Things to Do in Washington DC - page 3
Officially dedicated on Oct. 14, 2006, by President George W. Bush, himself a former pilot with the Texas National Guard, the U.S. Air Force Memorial is one of the newest memorials in the Washington area.
Built to honor the men and women who serve and sacrifice for the U.S. Air Force, architect James Ingo Freed designed the formidable three-spire monument to depict the contrails of three Air Force Thunderbirds, flying in the missing-man formation traditionally reserved for Air Force Funerals.
Two granite inscription walls are located at opposite ends of the monument’s central lawn. The Air Force’s three key values ("integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do") and other meaningful quotes are engraved on the south wall, while the north wall lists the Air Force’s Medal of Honor recipients.
More than 30,000 people attended President Bush’s keynote address, and it has been an equally popular venue ever since. More than 200,000 people visit the monument annually, and it also hosts roughly 200 special events each year, ranging from commemorative ceremonies to weddings. The United States Air Force Band plays free concerts on Wednesday and Friday evenings throughout the summer.
The Washington National Cathedral bills itself as a place that welcomes all visitors regardless of faith. More than 400,000 visitors and worshipers set foot inside the imposing neo-Gothic limestone building each year, and the historic structure serves as a de facto venue for state funerals, including for 21 American presidents.
Designed by Italian architect Luigi Moretti in 1962, this distinctive five-building apartment and business complex beside the Potomac River was home to the political scandal that caused the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. However, as this tall, modern compound was partially funded by the Vatican, approved by the nation’s first Catholic president (John F. Kennedy), and thought to mar the city’s elegant riverfront, Watergate had been controversial for years before this scandal ever happened.
The scandal, though, made Watergate a household name. In 1972, high-level officials from the Nixon administration were sent to headquarters of the Democratic National Committee –then located on the sixth floor of the Watergate Hotel and Office Building – to burglarize the office, photograph documents and tap the phones. A subsequent investigation by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post revealed the break-in, and in 1974, Richard Nixon was forced to step down as president.
The Watergate Complex remains a series of expensive apartments and offices, but the Watergate Hotel has been closed for renovations since 2010. There isn’t much diversion here for visitors, but set near Georgetown and the Kennedy Center, it makes an easy stop on a visit to those areas or on a walk along the Potomac around Foggy Bottom.
Lafayette Square is a public park located directly across from the White House and flanked by famous edifices including the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Department of the Treasury, and Decatur House. The well-manicured park hosts an equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson, top White House views, and wide, brick walking paths.
A stop at the White House Visitor Center is the next best thing to actually visiting the White House. Travelers can wander the interactive touchscreen exhibits and explore the halls of presidential artifacts on a tour of this popular center.
The easy-to-access destination showcases stories of past presidents and details of daily life inside America's most famous home. A short video details notable history and a well-stocked gift shop ensures travelers leave with a piece of America in hand.
Located next to the White House, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building houses the majority of offices for the White House staff. The building dates back to 1871, when it housed the State, War, and Navy Departments.
The Eisenhower Executive Office Building represents one of the best examples of French Second Empire architecture in the United States. Its unique style catches the eye, a contrast to the many somber classical revival buildings around the city. The building has played host to an incredible number of high-level events. It housed offices for Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Gerald Ford, and George Bush before they became President. Foreign dignitaries have met with the twenty-four Secretaries of State who have called this building home. The Eisenhower Executive Office Building is a must-see attraction in Washington DC.
The National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC houses an impressive collection of nearly 20,000 works of art, including all of the official portraits of the US presidents and other notable historical figures. The gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution, has permanent and visiting exhibitions that enrich any visit to the US capital.
As seen on the back of the United States’ ten dollar bill, theUnited States Treasury Building is a National Historic Landmark and home of the United States Department of the Treasury. Its construction began in 1836, designed by the same architect who planned the Washington Monument. With five stories of height, the structure is surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens. Statues of significant historic figures — including Alexander Hamilton, who was the first Secretary of the Treasury — surround the exterior.
The East Colonnade features 30 columns carved from the same single piece of granite, standing at 36 feet tall. Additions were then made to the original wings, and after 33 years of construction was completed. Upon its opening it became one of the largest office buildings in the world. The Treasury Building is one of the United States’ oldest monuments and is said to have influenced the style of the monuments that came after it.
Designed by American architect Willoughby Edbrooke, this enormous Romanesque Revival building was the largest office building in Washington, D.C. when it opened in 1899, and was soon abandoned in favor of a new mail depot near Union Station. Today the Old Post Office and Clock Tower is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Feel the reverence of history and the weight of time at Christ Church in Old Town Alexandria, where visitors today sit in the same pews where George Washington and Robert E. Lee once worshipped. Commenced in 1767, Christ Church is a living testament to American history, and so is the site's cemetery, which memorializes 34 Confederate prisoners of war who perished in prison camps during the Civil War.
Christ Church measures a mere 60 feet by 50 feet, but despite its small size, the brick landmark looms large over the town and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970. The church consists of the main worshiping space, galleries in the upper level, a tower and the cemetery. Today, there are still regular services and events, as well as a congregation of more than 2,000 members. Tradition has it that every new president visits Christ Church on Washington's birthday.
More Things to Do in Washington DC
The National Zoo is one of the oldest in the United States. With 12 exhibits ranging from the American Trail to the Reptile Discovery Center, the zoo is home to 1,800 animals and 300 species, including giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian—two of its most popular residents.
Cedar Hill was the Anacostia neighborhood home of famed orator, writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass between 1878 and his death in 1895. Filled with gifts from famous friends like Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe, one of the home’s most distinctive features is a series of paintings that depict Douglass’ European and American travels, as well as significant events in African-American history.
Family photos around the home reflect Douglass’ two marriages, one lasting 44 years to a black woman his own age, the other to a white women’s rights activist 20 years his junior. Thought to be bi-racial and the son of his own slave master, Douglass defined his two marriages as divided between the backgrounds of his own two parents.
Walking distance from both Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle, this condensed, stylish center of black culture and boutique shopping was formerly one of D.C.’s sketchiest neighborhoods. Its Victorian homes echo its post-Civil War origins as a bedroom community for newly-migrated Southern blacks, and a few preserved Art Deco club and theater facades belie its history as a Harlem-owned “Black Broadway,” but for decades after being the epicenter of D.C.’s violent 1968 riots (sparked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), this area was sadly known best for drug trafficking.
However, the U Street area was almost wholly revitalized during the real estate boom of the 1990s. Still a bit gritty in the evenings (when music clubs like Black Cat and the 9:30 Club draw hip, young crowds), milder daytime attractions here include the famed Ben’s Chili Bowl (where longtime fan Bill Cosby offers the on-hold accompaniment for to-go orders), the funky, literary-themed café scene at Busboys and Poets, and the African-American Civil War Memorial and Museum. The independent shops here offer some of the city’s most unusual and artistic finds, from jewelry to clothing and housewares.
Giddy up for the Pony Express at the National Postal Museum. This quirky, interesting museum takes visitors on a journey through the history of the mail transport system – from land, sea, air, and even space. It has replicas of early airmail planes that delivered mail, as well as details on the short-lived but often romanticized Pony Express. Some of the artifacts on display include a 1390 Silk Road letter and Amelia Earhart’s leather flight suit. An interactive stamp exhibit delves into aspects of stamp design and production, as well as stories behind some of the most famous, historical stamps. Visitors can create their own stamp designs and watch videos from stamp designers. Another, related exhibit shows off stamps from around the world.
The National Postal Museum occupies the old City Post Office Building that dates back to 1914. The Museum occupies 100,000 square feet, dedicated to its exhibits, a research library, a stamp store, and a museum gift shop. The building itself is a draw for architecture lovers, with a 90-foot-high atrium that inspires admiration. The building also houses the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Colorful rowhouses, trees, and foreign embassies line Massachusetts Avenue near Dupont Circle in Washington DC. This area, dubbed “embassy row” for the sheer number of embassies, stretches between Scott Circle and Sheridan Circle. The area was once known as DC’s most elite zip codes because of the size and decadence of the residences. Today, many of the old mansions and residences have been converted into embassies.
There are more than 170 embassies in Washington DC with occasional events and festivals held at the various embassies, allowing the public an opportunity to experience various cultures and communities represented. Some of the larger embassies – such as the embassy of Indonesia – occupy buildings with over 40 rooms, while smaller embassies occupy former apartment buildings and other residences. The presence of embassies increases the allure of Dupont Circle, making it a popular destination for sightseeing in DC.
Set on the Potomac River and lined with brick sidewalks, historic buildings, restaurants, and boutiques, Old Town Alexandria combines 18th-century charms with modern amenities. Integral to any tour of the US capital, Old Town lets you dine where George Washington did and shop at the farmers market where his family sold produce.
A Southern, Greek Revival mansion once owned by General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army, Arlington House is much more than just a beautiful house. Steeped in history and surrounded by hardwood forest, the 1,100 acre plantation was the general’s residence before the war started. It’s now a standing piece of history and a tribute to his military service before, during, and after the war.
Long before it was General Lee’s home, the house claimed its place in US history as the home of George Washington Parke Custis — Martha Washington’s grandson. G.W.P. Custis built one of the nation’s first museums of historic American artifacts, largely from mementos of his childhood at Mount Vernon.
The 19th century mansion was never intended to be the site of one of the country’s most significant military cemeteries. Bodies were buried here during the Civil War, in part to ensure General Lee was unable to return home after the war ended. What began then has since grown into the Arlington National Cemetery. The estate overlooks the cemetery and the Potomac River, allowing for beautiful views of Washington DC.
Built in 1849 by William A. Petersen, this historic home located in northwest Washington, D.C. gained its place in history back in 1865, when President Abraham Lincoln died inside its doors after being shot at the Ford’s Theatre the night before. Today, American history buffs can explore the historic museum maintained by the National Park Service and get up close with one of the most notorious moments in our nation’s history.
Visitors can check out a recreation of the scene of Lincoln’s death, which includes replicas of his bed and the bloodstained pillow he slept on. Travelers say that while the Petersen House is definitely worth a visit, tourists should check it out in conjunction with the Ford Theatre for a complete look at its historical context.
A moving tribute to the 184 people who lost their lives at the Pentagon on September 11th, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial is located just adjacent to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Opened in 2008, the memorial features 184 illuminated benches spread across two acres (one hectare), each dedicated to a victim of the tragedy.
An iconic Chinese Gate called the Friendship Arch greets visitors as they enter Chinatown, a historic neighborhood near downtown Washington DC. Chinatown has about 20 Chinese and Asian restaurants, some of which are well known and loved. Chinatown Express, for example, makes homemade noodles daily. Patrons and passersby pause to watch the proprietors cut and cook the noodles through a glass window. An annual Chinese New Year’s parade is held in Chinatown every year; it’s the most famous event in the neighborhood.
Today, Chinatown is primarily known as a commercial shopping and entertainment neighborhood. New condo buildings give way to mid-range clothing stores like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. The Verizon Center – the largest arena in DC – by and far draws the most crowds to Chinatown. The Verizon Center is home to the Washington Wizards basketball team, the Washington Capitals hockey team, and the Georgetown University men’s basketball team. World-famous artists play concerts in the arena throughout the year. There are also many excellent restaurants in Chinatown that have been made famous by their celebrity chefs – such as Mike Isabella and Richard Sandoval.
Lush green streets and idyllic Victorian houses are just part of what lends the Georgetown neighborhood of D.C. its classic east coast charm. And while there’s plenty to see in this trendy part of town, it’s the well-known Georgetown University that’s the real star of the show.
Founded in 1789, Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution in America. This elite college of higher learning is home to the famous Hoyas, as well as some of the best examples of Romanesque revival style architecture on the East Coast. Approximately 7,000 undergraduates and 10,000 post-graduate students attend Georgetown University, and notable alumni include former president Bill Clinton. The school has four distinct university campuses, which include the Law Center, the undergraduate campus, the Medical Center, and the School of Continuing Studies, located in Chinatown.
Widely recognized as the oldest building in Washington, D.C., the historic Old Stone House was built in 1765 and has remained relatively unchanged since its construction. Today, a knowledgeable park ranger meets visitors as they enter the building and shares the colorful history of the capital city’s oldest structure. Travelers can take an informal tour through Old Stone House and explore the kitchen, bedrooms and parlor, which are decked out in traditional 18th century style. This unique attraction offers a peek into the daily life of early Americans that’s unlike anywhere else. The Colonial Revival Garden, located behind the house, is a popular destination for weddings, afternoon picnics, and quiet escapes from city chaos.
The life-like wax statues of Madame Tussauds Washington DC museum give visitors the opportunity to engage with replicas of US presidents, celebrities, and elite athletes. As you explore the interactive exhibits, you can learn about the creation of the wax sculptures, the history of the figures, and the story of the 18th-century artist for whom the museum is named.
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