Washington, D.C. Sightseeing

The National Mall

from Wikivoyage by Peter Fitzgerald /by-sa/3.0

Most of the attractions in D.C. are located on the National Mall, the West End, and Capitol Hill. While there are many maps on display throughout the city, you should print out and carry with you the official National Mall map , which also includes most of the West End and Capitol Hill. For a map that encompasses a larger portion of the city, print out the DC Circulator Route Map (pdf).
The National Mall is a unique National Park, filled with an intense concentration of monuments, memorials, museums, and monumental government buildings instantly recognizable to people all over the world. The Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the National Gallery of Art, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Holocaust Museum, are just a few of the top attractions on the National Mall. To walk down the National Mall is to thread the halls of world power in the modern era. Here the world's most powerful politicians and their staffs fill the grand neo-classical buildings of the three branches of US Government, making decisions that reverberate in the remotest corners of the world. The National Mall is larger than it looks, and a walk from one end of the National Mall to the other will take a while and may wear you down a bit. Plan ahead what you want to see and concentrate your activities in one section of the National Mall each day.

The East End, just north of the National Mall, includes many more museums and attractions, including the Newseum, the International Spy Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the American Art Museum, and the home of an original copy of the Constitution at the National Archives.
The White House, as well as Textile Museum and the Kennedy Center, are located in the West End. The the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court are on Capitol Hill. Another attraction here that shouldn't be missed is the Library of Congress, which has some of the most beautiful architecture that can be seen in the city.
The free National Zoo in Upper Northwest is one of the nation's most prestigious zoos, and the National Cathedral is an awe-inspiring mammoth. Dupont Circle is home to much of Embassy Row, an impressive stretch of some 50 foreign-owned historic and modernist mansions along Massachusetts Ave, as well as several brilliant small museums, such as the Phillips Collection and the Woodrow Wilson House.
The historic neighborhood of Georgetown is another great sightseeing destination, full of beautiful old colonial buildings, the 200+ year-old Jesuit campus of Georgetown University, a pleasant waterfront, and the infamous Exorcist steps.
By car (i.e., taxi) or bus, you can get to some of the capital's more far-flung and less-frequented attractions, like the National Arboretum in the Northeast, or the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in eastern Anacostia. By taking the Metro red line to Brookland-CUA, you can easily visit the magnificent Catholic Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This is the largest Catholic church in North America.

Views and panoramas

White House

from flickr by H. Michael Miley by-sa/2.0

D.C.'s famous building height restrictions—no taller than the width of the street the building is on plus 20 feet—have resulted in a skyscraper-less downtown, giving D.C. a distinctly muted feel for what is actually the heart of a huge metropolis. The obvious downside to this law is that it limits the supply of housing and office space and tax revenues and causes rents to soar. Since many buildings downtown are of the same height level, many rooftop terraces offer great views.
There are several classic spots to get a look out over the city:

  • Kennedy Center Rooftop Terrace in the West End, provides a nice skyline somewhat removed from the city, with the Lincoln Memorial prominent in the foreground.

  • Washington Monument (free), on the National Mall, though as a vista point its small, bunker-like ports covered with scratched plastic make it less inspiring than might be expected.

  • Newseum ($20), in the East End), is a good place to see a remarkable museum and get a close up view of downtown.

  • W Hotel, in the West End, just a block from the White House, has a rooftop terrace, bar, and lounge called POV (Point of View). While the bar and lounge are expensive, a single cocktail gets a table for several people long enough to take in the view, and suave cheapskates can simply wander around long enough to get a load of the White House from above (close enough to make out the Secret Service overwatch) before heading back to the elevator.

  • Trump Hotel Washington DC @ The Old Post Office Pavillion is closed for renovations until 2016.
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