The USA’s capital teems with iconic monuments, vast museums and the corridors of power where politicos roam.
Museums & Monuments
There’s nothing quite like the Smithsonian Institution, a collection of 19 behemoth, artifact-stuffed museums, many lined up in a row along the Mall. The National Air & Space Museum, National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of African American History & Culture, Reynolds Center for American Art & Portraiture – all here, all free, always.
Alongside the museums, Washington’s monuments bear tribute to both the beauty and the horror of years past. They’re potent symbols of the American narrative, from the awe-inspiring Lincoln Memorial to the powerful Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the stirring Martin Luther King Jr Memorial.
Arts & Culture
Washington is the showcase of American arts, home to such prestigious venues as the National Theatre, the Kennedy Center and the Folger Theatre. Jazz music has a storied history here. In the early 20th century, locals such as Duke Ellington climbed on stages along U St NW, where atmospheric clubs still operate. Go-go (an infectiously rhythmic dance music) and punk also have deep roots in DC.
The city hosts several adventurous small theaters, like Arena Stage and Studio Theatre, that put on works by nontraditional writers. Busboys & Poets' open-mike nights provide another outlet for progressive new voices.
The president, Congress and the Supreme Court are here, the three pillars of US government. In their orbit float the Pentagon, the State Department, the World Bank and embassies from most corners of the globe. If you hadn’t got the idea, power is why Washington emits such a palpable buzz.
As a visitor, there’s a thrill in seeing the action up close – to walk inside the White House, to sit in the Capitol chamber while senators argue about climate change, and to drink in a bar alongside congresspeople likely determining your newest tax hike over their single malt scotch.
A lot of history is concentrated within DC’s relatively small confines. In a single day, you could gawk at the Declaration of Independence, the real, live parchment with John Hancock’s signature scrawled across it at the National Archives; stand where Martin Luther King Jr gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on the Lincoln Memorial’s steps; prowl around the Watergate building that got Nixon into trouble; see the flag that inspired the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ at the National Museum of American History; and be an arm’s length from where Lincoln was assassinated in Ford’s Theatre.