Things to Do in Washington DC
Lush green streets and idyllic Victorian houses are just part of what lends the Georgetown neighborhood of D.C. its classic east coast charm. And while there’s plenty to see in this trendy part of town, it’s the well-known Georgetown University that’s the real star of the show.
Founded in 1789, Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution in America. This elite college of higher learning is home to the famous Hoyas, as well as some of the best examples of Romanesque revival style architecture on the East Coast. Approximately 7,000 undergraduates and 10,000 post-graduate students attend Georgetown University, and notable alumni include former president Bill Clinton. The school has four distinct university campuses, which include the Law Center, the undergraduate campus, the Medical Center, and the School of Continuing Studies, located in Chinatown.
The nation’s only museum dedicated to female artists, since 1981 the NMWA has featured a permanent collection of 4,500 artworks made by more than 1,000 different women. Spanning the 16th century to today, this collection includes pieces by painters Berthe Morisot and Grandma Moses, photographer Nan Goldin, and sculptor Louise Bourgeois. The museum also hosts several rotating exhibits throughout the year, highlighting exciting, whimsical, controversial and/or thought-provoking female-made work in every medium.
Housed in an elegant Renaissance Revival building, NMWA has a performance space for lectures, a library full of resources on women in the arts, and the on-site Mezzanine Café, serving Mediterranean-style salads and sandwiches in a marble-paved atrium surrounded by art. The Café is open 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., and in addition to weekday and Saturday lunches, offers brunch on the first Sunday of every month ($25 per person).
Open to all faiths and creeds, the Washington National Cathedral conducts services for many faiths and peoples. Martin Luther King Jr gave his last Sunday sermon here; now it's the standard place for state funerals and other high-profile events. It’s often considered the country’s most beautiful church.
The building is elegant, but also powerfully Neo-Gothic. With its pale limestone walls, flying buttresses, intricate carving and exquisite stained glass, it is intended to rival Europe's great cathedrals. Take the elevator to the tower overlook for expansive city views; posted maps explain what you see. Chapels in the main sanctuary honor the Apollo astronauts, Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln, and abstract ideas like peace and justice. The endearing Children's Chapel is filled with images of real and imaginary animals. Famous folks like Helen Keller and Woodrow Wilson are buried downstairs in the crypt.
Centered around an elegant traffic circle at the intersection of Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts Avenues, this upscale yet urban neighborhood is full of refined pursuits, as well as much of the city’s gay community. While here, be sure to soak up the people-watching scene around the fountain at Dupont Circle itself, and stop into the unique Kramer Books & Afterwords, a combination café and well-curated bookstore.
Dupont Circle’s graceful marble fountain was designed and built by the same architectural team behind the Lincoln Memorial. Installed in 1921, the fountain replaced a memorial statue of Civil War rear admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont that was moved to the prominent Du Pont family’s estate in Wilmington, Delaware. In the neighborhood surrounding the traffic circle and fountain, you can feast your eyes on Impressionist masterpieces at the elegant Phillips Collection; tour the 19th-century Anderson House.
The esteemed Phillips Collection houses one of the most prized collections of artwork in Washington DC. The collection features work from such renowned artists as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Mark Rothko. The collection is known for its intimate feeling, as though visitors are stepping into a home, rather than a museum.
Founded by Duncan Phillips and Marjorie Acker Phillips in 1921, The Phillips Collection is known for its role in bringing modern art into the mainstream in America. It is America’s first museum of modern art. It began as a small, well-curated collection of family art and has grown to include more than 3,000 works of art by American and European impressionist and modern artists. The museum hosts a variety of events every year, including special displays and exhibits. There is a coffee shop on the premises to enjoy before or after perusing the museum.
More Things to Do in Washington DC
Colorful rowhouses, trees, and foreign embassies line Massachusetts Avenue near Dupont Circle in Washington DC. This area, dubbed “embassy row” for the sheer number of embassies, stretches between Scott Circle and Sheridan Circle. The area was once known as DC’s most elite zip codes because of the size and decadence of the residences. Today, many of the old mansions and residences have been converted into embassies.
There are more than 170 embassies in Washington DC with occasional events and festivals held at the various embassies, allowing the public an opportunity to experience various cultures and communities represented. Some of the larger embassies – such as the embassy of Indonesia – occupy buildings with over 40 rooms, while smaller embassies occupy former apartment buildings and other residences. The presence of embassies increases the allure of Dupont Circle, making it a popular destination for sightseeing in DC.
The retirement home for President Woodrow Wilson his wife Edith, this Georgian Revival house on Embassy Row earned its National Historic Preservation Site status for both its inhabitants and its architect. It was designed in 1915 by Waddy Butler Wood, the man behind a slew of D.C.’s finest private homes, as well the Masonic Temple, National Museum of Women in the Arts, and headquarters of the Department of the Interior.
Washington’s only presidential museum, the home has been maintained much as it looked at the time of Wilson’s death here in 1924; Edith continued to live in the house until her own death in 1961. In addition to an 8000-volume library and a slew of personal artifacts and memorabilia, Woodrow Wilson House features an elevator installed to accommodate the former president, who had suffered a semi-paralyzing stroke in 1919.
One half of the Smithsonian’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture (along with the adjacent American Art Museum), the National Portrait Gallery was established by a 1962 Act of Congress, dedicating it to depictions of people who have made significant contributions to the history, development and culture of the United States. The museum’s collection includes 19,400 works ranging from paintings and sculpture to photographs and drawings.
Highlights among the permanent exhibits are Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 “Lansdowne” portrait of George Washington, paintings of civil rights leaders like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr., a bronze bust of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and photos of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Shaquille O’Neal. You can take a break from viewing the Gallery’s works at the Courtyard Café, which opens with the museum and closes at 6:30 p.m.
Giddy up for the Pony Express at the National Postal Museum. This quirky, interesting museum takes visitors on a journey through the history of the mail transport system – from land, sea, air, and even space. It has replicas of early airmail planes that delivered mail, as well as details on the short-lived but often romanticized Pony Express. Some of the artifacts on display include a 1390 Silk Road letter and Amelia Earhart’s leather flight suit. An interactive stamp exhibit delves into aspects of stamp design and production, as well as stories behind some of the most famous, historical stamps. Visitors can create their own stamp designs and watch videos from stamp designers. Another, related exhibit shows off stamps from around the world.
Largely geared toward children but still enjoyable for adults, this small museum at National Geographic’s headquarters offers a handful of rotating exhibits combining the magazine’s exciting photography with discoveries in history, science and/or technology. Past exhibitions have included technology gleaned from the ancient Muslim world, and photos of the sunken Titanic.
National memorials, more than 1,600 Japanese cherry trees and the beautiful Constitution Gardens make West Potomac Park a great place to explore when visiting Washington, D.C. It’s a rarity as a national park, because although it has a national history theme, it is located smack dab in the center of a major city.
Servicemen and -women are commemorated at the Vietnam, Korean War Veterans and the World War II memorials; Presidents Roosevelt and Jefferson are celebrated in monuments; and important historical figures are remembered at the George Mason and Martin Luther King, Jr. memorials. There are various other statues and monuments found throughout the park, too, but nothing is more recognizable than the iconic view between two presidential memorials: from the Washington Monument across the reflecting pond to the Lincoln Memorial.
Unlike her lifelike figures, Madame Tussaud was a real human being, a wax sculptor in 1770s Paris who became an art tutor at the Palace Of Versailles. During the French Revolution, she was forced to prove her allegiance to King Louis IVX by making death masks of executed aristocrats; lauded for her work, she eventually left for Britain with many of her works in tow. In the early 19th century, a showcase for her wax likenesses of famous -- and infamous -- contemporary figures was built in London; the Madame Tussauds brand has since become a popular global franchise, spreading across Europe to Asia, Australia and several American cities.
The Madame Tussauds in D.C. focuses largely on famous political figures; one of the most photographed wax figures here depicts Marion Barry, the city’s controversial (and now deceased) former mayor. All 44 past presidents are represented, as well as President Barack Obama.
Built in 1849 by William A. Petersen, this historic home located in northwest Washington, D.C. gained its place in history back in 1865, when President Abraham Lincoln died inside its doors after being shot at the Ford’s Theatre the night before. Today, American history buffs can explore the historic museum maintained by the National Park Service and get up close with one of the most notorious moments in our nation’s history.
Visitors can check out a recreation of the scene of Lincoln’s death, which includes replicas of his bed and the bloodstained pillow he slept on. Travelers say that while the Petersen Boarding House is definitely worth a visit, tourists should check it out in conjunction with the Ford Theatre for a complete look at its historical context.
This moving monument that features a bronze sculpture of two Japanese cranes trapped in barbed wire pays homage to the Japanese Americans, veterans and those who were kept in internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Visitors will find a massive granite wall with names of the 10 camps where more than 120,000 people were held captive on American soil, as well as three panels covered in names honoring Japanese Americans who died while fighting World War II. There are also dozens of quotes from Japanese American writers gracing the unique memorial.
Travelers say this small gem, hidden among more epic D.C. structures is a sad but moving memorial that serves as a reminder of the horrors of war, the ugliness of humanity and the power of the human spirit to overcome even the most difficult adversities.
This distinctive 1892 Victorian home in Dupont Circle, the first fireproof building in the city, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Often referred to as the Brewmaster’s Castle, this ornate concrete and steel fortress was built and owned by the head of the Christian Heurich Brewing Company; this company ran from 1872-1956 and was once the largest employer in D.C.
Christian Heurich, a German immigrant, rose to prominence in D.C. society as a result of his company’s success, and this 31-room mansion was the major showplace of his wealth. State-of-the-art in its day, it features indoor plumbing, heated hot water, and an elevator. Its well-preserved interior is a microcosm of life in a late 19th-century Dupont Circle mansion, which at that time was the “it” address for the city’s rich and famous.
An iconic Chinese Gate called the Friendship Arch greets visitors as they enter Chinatown, a historic neighborhood near downtown Washington DC. Chinatown has about 20 Chinese and Asian restaurants, some of which are well known and loved. Chinatown Express, for example, makes homemade noodles daily. Patrons and passersby pause to watch the proprietors cut and cook the noodles through a glass window. An annual Chinese New Year’s parade is held in Chinatown every year; it’s the most famous event in the neighborhood.
Today, Chinatown is primarily known as a commercial shopping and entertainment neighborhood. New condo buildings give way to mid-range clothing stores like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. The Verizon Center – the largest arena in DC – by and far draws the most crowds to Chinatown. The Verizon Center is home to the Washington Wizards basketball team, the Washington Capitals hockey team, and the Georgetown University men’s basketball team.
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