For most non-Americans, Washington DC is recognized as a symbolic and political city but rarely discussed as a holiday destination. For most foreigners, visiting the American capital is often attached to an education or work-related objective. Located on the East coast between the North and South states of the country, it is not a region that is renowned for its natural environment. Actually, the city was built on a swamp!
However, after spending some time picking on a cultural destination, we decided to visit our neighbor’s, political heart. We were impressed to say the least and so happy we ventured there for five full days. Would we go back? In a heartbeat. Montrealers, you want to go somewhere that is close, safe, different with TONS to do, visit Washington!
First, the White House. Who does not want to go inside this powerful yet mysterious building? A symbol of governance for the American people but recognized internationally, this place is a lot more difficult to visit that we would have liked. For a Canadian, or non-American, it takes a long time to plan. In fact, you need to register before leaving your country and it might take months before setting a date. Did we make it? No. Of course, we would have liked to but considering all the paperwork around it, it was too short notice. Same goes for the Pentagon visits. We will know for next time. So, now that we got that out of the way, let’s discuss everything else there is to do that doesn’t take weeks to plan!
Smithsonian museums. This is quite confusing at first because the name Smithsonian is identifiable to nineteen different organizations who don’t always mention the term ¨Smithonian¨but are definitely associated. Every single one of these is a splendid and enriching experience to visit. Did we mention they were all free to visit? Yes, they are all free, all unique and all worth your time. You will be happy to have that extra money for dinner and drinks later!
These museums alone make it worth your trip. With so much variety, there is something for everyone and that, for many days. I would say that on average, you can visit two a day. From their daytime schedule, waiting in line, passing through security and actually reading some of the information there is, it takes a few hours to visit one properly. Depending on what you enjoy, you can select a few to visit in advance. We visited the American Art Museum, Natural History Museum, Portrait Gallery, National Art Museum, Air, and Space Museum and American History Museum. Yes, that is a lot of museums! For all the information on these museums, visit their website here.
Smithsonian Zoo. Not quite a museum but still a Smithsonian, the zoo is a little outside the city but definitely worth a visit. They are fortunate enough to have PANDAs! Yes, the black and white fur balls that everyone falls in love with. Quite rare indeed and definitely exciting if you have not seen any before. The zoo has many types of species that are all interesting as well. If it’s a beautiful day, make your way over to one of the best zoos in the world!
National Mall. We strongly recommend doing a walking tour of National Mall. Since all of the important items of discussion are outdoor and public, it is an enjoyable experience to be in a park and learn within a group, especially when the weather is nice! If you want to better understand the American people and their history, this tour will help you grasp some interesting facts about their culture in a memorable experience. Some of the highlights include Washington Monument, World War II Memoriam, Vietnam Veterans Memoriam, Lincoln Memorial, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. For more information on the walking tour, visit this link here.
Capitol Hill. The beautiful identifiable white building which isn’t the White House is Capitol Hill. The heart of where all USA politics happen. Guess what? It’s also free to visit, and as a matter of fact, it comes with a free tour. The tour starts with a short movie explaining American politics (30 min) and continues with visiting the most beautiful and significant rooms of the building. It is a fascinating and engaging way to discover American politics as the tour guides explain the art in the building, the evolution of the building’s use, milestones in American politics and unique features of the structure. The collection of statues that are chosen by each State is also remarkable. Finally, arrive early to avoid a long wait outside!
The Library of Congress. Arguably the most impressive building of the city. It is actually connected by tunnel to Capitol Hill. That means that after your visit to Capitol Hill, you can walk over to enjoy the splendor of what this place has to offer. It is a lot more than just a library, it also has exhibition halls where you can find variously related collections that are impressive. From the library of President Jefferson to one of the only Guttenburg original copies of the Bible, there is a lot to see! Of course, the headliner is the architecture and art of the place itself. It was created with such poise and elegance, that it would make anyone want to become a student again 😉
Dupont Circle & Embassy Row. Dupont Circle is an area with local character, where you can find pubs, restaurants, art galleries, and charming shops. You can even find America’s First Museum of Modern Art, The Phillips Collection. Inside a delightfully refurbished mansion, this place is quaint and the art collection remarkable. We had the chance to see a temporary exhibit from artist Paul Klee which was exceptional. The neighborhood is just a few kilometers outside National Mall, and a popular area to stay in.
A neat place to walk on is Embassy Row. Almost all the countries in the world have an embassy in Washington DC, and many of them are on Embassy Row. You can see their flags and enjoy the unique architecture of each building on that street.
Georgetown. Think of it as the neighborhood that embodies American preppiness and elegance. The cobblestone streets, the boutiques, the fancy establishments, the people… everything there has a je ne sais quoi that makes you feel like strolling along and enjoying the afternoon. From having a cupcake in a cute café to walking in an antique shop with objects to discover, you can’t go to DC without walking through this hood. It will give you a break from museums, the busy and touristy National Mall area and will help you unwind and enjoy your vacation!
All and all, Washington DC is a great place to visit if you are interested in history, art and culture. The food is great too and even though we did not get a chance to try any Michelin rated restaurants, there is actually more than one in the city! Either way, you can find good food at a reasonable price from different cuisines such as Belgium, Spain, and of course, Italian! The multi-cultural aspects of the city are evident but within a rich American history. It is all quite fascinating to learn about.
Cherry Blossoms in DC. We almost forgot to mention that you don’t need to go to Japan to enjoy the splendor of cherry blossom trees. Thanks to a gift from the country of Japan to the USA, if you are lucky, you can enjoy the blossoming of these very special trees in the springtime! To stay updated with the timing, visit this page.