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The best Washington DC highlights for history-lovers

Fall in love with the United States’ vibrant history, cultural attractions, and political backdrop on a trip to DC.

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Washington DC draws an average of 24 million visitors each year. In 2021, Travel + Leisure named Washington DC as one of the 50 best places to travel in 2021. If you are curious about what makes this city so magnetic to visitors, it's the rich history. Home to a range of museums, cultural institutions, and of course, the White House, DC is the city to visit if you have always wanted to dive deeper into the foundations underlying the United States

The capital city is fantastic for those who love to walk, and even better for those who love free attractions. Most of the city’s major attractions are completely free to visit, meaning you can spend more of your holiday funds on wining and dining - you know, the important things. If you only have a limited amount of time in DC, and wish to cover all your historical bases, here are the five places to visit:

Capitol Hill

The United States Capitol, which houses the Senate and the House of Representatives, is one of the most recognisable buildings in North America. The Capitol takes prime position in DC, fringed by Constitution Avenue to the north and Independence Avenue to the south. But its 19th-century neoclassical architecture, with the striking dome situated above its rotunda, certainly makes it identifiable from far beyond these streets.

If you have an afternoon to spare, take a guide-led tour and wander through the Capitol. Make sure to stop off at the Crypt, the Rotunda, and Statuary Hall. If you happen to be hungry after all of that exploring and learning, the Capitol Visitor Center also includes a 500-seat restaurant.

The Washington Monument

It is said that the Statue of Liberty is the United States' landmark for the world, but the Washington Monument is the landmark for its own people. Constructed to commemorate the first president of the United States, George Washington, the stone structure is the world’s tallest obelisk, at just over 555 feet.

Its new elevator allows travellers to take a special minute-long journey up to the observation deck and then take in 360-degree views DC below. On your way down, you can check out the interior walls which are covered with stones paying homage to the first president. Be sure you book your ticket well in advance!

The Lincoln Memorial 

Since opening 100 years ago in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial has served as the poignant backdrop for many national events, including Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. But it took years for the memorial to initially be opened, with fundraising difficulties and World War I delaying the process.

Today, it is DC’s most visited landmark, with millions of people visiting to pay homage to Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, who guided the nation through the Civil War and enacted the Emancipation Proclamation to abolish slavery. The memorial is widely regarded as a symbol of unity and strength. Our tip is to visit the memorial at dawn to get the ultimate view of the city with the golden sun coming up over the Reflecting Pool. You won’t regret the early start!

The White House

Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House is the office and residence of the president of the United States. The country’s first president, George Washington, chose the site back in 1791, and the cornerstone was laid in 1792. Every president since John Adams, the second president, has lived in the White House with their family, making the White House as much a home as a national museum.

In order to visit the White House and its 18 acres of land, you will need to schedule a visit through a congressional representative up to 90 days before you intend to go. Tours are free of charge.

Arlington National Cemetery 

While it’s not exactly in DC, just across the Potomac River, you will find the Arlington National Cemetery. This cemetery is a moving memorial to the 400,000 soldiers who passed away in America’s conflicts. While visiting the cemetery, you might like to also pay a visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This neoclassical, marble sarcophagus is perched on a hill that looms over the city. Since the twenties, it has served as the resting place for one of the country’s unnamed World War I military personnel and symbolises the others who were unable to be identified over the years. The cemetery is also the burial ground of former President John F Kennedy as well as his wife, Jacqueline.

Explore the very best of Washington DC on our new tour Historic Virginia, DC and the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can also cover this vibrant capital city on our Washington, New York & Niagara Falls tour.

Serena is a writer based in London. Born in Malaysia and raised in Australia, she calls the UK home despite only recently acclimatising to the dearth of sunshine. Her writing has appeared in The Independent, Business Insider, South China Morning Post, i-D, Refinery29, Glamour, Vox, Metro, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, and Cosmopolitan. She has also published a book of aerial photography: How Women See The World. Throughout her decade-long career, Serena has told the stories of Arctic explorers, human rights activists, award-winning chefs, refugees, and the UK’s last lighthouse keepers.

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