My first visit to Washington, DC* happened in 2014 when one of my sons was touring colleges. We had a day, and if you’re one of the 20 million visitors each year to Washington, DC, you’re laughing right now. After the school tour, we returned to the National Mall to see as much as possible before we took the train back to our Baltimore hotel and subsequent flight. To say that my feet have never hurt more would not be an exaggeration.
I’ve made several visits since then and must admit to my love of Washington, DC. Established by the U.S. Constitution in 1790, Washington, DC is a dynamic city filled with plenty to see and do. You could remain there a month and still not see everything. Still, there are locations and activities that I gravitate to during most visits. They fill me with a sense of wonder and hope.
Here are five musts in D.C.:
1. Lincoln Memorial
Seeing Abraham Lincoln sitting so majestically at one end of the mall is a powerful image. The Lincoln Memorial is modeled after the Greek Parthenon. The words of our 16th president coat the inside of the building. The marble does a good job of muffling noise; you just have to ignore all the people taking selfies with Abe.
When you stand at the top of the stairs facing the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument, the momentous history of what you’re looking at surges through you.
2. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
Located between the Lincoln and FDR Memorials is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Dr. King is the fourth non-president and first African American honored with a memorial on the National Mall.
Opened in 2011, a 30-foot Dr. King with arms folded emerges from the granite mountain. A wall of his quotes surround you. Some are well-known. Others not so much, but every time I step into this area near the Tidal Basin, his words of peace and equality speak to me.
3. A Smithsonian Museum, any of them
How cool is it that there are 17 museums, galleries, and a zoo in the Washington, DC area with free admission? That’s how the Smithsonian operates. British scientist James Smithson bequeathed his considerable fortune in 1836 to “an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Ten years later, the Smithsonian Institute was formed.
Popular museums are the Natural History, Air and Space, and African American Museum. Sometimes there are lines to get into these museums. The African American Museum is so popular that it’s still using a system of timed passed, so I’m still trying to get into see it. But plenty of smaller venues are just as fascinating. During m last visit, my son introduced me to the Renwick Gallery, a fascinating place for innovative contemporary art.
If you don’t know where to start, stop by the Smithsonian Castle where the Visitor’s Center is located. You can’t miss it. It’s on the south side of the mall east of the Washington Monument, and well, it looks like a castle.
The oldest neighborhood in Washington, DC is Georgetown. It had its start as a tobacco port in 1751. Today, it is a mecca for shopping and dining along M street with more dining and entertainment spots along the Waterfront Park. Georgetown is home to the C&O Canal, now a National Park that stretches into Cumberland, Maryland. Many famous people in politics have also lived in Georgetown, most notably the Kennedy’s before John Kennedy’s winning the presidency.
Georgetown University sits “on the hilltop” and you can reach it by climbing cobblestone walkways. Next to the university’s Car Barn are the illustrious “Exorcist stairs” featured in the original move, The Exorcist. And if you challenge yourself by going up the stairs, you’ll feel like the devil has assaulted you as well.
5. DC Metro
I know that adding mass transit to a list of must see’s is odd, but I love the DC Metro and how it can take me most places. At least the trains do, I have a harder time figuring out the bus schedules. If I must use a bus, I got with the DC Circulator bus instead. All I have to do is scan my Metro Card or pay $1.
I’m no stranger to subways. My teens were marked with the “L” in Chicago. I think the BART in San Francisco is one of the cleanest subways I’ve ever experienced. Some of the DC Metro trains (Red Line) are new and shiny with clear sounding speakers. Others aren’t as clean and clear, but that’s ok. The DC Metro trains have worked every time I needed them to. And I have to admit a certain thrill in riding the long escalators in and out of the Rosslyn and Dupont Circle Stations. DC Metro escalators rank seventh in the world for length of Metro escalators, but that’s plenty long enough for me.
These five must’s will take you through a weekend. For anything else, you’re going to have to stay longer. And however long your stay, it won’t be long enough.
*The grammar/spelling fiend in me struggled with how to write the city’s name. Washington, D.C. is the correct way to do it, but when I did, well, it’s just looked like way too much punctuation. I looked at other “travel” references and not once saw all the proper punctuation used. So for the purposes of this post, I’m using Washington, DC. When I just use DC, I’m using D.C. But I’m still bothered enough that I had to include this note to explain my actions.