District of Columbia

More than just the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. is a living monument and testament to the history of democracy and politics in the United States.  Although its name is most synonymous with politics, there is a lot more than that to see and do when in Washington D.C.

After politics, museums take center stage in Washington D.C.  Although there are a wealth of museums to peruse – including the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the International Spy Museum, and the National Gallery of Art – the district is also home to the famous Smithsonian chain, which presents national collections of art, history, and more.  Washington D.C. hosts the greatest number of Smithsonian museums, including the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of American History, and the National Portrait Gallery.

The capital is rich in other attractions, too.  The National Zoo resides in Washington D.C., as well as NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where visitors can view and remotely explore the cosmos.  For those who have interest in Washington’s historical side, a visit to Georgetown – founded in 1751 – will put on display living history, in and among the town’s cobblestone streets.  The Old Stone House is the oldest known building in Washington D.C. and the Oak Hill Cemetery is the final home for many Union leaders from the Civil War.  It also is home to great shopping on M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, which host high-end fashion boutiques, jewelers, and art galleries.

If pure entertainment is the goal, Washington D.C. also hosts a number of amusement parks.  Busch Gardens in Williamsburg is a thrill-seeker’s paradise, replete with heart-pounding coasters.  Kings Dominion, too, lures the brave, and includes an extensive water park; don’t forget your swimsuit!  Of course, for something entirely unique, any traveler or family would be wise to stop by Hersheypark.  In addition to water slides and coasters, the park is home to Hershey’s Chocolate World, where they make the chocolate!

But no visit to Washington D.C. would be complete without stops by the nation’s most important and historic buildings.  The Pentagon – where many of the nation’s most important, strategic decisions are made – is a small city, onto itself, with about 23,000 military and civilian employees working its halls, daily.  Of course, the most popular attraction in the district is the home of the President:  the White House.  Its six stories are spread over 55,000 square feet and 132 rooms and is accessible to the public:  an average of 5,000 visitors pass through the grounds, every day.  But make sure to book your tour in advance; they tend to fill quickly!

For outdoor enthusiasts, Shenandoah National Park is a requisite stop.  Although the park is only 75 miles from the heart of the city, almost 40% of its 196,000 acres have been officially designated as wilderness, and can be viewed on foot or by car.  The Skyline Drive follows the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains through more than 100 miles of the park, with numerous overlooks for picture-taking or relaxation.  Hikers will enjoy the 400 miles of trail that crisscross the park and lead to destinations both scenic and wild.

Of course, the hallmark of any trip to the nation’s capital has to be visits to the region’s numerous monuments, many of which are walking distance to one another.  At a height of 555 feet, the iconic Washington Monument is the tallest stone structure in the world, and visitors can climb or ride to the top of it to take in a bird’s eye view of the entire district.  Nearly as famous is the Lincoln Memorial, which houses a 19 foot tall likeness of the nation’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, carved from 28 blocks of white, Georgia marble.  Inside are inscribed Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address, and the memorial has been host to such incredibly important events as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and, more recently, inaugural festivities for President Barack Obama.  And attractions like these are just the start.  Washington D.C. is also home to the famed Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, the U.S. Navy Memorial, and many more.

As home to the nation’s capital and the abode of the President, Washington D.C. stands out as one of the busiest and most influential places in the United States.  But it is, too, a living historical repository, brimming with museums and monuments that tell the long story of the nation and celebrate the people and organizations that carried it through it.  A visit to Washington D.C. isn’t just a visit to the nation’s capital; it’s a visit to the heart and soul of America.