit any time of day. However, if you wish to go inside the moment and ride to the observation deck on top to take in panoramic views of the city, tickets are required. You can obtain free tickets on the same day of your visit by lining up at the ticket office (which opens at 8:30 AM, although lines often start forming earlier), or you can go online to www.nps.gov/wamo/planyourvisit/fees.htm to purchase a ticket in advance for $1.50.

The Lincoln Memorial houses a 98-foot-tall statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln in a Greek temple-style building. It is located on the western side of the National Mall, separated from the Washington Monument by a long reflecting pool. Although the public began voicing desire for a monument to Lincoln almost as soon as he died, construction did not begin until 1914 and was not completed until 1922. Many famous speeches, such as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, have taken place in front of the Lincoln Memorial. (Look for an inscription on the steps marking the place King stood while he spoke.) Nearly 6 million people visit the memorial every year, but fortunately, it is open 24 hours a day, so consider coming at night if you want to avoid the crowds.

The World War II Memorial is situated at the eastern end of the Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. Its 56 granite pillars, each 17 feet tall, represent the 48 US states at the time of the war, plus the District of Columbia; the territories of Hawaii and Alaska; and the Commonwealth of the Philippines, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa. Scenes of servicemen preparing for, participating in, and coming home from war in both the Pacific and European theaters appear on the columns in bas relief. On the west side of the memorial, there is a wall with 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 of the nearly 405,000 Americans who died during WWII. The memorial, which was dedicated in 2004, also contains a pair of triumphal arches, a plaza, and a pool with a fountain. It is outdoors and is available to view 24 hours a day. We once escorted an aging veteran to the monument as part of an Honor Flight, and it was a very moving experience. Bob Dole, World War II veteran and former U.S. senator, greets fellow soldiers as part of the program, and we were fortunate to meet with him as well.

The Korean War Memorial is located southeast of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall and honors those who served in the Korean War. It was dedicated on July 27, 1995, the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War, and features several components: a wall with a mural of the different troops that served in the conflict, a Pool of Remembrance, a wall commemorating United Nations members who participated in the war, and—perhaps the standout part of the memorial—19 larger-than-life stainless steel statues of men from the different branches of the armed forces representing a squad out on patrol. Like the Lincoln Memorial, these statues are particularly striking at night, and the Korean War Memorial is accessible 24 hours a day.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial spans about two acres and consists of three parts: Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, the Three Servicemen Memorial (a statue of three servicemen pointed toward the wall), and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial (which depicts three uniformed women caring for a wounded soldier). The most famous part by far is the gleaming, reflective black wall inscribed with the names of 58,000 soldiers who died in the Vietnam War, ordered by the date on which they perished. If you are looking for a specific name, there are directories that can help you find it based on the section of the wall where it is inscribed. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands near the Lincoln Memorial on the eastern end of the National Mall. As with most of the other outdoor memorials, it is open 24 hours a day.

The Tidal Basin

This 107-acre, partly manmade reservoir between the Potomac River and Washington Channel is the location for Washington, DC’s Cherry Blossom Festival, a celebration that takes place in late March/early April every year amongst the pink blooms of the many cherry trees planted in the area (they were a gift from Japan in 1912). Although it is a crowded time in the city, timing your visit around the cherry blossoms being in full bloom is worthwhile—however, it can be tricky and is dependent on the weather. We missed it by just one week! The Tidal Basin area is home to several important monuments, including:

The Jefferson Memorial is a monument dedicated to Founding Father Thomas Jefferson. This neoclassical-style building with Ionic columns, a portico, and a dome is located in the Washington Channel area of the Tidal Basin. It was completed in 1943, but the 19-foot-tall statue of Jefferson standing inside was not added until 1947. Excerpts from some of Jefferson’s most important writings, including his draft of the Declaration of Independence, are inscribed on the interior walls. It is open 24 hours a day.

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is made up offour outdoor “rooms” spread over 7.5 acres that symbolize FDR’s four terms as President of the United States. Each “room” contains gardens, sculptures, and water elements, with waterfalls representing major events in Roosevelt’s presidency, like the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority and his involvement in World War II. It features both a statue of Roosevelt covered with a cape that does not reveal his disability, and another one (funded by a campaign led by the National Organization on Disability) clearly depicting his wheelchair. The memorial, which was completed in 1997, is located on the western shore of the Tidal Basin and is open to the public all day, every day.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is one of the newer important monuments in Washington, DC, opened just five years ago in 2011. It is located at the northwest corner of the Tidal Basin and bears the official address of “1964 Independence Avenue, SW” in a nod to the year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed into law. The monument itself is an homage to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, with visitors passing through two pieces of granite symbolizing the “mountain of despair” to reach a 30-foot-tall “Stone of Hope” carved in King’s image. There is also an Inscription Wall featuring 14 significant quotes from King’s speeches and writings. It is the first memorial to an African-American on or near the National Mall, and like the other monuments, is open all day, every day.

The Smithsonian Institution Museums and Zoo

The Smithsonian Institution Building (also known as “the Castle”) is the headquarters for this network of free museums and galleries, which were founded by a donation from James Smithson upon his death in 1829. The red sandstone building in the faux Norman architectural style is a National Historic Landmark itself; it also houses the main visitors’ center for the Smithsonian, where you can go if you have any questions about the museums. The Castle is located near the National Mall at 1000 Jefferson Drive SW. Hours are 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM daily.

The Smithsonian Institution expanded greatly in 1964, and now boasts 19 museums and galleries, including the National Zoo. Seventeen of these properties are located in Washington, DC, and eleven of those are on the National Mall. The Smithsonian’s museums and galleries include: Anacostia Community Museum; Arthur M. Sackler Gallery; Arts and Industries Building; Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (located in New York City); Freer Gallery of Art; Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; National Air and Space Museum; Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Air and Space Museum (located in Chantilly, Virginia); National Museum of African American History and Culture; National Museum of African Art; National Museum of American History; National Museum of the American Indian; National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center (located in New York City); National Museum of Natural History; National Portrait Gallery; National Postal Museum; Renwick Gallery; Smithsonian American Art Museum; Smithsonian Institution Building; and the National Zoo. (See www.si.edu/Museums to learn more about them.) Admission is free to all! Here are some highlights you may want to see on your Washington trip:

The National Museum of Natural History displays a whopping 126 million specimens, including dinosaur fossils, the largest collection of vertebrate mammal skeletons in the world, and the famous Hope Diamond. Exhibits include: the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals; the Hall of Human Origins; Dinosaurs/the Hall of Paleobiology; the Hall of Mammals; the Insect Zoo; Ocean Hall; African Voices; the Western Cultures Hall; the Korea Gallery; and the Hall of Bones. It is the most-visited natural history museum in the world, with crowds peaking on summertime weekends, so try to go during a weekday if possible. The Museum of Natural History is located on the National Mall at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Hours are 10 AM to 5:30 PM daily.

The National Museum of American Historywhich contains the original “Star-Spangled Banner,” is situated on the National Mall at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. Originally called the Museum of History and Technology, it was given its current name in 1980 and underwent a major renovation from 2006-2008. Another significant renovation began in 2012, and some parts of the museum may be under construction until 2017. Each floor is themed, with the first floor geared toward transportation and technology, the second toward American ideals (it showcases a lunch counter from Greensboro, NC during the Civil Rights Era), and the third toward America’s wartime history. It is open every day from 10 AM to 5:30 PM.

The National Air and Space Museum features early aircraft like Wilbur Wright’s 1903 plane, Amelia Earhart’s famous plane that broke many records, andThe Spirit of St. Louis, as well as items from the Space Race and beyond. There is also a flight simulator, which is free (as is entry to the museum); the planetarium and the IMAX theater both cost extra. The Air and Space Museum sees 9 million visitors per year, so it’s a good idea to go in the morning and avoid some of the crowds later in the day. The museum is located on the National Mall at Independence Avenue at 6th Street SW. Hours are 10 AM to 5:30 PM daily.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum contains work from over 7,000 artists, spanning from the nation’s colonial period to the modern era. It has the largest collection of art made during the time of the New Deal, and many pieces related to the American West. It also highlights works of art by Latino and African Americans. Located at 8th Street and G Street NW, it is free and is open from 11:30 AM to 7 PM every day except Christmas.

The National Zoo is apart from the National Mall at 3001 Connecticut Ave NW. Entry is free; however, parking in the zoo’s lots costs about $8 an hour, so you will probably want to take the Metro, the Big Bus, or other form of public transportation there. The grounds, whose 163 acres are home to nearly 400 species of animals, open at 8 AM and close at 7 PM. Hours may vary by season and are slightly different for some exhibit buildings, so double check the zoo’s website at https://nationalzoo.si.edu/ before your visit. They even have some rare giant pandas!

Other Museums

The National Gallery of Art is housed in two buildings: the West Building, with 13th-19th century art, and the East Building, for modern works. It features paintings by famous artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol. There is also an outdoor sculpture garden. The National Gallery of Art is located on the National Mall between 3rd and 9th Streets, and hours of operation are 10 AM to 5 PM Monday through Saturday and 11 AM to 6 PM on Sundays. Free self-guided audio tours are available on your own timeline, or you can drop in on one of the scheduled docent-led tours (no pre-registration is required). Visit www.nga.gov for more information and a calendar of events.

The Kreeger Museum is a private, non-profit museum located in the former home of David and Carmen Kreeger at 2401 Foxhall Rd NW. The house itself was designed by noted architect Philip Johnson, and it is surrounded by a five-acre sculpture garden. The museum’s collection is mainly comprised of works from the 1850s to the present, including nine Claude Monet paintings, as well as works by Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Camille Pissarro. The Kreeger’s Picasso paintings illustrate his evolving styles over his lifetime. Other 20th century European artists who are represented include Edvard Munch, Max Beckmann, Jean Dubuffet, Wassily Kandinsky, and Joan Miro. American artists include Alexander Calder, Clyfford Still, Frank Stella and James Rosenquist, as well as local Washington, DC artists like William Christenberry, Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Sam Gilliam and Betsy Stewart. The museum is open Friday and Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM with no reservations needed; it is open only for tours (reservations required—visit www.kreegermuseum.org/plan-your-visit/reservations) at 10:30 and 1:30 on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The Sculpture Garden is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $7 for members of the military, seniors 65+, and students. Children under 12 may enter for free.

The International Spy Museum is “the only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to espionage and the only one in the world to provide a global perspective on an all-but-invisible profession that has shaped history and continues to have a significant impact on world events,” according to its website. It features the largest collection of international espionage items ever displayed to the public, with artifacts from the Civil War era, World War II, and the Cold War. There are also interactive exhibits, including one where visitors can learn about the training and experience successful spies must acquire. The Spy Museum is located at 800 F Street NW, and tickets vary based on age and discounts (see  www.spymuseum.org/tickets for details). It is open from 9 AM to 7 PM daily. 

The Holocaust Memorial Museum is an emotional journey that demonstrates the horrors of the Holocaust from the perspective of a person who experienced it. When you enter the building, which is located at100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW, between 14th and 15th Streets SW, you will be given an identification card featuring a real person who actually lived (and quite possibly, died) during the Holocaust, and you can follow along with that person’s experiences from Hitler’s ascension to the liberation of the concentration camps. Due to the subject matter, this museum is best for visitors age 11 and up. Admission is free, but it gets crowded (especially in March-August), so you should reserve your ticket by following the instructions at www.ushmm.org. This will give you a one-hour time range to enter the museum, and you can stay as long as you’d like between 10 AM to 6:20 PM in March-June and 10 AM to 5:20 PM the rest of the year.

The Newseum “is dedicated to free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition,” according to its website. Many exhibits are interactive, and some notable artifacts include sections of the Berlin Wall and antennae from the World Trade Center. It is a popular sight for tourists; in fact, TripAdvisor.com users named it a “Traveler’s Choice Top 25 Museums in the US” in 2015. Entry to the Newseum requires a ticket; see www.newseum.org/visit/tickets for detailed ticket and pricing information (some discounts are available). The Newseum is open from 9 AM to 5 PM daily, and its location at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW is near both the White House and the Capitol.

Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens was the home of socialite, philanthropist, and businesswoman Margaret Merriweather Post. Post was an avid art collector, focusing particularly on art owned by or dealing with the Romanov family. Among the estate’s large collection are a full-length portrait of Catherine II of Russia, Faberge eggs, and furniture once owned by Marie Antoinette. Hillwood’s beautiful gardens extend over 25 acres and are noted for their orchids. Hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10 AM to 5 PM, and there is an $18 “suggested donation” per adult ($15 when you purchase online). Advance registration is not required; however, it can get busy in the fall and spring (peak seasons for the gardens), so you may want to reserve tickets if you plan to go then. See www.hillwoodmuseum.org/hours-and-tickets for more details.

Other Noteworthy Attractions

Ford’s Theatre was the locationof Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865—just days after the end of the Civil War. Lincoln was seated in the presidential box when John Wilkes Booth snuck in and shot him, and he died the next day. Today, the theater, located at 900 Ohio Street SW, is a National Historic Site maintained by the National Parks Service. It is open daily for tours from 9 AM to 5 PM, unless there is a performance taking place on the stage (it is still a working theater!). Entry to Ford’s Theatre is free, but you must have a ticket, which you can get online at www.ticketmaster.com/Fords-Theatre-tickets-Washington/venue/172408, or same-day at the box office starting at 8:30 AM.

Washington National Cathedral (also known as “The Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in the City and the County of Washington”) was built in 1907, although the Neo-Gothic style of its architecture is reminiscent of much older churches. It is the sixth largest cathedral in the world, and the top of its Gloria in Excelsis tower is the highest point in Washington, DC! Although it is an Episcopal church (and the seat of a diocese), all people are welcome to pray there. Half-hour guided tours begin at 10:15 AM Monday through Friday and end at 5:30 PM (4 PM on Saturday). It is free for children under age 5 to visit, and costs $7 for ages 5-17 and $11 for 17 and older. Worship services take place at 8 AM on Sundays, but some tours are offered between 1 and 4 PM that day. The National Cathedral is located at 3101 Wisconsin Ave NW. Call before visiting, since it was closed for choir practice when we arrived.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception stands at 400 Michigan Ave NE. The largest Catholic Church in North America, it opened in 1959 and features many beautiful mosaics, including one of the Virgin Mary that was donated by Pope Pius XI. More than 1 million people visit the domed, Greek-style basilica each year, and at least six masses are said daily. Free guided tours of the basilica are available Monday through Saturday at 9, 10, and 11 AM and 1, 2, and 3 PM. On Sundays, they take place at 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30 PM.

Georgetown is a historic northwest DC neighborhood on the Potomac River. It is home to many shops, bars, and restaurants, as well as the main campus of Georgetown University and several embassies. The oldest unchanged building in the United States, called the Old Stone House (built in 1765), is one of many interesting things to see there. Another sight for those who like scary movies: the steps from the 1973 horror film The Exorcist, which was set in Georgetown. It’s a neat area to visit!

Arlington National Cemetery is located across the Potomac from Washington, DC in Arlington County, Virginia. We recommend making the trip to this stirring site to reflect and pay your respects. Across its 624 acres are laid rows and rows of white headstones, each engraved with the name of a person who served in the United States Armed Forces. People who have died in every American conflict are buried there, dating back to the Civil War. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which contains unidentified remains of soldiers from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, is one of the cemetery’s most-visited areas and is truly moving to behold. President John F. Kennedy is also buried in the cemetery, and the grave of his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, lies nearby. Arlington National Cemetery is open from 8 AM to 7 PM April through September, and 8 AM to 5PM October through March.

Dining: Because it is a major city where many international influences converge, Washington, DC has a varied and lively dining scene. You can find almost any type of food you would want to try here, from Ethiopian to farm-to-table American to French haute cuisine! To help you narrow down some of the many choices, the following are some suggestions from our experiences, locals’ advice, and TripAdvisor reviewers:

Restaurant Name and Address

Cuisine Type

Comments

Ambar

523 8th Street SE

Balkan/Modern European

Overall, TripAdvisor reviewers raved about Ambar, calling it “a gem” and “one of the best values in all of DC.” Many recommend the $50 all-you-can-eat tapas and drinks.

The Old Ebbitt Grill

675 15th Street

Fresh seafood, homemade pasta, sandwiches

This was a great restaurant we visited that serves a variety of foods. Located two blocks from the White House and founded in 1856, many famous people have congregated there. It’s very busy, so reservations are suggested!

Rasika

633 D Street NW

Indian

“The best Indian food in DC,” according to a local. “Always a wait, and always worth it.”

&pizza

Multiple locations

Italian/Pizza

“Stylish pizza joints that design their restaurant locations for their neighborhoods. A great place for some good and fast pizza,” said a DC resident.

Bar Dupont

Dupont Circle, 1500 New Hampshire Avenue

American/Bar

TripAdvisor reviewers noted the attentive service, “great food and even better drinks,” and views out of the large windows facing Dupont Circle. We had a great lunch here!

The Capital Grille

601 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Steakhouse

“I have eaten in great steak houses with great service all over the globe but on this night the Capital Grille exceeded my expectations,” one reviewer said. Another noted, “high price, high quality.” Mike ate one of the best steaks he has ever had here! Beware of the bar since it is very noisy; ask to be seated in the main dining area instead. The song “Star Spangled Banner” was sung for the first time next door.

Blue Duck Tavern

24 & M Streets NW

American

TripAdvisor users praised the ambience, calling it “modern and cozy” and “refined but relaxed,” as well as noting the “very professional wait staff.”

Zaytinya

701 9th Street NW, Edison Place

Mediterranean

A local said, “A perfect place for a special evening—anniversary, engagement, or birthday. With all the food being excellent, you will be challenged to decide which mezze (Mediterranean small plates) you want to share!”

Fiola

601 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 125N

Italian

Most TripAdvisor reviewers raved about the cuisine, calling it “fancy and delicious” and “one of the best Italian dinners I have had in quite some time.” Some said it was overpriced, though.

Le Diplomate

1601 14th Street NW

French

One reviewer said, “If you’ve only got time for one restaurant in DC, it should be this one,” but noted, “it isn’t cheap and it is busy at peak times, so make a reservation, especially if you have a large party.”

Occidental Grill & Seafood

1475 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

American

We were lucky to stumble upon this great restaurant. There are hundreds of signed pictures of famous individuals hanging all over the restaurant, and to see them is worth a trip in itself! Ask for Chris from Augusta, Georgia to be your waiter if you dine here.

Banana Café and Piano Bar

500 8th St SE

Cuban

We went twice during our visit to Washington. Go during happy hour for some great deals, and look for the piano player on the second floor (however, you will probably want to avoid open-microphone karaoke nights)! Note that you normally cannot order from the full menu upstairs.

Rose’s Luxury

717 8th Street SE

New American tapas

This restaurant has received numerous accolades from critics (including the Washington Post’s food critic, Tom Sietsema, who calls it “awesome”) They don’t take reservations, so you’ll probably have to wait (note that the line starts forming well before its 5 PM open time!).

There are countless other restaurants of every type and price point spread out across DC’s many neighborhoods, so you are certain to find something to eat no matter where you are in the city! TripAdvisor.com is an excellent guide for locating good restaurants based on independent consumer reviews, and you can narrow your search by budget and type of food you are seeking.  

Where to Shop: While there are many name-brand shopping outlets and retail stores in DC, we prefer to seek out the small shops and street vendors for unique, inexpensive gifts. In our research, we found three main street vendor locations: Eastern Market on 225 7th Street SE (we really liked this one since it had a good variety of booths and eateries); Union Market on 1309 5th Street NE; and DC MEET Market on 15th and P Streets NW. Times and dates of operation may vary, so check online before going to confirm that they are open! Most vendors accepted major credit cards.

The bottom line: If you’re craving a closer connection to our country’s history (or just a fun trip with good food, shopping, and things to do) Washington, DC is the place to go! The magnificent buildings, great restaurants, inspiring monuments, and thought-provoking museums—many of them free—are a feast for the eyes, brain, and soul. Plan to spend at least a week there to see as much as you can. Politics aside, we can all agree: our nation’s capital is a gem to visit!

About the Authors: Together, we have logged more than 2 million flight miles over the last 40 years. Our corporate and personal purpose is to “create opportunities to improve lives” by sharing our knowledge, research, experiences, successes, and mistakes. You can e-mail us at katie@dubosegroup.com.

Mike DuBose, a University of South Carolina graduate, is the author of The Art of Building a Great Business. He has been in business since 1981 and is the owner of Research Associates, The Evaluation Group, Columbia Conference Center, and DuBose Fitness Center. Visit his nonprofit website www.mikedubose.com for a free copy of his book and additional business, travel, health, and personal published articles.

Debra DuBose has been married to Mike for 44 years and co-writes articles with him. She holds college and graduate degrees from Winthrop University and Francis Marion University. She is a former elementary and middle school teacher.

Blake DuBose graduated from Newberry College’s Schools of Business and Psychology and is president of DuBose Web Group (www.duboseweb.com).

Katie Beck serves as Director of Communications for the DuBose family of companies. She graduated from the USC School of Journalism and Honors College.

© Copyright 2016 by Mike DuBose—All Rights Reserved. You have permission and we encourage you to forward the full article to friends or colleagues and/or distribute it as part of personal or professional use, providing that the authors are credited. However, no part of this article may be altered or published in any other manner without the written consent of the authors. If you would like written approval to post this information on an appropriate website or to publish this information, please contact Katie Beck at Katie@dubosegroup.com

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