(Editor’s Note: Please be sure to follow all local travel and health guidelines. Some locations may have reduced schedules. Please check before you go.)
Aside from the daily partisan political rhetoric, the nation’s capital of Washington, D.C., is clean, welcoming and friendly, with lots of attractions, memorials, monuments, the famous Smithsonian Museums and even The White House all waiting to be explored and discovered.
And if you are lucky enough to visit the right time of year, the cherry blossoms and the Cherry Blossom Festival provide the perfect backdrop to visit all these locations which are open and free to everyone.
Everyone knows or should know, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial or Arlington National Cemetery but there are many other pieces of American history to be visited that are off the beaten path.
These are the secret gems of Washington, D.C. and just a quick ride on the public Metro transit means you can avoid the traffic around Dupont Circle and maximize the number of sites and experiences you can pack in just one trip.
Here are the top things to see and do in Washington, D.C.
Visit the Capitol of the Capital of Washington, DC
To get a tour of the Capitol, you have to get tickets through your congressional representative or your senator. The tickets are free. If you are a foreign citizen, you can request tour tickets directly through the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. You are encouraged to make the request at least a week ahead of time.
There are many sections of the Capitol you get to see, such as the rotunda. It was originally built to be George Washington’s tomb, but when the state of Virginia refused to give up Washington’s body, Congress turned it into a mausoleum to represent all the states.
The Capitol also contains the first location of the Supreme Court. In the beginning, the Supreme Court did not even get its own building and was shoved in a room next to the rest of Congress. On the guided tour you get to see the room where John Quincy Adams gave an (in)famous 8-hour opening statement for the legendary Amistad case.
If nothing else, you will enjoy the surprisingly good Capitol cafeteria, which has standard American food but with an added D.C. flair of pastries shaped like the dome.
Diplomatic Reception Rooms
Often considered one of the secret tours of D.C., the Department of State Diplomatic Reception Rooms tour is not to be missed. (This tour also has been suspended through April 3.)
Containing priceless artifacts all the way back to the first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, to its continued use to the present day, all American history is on display.
The main dining room is still used for diplomatic functions. The tour guide made sure that we knew that the 8-ton carpet had to be brought into the room with three cranes through the window.
If you are an American history buff or just a fine china aficionado, you will enjoy the seemingly under-visited Diplomatic Reception Rooms.
You also need to contact your elected official ahead of time to gain access to the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. If you are a foreign national, you will need to contact the U.S. Department of State directly.
Theodore Roosevelt Island and Memorial
Located in the Potomac River on the outskirts of the District of Columbia and Arlington, Va. the Theodore Roosevelt Island and Monument are an appropriate testament to the strength of character as well as strength of will of the 26th president.
Teddy Roosevelt’s monument reaches high to the sky, surrounded by the trees he fought so hard to preserve by establishing numerous national parks and forests. There also are four stone tablets inscribed with his thoughts on nature, youth, the state and manhood.
Though Teddy’s words might be a bit anachronistic in our modern world, everyone can get something out of the marvel that is the Theodore Roosevelt Island and Monument.
There is no charge to visit Theodore Roosevelt Island and Monument, and no reservation is required. A bonus is that it is not well known, so there always are parking spaces available.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was known for many things. He was known for serving as commander-in-chief during World War II and saving the country during the Great Depression, but at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, you get to see the entire picture.
Four rooms comprise the FDR memorial, each representing each of his four terms of office. All are inscribed with a Roosevelt quote representing the time period, along with an accompanying statue.
FDR’s wife Eleanor Roosevelt, a powerful political player in her own right both during and after his presidency, gets her own monument as well, specifically highlighting her time as the first delegate representing the United States at the United Nations.
Finally, you cannot represent the entire legacy of FDR without including his beloved dog, Fala. Yes, Fala, a Scottish terrier that often accompanied the president at official events, has his own statue as well. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Monument truly is a family affair.
Other not-to-be-missed attractions and sightseeing include the National Mall, Georgetown’s many restaurants and shopping, the Library of Congress, the Tidal Basin, National Archives, the National Gallery of Art and the National Zoo.
Other Attractions in Washington, DC
While there are many other things to see in D.C. these make for a great experience for a fan of American history or a family excursion. And, the best part is that they are all free.
If You Travel to Washington, D.C.
Book tours through the Diplomatic Reception Rooms Tour
Author Bio: Leejay Heller, currently based out of Taiwan, previously lived and worked in Thailand as well as Hong Kong. Additionally, he has traveled throughout Southeast Asia.
Great info about D.C. and cool photos. I really didn’t know about all the historical monuments that are free.
Excellent article. As someone who lives in DC for over 30 years it made me want to go back!!