Best Historical Sites to Visit in Washington DC
Edited by Kathy McGraw, Maria Quinney, VC
Washington D.C. is the capital city of the United States. The offices for each of the three branches of the federal government are located here, including the President's residence, and the city is also replete with memorials to commemorate important figures in U.S. history. From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his inspiring "I Have a Dream" speech, to the halls of Congress and the Supreme Court, Washington D.C. is a history lover's haven. Come and see where history is made.
- 1White House. The White House is the official home of the President of the United States and contains the famous West Wing where the Oval Office is located. The building took years to build, starting from when President George Washington chose its location and when the first cornerstone was laid on October 13, 1792. The home was not ready for occupancy until the administration of President John Adams in 1800. Tours of the White House are available at no cost through your representative in Congress. If you are not an American Citizen, tours must be requested through your nation's embassy in Washington D.C.Advertisement
- 2Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool. The Lincoln Memorial is one of the best-loved memorials in Washington DC. It has been the site of other remarkable dates in history, such as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's open-air concert in 1939, during which the African American singer, Marian Anderson performed to an audience of 75,000 while millions more listened to her on the radio. It was also the site of Martin Luther King's most famous address, his "I Have A Dream..." speech. The memorial was constructed in 1922 and consists of a large (19 feet tall) statue of a sitting President Lincoln, surrounded by 36 columns which represent the number of states in the Union when he was president. The Reflecting Pool is a long rectangular pool of water that separates the Lincoln Memorial from the Washington Monument on the other side.Advertisement
- 3Washington Monument. The Washington Monument is a famous symbol of Washington DC. It's a very tall (555 feet) obelisk that stands at one end of the Reflecting Pool on the other side of the Lincoln Memorial and forms part of the National Mall. The plan for the monument was approved by Congress in 1783, but it wasn't started until 1848, and after that faced delays caused by a lack of funds as well as the Civil War. It was ultimately completed in 1885.
- 4The United States Capitol and Capitol Hill. The United States Capitol Building houses the House of Representatives and the Senate, the two bodies of the Legislative Branch of the Federal government. It is here where laws are submitted for consideration and voted on by both Houses before being submitted to the President. The building is a must-see for its beautiful architecture, including the Rotunda, which is a large dome based on St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The dome's ceiling features a painting by Constantino Burmidi, and the walls feature art depicting various scenes from American history.
- 5Jefferson Memorial. This memorial is a tribute to the 3rd President of the United States, founding father, and author of the Declaration of Independence. It consists of a dome and 54 ionic columns and under the dome stands the 19-foot statue of Thomas Jefferson in a standing pose. He is surrounded by depictions of his writings, including the Declaration of Independence. Like the Lincoln Memorial, which stands at one end of the Reflecting Pool, a Tidal Basin stands before the monument itself and is surrounded by cherry trees, which blossom every Spring with a profusion of pink flowers. If you're in Washington during that time, don't miss the Cherry Blossom Festival.
- 7US Treasury Building. Designed by Robert Mills, who also had a hand in designing the Washington Monument, the Treasury was the first structure built in Washington DC that was to house departmental offices. It thus set the style of the buildings that came later. Built between 1836 ant 1869, it ranked among the largest office buildings in the world at the time.
- 8Ford's Theater. Ford's Theater is infamously known as the place where President Abraham Lincoln was shot to death on April 14, 1865, by an assassin, John Wilkes Booth. It was re-opened in 1968 as a working theater where plays and other performing arts are held. Inside, is also the Lincoln Museum that reflects upon the assassination plot by Booth, who was an actor at the Theater and a supporter of the Confederacy.
- 9Georgetown Historic District. Georgetown is an old neighborhood in Washington DC that predates the founding of the capital itself, dating back to 1751. It is characterized by tall narrow townhomes some of which date back to its earliest days. The oldest home in Georgetown is the "Old Stone House," which was built in 1765 and is open to the public.
- 10Washington National Cathedral. The Washington National Cathedral was built to resemble a medieval English cathedral, complete with flying buttresses and gargoyles. Construction on the massive structure was started in 1907 but was not complete until 1990. Be sure to arrange for a special tour in which you will gain access to secret parts of the giant cathedral, and if you have children, don't forget to sign them up for the scavenger hunt during which they can find little iron figures and more. There is even a gargoyle of Darth Vader in the Northwest Tower to see!
- 11Tudor Place. This mansion was built by William Thorton in 1815 for the granddaughter of Martha Washington and her husband, Thomas Peter. The property was bought with funds left to the couple by George Washington himself. Notable guests who stayed there include the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824 and Robert E Lee.
- 12National Archives Building. The National Archives is where the originals of America's most important founding documents are kept. It was built in 1934 and mirrors the other structures in its Greek-Revival style. Inside, you will find the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights among other documents.
- 13The National Air and Space Museum. See famous air and spacecraft from throughout the history of flight and spaceflight at this museum in Washington DC. Exhibits include the Wright Brothers Flyer from 1903 and the Apollo 11 command module that landed on the moon in 1969. Flight simulators let you fly combat missions as the pilot of an F-18 Super Hornet, and you can also gaze up into space through telescopes to observe moon craters and other celestial phenomena.
- 15Woodrow Wilson House. The 28th President, Woodrow Wilson, lived in this house with is a wife from 1921, when he purchased it until his death. The home is largely untouched from when the Wilsons occupied it, and you can see the Wilsons' personal effects and furniture and get a sense of the personality of the proponent of the League of Nations and a great leader.
- 16Renwick Gallery. The building was designed by architect James Renwick Jr and built in 1859 for William Wilson Cocoran, a Washington Banker, to store his personal art collection. Corcoran's collection grew too large for the building, so was moved, and the building was taken over by the U.S. Court of Claims in 1897. The building now holds a collection of American art and is administered by the Smithsonian.
- 19Meridian Hall Park. The mansion was built in 1923 to resemble an English manor house and was the home of Mary F. Henderson who wanted to turn Meridian Hill into an exclusive enclave of mansions. It has been a historic site since 1990 and is open to the public for tours.
- 20Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. A recent addition to the memorials in Washington DC, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened in August of 2011. It commemorates the life and works of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King's advocacy of civil disobedience, his sermons, and the powerful speech he gave in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 were instrumental in getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 drafted and passed.
- 21Constitution Gardens. President Nixon ordered the creation of Constitution Gardens after the temporary office buildings that previously were on that land were removed at his direction. The Gardens were dedicated in May of 1976 as part of the celebration of the Bicentennial of the American Revolution. A memorial for the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence was added in 1984
- 22The Wall (Vietnam Veterans Memorial). This somber memorial is made up of a wall that is 246 feet long and 10 feet high. It contains the names of over 58,000 servicemen who sacrificed their lives during the Vietnam War. The Wall was built in 1982, and since then, 376 names were added to the original list. More than acting as a memorial, the aim of the Wall was to heal the divisions and the anger the Vietnam War caused in the country. For this reason, it is also called "The Wall that Heals."
- 23Library of Congress. The Library of Congress is the world's largest library and has more than 100 million works stored within it. Additionally, you can find Thomas Jefferson's personal collection here, which he donated to the Library after it burned down in 1814. The main building is called the Jefferson Building in recognition of his donations. Likewise, the other buildings are named after John Adams and James Madison for their contributions to the library. It was created to assist members of Congress with research but has grown into a cultural archive.
- 24National WWII Memorial. Another recent edition to the National Mall, this memorial to the men and women who served during the war as well as supported the war effort was opened in 2004. It honors those who survived as well as the 400,000 people who lost their lives fighting for freedom and democracy during that great conflict.
- 26Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This memorial was built in 1997 and stands between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. It honors the memory of the 32nd President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose leadership guided the nation out of the dark days of the Great Depression and World War II. So beloved was he that he served four consecutive terms, dying while still in office.
- 28Eastern Market. The Eastern Market dates back to 1873 and is one of the only public markets left in the city. During the week, you can find a farmers market here with farmers selling everything from fresh produce to meat, fish, and poultry. Saturday is arts and crafts day, and a flea market takes over on Sunday.
- 29Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. Frederick Douglass bought this home in 1877. It is a National Historic Site and recently underwent renovation and re-opened to the public in 2007. Make sure to get reservations to see this beautiful home.
- 30Smithsonian Castle. This beautiful 1855 mansion was the home of Joseph Henry, the first Secretary of the Smithsonian. It now serves as the Smithsonian's administrative offices.
Categories : Travel & Leisure
Recent edits by: Maria Quinney, Kathy McGraw