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Top 10 Things to See and Do in Washington, DC

Planning Washington, DC travel? Don't miss these Washington, DC monuments


By Larry West, About Guide to Environmental Issues

Washington, DC travel is very popular, and for many Americans it is almost a pilgrimage: the city and its institutions are not only the seat of our federal government, but also a symbol of our past as a nation and the promise of our future as a people.

Washington, DC Travel: Past and Future in One Place
History and current events coexist in Washington, DC. One moment you are looking at the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives, and soon you are standing shoulder to shoulder with reporters in the "Senate Swamp," a spot on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol where senators often hold outdoor press conferences.

Washington, DC travel also offers cosmopolitan adventures with diplomats and immigrants from every part of the globe plus Washington, DC's world-class museums, theater companies, art galleries, and performances of every kind.

Washington, DC Travel is Great for Seniors and Kids
Washington, DC travel is wonderful for people of any age, but especially for children and seniors. Many attractions are free to visitors, because they are either owned or subsidized by the U.S. government, and most are wheelchair-accessible and easy to reach using public transportation. If you have children or grandchildren, Washington, DC travel can be both fun and educational.

I have explored Washington, DC many times, as both a traveler and a resident. To help you get the most from your Washington, DC travel trip, and avoid some of the attractions that promise more than they deliver, here is my list of the best that Washington, DC, has to offer.

Smithsonian Institution
People who travel to Washington, DC for the first time often want to visit the Smithsonian Institution. What they don't always realize is that the Smithsonian is actually the world's largest museum complex and research organization, comprising 16 museums and the National Zoo in Washington, DC, and two museums in New York City. At any given time, visitors to the museums will see only a fraction of the full Smithsonian collection, which includes more than 142 million objects and continues to grow every year.

Every Smithsonian museum is a gem in its own way, but it would take weeks to really explore them all so you'll want to choose one or two that hold special interest for you. As you make your Washington, DC travel plans, review the list of Smithsonian museums and what each one has to offer so you can plan your visits.

U.S. Capitol
The U.S. Capitol has been the seat of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate for two centuries. Before your Washington, DC travel adventure starts, call your senator or representative and arrange for gallery passes that will allow you to watch Congress in action. And if you doubt the power of the U.S. Capitol as a symbol of liberty, stroll up East Capitol Street on a clear night. It will take your breath away.

Lincoln Memorial
You'll see the White House, the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial as you travel about Washington, DC. All are worth a closer look if you have time, but if you can visit just one president when you travel to Washington, DC, go see Mr. Lincoln. The Lincoln Memorial is a tribute to President Abraham Lincoln and the nation he fought to preserve during the Civil War.

The Lincoln Memorial resembles a Greek temple, and its 36 Doric columns represent the 36 states that existed when Lincoln died. The Gettysburg Address is inscribed on the south wall of the memorial, Lincoln's second inaugural speech on the north, and a painted mural shows the angel of truth freeing a slave. But the real attraction of the Lincoln Memorial is Lincoln himself, and the gigantic seated statue that seems to embody his spirit.

It's a good idea to go during the day so that you can take in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which are near the Lincoln Memorial. If time permits, however, try to make your first visit to the Lincoln Memorial at night, when few people are around and you can feel the majestic presence of America's 16th president.

National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery is not part of the Smithsonian Institution, but it is well worth a visit, particularly the East Wing. From the giant Calder mobile in the center hall to the Matisse paper cutouts in the highest gallery, the National Gallery collection is full of marvels. And don't miss the waterfall window in the underground tunnel between the gallery's East and West Wings.

United States Holocaust Museum
Not part of the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Holocaust Museum stands as one of the most affecting and sobering historical exhibits in the world. You may have to call ahead to arrange tickets, because the museum is one of the most popular site for Washington, DC travel. Don't miss this experience, and set aside plenty of time to tour the museum exhibits.

See the next page for Washington, DC travel tips about what to see after you've seen the monuments.

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