Now that the Election is over, all eyes are on Barack Obama as he prepares to move into one of the most famous homes in the world. But what else has Washington got to offer apart from the White House?
I visited Washington a few years ago when I was in the U.S. with my partner. We rented a car and drove down from New York. My first thought when I arrived in Washington was that it almost looked fake—it was extremely clean and tidy compared to the other places we had visited, almost like someone had done a spring clean just before we arrived, like they were trying to make a good impression.
And that they did. I was pleasantly surprised by Washington—we hadn’t planned to visit the USA capital but had heard good reports from other travelers we had met and decided to stop off for photo ops if nothing else.
There are lots of things to see and do in Washington. The National Mall is 3-kilometer stretch of land home to some of the most recognizable landmarks in the world, from the Capitol Building, which serves as the seat of government for the U.S. Congress, to the Washington Monument (a Presidential Memorial to the first U.S. president, George Washington) and the Lincoln Memorial statue.
In between, there are numerous museums to visit, including the National Museum of American History, National Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of Natural History. You could spend a number of days along the Mall; there are so many attractions here.
Don’t miss the Lincoln Memorial, a 20-foot sculpture of the assassinated president Abraham Lincoln. It was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963—very symbolic after the election of the country’s first black president.
Close by, there are various war memorials, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the National World War II Memorial. You will notice a somber mood when you visit these sites, which is not at all surprising.
Of course, you couldn’t possibly visit Washington and not see the White House. There were lots of people standing around the parameter, using their zoom functions to get a good shot. I imagine it will be even busier on January 21 when Obama moves in!
We also visited Arlington Cemetery, which is a short drive from the center of Washington and a military cemetery. Another somber trip; we saw the grave of JFK, which is marked with an eternal flame and the Tomb of the Unknowns, which houses the bodies of soldiers who were never identified.
One of the most intriguing things I’ve ever seen is the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns. The Tomb has been guarded continuously—24 hours a day, 7 days a week—since 1937. It is considered one of the highest honors for a guard and involves a meticulous ritual of taking twenty-one steps in front of the Tomb, facing the Tomb for twenty-one seconds, waiting for twenty-one seconds and repeating the process until the end of the shift. The Changing of the Guard happens every 30 minutes in summer and is also fascinating to watch.
Overall, I really enjoyed my visit to Washington. I love when a destination surprises you and is better than what you expected. Obama will certainly not be bored in his new city if he ever has a day off! You could easily spend a few days in Washington, and having a rental car gives you a chance to get outside the city.
Just make sure you bring your camera and fully charged batteries—there are more photo opportunities than you could shake a stick at!