Not a state but a federal district, Washington D.C. is the capital city of the United States. Often called simply “Washington” or “D.C.”, the city is most known for being home of many US government buildings like The White House and Capitol Building, as well as dozens of memorials, museums, and landmarks.
The city is home to less than 1 million people with a population of 689,545 as of 2020. Washington D.C. attracts millions of visitors annually with an estimated 19.1 million people traveling to the city in 2021. This makes D.C. one of the most visited destinations in the nation.
Most tourists are drawn to Washington because of its significance as a world political capital where people can learn more about the history and culture of the US. With iconic destinations, tourists will find that there are plenty of hidden gems in D.C. too. Beyond the most recognized memorials and monuments, the city is a lively destination with great food, entertainment, and shopping.
History of “Chocolate City”
Originally, Washington was called the District of Columbia. The name came from Christopher Columbus, the explorer, and at the time it was the name for the federal territory. Alternatively, the federal city was called Washington after George Washington, the Founding Father and first president. Today, the city is better known as a combination of both names.
Before becoming the US capital, the city was first settled by American Indians at least 4,000 years ago. By the late 1600s, a few colonial landowners owned property in the territory which in turn, attracted more European settlers. The oldest part of what is present day Washington D.C. is Georgetown, which was established in 1751.
In 1783, the debate of where to permanently house Congress grew after Independence Hall in Philadelphia was attacked by a mob of angry soldiers that demanded payment for their service during the Revolutionary War. Philadelphia was the original US capital, but in 1790, D.C. was declared the official and permanent capital of the nation.
For those that wonder why D.C. is not a state, the answer points back to the Founding Fathers and post-Revolutionary War days in America.
In 1787, when the Founding Fathers were writing the Constitution, Congress had a few temporary capitals including New York and Philadelphia. When it was time to decide on a permanent location, they were reluctant to give a single state the power of being the nation’s capital. Instead, it was declared to be a district.
The latest debate is whether Washington D.C. should gain statehood or not. Part of the push for statehood is that D.C. residents want equal representation in Congress as the 50 states. This would include representatives in the US House and Senate. The biggest opposition to the city’s statehood is the Constitution, as it was originally written that the capital of the nation would always be a district.
Neighborhoods in Washington D.C.
There are 131 neighborhoods in Washington D.C. and many have overlapping boundaries. The definition of a neighborhood in the capital city includes business improvement districts, historic districts, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, and civic associations. Altogether, the neighborhoods are subdivided into eight wards, of which, each has their own elected council member.
Each neighborhood has its own culture, architecture, and characteristics. For tourists in D.C. a tour of the wards is a great way to explore each area’s dining, shopping, and leisure options. Highlighted areas include major destinations like Georgetown and the newest urban developments at the Southwest Waterfront.
Founded in 1751, Georgetown is the oldest neighborhood in Washington and its founding even pre-dated the district’s establishment by 40 years. Situated on the Potomac River, the neighborhood is most well known for being a high-end destination. Landmarks in the area include Georgetown University, the Old Stone House, Washington Harbour, Georgetown Waterfront, and the Volta Bureau.
Primary tourist areas are congregated around the intersection of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. Other popular areas include Georgetown Park and K Street. Throughout the neighborhood, visitors will find luxury shops, fine dining establishments, and upscale bars. Visitors can also enjoy the old cobblestone streets and stunning 18th century architecture.
H Street Corridor
Located in Northeast D.C., H Street Corridor was once considered to be an inaccessible region because of its position. The smallest of all the neighborhoods, it’s emerging as a major foodie and hipster destination because of indie restaurants and compact venues. Underrated for decades, eateries are now catching national attention. The mix of gastronomies means that tourists can enjoy culinary delights and infusions from all around the world.
Entertainment is also big in the H Street Corridor where venues host a mix of local and national bands. Special events include art shows and outdoor summer concerts. Some of the best places to enjoy a show are the Atlas Theater, Pie Shop, and Gallery O on H. Tourists looking to stay the night won’t find many hotel options, but there are plenty of private rentals through services like Airbnb.
Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant
With fewer tourists and more locals, the Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods are the perfect spots to escape the crowds. Located just north of the National Mall, visitors can experience the local lifestyle as they wander the picturesque streets. Often described as indie posh, Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant are most famous for their markets, parks, shops, and venues.
Being located not too far from the most touristy areas of D.C., visitors will find a few hotel options in the area. One of the best is The Line Hotel, which sits at the border between the two neighborhoods. However, the majority of the neighborhoods are residential and commercial, so be on the lookout for stunning rental options too.
Southwest Waterfront (The Wharf DC) and Navy Yard
The newest neighborhood that is gaining traction with tourists is the Southwest Waterfront and Navy Yard. Tourists can enjoy spending time outdoors along the river and canals. Yards Park is best known for its bridge, while the Rubell Museum is a newer addition that houses a massive collection of contemporary art. Enjoy The Anthem for music events or Nationals Park for a day of sports.
There are also dozens of new restaurants and bars popping up in The Wharf neighborhood. With dynamic menus, these restaurants dazzle taste buds with their expert dishes and bold flavors. At the end of the day, tourists may want to hang out and explore the local nightlife. Rooftop bars are very popular and many have excellent views of the river and Southwest D.C.
The White House
Synonymous with Washington D.C., The White House is iconicly located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The building has been home of every US president since 1800. It was designed by James Hoban and features a neoclassical style.
The structure is made of Aquia Creek sandstone, which is then painted white. Interior organization includes the West and East Wing, as well as the Oval Office. Within the complex, there is also the Executive Residents, Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and Blair House.
Members of the public can visit The White House, but they must make a reservation with a tour. Reservations can only be made by requesting a tour through your Member of Congress or a Congressional Tour Coordinator.
Tour requests must be made within a 21-90 day timeframe prior to your arrival at the White House. Visitors who do not wish to enter the building, can walk around the front and back of the White House, keeping in mind to stay in the designated visitor areas.
Tourists may also be interested in seeing the Capitol Building, which sits a short distance away from the White House. Similarly, tours must be scheduled prior to your arrival. An official form to request a tour can be submitted in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in person or online.
Typically, sites included on the tour are the Crypt, National Statuary Hall, and the Rotunda. Visitors are not permitted to view the Senate or House Galleries.
The National Mall
Spanning for more than 2 miles, the National Mall is technically also a national park. Managed by the government, the mall has been nicknamed “America’s front yard”. Visitors will find that there is plenty to do at the National Mall from the museums, memorials, parks, paths, and more. Alongside the White House, the National Mall is the most popular destination for tourists in town.
Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool
At one end of the mall is the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool, which honors the 16th president of the US who was assassinated in April 1865. Carved from marble, the figure of Lincoln sits within the memorial and on the wall there are accompanying murals and inscriptions.
Right in front of the memorial, to the east, is the Reflecting Pool. Stretching for 2,030 feet and 167 feet wide, this is the largest reflecting pool in D.C. At the other end of the pool stands the Washington Monument. Both the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool are iconic landmarks and must-see destinations in the DMV.
Constructed using marble, bluestone gneiss and granite, the Washington Monument is an obelisk-shaped building that sits on the National Mall. Honoring George Washington, the memorial is hard to miss as it towers over Washington D.C.
Although you can no longer go inside the structure, visitors can still enjoy the exterior and base. The monument is typically open every day, though there have been times when it has been closed due to damage, conflict, or the pandemic.
Consisting of 56 pillars that represent the US and its territories, the memorial originally opened in 2004. Visitors can walk around the plaza and view the unique pillars and their engravings.
Within the plaza, there is also the Freedom Wall and Reflecting Pool on the west side, which honors those that died in war. Tourists who are making their way through the National Mall, won’t want to miss seeing the WWII Memorial.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Along the track around the National Mall, one of the more simple yet visually mesmerizing memorials is for Vietnam Veterans. Featuring names etched into black granite, the walls feature the names of every service member who died or has remained missing after their service in Vietnam during the war.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is located in the Constitution Gardens and it is directly northeast of the Lincoln Memorial.
Sometimes called “The Castle”, the Smithsonian Institution Building was originally designed to house lecture halls, a library, and museum. Featuring a bold red exterior, the building dates all the way back to 1855. Now, various artifacts are housed within the building that showcase its amazing history.
Visitors should note that the Castle is currently closed to the public as it undergoes major renovations. Access inside won’t be given until restorations are complete with the timeline expected to last 5 years. Tourists will still be able to enjoy the exterior of the Castle and its gardens or they can take a virtual tour online.
Although the Castle is the main and oldest building for the Smithsonian Institution, most of the museums along the mall are a part of the institution. This includes the Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, and the National Zoo. Altogether, the Smithsonian operates 17 museums and galleries.
The Nation’s Capital
Washington D.C. is a dynamic destination where visitors can go to educate themselves about the government, history, culture, and art of the nation. With a nearly endless list of things to do and see, a trip here will always be eventful, whether it’s your first time or your 100th. For all things museums, memorials, monuments, shops and restaurants, the capital of the nation will keep you busy from morning to night.