Wonderful Washington, D.C.

By, Jessica Knutzon

The United States is rich in cultural and geographic diversity. For several students here at Thunderbird, it is an opportunity to get to know a new country and there is enough to keep everyone’s weekends jam-packed during the short tenure as a student. A great place to start is the United States capital – Washington, D.C.

Before visiting the nation’s capital, it is important to understand some of its history because it is unique from other United States cities. It resembles Paris in architecture, there are no high-rise buildings and it is filled with carefully preserved historical buildings. In 1791 President Washington appointed Pierre L’Enfant, a French engineer and artist, to find and map out a location for the federal district near the Potomac River. L’Enfant went beyond his task and designed the layout and buildings for the “City of Washington,” which eventually became the District of Columbia.

L’Enfant designed a baroque city with a grid system designed to create circles throughout the city to honor famous Americans. In L’Enfant’s design was a grand avenue, which is now the location of the National Mall. The National Mall is in the center of the city and boasts beautiful monuments, top-notch museums, areas of open green grass and breathtaking architecture housing the nation’s power. The city is lined with greenery, wide sidewalks and an extensive list of activities to keep you busy for days. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, also known as “the Metro,” is great for taking you in and out of the city, but sometimes the busses or a taxi are more efficient for going to different places within the city. If the weather is pleasant, which is not always the case in D.C., purchasing a day or two Capital Bikeshare pass can be a lovely way to go from site to site. As is the case in most big cities there are several hop-on hop-off bus tours, which can be a great way to see everything in a short amount of time with built-in transportation.

If you are planning a trip to D.C., try to spend more than just a weekend. In four days, you can efficiently pack each day with things to do throughout and around the city. Plan your trip before you go because there is an overwhelming amount of sites to visit. Pack comfortable shoes and download a few mobile apps to help guide your way through the city. The top mobile apps for a trip to D.C. are:

  • The National Park Service
  • Smithsonian Mobile
  • D.C. Rider (for Metro timetables and maps)
  • Yelp (to find good places to eat)
  • Trip Advisor

The National Mall is “open” 24 hours a day and the Smithsonian museums are open for seven hours each day – and it is all free. The sites go far beyond what the National Mall has to offer, but if you only have one day to spend there, start your day off early enough to go to the Lincoln Memorial and watch the sun rise over the Capitol. From there you can fill your day walking around the National Mall to see the variety of memorials and museums. The museums do not generally open until 10:00 a.m. so after the watching the sun rise walk over to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, then head over to the Smithsonian Institution Building (a.k.a. The Castle) as it opens at 8:30 a.m. From there, cut across the National Mall past the Washington Monument and make your way to The White House. Tours are difficult to come by and involve a lot of planning, so be prepared to only see the outside of the building. As you make your way back to the National Mall the museums are beginning to open. Spend the rest of the day strolling to the museums and memorials on the National Mall – then end your walking tour at the Capitol. You can book a tour online before, but make sure to be outside to watch the sun set behind the Lincoln Memorial. End your day with a dinner in Penn Quarter and enjoy the nightlife the city has to offer. The following are the sites to see on the National Mall, but check out the National Park Service website for a complete list:

  • Smithsonian Museums (there are too many to list, but they can be easily found online)
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Washington Monument
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  • World War II Memorial
  • Frank Delano Roosevelt Memorial
  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial
  • African American Civil War Memorial
  • Korean War Veterans Memorial
  • The White House
  • The Capitol
  • Old Post Office Tower

Not too far from the National Mall are a few key spots that are highly recommended (please note some of these require tickets):

  • Library of Congress
  • Union Station
  • Ford Theatre and the House Where Lincoln Died
  • Holocaust Museum
  • Newseum
  • President Lincoln’s Cottage

If you have a car and some time to get away from the city, the following sites are near D.C.:

  • Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
  • Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
  • George Washington’s Mount Vernon
  • National Arboretum
  • Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum – Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Bon voyage!

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