Destination Bucket List: Washington D.C

Iconic monuments, mesmerizing views and boulevards paint a grand picture of Washington DC, America’s foremost city. It’s no wonder that Washington DC remains one of the most visited destinations in North America.

First-time visitors to the nation’s capital may find it intimidating to take on the sights and sounds of the enormous city. Right in the heart of Washington DC stands National Mall - a massive plaza that stretches more than two miles! Often referred to as “America’s front yard”, the National Mall is lined with A-list museums, monuments and memorials. Needless to say, the National Mall is definitely a must-see on your trip to Washington DC.

Monuments to Peace, Valor and Unity

National Mall

National Mall

A stroll through National Mall lets visitors sample the American experience. The mall is lined with monuments featuring those that had the greatest impact on American history.

When you start a walking tour at the National Mall, start at Lincoln Memorial and then work your way towards the other end, which is the Capitol. Abraham Lincoln’s 19-foot high statue sits inside the monument overlooking the serene Reflecting Pool. The perfect vantage point for photographers is on the steps of the memorial on which civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. stood and gave his groundbreaking speech in 1963.

Amongst DC’s skyline is the Washington Monument. It stands in the center of America’s front yard as a tribute to the country’s first President. To make the most of your visit, you can pay to ride the elevator that takes you to the top for outstanding views of Washington DC from a height of 500 feet.

Another beautiful Roman-style building in National Mall is Jefferson Memorial found in scenic West Potomac Park overlooking the water. When springtime reaches Washington DC the cherry blossoms alongside the Tidal Basin are so beautiful.

Another memorial that you can’t miss is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial which is divided into four sections and has beautiful water features. Right next to the FDR Memorial is the Martin Luther King, Jr. monument. The MLK Jr. monument is a relatively new structure having been opened to the public in 2011. Poignant memories of the Korean War, Vietnam War and World War II are highlighted in the different war memorials also found in the mall.

Free Museums in the National Mall

National Gallery of Art

National Gallery of Art

It will actually take more than a day if you explore the National Mall when you take side trips to the museums in the area. Who couldn’t resist paying a visit when these centers of culture and history are open to the public for free?

Majority of the 19 Smithsonian museums and galleries in the capital are found in the Mall. Before embarking on your museum crawl, head first to the red Smithsonian Castle for a crash course on all things Smithsonian. You can learn about the man behind Washington DC’s great collection of museums, as well as guides and maps to help you further.

The most popular museums among families include National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History. But there are others that are worth a visit too. The eye opening exhibits of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum focus on one of the greatest tragedies in world history. There are special exhibitions that kids will appreciate as well.

Art enthusiasts will not want to pass the chance to see rare artworks at National Gallery of Art, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The indoor and outdoor museums of the US Botanic Gardens offer a refreshing break from the arts and culture pace.

For a slice of cultural diversity, make your way to National Museum of the American Indian and National Museum of African Art. Much anticipation surrounds the latest addition to the host of museums in the Mall. Slated for opening in autumn 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only one of its kind, focusing its collections on the African American experience in America.

Getting Around National Mall

DC Circulator

DC Circulator

Take the handy DC Circulator National Mall bus service for just a dollar when exploring the attractions within the area. With limited parking options in the Mall, it helps to take the Metro and go down the Smithsonian Station.

Dining in DC

Ben's Chili Bowl

Ben's Chili Bowl

Doing all of that sightseeing and museum explorations can be very tiring. Keep in mind that Washington DC has a lively dining scene with its share of restaurants that are well known around the country. 

Foodies should make a beeline to Ben’s Chili Bowl, an iconic restaurant that dates back to the 1950s. It’s the go-to spot for the city’s signature dish, the half smoke, which is a spiced-up smoked sausage often served in a bun and topped with cheese, chili and onions. Try other variations of the half smoke at places like Meat & Foods, Boundary Stone and Dcity Smokehouse.

Another amazing restaurant you have to try is the Mitsitam Café; a favorite stopover for visitors of National Museum of the American Indian where it’s located. Native foods from different parts of the Western Hemisphere are featured in the menu.

There are other landmark establishments worth visiting if you’re in town. Old Ebbitt Grill was founded in 1856, making it one of the oldest bars in Washington DC. The locals love the succulent oysters, Maine lobsters, clams and other seafood selections in the restaurant. It opens at 7:30 in the morning for early birds and closes at 2 am for night owls. The restaurant is steps away from another DC landmark, the White House.

Hop on to Old Town Alexandria and enjoy the vibes at Gadsby’s Tavern that entertains an impressive guest list. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington used to come to Gadsby’s for a drink or two. That’s how old the tavern is! On the other hand, Martin’s Tavern in Georgetown makes for a cozy spot during the cold months in DC. It was also where John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie Bouvier in 1953.