Friday, May 10, 2013


We recently visited Washington DC. There was a lot of walking involved, both to and from the museums and attractions and also through the museums and attractions, which lead to sore feet. We also "rented" bikes from Capital Bikeshare and biked to the monuments, both during the and and at night to see them all lit up. Below are some of the highlights.

Smithsonian Museums :
All of the Smithsonian museums are free, most are open from 10am-5:30 pm, and several are located on the east side of the National Mall.

Smithsonian Institution Building (aka the Castle) : This is a good place to start because the Smithsonian Information Center is located here and you can find a map and schedule of events. If you are interested in architecture, you should check out the exhibition space.

Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum : Planes! Rockets! Great for kids!

Smithsonian American History Museum : They have the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner.” Because of it’s delicate condition, it’s not hanging but laying on a platform in a darkened room. There’s a computer display of a scan of the flag with interactive points of interest such as “this is where the 15th star should be but someone cut it out and kept it as a souvenir.”

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian : One of the newest museums housed in a very interested building. The introductory film is projected onto some hanging blankets, on the rock below them, and on the domed ceiling.

Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden : Modern and contemporary art exhibits. Shown is "Futurist Flowers" by Giacomo Balla.

National Gallery of Art : Technically the National Gallery of Art is not a Smithsonian museum but it is free and located on the National Mall with the other Smithsonian Museums. It is composed of two buildings: the west building houses the paintings and sculpture, many by the old masters; the east building has contemporary and modern art. The photo shows the mobiles viewed from above and the interesting shadows they made on the walls.

The two buildings are connected by an underground concourse with a moving walkway which features thousands of “moving” lights created by artist Leo Villareal. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

The National Gallery also has a Sculpture Garden located on the west side of the west building with outdoor sculptures and a large, peaceful fountain.

National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum : These two museum are located in the same building north of the National Mall and is open from 11:30 am-7 pm. Shown is "Evening Tones" by Oscar Blumner.

Some of the museums we didn’t have time to go to : 

Smithsonian Sackler Gallery : Connected to the Freer Gallery, more Asian art.
Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building - Was closed for renovations when we were there. 

Monuments and Memorials :

The monuments and memorials are located on the west side of the National Mall and Tidal Basin Area, most open 8 am-11:45 pm, and it's approximately 4 miles to walk to all of them.

Near the White House :

We were unable to tour the White House so we did the next best thing, we went to the White House Visitor's Center (technically we went to the temporary visitor's center because the regular one was under construction). There we watched a 20-minute film that showed the history of the White House and several of the rooms in it. There was also a miniature replica of the building.

With all the large buildings and trees it's not easy to find the White House, and with all the security it's not easy to get a good view of it.

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Old Post Office Tower Tour : Offers wonderful views of the city. We were there when they opened at 9 am and there wasn't a line.

Smithsonian Renwick Gallery : The building was the original site of the Corcoran Gallery and is furnished with American crafts and contemporary arts, including ART QUILTS!

Corcoran Gallery of Art : this is the only museum that we paid to go into. This gallery is also an art school so when we were there the special exhibit was art by their graduating class.

Near the Capitol Building :

US Capitol : Tours of the Capitol Building are free but you need to get passes ahead of time. You also need to get to the underground visitor's center, which is on the east side of the building but several yards away from the building (a few signs would be helpful).

You will get to see the Rotunda (above) and the national statuary hall. Arrive early so you have time to get through security and don't bring any food or drink, even unopened packaged food. If congress is in session you can get gallery passes from your representative.

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US Botanical Garden : There is a lovely garden area and a conservatory here.

A short trip outside of DC :

Arlington National Cemetery : in Arlington, VA, free admission, cost for shuttle tour. To get to Arlington National Cemetery you can take the Metro to the Arlington National Cemetery Station, take the express bus from the National Mall, or walk in across the Memorial Bridge (on the left side of the photo) which is what we did.

Walk the grounds on your own or take the interpretative shuttles that run from the visitor center to the cemetery's highest point, Arlington House, which is the home of Robert E. Lee. There's a lot of interesting Civil War history here.

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Mt. Vernon : George Washington's home Mt. Vernon can be a little difficult to find. The website even mentions that older GPS models have trouble finding it so some signs would be helpful.  And even though it's just 15 miles south of Washington DC, the traffic made the trip take much longer than expected.

Visitors can tour the Mansion, view more than a dozen original structures, including a working blacksmith shop and Pioneer Farm, a reconstructed slave cabin and a 16-sided treading barn.

Three miles down the road visitors can tour George Washington’s functioning distillery and gristmill which have been reconstructed and are open seasonally.

To read about lodging and dining in Washington DC click here.

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