Washington DC is a city that many visit with work and as such is probably much overlooked in terms of a holiday destination. I was lucky enough to be on a work trip that included the weekend and so spent a day with a member of my extended family touring the sights. We did this from a car and whilst there isn’t parking near everything you might want to stop and see, on a weekend the city is empty and so it is easy to find a parking space relatively nearby. Having driven down to Washington from New York I very much would have liked to have also visited Baltimore and Annapolis and also headed further south along the coast. This area of the world reminded me of the north Norfolk coast, but yet because of its latitude it is so much warmer. Although I hear there is a cicada bug issue in that part of the States at the moment – a 17 year event!?
Anyway, here are 12 things not to miss on a visit to Washington DC:
The White House – you can’t drive very nearby so park and walk, make sure you see the front entrance and the back, especially since there isn’t much signposting. What surprised me is how small it is (no doubt oodles of things underground!) and how easy it is to look into it from 2 sides given who lives there – I just assumed it would be a place hidden by trees and gates!
All the offices around the White House are smart too – everything is clean and gilded and imposing and they themselves make good photo opportunities. There is a lot of use of gold paint and on a sunny day plenty is glistening.
Capitol Building – plenty of parking here and you can drive quite close too. Stunning architecture and given the stone colour, particularly striking on a day with blue sky.
Jefferson Memorial – stop here and take in the peace and quiet; it is on the edge of the tidal basin and looks back across the city from its high vantage point. Interesting quotes on the walls; a good place to relax and contemplate.
Drive past the Pentagon and wonder what goes on in there; amazed by the size of this building and its proximity to the city.
Iwo Jima Memorial – a 35 day battle where the US forces fought and captured this island in the Pacific.
Lincoln Memorial – take in the scale of this place and the view down across the reflecting pool to the Washington memorial and the capitol building. The scale of this place astounded me. I think I am right in saying that all of the different states of the US are named around the top of this pristinely kept monument
Vietnam Veterans Memorial – this is the one that will take your breath away and names continue to be added. It is a modern monument and caused a degree of upset when it was first proposed.
Einstein – he’s sitting nearby and looking at a map of stars by his feet. I saw this in the daylight but I imagine this would also be lovely in the dark when the stars are lit up.
I was there just after the inauguration and the driving route for the President’s car was marked out in blue on the roads – interesting to follow if those markers are permanent!
That was a whistle-stop driving tour of Washington; I very much intend to fly back there at the start of a holiday, see the museums and some of these memorials again and then head south and into holiday mode. Whereas in many countries I’ve visited, the government buildings are in the main city – e.g. London, Paris – the USA is different in that New York has the glitz and glamour that tourists normally go for and Washington houses the history. I think that is probably one of the reasons why everything is so clean and allows such close access and the ability to slow down and enjoy the scale of the different places and the views across the city. What I particularly liked about Washington was how much history there was in such a small space and also how clean the whole city was (although I did drive in through a ghetto type area so my first impression fortunately didn’t set the tone for the day!). If you are there for longer than 24 hours, then investigate the Smithsonian museums – all museums in the city are free entry it would seem, and from what I can tell there is something for everyone to enjoy.