Washington DC is such a cool city. And, maybe controversially, I preferred it to New York – a few less people, a lot more museums, a bit slower pace, not so many crowded attractions. We visited in May and spent 5 days exploring at a fairly leisurely pace.
Below is my top 5 for Washington, with ‘best of the rest’ and our full itinerary at the end.
ONE. Monument & Memorial Walk
We had one day of nice weather in DC, so decided to make the most of it by doing the Monument Walk round the National Mall and Tidal Basin. It was a great way to spend half a day (the walk took us about 4 hours in total at a decent pace with a few breaks). The route we took was: Washington Monument – World War 2 Memorial – Vietnam Memorial – Lincoln Memorial – Korean War Memorial – Martin Luther King Memorial – Roosevelt Memorial – Jefferson Memorial. This was also a nice way to explore the National Mall and walk round Tidal Basin.
TWO. Museums, Museums and more Museums
If you love museums, then Washington is the place for you. There are so many to choose from – from American History to the Natural World, African History or the FBI – there’s something for everyone. We visited 6 museums and rated them as follows:
- Newseum – I work for a media company so I’m biased but this museum was basically not just the story of News or the first amendments, but also the story of huge news events – such as the Vietnam War, 9/11, Civil Rights and there was even a gallery on the FBI. There is also an amazing terrace overlooking the Capitol Building.
- International Spy Museum – a museum dedicated to the history of spycraft. What’s not to like?
- National Museum of American History – The story of America; from the Civil War to the Presidents themselves, a fascinating museum
- Natural History Museum – A museum dedicated to the story of our world including human evolution, human geography, animal species and current threats to our planet
- Ford’s Theater – This is where Abraham Lincoln was shot and the museum tells the story of the Civil War and his life, as well as allowing entrance to the theater itself
- National Museum of Air and Space – stories of the space race, discovering the galaxy, current space exploration and the history of flight. So interesting!
THREE. Capitol Hill
A must see for anyone visiting Washington. The building is beautiful and the Capitol Hill area has lots of nice bars and restaurants so is a cool place to spend a laid back afternoon. You can do tours, but they were fully booked for the 5 days we were there when we arrived, so book before you travel!
The food in Washington was really good. We particularly loved the Washington institution – Ben’s Chilli Bowl. It’s a short metro ride out of the centre, but so worth it! Without doubt, the best chilli I’ve ever had…which is probably why the likes of Barack Obama and Bono have both eaten there!
We also loved Rasika Indian. We didn’t book a table, and the only seats they had left were at a bar overlooking the kitchen. We sat there watching the chefs cook, drinking far too much Prosecco and having such amazing food a quick bite turned in to a 3 hour meal.
Tune Inn on Capitol Hill was also nice. It’s a bit of a typical dive bar, with taxidermy adorning the walls. But the atmosphere was cool, everyone in there was friendly, and the food hearty and delicious. Perfect for a spot of lunch before or after visiting the Capitol building.
FIVE. Arlington Cemetery
Arlington Cemetery is a short metro trip out of the city, and definitely worth a visit. We spent a full afternoon there walking around. It’s hard to not be moved by the sheer quantity of graves. It’s even more shocking when you think America hasn’t had a war on it’s home soil since the Civil War in the 1800s!
Whilst there, it is common to see a funeral procession, which can feel a little bit like you are intruding on someone else’s very personal moments of grief, but I think as long as you are respectful as the procession passes that’s all you can do.
You can also watch the changing of the Guard, and visit the John F Kennedy eternal flame. A really moving experience which I was glad we did in the afternoon so I had a bit of reflection time in the evening. Thank you to everyone, across the world, who have given their lives for their countries.
The best of the rest in Washington DC
- The White House – you can’t not visit it whilst in town!
- Potomac River Cruise – you can get on a cruise all the way to Mount Vernon (where George Washington lived) as a nice day trip, but we didn’t have the time so just did a DC cruise. It left from Georgetown (see below) and cruised up the Potomac, past a couple of the monuments, up to the Pentagon and back again. A lovely way to spend a couple of hours in the sunshine.
- Georgetown – A cool area of DC with nice shops and cafes. We combined looking round the area with our River Cruise and in total spent about 5 hours doing the two.
- Sport – Catch a game of baseball or Ice Hockey, depending on when you go. We watched baseball as we visited in May. I personally prefer Ice Hockey, but it was still cool to go.
The Full Itinerary (for those who are interested)
- Day 1 – International Spy Museum, National Museum of American History, Ben’s Chilli Bowl
- Day 2 – Ford’s Theater, Arlington Cemetery, The White House, Monument Walk
- Day 3 – Georgetown, Potomac River Cruise, Natural History Museum
- Day 4 – Newseum, National Museum of Air and Space, Baseball game
- Day 5 – Capitol Hill, Library of Congress, Eastern Market, stroll through the park, bars and cafes of the Capitol Hill area
Thank you for reading! I hope you found this post helpful – let me know your thoughts, or experiences of visiting Washington DC in the comments below!