Visiting the capital city of the United States can be both exciting and overwhelming for a first timer. Washington Dc is a city full of memorials, monuments, government buildings, museums, amazing restaurants and it now boasts a really fun harbor point at the National Harbor. Further almost all of these memorials and museums are free and require little to no prior booking at all. Also all of these are situated really close to each other, with an exception of few, which makes it hard to decide what to visit and what to miss.
For me, this was my first trip to the city. When I read up on what all is to be explored in 3 days in this city all I came across was “you cannot complete the entire city in just three days” and that is the truth. But for a first timer there are things which you simply can’t miss and here I am going to list them out for you with some helpful tips and insights. A blog on the food scene in DC is coming up soon too! So stay tuned 😀
Exploring the National Mall
The National Mall is a stretch of park in DC full of consisting of all the major monuments, memorials and museums. It also consists of prominent government buildings such as the US Capitol building, the US Supreme Court, The National Congress Library, the White House, the National Archives and offices of most of the major government departments.
Most of the Smithsonian Museums are also located here including the prominent ones such as the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of American History etc.
The third important feature in the National Mall are the monuments and memorials, the most prominent ones being the Lincoln Memorial, the Reflecting Pool, The Vietnam War memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and the World War 2 memorial.
Exploring all these will not be possible in a single day. So I would really suggest that you break these explorations in two days. Also, the museums close early in the evening and these memorials are open till late n the night, so it would be great if you visit the museums in the day time and reserve the memorials for evenings.
Beyond the National Mall
Outside the National Mall area, if you drive by the Potomac river, you come across the National Harbor. This is a recent commercial development in DC which boasts some really amazing restaurants, open spaces where there are events and parties in the evenings, riverside views and kayaking / peddle-boating options, the National Harbor Ferris Wheel offering some amazing views of the city and the newly opened MGM Casino. Basically this place is a great option of spend an evening if you want to go beyond the National Mall Area.
Another diversion from the National Mall would be to visit the National Zoo and the Washington National Church. The Zoo has one of the very few Panda enclosures in United States and this would be a great opportunity to watch them up close and personal in action. The Zoo is also home to a vast majority of animals and is free for all.
The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington, more commonly known as the Washington National Church is another location worth visiting while you are in DC. Constructed in Neo Gothic style, this is the second largest church building in the United States. The church has a number of chapels, prayer rooms, beautiful stained glass windows, life-like sculptures and also some quirky gargoyles 😛 (yes they do have a Darth Vader Gargoyle hidden somewhere 😉 ) The church environment is serene and peaceful choir music creates a tranquil ambience.
Also, don’t forget to visit the Arlington National Cemetery. This is a resting place for most of the servicemen of the country and is also the final resting place of John F Kennedy and his family. While there,you can also visit the Tomb of the Unknowns, a resting place made in memory of the unknowns who sacrificed their life for the country. They have a change of guard ceremony at the tomb and it is definitely worth a visit.
Neighborhoods in DC
If you love to explore some quaint neighborhoods and indulge in people watching do make a point to visit visit Georgetown and Dupont Circle neighborhoods for some quite quality time and walks through the quaint historic parts of the city.
How to explore the National Mall
Getting there – You can reach the National Mall by road or by taking a Metro till the Smithsonian Station which will drop you right in the middle of the National Mall next to the beautiful Smithsonian Castle. Alternatively, if you are driving till the Mall, you can park the car at one of the paid parkings available close to the Mall and walk around.
Getting Around –
Walking around the National Mall is really great and that is how we explored the area. However, it can be pretty tiring, especially on a sunny day. The next best option would be to take one of the Big Bus – Hop on Hop off tours which cover most of the prominent locations in DC or if you are exploring just the National Mall the best option would be to take their circulator buses. A trip on these buses cost just $1 and the route covers the entire National Mall. (This is not sponsored, they are really a great option) Check out the route for yourself!
Dont forget to carry a bottle of water and some snacks with you while you are exploring the National Mall. There are very few and scattered food stalls and water fountains around. The Maps which you will find along the road will also provide you with information on where the next food stall or water fountain is located!
I hope will help you plan your next trip to Washington DC. Let me know if I have missed out on any spots and if you need more help with planning your holidays do let me know 😀