Things to Do in Washington DC - page 2
Somber and sobering, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is unlike any other museum in Washington DC. Housed inside an imposing limestone, glass, and brick building, the museum’s exhibits take an unflinching look at the Nazi Party’s rise to power in Germany and the subsequent execution of millions of Jews during World War II. Displays use historical objects, photographs, film footage, and Holocaust survivor testimonials to confront the horrors of one of the darkest chapters in human history, as well as to document courageous rescue efforts.
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum in the United States devoted to the African American experience. Its unique architectural structure—wrapped in an ornamental bronze-colored metal lattice—houses 12 galleries and 13 interactive exhibits. The 36,000-object collection tells the American story through the African American lens, covering themes from history, politics, religion, slavery, and segregation to music, sports, fashion, and art.
The larger-than-life Star Spangled Banner gallantly streams from the walls of the National Museum of American History in Washington DC. This top-rated museum showcases the best of American memorabilia and memorializes iconic eras, events, and people in American history. The most popular exhibit is the original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that was raised at Fort McHenry in Baltimore on September 14, 1814 to celebrate a victory over the British forces in the war of 1812. Another popular exhibits showcase dresses American First Lady’s have worn. Other significant artifacts include Archie Bunker’s chair, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, and a replica of an 18th-century Massachusetts home.
The National Museum of American History opened in 1964 under a different name. The Museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. Its basic mission is the collection, care, and study of objects that reflect the experience of the American people. For anyone interested in history, the American experience, and quirky artifacts, the National Museum of American History is a must-see museum in Washington DC.
Overlooking the Potomac River at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, this statue of Marines raising the American flag on Japanese soil after the Battle of Iwo Jima is dedicated to the military service of U.S. Marines since 1775. Sculpted by American artist Felix de Weldon, the 32-foot soldiers and 60-foot flagpole comprise the largest bronze memorial in the world, while the Stars and Stripes here are made of real cloth. In accordance with a 1961 proclamation made by President John F. Kennedy, the statue’s flag flies 24 hours a day.
The scene depicted by this memorial is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph called Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, taken by D.C. native Joe Rosenthal in 1945. Five of the six soldiers in the scene were Marines (one was part of the Navy Corps), and three died in this famous last battle of World War II.
At the memorial site, the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps presents the Marine Sunset Review Parade on Tuesdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m., generally the first Tuesday in June through mid-August. Wearing red-and-white dress uniforms, the corps perform a variety of military standards and vintage tunes from wartime eras.
The Pentagon is the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, housed in one of the largest office buildings in the world. Located in Washington DC, it is composed of five wedge-shaped sections and houses 30,000 military and civilian employees.
It’s impossible to dress appropriately for a visit to the United States Botanic Garden; each room you enter is a completely different environment.Set one block southwest of the U.S. Capitol Building, the garden nurtures plants from around the world – including subtropical, tropical, and arid regions. There are a variety of gardens and rooms, all connected through intertwining, labyrinthine paths. Two of the most interesting features are the ever-beautiful rose garden and a room designed solely for fragrances. Perhaps the most unique exhibit is Return of the Titan. This exhibit celebrates the titan arum, also known as the corpse flower or stinky plant. The corpse flower can grow up to 12 feet tall. The flower bloomed for the first time in July 2013, and it may be several more years before it does so again.
The United States Botanic Garden is also well known for its holiday displays. During the Christmas season, the Garden sets up an elaborate toy train that choo-choos around the world. Lights make the walkways festive, and a golden replica of the U.S. Capitol greets visitors at the entrance. Kids love the outdoor children’s garden that is completely interactive. There is nothing the kids can’t play with and touch. Outdoors there are also public picnic tables surrounded by more perfectly manicured gardens with a variety of flowers, all labeled.
The Conservatory is arguably the most popular section of the museum, with exhibits on a wide variety of the world’s natural landscapes. Always warm and humid indoors to keep the plants happy, here you’ll find a fern-filled jungle beneath a 93-foot-high glass dome, and a sprawling room full of over 5,000 different types of orchids.
Open to the public since 1974, this distinctive round building on the National Mall is dedicated to contemporary and modern art in the United States. From the outside, the museum appears to be a solid, windowless concrete cylinder perched on four squat blocks; the interior, though, features a hollow cylinder lined with windows which look onto a central courtyard and allow in natural light.
Designed by an art collector for an art collector, the Hirshhorn was originally conceived by architect Gordon Bunshaft to house a bequest of 6,000 artworks by financier Joseph Hirshhorn. Hirshhorn’s art collection is composed of work by the greatest living artists of his 20th century life: Picasso, Matisse, Willem de Kooning, Louise Nevelson, Jackson Pollock and many more. The museum is surrounded by a four-acre, two-level sculpture garden highlighting works by Henry Moore, Alexander Calder, and more recently, Jeff Koons.
The museum today features rotating exhibits by the world’s most accomplished and controversial artists, like Chinese dissident Ai Wei Wei. One of the most popular outdoor attractions here is a Wishing Tree by Yoko Ono, a live tree to which you’re invited to pin a piece of paper with your fondest wish.
Dedicated to representing American Indians from throughout the continent, the National Museum of the American Indian houses one of the world’s largest collections of Native artifacts, photographs, and media. From a striking exterior designed to resemble sandstone rock formations to state-of-the-art interior exhibits, the museum attracts everyone from passers-by to travelers from far and wide.
Situated between the Potomac River and major city roadways is one of the nation’s foremost centers for performing arts, a cultural and entertainment hub for the city of Washington D.C. With more than 2,000 performances annually, it is the busiest performing arts center in the United States. World-class live theater, classical music, ballet, jazz and opera shows all take place at the venue. Three main theaters including a concert hall and opera house ensure a variety of shows offered. Free performances are held on the Millennium Stage in the Grand Foyer daily.
Outside of the performances and stages, the center also has a Hall of Nations and Hall of States to explore, with collections of American and international flags. Also see the many paintings and sculptures gifted to the center from other nations throughout. The building also has great views of the Potomac River and the Georgetown area from its windows and rooftop terraces.
More money passes through the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington DC than most people make in a lifetime. At this federal agency managed by the US Department of the Treasury, visitors can see the country’s paper money being printed, learn about counterfeit currency, and explore how paper money has been made more secure.
More Things to Do in Washington DC
Washington DC’s National Gallery of Art was established in 1937 after then secretary of the treasury, Andrew Mellon, gave his sizable art collection—and funds for a museum to house them—to the American people. Today, two buildings house more than 110,000 objects in permanent and loan collections, temporary exhibits, and a sculpture garden.
Dedicated in 1922, the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial is one of the most famous—and most visited—Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C. The towering bronze statue of this famous general atop his stoic horse is an iconic landmark in a city that’s full of memorials that pay homage to America’s far-reaching past. Travelers will note his look of calm amid the storm of war, a nod to his well-known even disposition—even under fire.
Four smaller pedestals topped with bronze lions surround the towering Ulysses S. Grant, and helped to make it the largest bronze statue in America cast during its time. Travelers say it’s among the grandest memorials in the city and its close proximity to the Capitol and the Botanical Gardens makes it an easy addition to an afternoon exploring D.C.
Washington DC’s major transit hub, Union Station is also an architectural gem. Visited by close to 40 million people each year, the bustling neoclassical station is the terminus of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line and connects buses, Metro lines, and other commuter rails. It’s also home to many shops and services geared to travelers.
Step into the shoes of a spy at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC. Hear stories about real operatives and intelligence officers, see the gear and gadgets they used, and learn the techniques of espionage. The immersive experience sends you undercover on a covert mission—with a formal debriefing at the end to evaluate your work.
Mount Vernon—the former Virginia home and final resting place of George and Martha Washington—is a carefully restored National Historic Landmark on the banks of the Potomac River. The site is comprised of a 21-room, white-brick mansion, a 23-gallery museum, a four-acre farm, and elaborate gardens featuring fruit trees and a red-brick greenhouse. Visitors can experience Washington’s waterwheel gristmill and learn about the long-held tradition of distilling small-batch rye whiskey onsite. A world away from the hustle and bustle of Washington DC’s action, George Washington’s Mount Vernon continues to transport visitors to a regal but rural retreat for American colonial gentility.
Officially dedicated on Oct. 14, 2006, by President George W. Bush, himself a former pilot with the Texas National Guard, the U.S. Air Force Memorial is one of the newest memorials in the Washington area.
Built to honor the men and women who serve and sacrifice for the U.S. Air Force, architect James Ingo Freed designed the formidable three-spire monument to depict the contrails of three Air Force Thunderbirds, flying in the missing-man formation traditionally reserved for Air Force Funerals.
Two granite inscription walls are located at opposite ends of the monument’s central lawn. The Air Force’s three key values ("integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do") and other meaningful quotes are engraved on the south wall, while the north wall lists the Air Force’s Medal of Honor recipients.
More than 30,000 people attended President Bush’s keynote address, and it has been an equally popular venue ever since. More than 200,000 people visit the monument annually, and it also hosts roughly 200 special events each year, ranging from commemorative ceremonies to weddings. The United States Air Force Band plays free concerts on Wednesday and Friday evenings throughout the summer.
A series of six green copper domes cover the tiny entrance to the National Museum of African Art off the National Mall. Three underground levels radiate off central dueling staircases into hushed galleries of sculptures, wooden masks, paintings, clay and beaded jewelry, maps and textiles from nearly every country on the African continent. Most of the permanent collections are on the first and third sublevels.
Over 9,000 objects comprise the collections and recent ongoing and rotating exhibits have included films by African artists depicting interpretations of time; immersive sound pieces that transport visitors to Balogun, an open-air market in Lagos, Nigeria; and historical art from Sub-Saharan Africa. The second sublevel has workshop space and an auditorium where performing dance troupes, lectures, films and interactive traditional crafting workshops are sometimes held.
Before moving to its current location in 1987, the museum was housed in a townhouse once owned by the former slave-turned statesman, Frederick Douglass. Under the Smithsonian umbrella, it is the largest public collection of African art in the US.
Among the country’s first museums dedicated to modern Latin American and Caribbean art, the Art Museum of the Americas has been a DC highlight since its founding in 1976. Located just steps from the National Mall and Washington Monument, the museum’s permanent collection includes 2,000-odd paintings, sculptures, drawings, and other works.
Few places in the US see past and present commingling so harmoniously as in the historic Georgetown neighborhood in Washington DC. Filled with gorgeous townhomes, glitzy shops, trendy restaurants, picturesque waterfronts, and the renowned Georgetown University, the history and charms of Georgetown are undeniable.
The African American Civil War Museum, opened in 1999, tells the stories of the 209,145 soldiers of the United States Colored Troops who fought during the Civil War to end slavery. Visit the museum in Washington D.C.'s historic U Street community, and don't miss the companion African American Civil War Memorial across the street.
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.
With 1,628 Japanese cherry trees, the spring bloom is quite the sight, and thousands of visitors come to West Potomac Park to photograph the sea of pink and white cherry blossoms during the annual spring Cherry Blossom Festival.
Constitution Gardens offer a large green space with cobbled pathways and a duck pond that make it easy to forget that the park is within walking distance of the White House. Tidal Basin is just steps away as well, across the National Mall, and offers families the chance to get out on the water in both paddle and row boats.
Located on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences and measuring 12 feet (4 meters) tall, the Albert Einstein Memorial depicts the world-renowned astrophysicist in a seated posture, wearing a ponderous expression, and holding a sheaf of papers. The distinctive monument was created by sculptor Robert Berks and installed in 1979.
This popular stretch of pavement once known as the Western Plaza was renamed Freedom Plaza in 1988 after Martin Luther King, Jr. His famous “I have a dream” speech was said to have been crafted nearby this space. Today, Freedom Plaza serves as a gathering spot for political protests and rallies—paying an homage to the words and actions of King. While Freedom Plaza does not offer much in the way of a destination, travelers who come to this iconic square can also see the John A Wilson Building and the National Theater, which are located nearby.
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).
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