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Washington DC - Power-House of the USA

Washington DC is full of fantastic and important buildings and monuments dedicated to American history and culture.

Getting around is fairly easy and as a tourist, perhaps the many hop-on, hop-off bus tours would be your best best to get round the many sights such as The White House, the US Capitol, the Lincon Monument and the many Smithsonian museums.

But more than just buildings are on offer here. A strong sense of national pride permeates through everyone and everything that happens here.

Of course Washington DC is the seat of power that drives this huge federal state and as what happens here has such an impact on other global nations and economies.

This is a beautiful city with old buildings, tree-lined streets and great parkland retreats.

Top 10 things to do in Washington DC

White House

Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the White House is of course one of the most famous buildings in the modern age.

As the official residence and workplace of the President of the United States, it was designed by Irish-born James Hoban and built between 1792 and 1800 with Thomas Jefferson expanding the building even further during his term.

Subsequent presidents have continued this tradition with the addition of the West Wing first used by Theodore Roosevelt and the first Oval Office by William Howard Taft.

Today, the White House Complex includes the Executive Residence, West Wing, Cabinet Room, Roosevelt Room, East Wing, and the Old Executive Office Building, which houses the executive offices of the President and Vice President.

Public tours where halted during the September 11, 2001 attacks with foreigners having to book though their embassy office in Washington DC. Approval for a group tour can take up to six months and have to be submitted no less than 30 days in advance.

US Capitol

Sitting atop Capitol Hill, the United States Capitol building is the meeting place for the US Congress.

In spring 1792, Thomas Jefferson proposed a design competition to solicit designs for the Capitol however the design drawings submitted were regarded as crude and amateur.

Inspired by the east front of the Louvre, as well as the Pantheon center portion of the design, a late entry by amateur architect William Thornton was submitted at the beginning of 1793 and won approval.

Built over a period between 1791 and 1826, the building was further expanded in the 1850's to accommodate the growing activities of congress.

The visitor centre was added between 2002 and 2005 as an underground building to facilitate a more orderly entrance for visitors to the Capitol.

Tours round the Capitol building itself are free and have to be arranged in advance through the visitor centre.

Washington Monument

The Washington Monument obelisk sits near the west end of the National Mall and was built to commemorate the first U.S. president, General George Washington.

It's the world's tallest stone structure and tallest standing obelisk at just under 170m in height. As Washington DC's tallest structure it dominates the skyline and is lit up at night.

The foundations were laid in 1848 and construction continued until finally completed in 1888. The building was halted several times due to lack of funds.

Upon completion the overall cost of the monument was considered to be $1,187,710.

Open daily except for July 4th and December 25th, admission to the monument is free but requires a ticket from the office located at The Washington Monument Lodge, along 15th Street. The office opens at 8.30am however, during peak season tickets run out quickly and the line for tickets can start to form around 7am.

Lincon Memorial

Located on the National Mall, the Lincon Memorial building was built to honor the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

The building is in the form of a Greek Doric temple and contains a large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and inscriptions of two well-known speeches by Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address.

Above the colonnade, inscribed on the frieze, are the names of the 36 states and the dates in which they entered the Union and above this on the attic frieze are inscribed the names of the 48 states present at the time of the Memorial's dedication in 1922.

The Reflecting Pool sits at the bottom of the steps to the main entrance of the memorial and at night offers a great photo opportunity with the light reflection of the building dancing on the water.

Open 24x7 to the public who are free to walk around.

Jefferson Memorial

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is dedicated to the "American Founding Father" and 3rd president of the United States.

Construction began in 1939, the building was completed in 1943, and the bronze statue of Jefferson was added in 1947.

The Jefferson Memorial was officially dedicated by President Roosevelt on 13 April 1943, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birthday even although the bronze statue had not been completed, due to the shortages as a result of World War II.

The monument is designed very much in the fashion of the Lincon Memorial, being open to the elements and freely available to the public.

The interior walls are engraved with passages from Jefferson's writings. Most prominent are the words which are inscribed in a frieze below the dome: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

The sentence is taken from a September 23, 1800, letter by Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush wherein he defends the constitutional refusal to recognize a state religion.

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National Air Space Museum

The National Air and Space Museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution and holds the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world.

As well as the collection, it is an active center for research into the history, and science of aviation and spaceflight, as well as planetary science and terrestrial geology and geophysics.

Some pieces in the collection date back to the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia after which the Chinese Imperial Commission donated a group of kites to the Smithsonian.

The original Wright Flyer, used at Kitty Hawk by the Wright brothers in the first (successful) attempt at powered flight is proudly on display here.

The Stringfellow steam engine intended for aircraft was added into the collection in 1889 and the museum has been promised some future items including a former camera used on the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Cometary Explorer satellite, should NASA decide to retrieve it from it's current solar orbit.

Admission is free and the museum is open all year round except July 4th and December 25th.

National Zoo

The Smithsonian National Zoological Park, or commonly known just as the National Zoo is another part of the Smithsonian Institute and is situated at Rock Creek Park.

Founded in 1889 for for “the advancement of science and the instruction and recreation of the people. ", the zoo consists of two distinct installations; the public park which is dedicated in large part to eduction and a separate non-public SCBI building facility devoted to training wildlife professionals in conservation biology and to propagating rare species through natural means and assisted reproduction.

The zoo grew slowly at first, mostly from contributions of animals from the public and circuses and nearly closed several times in its early history.

Today there are several exhibition areas that you can wander through including the Fujifilm Giant Panda Habitat, the AsianTrail, Amazonia, Kid's Farm and the Seals and Sea Lions Exhibit.

The zoo attracts around 2 million visitors per year and is free and open to the public.

National Art Gallery

The National Art Gallery was established in 1937 for the benefit of the American people.

A substantial part of the art collection was donated by Andrew W. Mellon an American banker, industrialist, philanthropist, art collector and Secretary of the Treasury.

The core collection has been added to over the years by donations from other well known American collectors.

The Gallery's collection of paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, medals, and decorative arts traces the development of Western Art from the Middle Ages to the present, including the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas and the largest mobile ever created, by Alexander Calder.

Found at the National Mall, the museum is comprised of two buildings connected by a walkway beneath 4th street, called "the Concourse".

The final element of the National Gallery of Art complex, the Sculpture Garden was completed in 1999 after more than 30 years of planning.

There are permanent and temporary exhibitions on display and the museum's website will give you details on those.

Entry is free and make sure to download the PDF visitor maps from the website before you go to help plan your day.

National Museum of Natural History

This natural history museum's collections total over 500 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, and human cultural artifacts.

First opened to the public in 1910, the museum was built in order to provide the growing Smithsonian Institution with more space for collections and research.

As well as it's collections the museum is also home to about 185 professional natural history scientists — the largest group of scientists dedicated to the study of natural and cultural history in the world.

There are many permanent exhibits here including the Hall of Human Origins, Butterflies + Plants: Partners In Evolution, Osteology: Hall of Bones and Insect Zoo just to name a few. Temporary exhibits are also on show here with the website giving more details on content and times.

This is a highly popular tourist attraction with around 2.2 million visitors every year.

As part of the Smithsonian Institution, admission is free and the museum is open 364 days a year being closed on December 25th.

National Cathedral

Officially named the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the National Cathedral is the sixth largest cathedral in the world.

It's striking neogothic design and size dwarfs it's neighbouring buildings and being the fourth tallest building in Washington DC it lies prominently in the skyline.

The cathedral is the seat of both the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and its bishop of the Diocese of Washington.

Having first being considered in 1792, the project to build a cathedral never got off the ground and in 1891, a meeting was held to renew plans for a national cathedral.

Construction started in 1907 and the still unfinished cathedral opened it's Bethlehem Chapel doors in 1912 for services, which have continued daily ever since. 

Washington National Cathedral has played host to many major events, including state funerals for past presidents and a memorial service for victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, showing the cathedral's proud distinction as being "the national house of prayer for all people."

As an active church, some areas may be in use when you visit, however, 30-minute tours are offered at periods throughout the day. A donation of $5 is requested for entry.

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