Unsurprisingly, Washington D.C. is brimming with attractions that revolve around its central industry: politics. From the iconic White House and the U.S. Capitol, to monuments and historic sites that pay homage to influential figures who have left an indelible mark on the nation’s history, the mid-Atlantic city has something truly special to offer. From revered presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to trailblazers like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr., the National Mall and its surrounding areas house some of the most beloved and frequently-visited destinations in the area.
As a hub of museums, the capital draws in a multitude of museum-goers every year. With over twenty museums under the Smithsonian Institute, including well-known spots like the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Air and Space Museum and its affiliated Udvar-Hazy Center, and the National Museum of American History, D.C. is a haven for lovers of history and culture. For family outings, the Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute is a must-visit, while the National Museum of Natural History offers exciting hands-on activities, perfect for kids.
While the Smithsonian museums are undoubtedly impressive, there are also plenty of options beyond the network, like the Heurich House Museum, the Planet Word Museum, and the International Spy Museum. Both self-guided and docent-led tours are available at many of these museums, making them accessible to all.
The White House
For first-time visitors to Washington D.C., a visit to the Washington Monument and the White House is an essential part of the itinerary. Standing at a height of nearly 555 ½ feet, the Washington Monument is a testament to the greatness of the United States and its people. The glass-encased elevators offer visitors breathtaking views of the city from the top observation deck. While the monument is open for exploration 24 hours a day, National Park Service rangers are available from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. for any questions visitors might have. To avoid delays, reserve your free tickets 30 days in advance via Recreation.gov, with same-day tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis. For those wishing to tour the White House, contact the office of your senator or representative at least 21 days in advance to ensure entry. Public tours run from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with security measures in place, so visitors are advised to arrive at least 15 minutes early and carry government-issued ID. Apart from these attractions, guided bus tours are also available, featuring visits to the Washington Monument and the White House. Please refer to official websites for detailed information and plan your visit accordingly.
The Lincoln Memorial stands as a prominent monument in Washington D.C. for history buffs and architecture aficionados alike. Standing tall with 38 Doric columns (36 signifying the Union states at Lincoln’s time of death), Henry Bacon’s striking design is a sight to behold. Visitors recommend visiting after nightfall to see the attraction lit up and less crowded, with more temperate weather in the evenings. Accessing the Memorial requires climbing 87 stairs, but elevators are available for those who need them. This site is free and available 24/7, but keep in mind that National Parks Service rangers are only present from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Conveniently located at the western end of the National Mall, tourists can reach it by bus, bike, car, or by taking the DC Circulator’s National Mall route. The Lincoln Memorial is also a popular stop on many of the city’s top bus tours. For more information, consult the National Park Service’s official Lincoln Memorial page.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Nestled on the northwestern periphery of the Tidal Basin, the 30-foot granite monument stands tall as a tribute to the esteemed civil rights luminary, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. With its address at 1964 Independence Ave., commemorating the year that the Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the captivating design that depicts King emerging from a “mountain of despair,” which is an allusion to his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, the monument gloriously captures King’s vital contribution to the American legacy. Inaugurated in 2011, this towering sculpture is one of the latest memorials to emerge in the district and is also the National Mall’s first monument dedicated to an African American. Visitors have raved about the sculptures’ symbolical importance, and its stunning design leaves a lasting impression long after your visit. The monument is conveniently situated in proximity to other memorials and landmarks such as the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the World War II Memorial. A few reviewers have remarked on the absence of additional information regarding King’s life, legacy, and unwavering commitment to nonviolence around the statue, which would have been helpful. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is accessible to visitors 24/7, and National Park Service rangers are available to respond to questions between 9:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily. You can reach the memorial via the DC Circulator’s National Mall bus, walking from the Smithsonian Metro station, or by taking one of the city’s premier bus tours.