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The 20 Best Things To Do In Washington DC For First Timers

If you are planning a trip to Washington D.C then you may feel as if there is so much to cram in that you are not going to have time to see everything that you want to. This is especially true if this will be the first time that you are visiting the city. However, with a bit of careful planning, you may be able to do more than you think. A good place to start is to make a list of everything that you want to see. From here you can start planning your days. A list of the must-see attractions for anyone visiting Washington DC for the first time can be found below.

20. The International Spy Museum

Although this is one of the only museums in the city that you need to pay for, it is still well worth a visit. It is one of the newest museums in Washington and has many interactive exhibits that you can get involved in. It also has first hand accounts from spies that have been in the business for many years. Some of the stories that you will discover sound as if they are a plot for a movie or TV show, but it all really happened. You also have the chance to see the gadgets and tools that spies have used throughout history.

19. Arlington National Cemetary

The Culture Trip points out that as well as thousands of service men and women, Arlington is also the resting place of President Kennedy. It is also home to the Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier. This tomb is guarded by military personnel 24 hours a day all year round. The changing of the guard ceremony takes place every hour in the winter and every half hour during the summer and this can be viewed by members of the public.

18. The Kennedy Center

There is a free daily performance that takes place at The Kennedy Center every evening on the Millenium stage. You can also take a guided tour where you will learn about the events that led up to the creation of the center as a living memorial to JFK. There is an interactive exhibit telling the story of the life of Kennedy and his time as President. One of the highlights of the tour is the rooftop terrace. From here you will get a complete 360 degree view of Washington. There is also a restaurant on the terrace if you want to enjoy this view while you are eating.

17. United States Botanic Garden

According to The Broke Backpacker, this is one of the most underrated attractions in Washington DC. It was the wish of George Washington that the capital city of the United States would have a botanic garden and so it was established by Congress in 1820. This makes it one of the oldest botanic gardens in the US and its mission today is to show visitors how important plants and trees are for our own well being. The exhibitions are changing and growing all the time and so you will discover something different with every visit.

16. Rock Creek Park

The city park covers 1,754 acres and was one of the first parks in the United States to be designated as a national park. It gives you a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy some time in the great outdoors. There are over 32 miles of hiking trails for you to explore and this is a great way to see everything that the park has to offer. If you are looking for something a little more relaxing, then there are plenty of places around the park for you to sit and enjoy a picnic.

15. Fort DeRussy

Fort DeRussy is located within Rock Creek Park. It was constructed in 1861 at the beginning of the American Civil War to form part of the Defenses of Washington and was named after Union Brigadier General Rene Edward DeRussy. It also played an important role in the Battle of Fort Stevens. Today the dry moat and the parapet have not changed much from the way that they would have been during the war. You can also see the rifle trenches that extend around the outside of the fort.

14. National Gallery of Art

There are works of art from all countries and time periods that can be found in the National Gallery. Notable works include Ginevra de' Benci by Leonardo Da Vinci and The Alba Madonna by Raphael. The collection also houses self portraits by artists such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh. You are able to take a guided tour through the gallery, which will tell you about the history of some of the art you are viewing. If you are visiting the gallery, then you should also take a walk around the Sculpture Garden. In the garden you will find pieces from the gallery's own collection as well as pieces that are on loan from elsewhere. The fountain is the center of the garden and this is turned into an ice rink in the winter.

13. Georgetown And The Waterfront

Georgetown is one of the busiest areas of the city and there is plenty to see and do here. Trip Savvy suggests that this is one of the best places in the city to do some shopping and get something to eat. When you are ready for something a little more peaceful, you can take a stroll along the waterfront.

12. Basilica Of The National Shrine Of The Immaculate Conception

This is considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the whole of Washington DC. It is open 365 days a year and the services are open to everyone. You are also able to visit the shrine in order to take a walk around. There are also guided tours available which take place on a regular basis throughout the day. There is no charge for these tours and you do not need to make a reservation. You can find out all about the history of the shrine as well as learning more about the architecture and artwork.

11. Supreme Court Of The United States

The Supreme Court is open to the public every weekday. It is always a good idea to check the website on the day that you plan to visit as the business of the court may alter the opening hours. The courtroom is open to the public but there is only a limited amount of seating and so it is a good idea to get there early if there is a particular case that you are interested in. There are also sections of the first and ground floors that are can be viewed. Highlights of the building include busts and portraits of former justices and a statue of John Marshall.

10. Theodore Roosevelt Island

In the 1930s Theodore Roosevelt Island was known as Masons Island and at this point it was neglected farmland that was completely overgrown. The decision was made to turn this island into a living forest to represent the forest that would have once grown on the island. It was also considered to be a fitting tribute to Theodore Roosevelt as he was well known for taking diplomats on hikes and through woods when he was President. Things to do on the island include hiking, jogging, canoeing and kayaking.

9. National Zoo

You do not have to have children with you to enjoy a trip to the National Zoo. There is so much to explore and discover for people of all ages. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the capital and has over two million visitors every year. The giant pandas are one of the most popular exhibitions at the zoo and they can be found on the Asia trail. The best time to see the pandas is in the morning. The zoo is located on a hillside and some areas can be quite steep. There will be a lot of walking involved if you want to see everything that is on offer at the zoo.

8. The Pentagon

This is something that you need to plan in advance, as you will have to make an application to be able to visit the government building. You will need to contact the Pentagon directly if you are a domestic visitor. If you are from overseas then you will need to contact your national embassy. There are more details about booking a tour on the official Pentagon website. You will also need to remember to bring your ID with you.

7. Smithsonian Museums

There are several Smithsonian museums in Washington and so you will be able to see as many or as few as you like. Some of the most popular museums include the Natural History Museum, the American History Museum and the Museum of Air and Space. There are a wide range of museums that are located on the National Mall and so it is possible to visit more than one of them in the same day. All of the museums are free to enter and most of them are open seven days a week.

6. Jefferson Memorial

The possibility of having a presidential memorial on the ground where the Jefferson Memorial now stands was first discussed at the turn of the 20th Century. However, the memorial itself did not begin to be constructed until 1939 and was finished in 1943. This construction took place under the sponsorship of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who decided that the memorial should be dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, the founding father of the United States. The building was fourth in the list of America's Favorite Architecture as compiled by the American Institute of Architects in 2007.

5. Lincoln Memorial

Places In Washington DC believes that one of the must-see aspects of the Lincoln Memorial is the Reflection Pool Work began on the memorial in 1914 and it was finally finished in 1922. A memorial to Abraham Lincoln was first talked about just three years after his death. The memorial was the site of several of Martin Luther King's speeches and as a result it has become seen as a symbol of improving race relations in the country. More than seven million people visit the memorial on an annual basis.

4. Library Of Congress

The Library of Congress is considered to be one of the largest libraries in the world. There are over 162 million items located in the library. It is the research library that serves the US Congress but it is also open to members of the public. You will not be able to check out books or materials but you can still take a walk around the library, including the reading room.

3. The White House

Every president apart from George Washington has lived in the White House, a fact that has been reiterated by Planet Ware. You can't really come to DC and not pay a visit to the White House. If you want to arrange a tour of the White House, then this can be arranged through your Member of Congress.

2. US Capitol

Whenever you think about Washington DC you cannot help but think of the dome of the Capitol Building. It is one of the symbols of the nation and so should be a must-see for anyone who is visiting the city for the first time. The building was once the geographic center of the Federal district, although this is no longer the case today. There are tours available of the public areas of the building and these will need to be booked in advance.

1. National Mall And Washington Monument

This is one of the most popular places to visit and with good reason. The view looking along the length of the Mall with the Washington Monument in the background is one of the most iconic views in the city. You can use the National Mall as a base to explore many of the other attractions on this list.

Don't worry too much if you don't get to do everything that you want to in your first visit. This just means that you have a reason to come back and visit this great city for a second or third time.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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