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World Travel Guide > Guides > North America > United States of America > Washington, DC

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Things to see in Washington, DC

Tourist Offices

Destination DC

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 789 7000.
Opening times:

Mon-Fri 0900–1700.

Website: http://www.washington.org

Destination DC can supply guides and maps of the city and has a number of specialist staff to help with any queries you may have. There are also tourist information centres at Union Station and at all three Washington, DC airports.

Tourist passes

Although there are no official city passes, the NOW pass scheme (tel: (866) 698 1108; www.thenowpass.com) costs $59.95 for seven days and includes hop-on, hop-off access to Big Bus sightseeing buses as well as admission to many of the city's main attractions.

Attractions

White House

With the exception of George Washington, the White House has been home to every US president and his family. Tours of the most famous building in DC are only available with passes from congressman and foreign visitors must request passes from their respective embassies months in advance. Very little of the building is on display but most enjoy the opportunity to enter the powerhouse of the USA. Information on the architecture, first families, social events and more can be obtained from the White House Visitor Information Center on the southeast corner of 15th and E Streets.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 456 1111.
Opening times:

Self-guided tours Tues-Thurs 0730-1100, Fri 0730-noon, Sat 0730-1300 (occasionally closed at short notice for official events).

Website: http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/tours
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

Lincoln Memorial

The imposing 5.8m (19ft) marble statue of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, gazes from the Lincoln Memorial across the Reflecting Pool to the Washington Monument. The style of the memorial is that of a Greek temple with 36 Doric columns, but it is the statue of Lincoln, sculpted by Daniel Chester French, that steals the show. On the interior walls are inscriptions from the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's second inaugural speech. As a symbol of freedom and racial harmony, the Lincoln Memorial was the site of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech in August 1963.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 426 6841.
Opening times:

Daily 0930-2330.

Website: http://www.nps.gov/linc
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

National Air and Space Museum

The most popular of all the Smithsonian Museums, the National Air and Space Museum traces the development of air and space travel. It is home to the original Wright Brothers' 1903 Flyer, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St Louis, the Bell X-1 (the plane that broke the sound barrier in 1947), the Apollo 11 lunar command module and a vast collection of aviation and space technology memorabilia. Free 90-minute tours trace the history of air and space at 1030 and 1300. The museum also houses an IMAX film theatre and the Albert Einstein Planetarium. A second vast NASA museum next to Dulles airport houses historically significant craft including Space Shuttle Enterprise and the Enola Gay.

Address: SW, 600 Independence Avenue, Washington DC, DC 20560
Telephone: (202) 633 2214.
Opening times:

Daily 1000-1730.

Website: http://www.airandspace.si.edu
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

National Museum of Natural History

Arguably the most impressive of the three museums administered by the Smithsonian Institute, the National Museum of Natural History has a superb collection of dinosaur fossils, an insect zoo, the world's largest preserved bush elephant, the 45.5-carat Hope Diamond and an IMAX film theatre. The Mammal Hall is devoted to mammal and human diversity, evolution and adaptation, while the Sant Ocean Hall uses state-of-the-art technology to demonstrate the oceans' essential role and includes a coral reef teeming with marine life. The newest exhibition, the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, tells the epic story of the evolution of man.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 633 1000.
Opening times:

Daily 1000-1730.

Website: http://www.mnh.si.edu
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

Jefferson Memorial

One of the loveliest Washington memorials, the Jefferson Memorial is a 5.8m (19ft) statue of the third US president, Thomas Jefferson, sitting inside an elegant neo-classical dome designed by John Russell Pope. Surrounded by passages from the 1776 Declaration of Independence, although controversially, not the one that mentions the right to revolution, the memorial was not erected until more than 100 years after his death. Perched amid scores of delicate Japanese cherry blossom trees, the sculpture looks out across the Potomac River Tidal Basin towards the White House, the scene of so many of Jefferson's (and his illustrious successors') triumphs.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 426 6841.
Opening times:

Daily 1000-2330.

Website: http://www.nps.gov/thje
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

US Capitol

Under the magnificent 55m (180ft) white dome of the US Capitol, are the debating chambers that ring with the voices of Senators and members of the House of Representatives up to seven days a week. The white-painted dome is visible from all parts of the city and is topped by the 5.8m (19ft) Statue of Freedom. Several areas of the building are open to the public, including Statuary Hall, the Rotunda and the Crypt (the intended burial place of George Washington and his wife). The Capitol Visitor Center opened in December 2008 and is now the main entrance, located on First Street, between Independence and Constitution avenues.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 226 8000.
Opening times:

Mon-Sat 0830-1630.

Website: http://www.aoc.gov
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

Washington Monument

Dedicated to the first president of the United States, the Washington Monument, a vast 169m (554ft) obelisk, was built in 1885 and glowers out across the National Mall. Recent years have seen the building clad in scaffolding following earthquake damage in 2011 but despite the structural works, a lift continues to take visitors to the top to enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding area. The 193 restored Memorial Stones, which have been donated by states, cities and foreign countries from July 1848, pay tribute to George Washington. There are also exhibits about the monument's history and the nation's Founding Father.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 426 6841.
Opening times:

Daily 0900-1700 (Sep-May); daily 0900-2200 (Jun-Aug).

Website: http://www.nps.gov/wamo
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

National Archives & Records Administration (NARA)

Although the archives house more than 3 billion records, the ones that visitors flock to see are the Charters of Freedom: the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. All are encased and displayed in a large marble rotunda. They are difficult to read, but they are the originals from over 200 years ago. The Public Vaults contain fascinating documents such as George Washington's handwritten letters, materials and evidence from famous investigations, such as the Kennedy assassination, and recordings of debates on Prohibition in 1918 and reinstating the Draft in 1940.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: 1 866 272 6272.
Opening times:

Daily 1000-1730.

Website: http://www.archives.gov
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial pays tribute to the accomplishments of the 32nd US president. With sculptures, waterfalls, pools and walls of grey granite, it honours his services to the country during four terms of office and highlights historical events like the Great Depression and WWII. Most interesting are the two FDR bronze statues. Since Roosevelt never wanted to be pictured in a wheelchair, the monument includes a larger-than-life statue in which he is wearing a floor-length cape. The true-to-scale sculpture, where he is sitting in his wheelchair, was added later. There is also a bronze likeness of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 426 6841.
Opening times:

Daily 0930-2330.

Website: http://www.nps.gov/fdrm
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

Korean War Veterans Memorial

Located just south of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, the marble and limestone Korean War Veterans Memorial was built using funds donated from individuals. It was dedicated in 1995. Sitting on a 0.9 hectare (2.2 acre) site, the sculpture features 19 stainless steel soldiers depicted in combat, with the American flag as their symbolic objective. There are images of thousands of the ordinary personnel who supported the combat troops in the military operation and a mural wall is inscribed with the words: 'Freedom is not free'. Within the triangular structure is a small pool lined with black granite and surrounded by a grove of elegant Linden trees, all of which are dotted with inscriptions remembering the wounded, killed and missing.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 426 6841.
Opening times:

Daily 0930-2330.

Website: http://www.nps.gov/kwvm
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

National WWII Memorial

Opened in 2004, the vast National World War II Memorial is the newest addition to the National Mall's extensive collection of memorials and commemorates the men and women who fought and died during World War II. An imposing combination of 56 granite pillars and two small triumphal arches, representing the Atlantic and Pacific theatres, the sense of grandeur here is completed via a series of pools and fountains. The monument also includes a freedom wall decorated with 4,048 gold stars, each of which stands for every 100 American deaths. In front the poignant message reads: 'Here we mark the price of freedom'.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 426 6841.
Opening times:

Daily 0930-2330.

Website: http://www.nps.gov/nwwm
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Though simply designed, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is perhaps the most moving attraction in Washington, DC. Opened in 1982, the 70 separate panels of the V-shaped black granite walls, 150m (493ft) in length, are inscribed with the names of the 58,209 Americans who went missing or were killed in the Vietnam War. Perched in the middle of the beautiful Constitution Gardens, the setting is spectacular and boasts gorgeous views of the Washington Monument. Close by is the Vietnam Women's Memorial, dedicated to servicewomen who fought in the war, and the Three Soldiers, a bronze statue designed to complement the main memorial.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 426 6841.
Opening times:

Daily 0930-2330.

Website: http://www.nps.gov/vive
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Each of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's four floors chronicles a period of the Holocaust. 'Nazi Assault' (1933-39), on the fourth floor, covers life in the 1930s and the Nazi rise to power. Floor three, 'Final Solution' (1940-45), deals with the subsequent genocide, and the 'Last Chapter', on the second floor, concludes with liberation and the Holocaust aftermath. The main level has a concentration camp memorial and 'Remember the Children: Daniel's Story', a sensitive exhibit geared to help children understand the horrors of the Holocaust. The films, photos, eyewitness testimonies and artefacts that tell the story of the Holocaust often leave visitors dabbing their eyes.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 488 0400.
Opening times:

Daily 1000-1720.

Website: http://www.ushmm.org
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

Library of Congress

Housing the largest library in the world, the Library of Congress contains collections of rare American history materials and more than 144 million items. Among them is the Gutenberg Bible and a copy of the musical score of the 'Star Spangled Banner'. The library itself is embellished with murals, stained glass windows and statuary. Exhibitions change regularly. There are daily guided tours of the 19th-century Thomas Jefferson Building. Free public tours are available Monday to Friday at 1030, 1130, 1230, 1330, 1430 and 1530 as well as 1030, 1130, 1330 and 1430 on Saturday.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 707 8000.
Opening times:

Mon-Sat 0830-1700 (Thomas Jefferson Building); Mon-Fri 0830-2100 Sat 0830-1700 (James Madison Memorial Building); Mon and Wed-Thurs (0830-2130), Tues and Fri-Sat 0830-1700 (John Adams Building).

Website: http://www.loc.gov
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

National Mall

Many of Washington's most important monuments and institutions, described individually, are located in the National Mall, a green park area extending 3km (2 miles) from the US Capitol to the Washington Monument. Major Pierre L'Enfant originally planned the Mall as a grand avenue lined with mansions, but lack of funds meant that the site was just left as an open area used for grazing animals. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century, when many more public institutions and monuments had been constructed in the immediate area (including the White House), that they were linked with the series of gardens that now make up the Mall.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 426 6841.
Opening times:

Daily 24 hours; rangers on duty answer questions daily 0930-2330.

Website: http://www.nps.gov/nama
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

Newseum

Perfect for anyone who appreciates a carefully crafted headline, The Newseum offers a riotous tour through the scoops and scandals that have characterised the media. Visitors can browse more than a dozen galleries to learn the history of the news and see how important world events have been reported, for better or worse. A broadcast studio, an interactive newsroom and the largest sections of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany (complete with an East Germany guard tower) are among the exhibits worth making a beeline for. Some of the most dramatic events in journalism are recreated in the 4-D Time Travel Adventure film.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 292 6100.
Opening times:

Daily 0900-1700.

Website: http://www.newseum.org
Admission Fees:

Yes

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

International Spy Museum

All is not entirely what it seems at one of Washington's most entertaining museums. Through multimedia presentations, hands-on exhibits and audio-visual effects, the focus at the International Spy Museum is on educating the public about espionage's impact on current and historic events. Among the highlights is the collection of quirky spy paraphernalia such as decoder machines, miniature cameras and a lipstick pistol, while other exhibits allow visitors to test their powers of observation, analysis and surveillance at interactive stations. ‘Operation Spy' allows visitors to assume a cover, and among other things, conduct video surveillance, carry out a polygraph test on a suspect agent and escape from a high-security compound.

Address: SW, 700 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Washington DC, 20024
Telephone: +1 202 393 7798.
Opening times:

Daily 1000-1800.

Website: http://www.spymuseum.org
Admission Fees:

Yes

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI)

NMAI is a tribute to Native Americans. The impressive structure is circular and faces east in accordance to American Indian traditions. Decorated in earthy tones, it is designed to reflect indigenous aesthetics. The museum is divided into four sections: 'Our Universe' focuses on Native philosophies related to creation and the relationship between man and the universe; 'Our Peoples' relates the life of Native Americans via videos; 'Our Lives' focuses on the contemporary life and identities of eight Native Communities; and there is also a changing contemporary exhibit. In the Lelawi Theater, the audience is put in the middle of a unique multi-media presentation about tribal life.

Address: , , ,
Telephone: (202) 633 6644.
Opening times:

Daily 1000-1730.

Website: http://www.nmai.si.edu
Admission Fees:

No

Disabled Access: Yes
UNESCO: No

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Featured Hotels

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Hotel Tabard Inn

Located on a tree-lined side street in the Dupont Circle neighbourhood, this is the small hotel that residents recommend to their friends. As it was constructed from three Federal-style row houses, no two rooms are exactly the same, but each is filled with unique antiques and has Wi-Fi access throughout. Some rooms have a shared bathroom. Victorian sitting areas in the lounge are quite cosy and feature live jazz on Sunday night. The hotel's downstairs dining room, a popular lunch spot for both guests and non-guests, features American cuisine. The restaurant's brick-walled garden is one of the most pleasant places to pass an afternoon in Washington, DC. Price includes continental breakfast.

Hotel Helix

If funk is your thing, you'll love this Kimpton boutique hotel where pop art meets Hollywood. The guestrooms are decorated in eye-popping patterns, bright red, green and blue colours, and underscored with rounded mirrors and large pillows. Twelve of the rooms are themed including the cool Zone rooms, fun family Bunk rooms and Italian-inspired Eats rooms. The lighting system changes from blue to gold in the hotel's bar/café, Helix Lounge, and the outdoor patio is popular with locals. Located in the Logan Circle neighbourhood, Hotel Helix is more appealing to young hipsters rather than sedate business people.

The William Lewis House

A home from home, this welcoming bed and breakfast has all the trinkets and touches of grandma's place with patterned rugs, plump sofas and candles and doilies above the fireplace. Actually taking up two Edwardian townhouses, The William Lewis House has 10 individually decorated rooms, scattered with antiques and family heirlooms, plus free Wi-Fi. What's more, the owners host happy hours with wine and hot chocolate. Gay friendly.

Washington Plaza Hotel

Under the watchful eye of architect Morris Lapidus, the Washington Plaza sprung up in 1962, placing a resort-like hotel in the middle of a city. Right next to the Smithsonian museums, the location is superb, while its glorious swimming pool, 340 well turned out rooms and recently renovated fitness suite are all as good as any modern contemporaries.

Normandy Hotel

Located on an elegant street with embassies as neighbours, and within walking distance of bars, restaurants, shops and the Dupont Circle Metro, this small hotel is a real find. Extensively renovated in 2009, the 75 rooms are decorated in black and white highlighted with fabrics in warm colours. The lobby and rooms have complimentary Wi-Fi internet access and although there is no restaurant, afternoon tea and coffee is served to guests and there is a free wine and cheese reception some evenings.

Mandarin Oriental Washington, DC

The award-winning Oriental is one of the most popular hotels in Washington, DC. Touches of Feng Shui have made its huge guest rooms calming - in fact, you may not want to leave them. All have Chinese marble bathrooms, silk bed tapestries, flatscreen TVs, high-speed internet access and smashing views of city monuments or the Potomac Tidal Basin. The hotel also has a state-of-the-art spa plus two restaurants - the Asian-inspired, award-winning Cafe MoZU and the Sou'Wester, serving regional American cuisine. For lighter fare or cocktails try the Empress Lounge.