Beyond the Smithsonian – Things to do in Washington DC
The capital city of the United States of America is packed with things to see and do, and probably the most famous area is the historic and cultural Smithsonian. This is where you will find more museums, galleries, and monuments packed into one space than anywhere else, and many of them are free. Of course, this makes the Smithsonian the ideal place to visit during a holiday, especially if you are traveling with kids and you want an educational edge to your travels.
Despite that, maybe you’ve done the Smithsonian before, or perhaps you simply don’t want to dedicate your entire break to museums and galleries, no matter how amazing they are. If that’s the case, then never fear, because there are many other activities to enjoy in and around Washington DC.
Visiting the White House
Okay, so this is strictly speaking Smithsonian-related, or very close to it, but it’s not a museum as such, and if you get the chance to visit it, then you should certainly grasp it with both hands! Be aware that this is not simply somewhere you can rock up and expect to be let in to wander around. US citizens submit their tour request to their local Member of Congress and no US citizens should contact their country’s embassy in Washington DC for assistance in submitting their request. Requests should be made at least a month in advance to avoid disappointment. Once on the tour you will be able to tour certain parts of the building and learn more about the President, the building, the history of the USA, and basically stand in awe of the wonder and beauty of such an iconic building.
Free tours of the United States Capitol, which is also very impressive and full of fascinating history are best booked online in advance too, although at less busy times of the year you can line up for a free ticket on the day. It is important to look at the websites of these places before you visit, to learn what you can and cannot bring into the buildings e.g backpacks are not allowed in the Capitol building.
The Ford Theatre
Abraham Lincoln is one of the most widely admired men in history and his premature death at the end of the Civil War was and still is such a tragedy. I have always been morbidly fascinated by his assassination and at the Ford Theatre I learnt all about it in the museum below and was able to sit in the theatre where the events unfolded.The tour includes a visit to the Petersen house across the road where the mortally injured President Lincoln was taken and later died.
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
If you are a fan of architecture then this is one of the most beautiful churches you will visit. This is a working church, so do be aware that you need to be respectful during services and when people are praying, however attending mass or a service is a wonderful experience. The design of the building is intricate and beautiful, and there are free tours on offer at certain times, with a coffee shop on site for refreshment.
Segway tours of the city
Washington isn’t a small city, and if you want to see a lot of it in a short space of time without hurting your feet, why not do it on a Segway? More and more people are choosing to experience different cities around the world using this new mode of transportation, and it’s a fun way to see places and learn more. You can have a private tour of the capital, with a guide to explain what you’re seeing and its cultural importance, whilst whizzing past the rest of the city!
Get away and visit Georgetown
Very close to the city centre you will find charming Georgetown. This is a quiet area, full of quaint neighbourhoods and small shops and restaurants. You will find around 200 years of history here, and it has a feel of old America about it. This is a wonderful way to spend a few hours.
Visit the Tidal Basin
If you feel the need for a spot of nature, why not take a paddleboat ride on the Tidal Basin? The waters are calm and still, and you will feel serene and at one with nature, yet close to the heart of a very busy city. You can easily see the Jefferson from here, and if you visit during the Cherry Blossom Festival, you might catch a few live performances.
These few activities show that there is much more to Washington DC than just the Smithsonian.
Top image is of course the US Capitol.