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Popular Attractions in Washington, D.C.
Enjoy the Best of Washington, D.C.’s Attractions
There are a seemingly endless number of attractions in and around Washington, D.C. From its National Zoo to its moving memorials, your itinerary will get full quickly.
Enjoy the National Zoo
Founded in 1889 through an Act of Congress, the National Zoo is among the oldest zoos in the United States. It runs more than 163 acres and is considered home by more than 2,000 animals representing 400 different species. Among those animals, a significant percentage are considered endangered or threatened.
As part of the Smithsonian Institution, the Zoo is free to visitors. Among the most popular draws are the endangered giant pandas, the cheetah, the elephants, and the gazelles – who locals swear they can hear jumping in the mornings.
Visiting the White House and Capitol Hill
The White House has become a symbol of the Presidency since John Adams first took residence. But did you know that hasn’t always been white? In fact, it didn’t get the name until 1901, and the facade used to be yellow. The first structure was burned during the War of 1812 and then reconstructed and painted white in 1817.
While it is the home of the President, The White House is also a public museum and open to public tours. And while the tours are free, they do take some planning. Make your request to join a public tour between three months and 21 days before your travels to D.C. They do fill up quickly, so having some date flexibility helps.
Likewise, to get the best experience at the U.S. Capitol Building, some planning is necessary. The tours are also free, and technically there are “day of” tickets available if you have the time to stand in line, but making advanced registrations is far easier. All tours begin at the Visitor Center and take approximately 90 minutes. You’ll be looped through the building and get an incredible insight into that famous dome. You may even get a chance to see Congress in session.
Obviously, Capitol Hill is more than the Capitol Building. It’s a neighborhood well-worth exploring. Did you know that you can take a self-guided tour through the Supreme Court, possibly hear an argument in front of the judges or take a docent-led tour when court is not in session?
Theater buffs can see a play at the play at the impressive Folger Shakespeare Library, and foodies can explore Barracks Row and Eastern Market. And a stop at The Dubliner Pub may just reveal some real deal-making at work – or at least some terrific pints. You can stop by the Jefferson Reading Room at the Library of Congress, stroll the U.S. Botanic Garden, or investigate the grotto at the U.S. Capitol Grounds Summerhouse. It’s all right here!
Discovering D.C. Museums
There are more than 80 museums that call Washington, D.C. home, and they seem to cover every possible interest. All of this can be a bit overwhelming, but the easiest place to start is with the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian Institution is more than just the incredibly compelling red castle on the National Mall. Though that is among the “must-sees,” the Castle is just one of the Smithsonian’s 17 affiliated museums. Are you interested in aviation or space travel? The National Air and Space Museum and partner Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center are for you. Do you have a passion for natural history? You can see more than 126 million artifacts and specimens of meteorites, fossils, plants, animals, rocks, mineral, and human remains at the massive National Museum of Natural History. You can explore Native American artifacts at the National Museum of the American Indian or learn more about African American history and culture at the National Museum of African American History.
Art lovers, the Smithsonian has not forgotten about you. The National Portrait Gallery, The National Museum of African Art, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and Freer Gallery of Art, The Renwick Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum are all part of the Smithsonian’s considerable focus on collection, exhibition, and preservation of art.
Architects, engineers, urban planners and designers all flock to the National Building Museum in Northwest D.C. While it was created through an Act of Congress in 1980, it is a non-profit, private institution. Housed in the famous 1887 Pension Building, the landmark is lauded for its Renaissance Revival architecture and scale.
Other notable museums that are well-worth scheduling time to explore include the moving U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Geographic Museum, the International Spy Museum, the Museum of the Bible, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Touring the National Cemeteries
It may surprise you to learn that there are 147 cemeteries that are recognized for their national importance and included in the United States National Cemetery System. The most famous is Arlington National Cemetery, created on the grounds of Robert E. Lee’s former farm during the Civil War. It is here that you can watch the guard changing ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and witness the eternal flame memorial in honor of President John F. Kennedy. Nearby Alexandria is also among the most known of the national cemeteries. It was part of the original 14-member cemeteries created in 1862. When it reached its capacity during the Civil War, Arlington was then created.