The capital of the United States is a city frequented by tourists for its many iconic landmarks and museums and populated by some of the most powerful people in the world (including the fictional characters on Scandal and House of Cards). It is probably one of the cities that are a “must-visit” in the US.
National Cherry Blossom Festival
Occurring usually in mid/late March to early/mid April, this festival celebrates the blossoming cherry blossom trees that populate the heart of DC, in particular the Tidal Basin. Thousands of visitors seek the elusive florals during the “peak bloom” before the petals all fall. The festival includes many events around the city which celebrate Japanese culture, including an annual National Cherry Blossom Parade (free) that runs along Constitution Avenue and a street festival (tickets required) with performances and people in traditional Japanese costumes, but honestly it is more like a place for vendors to sell over-priced merchandise and food. The DC Cherry Blossoms which were gifted from Japan are indeed beautiful. However, the blooms in DC lacks variety and abundance. The huge crowd is another drawback. Unless you happen to be in the area around the time they are blooming, we do not recommend going out of your way to see them.
DC’s memorials honor the thousands of lives for which we all owe our freedom. Two stood out most to Nhi. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial designed by Maya Lin has always captured a solemnity that makes one reflect. Some memorials have boastful/flamboyant displays that distract visitors from the true meaning of a memorial. Lin employed simplicity to perfection, which always encourage us to have a minute of silence as we approach the many names that fought and died for freedom. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial also stood in an ideal location where the Washington monument can be reflected on its granite. However, the National Mall is under construction and there are plans to relocate the memorial. Hopefully its new home will be equally ideal.
Another memorial that greatly impressed Nhi was Lincoln Memorial (perhaps in part because Nhi and Lincoln share the same birthday). The exterior of the memorial echoed Greek architecture. Climbing up the steps, one cannot help but look back at the Reflecting Pool and Washington monument in the background. It is truly an iconic, picturesque view and a historic landmark where Dr. Martin Luther King once made his “I Have A Dream” speech. It also reminds one of a scene from Forrest Gump – a beautiful film that captured decades of America’s history within mere hours. Heading inside the memorial, an enormous and prominent statue of Lincoln awaits. On the walls are inscriptions of his famous speeches – The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. In A.P. Writing, Nhi once had to dissect Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and it was that year in High School that she learned of pathos and the brilliance of Lincoln’s writings.
Home to the President of the United States, this is the most famous “family house” in the US. We are particularly excited that its glass ceiling may be shattered in the upcoming 2016 elections. It’s time.
The Smithsonian has several museums that you can visit in DC, all for free. There are so many different exhibits that it is probably a good idea to dedicate a day just for museums (especially if you have young children). Having heard repeatedly about the famous Giant Squid (and its axon) in her neuroscience courses, Nhi was mega excited to see the squid on display. It was indeed gigantic! The National Museum of Natural History also housed many interesting exhibits, one of which allowed you to create early human versions of yourself (think broad forehead and huge nose). The National Air and Space Museum is another great hit for children (but be forewarned it isn’t as special as Kennedy’s Space Center).
Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden
The impressive cast iron Renwick Gates open their door to a charming garden. The Smithsonian Garden may be small, but it is no less captivating. Needless to say, it is only worth visiting when there are flowering plants. We found that this garden provided a more vibrant landscape of cherry blossoms (and Mulan magnolias) than the Tidal Basin. (Additionally, there is less of a huge crowd here.) The castle also offers a gorgeous backdrop.
While most DC attractions can be easily accessed through public transportation of the clean and efficient Metro, the National Arboretum is not one of those. Not only is it difficult to get there by public transportation, when you are actually there, it is a hike to see the various gardens, which are inconveniently spread out. You really do need a car to enjoy the Arboretum. Consequently, we did not get to see much of the Arboretum. And most unfortunately, the parts we saw were quite bare/under construction.
This is probably a must-visit if you have young children. Again, it is free. The vast zoo spans 163 acres and provides ample space for its animals. It also has abundant photo-ops. We got there around closing time and therefore did not see many exhibits. The famous giant pandas were also not on display (due to cold weather). On the bright side, this offers us the perfect excuse to visit DC again (when we have kids of our own)!
The newest social craze is drinking & painting. You’ve probably seen it somewhere on social media. There are several different companies that offer this service; Paint Nite is one of those. It’s an artist-led “class” where you can have fun and go home with a painting. It is not truly a class, though, as there is very little instruction provided. More than anything, it’s a 2-hour social event with art supplies provided. Of course, there is probably variability depending on your instructor/crowd. Nevertheless, it is a unique and fun activity. We would recommend it and wouldn’t mind doing it again!
As with any big city, be prepared for big crowds, bad traffic, and to walk around for many miles. It is best to use public transportation to get around as parking can be difficult and/or expensive. The DC Metro is actually quite clean and much easier to navigate than NYC’s. Do take advantage of all the free attractions! And while a visit to the Nation’s capital is a must, do consider taking a stroll along historic Georgetown. Not far from the heart of DC, this quaint neighborhood features European architect, unique boutiques, and fine dining.