In 2018, there were 22 million visitors to Washington D.C. – from the USA, alone! So, with that many people visiting, you know there’s plenty to see and do in the nation’s capital. While there’s no shortage of activities, there is a strain on time due to the incessant traffic. Thinking about visiting? Here’s a short pros and cons list:
so many free attractions traffic
so much history everything is expensive. everything.
so much walkable traffic
so many food trucks other tourists
There is A LOT to see in DC and I’ve been a few times, still not seeing everything I meant to. This article outlines how to make the most of one day but if you have time, stay a few days and take your time. I was driving through and had to squeeze in every second. Now that you’re here, let’s get started and have a productive day!
There are 19 wonderful, insightful, and at times tear jerking Smithsonian museums/gardens/galleries and a zoo in DC. To be fair, you could probably spend an entire trip just seeing the various locations of Smithsonians and never do much else and still have a hard time pulling yourself away. These beauties are FREE so do go enjoy them! I have only been to a handful because there is just a plethora of things to see. Before you go, I strongly suggest you scroll through the options, find them here, and pick which you want to see in advance. A few pointers, the Air & Space Museum has the best planetarium show I’ve ever seen. American History Museum is a historic walk back through various parts of American culture and has the presidential first wives dresses and other accessories on display. Natural History has some amazing fossils. There’s a Smithsonian for everyone, you can find an interest or passion at one of the locations. Whether it be African American, Native American, art, animals, mail, movies, jewelry, geology, flowers. America… and more, you’ll come away learning something.
You’ll want to start early because the museums will swallow your day, but at least the temperature will be good inside! This is where the real fun kicks in, walking down the National Mall. A lot of these buildings are next door to each other on either side of the mall and waaaaaaaaaaay at the other end is the Lincoln Memorial. In between you’ll find the Washington Monument. It’s honestly a beautiful walk but I can’t stress enough to be prepared for the walking. The weather is often less than desirable because, fun fact, the area was a swamp. That’s why DC politics shuts down in the summer because the heat was insufferable in the days before AC. You can call an Uber but it might take forever because, as I may have mentioned, the traffic is awful. There’s also tuk tuk type rides and other rentables to get you around faster but with the amount of tourists, good luck.
Anyway, the Washington Monument is surrounded by a grassy knoll. You can hang out nearby, perhaps under a cherry blossom tree. You can take the elevator up but I swear every time I go it’s out so check the website here before you head that way. The elevator closes in the evening but you can walk by any time. There’s also more monuments to see on the way to our next stop, such as the WWII Memorial. Don’t get comfortable, there’s still a lot of walking left.
It may not sound like a lot but between the museums and the walking, 3 items on the list is a very full and hearty day. If you aren’t exhausted, you will be by the time you walk to wherever it is you are headed for the night, be it your car or hotel room. It will be worth it though to take in such memorable sights. This is also a good live in the moment lesson! Due to the swelling amounts of tourists, it’s increasingly difficult to take a good photo of anything without 100 heads. It’s ok – just snap your photo and move on. It’s not about getting a perfect picture, it’s about the experience.
Everyone wants a good view of the 16th president looking out at the reflecting pool. There’s a tiny gift shop to the right in the corner if you’re facing the monument. There’s quite a bit of stairs to get up to him but don’t worry if you can’t make it – either from your legs saying no or otherwise – there’s an elevator! It’s hard to describe what it feels like but for me it was thought provoking to say the least. On a side note, Washington DC is such an interesting place on a deeper level. So many history changing men and women have walked these streets. The country was built up from here and at times burnt down and rebuilt from here. You can’t help but be moved by time spent walking around even.
Another tip, touring the White House is a whole other ballgame. It’s free but it’ll cost you in time. You need to start 3 months before you arrive and have to get approval from your congressman if you’re American and the embassy if you’re international. Another thing I have yet to do but I’ll wait.
Hopefully, this was insightful for your plans. There’s a lot you can walk by and take photos of but there’s also a lot of museum miles to cover. To get the most of your minutes, try arriving the night before and have a hotel in downtown so that you can walk straight from your door to some cool stuff but also so you won’t have to battle with traffic coming into the hot spot areas. I have seen hostels as low as $45 so it’s possible to not break the bank and stay close enough.