Discover Washington, DC

From the National Mall and Smithsonian Institution museums to the eclectic flavours of its neighbourhoods, Washington, DC, is the ultimate place to discover the stories that define the USA.

As the seat of government in the USA, Washington, DC, is filled with monuments, iconic buildings and museums, most free to visit. As you navigate the city you can play a game of 'Which TV show or movie did this place appear on?'.

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and Forrest Gump; Watergate Hotel and All the President's Men; Georgetown University and The Exorcist; Union Station and Hannibal; the US Capitol Building and House of Cards. The list goes on and on.

While in DC you'll also find some extraordinary places that you probably haven't heard of, like the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the US National Arboretum, which has around 200 bonsai trees. Or Mount Vernon, where you'll find George Washington's home set alongside the Potomac.

It's not all boring politics either. When you're passing by the National Cathedral, check out the northwest tower for the finely sculpted head of… Darth Vader!

Do the big things in DC

Unless you have a friend at the White House, there's little chance you'll get a tour around the president's home. However it's fun to take a few selfies in front of the great house before venturing forth to discover other amazing buildings and monuments in DC.

The U.S. Capitol Building and the Lincoln Memorial are two important targets for DC sightseeing. They're at opposite ends of the National Mall, so it's fun to hire an electric scooter to get from one to the other. You can also book a guided bike or Segway tour to make sure you don't miss a thing.

At the Capitol Building you can take a tour or check out the visitor centre. There are miles of secret tunnels underneath the Capitol, one you can use to also visit the beautifully decorated Library of Congress. There is also a crypt that was built for George Washington. To add to the spookiness, a ghost cat left its paw prints just outside the Supreme Court chamber.

As you head up the National Mall towards the Lincoln Memorial, make sure to check out the Washington Monument (which was undergoing restoration as of July 2019), the National World War II Memorial, and the gardens along the way. When you reach Lincoln, see if you can find where the typo was in the memorial. On the north wall, the word 'FUTURE' was originally 'EUTURE'.

Washington, DC is also home to the Smithsonian Institution museums. The original being the Smithsonian Castle, the building in the middle of the mall that looks like it's straight out of Harry Potter. The Museum of Natural History is also amazing, featuring its new Fossil Hall, as is the National Air and Space Museum. In fact, there are 17 Smithsonian museums, plus the National Zoo, all free to enter. Make sure you reserve tickets for the National Museum of African American History and Culture ahead of time, as it can be booked out well in advance.

To commune with nature while you're in DC, visit the National Arboretum. The highlight of this fabulous living tree museum is the Corinthian columns, which were once part of the Capitol Building. Within the arboretum you'll also find the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, a collection of tiny trees rooted in the traditions of Japanese and Chinese culture.

Catch some high performance entertainment

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has a constant stream of shows and things to see. There are musical events, musicals and shows, improv and comedy acts. The Kennedy Center is also home to the National Symphony Orchestra, Washington National Opera and Suzanne Farrell Ballet Company.

For other live performances, check out the National Theatre for a range of touring musicals and plays, and Arena Stage for up-and-coming American plays and artists. Also make time to go to Warner Theatre, even if it is only to see the 1924-built grand architecture.

Seasonal sights you'll want to see

One of the more famous sights in DC is the spring explosion of cherry blossoms. From the end of March through to mid-April, the National Cherry Blossom Festival encompasses four weeks of celebration. Peak bloom can vary from year to year, so keep tabs on the webcam to see the progress.

If you're in DC during winter, you'll discover a special kind of seasonal magic. Visit the National Christmas Tree, which is beautifully decorated. Go ice skating at the National Mall or on the rooftop of The Watergate Hotel. Shop at the holiday markets in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. Wander through Georgetown to see the illuminated art works. And, finally, drink mugs of steaming hot chocolate by the fireside at many restaurants and bars.

Summer is the perfect time to visit DC, with plenty of free activities and events. Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labour Day bring a festival feel to town. Loads of outdoor movie screenings, a Jazz Festival and a plethora of outdoor rooftop bars keep things lively day and night.

Get to know the neighbourhoods of DC

DC's action isn't just in the CBD. There are neighbourhoods of leafy streets lined with traditional row homes, residential breweries, parks with playgrounds and lots of beautiful places for picnics.

Dupont Circle is the historic LGBT-friendly area of DC. It has a fabulous fountain, its very own Spanish Steps, a modern art collection at The Phillips Collection, an array of historic-homes-turned-embassies on Embassy Row and the very splendid National Geographic Museum. There are also plenty of character-filled bars for a night of carousing. If you're into laughter, DC Improv has a rib-tickling range of comedians.

Georgetown is famous for its history. You can walk the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, run up the 75 'Exorcist' steps and visit the booth at Martin's Tavern where JFK proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953. You'll also love the cobblestone streets lined with boutique and name-brand shopping options.

One of the newest places to enjoy DC's lifestyle is The Wharf, a riverside precinct with fabulous water views, year-round entertainment and a massive choice of excellent eating places. U Street is another happening neighbourhood with an unsurpassed music and nightlife scene, as well as a farmers' market and the longest cascading fountain in North America.

Essential information

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Best time visit fly to Washington, DC

So much that's great about Washington, DC is not weather dependent, so you can visit at any time of the year and have a brilliant time. In winter, you'll need to pack your woollies - temperatures overnight often go below zero. In summer, maximum temperatures can reach into the 30s. Many people choose to visit DC in spring or autumn, when the climate is sitting on the fence between cold and hot.

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How much will it cost?

Not including air travel and hotels, you should allow about USD $150 to $200 a day per person for food and entertainment.

Visitors at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC courtesy of; The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC courtesy of