Washington D.C. is known as the Capital of the Free World, and tourists come from across the country and around the globe to see the White House, Capitol and other symbols of freedom. But there’s far more to Washington than marble edifices. We have a huge network of free museums, expansive outdoor spaces, some of the best restaurants in America and lively late-night clubs. There’s a lot to see and do in our area -- it could take a lifetime to experience everything there is to offer. But if you give us three days, we can help you make the most of them.
The second day is when Washington really begins to show its variety. We’re going to break our suggestions down for three broad kinds of groups: families, those interested in history and politics, and those who’d rather engage in people-watching, shopping and culture. Feel free to pick and choose from our suggestions, though -- there’s no reason thirtysomethings can’t hit the Zoo.
Families: The National Zoo is the must-do. It’s open early, when animals are at their most active, and the kids will have a more memorable visit if they can watch the pandas eating or playing instead of sleeping, as they are prone to do for much of the day. Other kid-pleasers include Kandula, the young elephant; tiger and cheetah cubs; Amazonia, a walk-through rainforest; and the children’s farm, with its cows, donkeys and goats.
After lunch -- we like Open City, a modern diner in Woodley Park, more than what’s on offer at the Zoo -- consider heading back to the Smithsonian, where children can check out exhibits they may have skipped the day before. Another idea is the National Cathedral, located a short bus ride away from Woodley Park. (You can catch the 96 Metrobus outside Open City, along with the private sightseeing buses.) It’s the sixth-largest cathedral in the world, and half-hour tours are offered daily. Kids will love looking at the gargoyles and running around in the Bishop’s Garden.
For dinner near the Cathedral, the popular 2 Amys is a favorite of adults for its Neopolitan-style pizza, but it is also usually packed with neighborhood children.
History Buffs: Washington’s history is intertwined with America’s. As the home of government, there is no shortage of sites to visit.
The resting place of John F. Kennedy, Thurgood Marshall, two Challenger astronauts and several unknown service members, Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most hallowed sites in America. The grounds were formally part of Arlington House, the home of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. That mansion is open to the public.
Besides the Smithsonian, there are a number of history-related museums in town. The International Spy Museum traces the story of spycraft from Moses through the Cold War. The Woodrow Wilson House gives an insider’s look at the 28th president’s post-White House life. Near the Mall, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum tells the story of the persecution of Jews, homosexuals and other groups by the Nazis.
Civil War buffs can take our tour of Washington’s extant Civil War sites. If you have a car, consider a drive out to Manassas Battlefield Park, west of Washington, which was the site of the first major battle of the Civil War in 1861, and an encore the following year.