The White House

How to See Washington DC, Up Close and Personal

Our visit to Washington DC was going to be just a short side trip to our vacation in New York City. But there is so much to see and do that we stayed longer than originally planned. There are numerous world-class museums, monuments, and tours of Capitol Hill, and much of it is free! There are also great restaurants, theatre and arts. Here are a few ideas to make your Washington visit up close and personal.

Yes, that’s really President Obama waving at me!

I’m mostly a moderate (and anyway I’m Canadian), and not politically for or against Obama. But hey, he’s the President of the United States. I was waving as his motorcade drove by, and was so excited when he waved back. Who knows if you will see him when you visit, but we did see motorcades from the White House leave a couple of times.

President Obama leaving the White House.

President Obama leaving the White House.

The other side of the White House

The other side of the White House

We stayed at the Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square, which is only about a block away from the White House. So we saw it several times from all angles.

The White House is grand-looking, but it lacks the over-the-top opulence and scale seen in the residences of many world leaders…and I like that about it. I can imagine it being a home for a family, like the Obamas.

It would have been great to see the inside, but at this time it doesn’t seem to be possible for international visitors. If you are American, you can contact your Member of Congress to request a visit.

Michelle Obama’s garden at the White House

Michelle Obama’s garden at the White House

The Library of Congress – Thomas Jefferson Building

The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress

An American in Paris, hand-written score by George Gershwin.

An American in Paris, hand-written score by George Gershwin.

The Library of Congress’s Thomas Jefferson Building was completed in 1897. The design was based on the Paris Opera House, and is a feast of marble, granite, bronze, gold, and mahogany. It is of the Beaux Arts style, which is theatrical and ornamented, and the most beautiful of the official Washington government buildings.

Congress purchased Thomas Jefferson’s 6,487 volume library in 1814, and since then the congressional library has grown into the largest in the world. There are several interesting exhibits at the Library, including The Gershwin Room and the Bob Hope Gallery. But the highlight is the building itself.

Tour the United States Capitol Building

If you enjoy architecture, history or art, a tour of the Capitol Building is a must. These tours are free but you need a pass. It is highly recommended to reserve your tour in advance, either online  (local or international visitors) or by contacting your Representative or Senator.

The Capital Dome

In the rotunda of the Capitol Building, looking up at the dome. The fresco at the top is by Italian Constantino Brumidi.

The Baptism of Pocohontas, by John Gadsby Chapman.

The Baptism of Pocohontas, by John Gadsby Chapman.

Sit in on Congress…for a little while

Congress was in session during our visit, so we were able to watch from the upper gallery. Unless there is something really exciting happening, you probably don’t need to stay for long, but it is interesting to go beyond the tourist area and see the government in action.

This isn’t part of the Capitol tour. For non-residents, inquire about gallery passes at the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Center when you arrive.  Americans may also obtain gallery passes from the offices of their Senators or Representative.

The Capital Building

The Capital Building

See a Play at Ford’s Theatre

Ford’s Theatre

Ford’s Theatre

It is nearly 150 years since the tragic day when United States President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, while attending the play “Our American Cousin”. Ford’s Theatre has been restored and renovated, and today it is both a working theatre, and a museum about the Civil War and Lincoln’s presidency. We enjoyed a production there, and seeing the balcony where Lincoln sat watching the play, made it a thought-provoking visit. Click here for more information about Ford’s Theatre and tickets.

That Restaurant where the Obama’s went for Date Night

When the Obama’s went for dinner on one of their date nights, they went to Tosca. They made the reservations under another name, so imagine the surprise of the staff with their unexpected guests!

Since Barrack and Michelle enjoyed Tosca, Darrell and Shelley decided to try it too. It was great! Delicious food, nice atmosphere, and friendly service.

If you go

This is just the beginning of what Washington has to offer. Our visit to DC exceeded our expectations and we left wanting more.

The Lincoln Memorial is a must-see. Also, don’t miss a visit to historic Georgetown, with its quaint cobblestone streets and trendy shops and restaurants.

You will want to visit at least one of the Smithsonian Museums, and probably more. We visited the American History Museum, Air and Space Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. There is also the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Gallery. We could do a whole other trip just to visit more of the museums.

If you have visited Washington DC, which was your favorite museum?

 

24 replies
  1. santafetraveler
    santafetraveler says:

    When we lived on the east coast we went to DC a lot- it’s a great train ride from NYC. The part with all the government buildings and monuments is really beautiful and love the museums and great international food they have in some of the neighborhoods. Also a great jumping off spot to explore northern VA.
    T
    santafetraveler recently posted…Clouds in Grand CanyonMy Profile

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  2. Catherine Sweeney
    Catherine Sweeney says:

    Washington DC is a fantastic city and you’ve hit on some great things to do. I still haven’t visited the Library of Congress and I certainly haven’t had President Obama wave at me, so I better go back. Great idea to see a play at Ford’s Theater — I went inside, but not for a performance. If you’ve got time, there are great side trips outside of DC, too such as Alexandria and Mount Vernon.
    Catherine Sweeney recently posted…A Day in Aix-en-Provence: Top Things to DoMy Profile

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    • Shelley
      Shelley says:

      Thanks Charles! You must live fairly close if you see his helicopter flying over. I missed the American Indian museum, so there’s another reason to return to DC.

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  3. carol
    carol says:

    Were there cherry blossoms? Never caught them in any of my 3 previous trips to DC. The Basilica and Cathedral were also awesome! But I loved the Natural History Smithsonian. Made it a point to let my husband see the Hope Diamond so he can note that my own collection needed upgrading!

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  4. Suzanne Fluhr
    Suzanne Fluhr says:

    Did you stop in my hometown, Philadelphia, on your way from New York to Washington, D.C.? After all, Philly was the first capital of the United States. Anyway, enough displaying of my Philadelphia inferiority complex. Washington, D.C. is a wonderful city to visit. My favorite museum is actually not one of the Smithsonian Museums. It’s the Newseum. It’s a museum about “contemporary” journalism. Much of what it covered was “current events” during my lifetime. I was glad I visited there by myself because as a history geek, I really took my time going through it. My recollection is that there was a fairly hefty admission fee, but I really enjoyed it.
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    • Shelley
      Shelley says:

      I did go by Philadelphia with my nose pressed against the glass! Next time I would stop there for sure 🙂 I am jealous of Philadelphians this week with the flower show! The Newseum sounds great. I really would like to go back just to spend more time in the museums.

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