Founded in 1846 by British scientist James Smithson, the Smithsonian Institution has been dedicated to the expansion of knowledge and American culture for nearly two centuries. It was President James K. Polk who signed the law into effect, establishing the Smithsonian Institute after Smithson petitioned Congress in 1836. Since, the Smithsonian Institute has established nearly 20 museums and galleries, with 17 of them calling Washington, D.C. their home.
For some, their first trip to Washington, D.C. likely took the form of a high school field trip, where classmates craned their necks up in awe at the Lincoln Memorial. No matter your age, your first time in Washington, D.C. is a cause for celebration. You will be in the midst of a place where all the nation’s history is archived, and monuments of the most important and influential historical figures are on full display. There are many places of interest and landmarks to explore, but don’t let that overwhelm you. You are on vacation, so step back, take a deep breath and follow these simple tips for your first time in D.C.
When you visit Madame Tussauds, take a remarkable interactive journey through American history! You will be able to stand next to each of the US Presidents. From the shortest, President Madison to the tallest… President Lincoln and President L. B. Johnson.
Resting on the banks of the Potomac River, the iconic U.S. Capitol of Washington D.C. boasts a rich history, ornate architecture, and some of the best sights in the whole country. It truly is no surprise that it attracts countless tourists every year.
Despite being so compact, the streets buzz with countless activities. From marveling at its white, stone structures, to meandering around one of its impressive museums; relaxing in the urban green spaces to dining in high scale restaurants, Washington D.C. delights history buffs and avid sightseers alike.
It doesn’t matter if you’re here on a midweek getaway or a weekend escape – there’s something here for everyone.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture chronicles America’s journey toward enshrining freedom, equality and democracy for all citizens. The museum houses a collection of more than 37,000 pieces related to a variety of areas, including slavery, segregation and civil rights as well as family, religion and the performing arts.
One of the country’s first institutions dedicated solely to artistic expression on the African continent, the National Museum of African Art opened to the public in 1987. The attraction boasts a collection of more than 9,000 pieces in a variety of media spanning from ancient times through the modern era. In addition to textiles and jewelry, the museum has sculptures, pottery and paintings representing nearly every country in Africa, including Arab North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. Although it is one of the Smithsonian’s smallest museums, the institution has the largest single collection of African art in the United States.
After a very cold winter, the onset of spring is a welcome event in the nation’s capital. The air is getting warmer, the cherry blossoms are getting ready to bloom, and many cultural venues and attractions are beginning to offer outdoor events and activities. If you’re vacationing in Washington, DC in the springtime, you’re in for a spectacular time. Read on for some of the top things to do and see.
The Lincoln Memorial was opened on Memorial Day in 1922, 57 years after Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was assassinated.
The immense Greek Temple stands in front of a gleaming reflecting pool and is a stunning spectacle during the day and especially at night. The sculpture of Lincoln sitting inside is 19-feet tall and inscriptions related to his Presidency along with his Gettysburg Address adorn the walls that surround him.
An exquisite mural of an angel of truth freeing a slave, along with other depictions inside the memorial, are reminders of the significant changes with which Lincoln is credited . A place of inspiration and a symbol of the distinction of this extraordinary President, the Lincoln Memorial is one of the most visited sites in the area. It is also used as a gathering place for political rallies including the March of Washington in 1963, when Martin Luther King delivered his famous, “I have a dream” speech.
Approximate Time to Allow: 1 hour
Learn about things to do near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Korean War Memorial.
While we all know of the popular monuments, museums and memorials that make Washington DC so famous, there are many less famous points of interest worth discovering. When you’re getting ready to visit our nation’s capital, here are a few of the city’s hidden gems you should consider including on your itinerary.
Get MORE out of your summer in DC aboard the iconic Old Town Trolley and see the best first!
The Capitol Hill Historic District was established in 1977 to preserve the area’s unique character and architecture. Capitol Hill is not only the home of the United States government, but it’s also a vibrant neighborhood. Visiting Washington DC’s Capitol Hill offers a plethora of activities for all sorts of travelers whether you’re looking for a historical tour, outdoor activities, or simply want to explore the area. The Capitol Hill neighborhood is the oldest residential community in Washington, having been established in 1805 as a place for members of Congress to live. Capitol Hill is home to some of the most iconic buildings in D.C., including the United States Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the Library of Congress.
Learn about things to do near Capitol Hill in Washington DC like the Library of Congress, Supreme Court, and U.S. Botanical Gardens.
As one of the busiest train stations in the world and headquarters to Amtrak, Union Station in Washington DC is home to an abundance of shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and more. Its location in the center of downtown DC makes it an ideal starting point for touring the city’s many historical sites, attractions and other activities.
One of the oldest neighborhoods in Washington DC, Georgetown is ideally situated on the Potomac River. In early colonial times, the port served as a major commercial center. Founded in 1751 by George Beall and George Gordon, the original name was the Town of George. Since both of the founders’ first names were George and the English king at the time as well, historians dispute the source of the name of the town
Looking for the most efficient and entertaining way to visit many of the things to do in Washington DC with kids? Look no further because Old Town Trolley Tours offers parents a relaxing way to tour all the best DC attractions for kids. Parents don’t have to worry about searching for directions to the National Air and Space Museum or finding parking while traveling from all of Washington DC’s best attractions. Our hop on and hop off trolley tours allow the parents to concentrate on having fun with their kids instead of worrying about logistics. If you only have a few days to spend in DC with your family, you’ll want to make the most of your time in the city. America’s capital city is home to many memorials, museums and attractions to interest people of all ages. With these time crunch tips, you’ll be able to see the highlights, experience DC’s rich history and enjoy the most important things to do with family.
Get MORE out of your summer in DC aboard the iconic Old Town Trolley and see the best first!
When winter sets in, the city of Washington DC begins to sparkle with beautiful light displays, holiday cheer and an abundance of things to do and see. Read on for the top things to do in DC during the winter.
Located near the National Mall, the Smithsonian Institution Building was completed in 1855. Designed by James Renwick, Jr., the red Seneca sandstone edifice features a faux Norman architectural style that incorporates late-Romanesque and early-Gothic details. Although slaves were not used in the construction, they were used to quarry the stone. Colloquially known as the Smithsonian Castle, the building initially held the institution’s entire collection of art and other objects. Designated a National Landmark in 1965, its Victorian arched windows, dark woodwork and terrazzo floor evokes the serene ambiance of a house of worship. The 4.2-acre Enid Haupt Garden is situated adjacent to the Castle.
Step inside Smithsonian’s American Art Museum and discover what amazing talent lives and has lived in our nation throughout history. The first federal art collection, more than 40,000 works of art represent over 7,000 American artists who hail from every region, cultural and ethnical background of the United States. Here, visitors can view paintings, prints, photography, sculpture and more from artists who lived and worked throughout the United States, throughout the centuries.
Meet America’s most remarkable citizens face-to-face at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Stroll through the historic building, which was originally the U.S. Patent Office, and see paintings, photos, sculptures and more of famous Americans who have helped shape our nation. From the stunning exhibit of our Presidents, to photos of celebrities, scientists, entertainers, sports figures and more, the National Portrait Gallery offers a unique experience to guests of every age.
Founded by Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and Wallace F. Holladay in 1981, the National Museum of Women in the Arts is dedicated to displaying works of art by women from all over the world. Their expansive collection includes pieces by more than 800 artists. View striking artwork created throughout various centuries; learn about the many different women who have expressed themselves through a diverse array of mediums.
One of Dupont Circle’s more visited attractions features a glorious collection of textile arts from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Known as one of the world’s leading specialized art museums, close to 35,000 visitors from around the world come each year to appreciate the history and beauty of the museum’s works. Guests also enjoy viewing the historic buildings in which the museum is housed and the picturesque garden behind the buildings.
open Wednesday - Sunday: 10 am - 5 pm Thursday: 10 am - 9 pm
The Corcoran Gallery was created to enhance and inspire American artists and their talents. Founded in 1869 by William Wilson Corcoran, the museum is known around the world for its collection of modern American art as well as European works including paintings, sculpture, photography and decorative arts. Today, visitors enjoy touring the vast fine art museum to view some of the world’s most magnificent masterpieces created by artists of the past and present.
For a look into American crafts and decorative arts, a stop at the Renwick Gallery is sure to please. The gallery, housed in a historic architectural landmark just steps away from the White House, provides collections and exhibits from the 19th to the 21st centuries. Take a stroll through the gallery to get a close-up look at treasures created from clay, fiber, glass, metal and wood.
The museum serves as a memorial to the millions of people who were murdered during the Holocaust. Open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. everyday, except Yom Kippur and Christmas Day. Timed passes are distributed on a first–come first–served basis.
The founder of the Hirschhorn Gallery and Sculpture Garden, Joseph Hirschhorn left an impressive legacy of art and inspiration to the American People. He had an immense passion for art. So much so that at one time he had more than 6,000 pieces in his collection housed at several private locations. It was Hirschhorn’s adoration for the arts that inspired a new museum of art in Washington DC in the late 1960’s. The Hirschhorn Gallery and Sculpture Garden opened its doors in 1974, featuring Joseph Hirschhorn’s personal collection of paintings and sculpture, which he generously donated so that all of the American people could enjoy it as much as he did.
The Museum of the American Indian is the only museum solely dedicated to the history, study and preservation of the American Indians. You’ll be instantly captivated by its masterful architecture. The curved limestone building appears to be a natural rock formation facing towards the sun and is surrounded by acres of authentic crops of the American Indian. Its very design stands out among the many granite and marble neoclassical structures in the National Mall. Once inside, you’ll be treated to an up-close look at the life, languages, history, art and traditions of the Native Americans.
A small but world-renown museum, the Phillips Collection, is America’s first museum of modern art. Opened in the home of Duncan Phillips in 1921, the museum offers visitors a stunning representation of the most famous works of art by internationally known artists. See paintings by Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas and Monet and gain an appreciation of modern artists by viewing the work of Braque, Picasso and Matisse. The museum, though not a part of the Smithsonian Institution, offers art enthusiasts a rare and intimate look at the many masterpieces that Duncan Phillips personally collected. It’s a wonderful museum for visitors of all ages.
Charles Sumner fought for the abolition of slavery and for the rights of African Americans throughout his career as a United States Senator. Today, people from all over the world can gain an understanding of his efforts at the museum that bears his name. The Charles Sumner Museum and Archives is housed at the historic Charles Sumner School building that was constructed in 1872. It was here that the first high school class of African Americans graduated in 1877.
Note: The National Geographic Museum is temporarily closed as they reimagine their Base Camp experience. The Museum Store will remain open.
Just like the highly acclaimed magazine, the National Geographic Museum offers a stunning representation of the world we live in within its collection of exhibits, both permanent and changing. Adults and children will be intrigued by the colorful, interactive and extraordinary displays. From sculptures created entirely out of garbage to live frogs of every color in their natural habitats, there’s always something fascinating happening at the National Geographic Museum.
One can only imagine the exhilaration that Neil Armstrong felt as he took the very first steps on the moon in 1969 or the incredible thrill that the Wright brothers experienced as they took that first flight in 1903. At the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, you can get an idea of how they felt when you see first-hand the original Wright 1903 Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module which carried astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin on their mission to the moon. These historic air and spacecrafts are among a collection of more than 30,000 artifacts at the Air and Space Museum.
Ever wonder if there’s any truth to the curse of the famous Hope Diamond? Or wish you could see for yourself the fossils of an ancient mammal or a dinosaur? Then step inside the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Millions of people come each year to get a close look at some of the world’s most intriguing, beguiling specimens that the Museum has on display.
Step inside the National Museum of American History and experience the passion, creativity and inspiration of the American people. Walk through the fascinating exhibits and collections and transport yourself through hundreds of years of history, culture and the lives of our people. Over 3 million artifacts will amaze and enlighten you, including the original Star-Spangled Banner and Abraham Lincoln’s top hat.
The National Gallery of Art DC was created in 1937. Through the generosity of Andrew W. Mellon, a financier who was also a public servant, the Museum gained its first collection. Mellon had a passion for art and his large collection of old master paintings, sculpture and other works were intended for all of America to enjoy. After his death, Congress accepted his collection and thus the National Gallery was born.
Journey back in time as you view the original founding documents of the United States written by the patriots who created a nation conceived in liberty. Established in 1934, the National Archives is the repository for the priceless documents that have shaped American history and defined our democracy. These include the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which are collectively known as the Charters of Freedom. The Archives also contain other treasured heirlooms like an original copy of the Magna Carta from 1297, the Louisiana Purchase Treaty signed by Napoleon Bonaparte and Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Situated in Georgetown, Dumbarton Oaks is a historic estate that was part of the 1702 Rock of Dumbarton land grant from Queen Anne. It was the Washington, D.C. residence of Senator and later Vice President John C. Calhoun from 1822 until 1829. Edward Linthicum named the greatly enlarged residence The Oaks in 1846. When the Bliss family acquired the property in 1920, it was called Dumbarton Oaks in honor of its two historic names. They also renovated the residence into the current Colonial Revival architectural style. In addition to the landscaped gardens, the museum features a collection of Byzantine and pre-Columbian art.
Is there really such a thing as invisible ink? Is someone watching you through a camera in their buttonhole? For answers to these questions and a million other secrets about the fascinating world of spying, stop by the International Spy Museum. Discover the truth and myths about microdots and invisible ink, buttonhole cameras and submarine recording systems. Examine bugs of all sizes and kinds, and ingenious disguise techniques developed by Hollywood for the CIA. Trace the history of 50 years of spy technology, developed by agencies from the OSS to the KGB.
The chilling story of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination comes to life in the very place he was mortally shot on April 14, 1865. After being closed for 103 years, Ford’s Theater was restored and reopened in 1968. Serving as a tribute to Abraham Lincoln and his love of the performing arts, the Theater is a live, working theater that plays host to a variety of plays by some of the country’s most talented playwrights, actors and artists. Ford’s Theater is also home to The Lincoln Museum, which gives visitors a look at the elaborate conspiracy planned by actor John Wilkes Booth, a supporter of the Confederate States of America, to assassinate the President, the Vice President and the Secretary of State.