DC Explorer Series…

The Annunciation by Jan Van Eyck at Washington’s National Gallery

Over the holidays, I was blessed to spend several days in Washington DC exploring the wonders of DC’s many museums. Over the next few weeks I’ll be diving into our adventures and featuring the Best of DC tips to help you plan your Capital Adventure. DC is a must-see destination – it is a mix of living history, culture and a vibrant city that blends the unique interwoven cultures of America as a coat of many colors all part of the fabric of this great nation.

America’s Capital City is home to seventy-four museums – including the world-renowned Smithsonian Insitute.

The Smithsonian alone includes nineteen unique museums giving varied interwoven stories of art, science, history and more.

Needless to say it could take a year or more of museum exploring to experience all that DC can offer, so in planning a trip to the Capital – it is important to keep a few things in mind:

  1. Plan ahead – be prepared with an itinerary, but also flexible to make adjustments as necessary. The msueums will take longer than you think to explore. The good news is most of the museums are on the National Mall corridor (or surrounding area), with a few exceptions so you can cover more ground that way.
    • Book you tickets in advance! I was frustrated that when I went to organize tickets for The Smithsonian prior to our trip it was very confusing to find information about getting the free timed tickets. In the past I’d never had issues simply walking in, but things have changed. If you don’t see the link for timed entry on the website – take time to call ahead to verify the entry process. We were unable to get into several museums due to lack of ‘tickets’
  2. Give yourself grace-I mention this because every time I visit DC I want to cram everything it. I want to see the historical sites, museums, the concert halls…but when you simply race from one experience to another you aren’t truly able to enjoy and take in the beauty and history of each place.
    • If it is your first time visiting DC – I recommend you focus on:
      • Monuments – The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and other memorials (Vietnam, MLK, WWII, Jefferson, etc…) are must sees and really breathe spirit and life into the quest for a better America in spite of conflict
      • Make time to stop at the National Archives – you will want to make an e-reservation. Admission is free with timed ticketing as of 2022/23. This is the home of The Declaration of Indepence, Bill of Rights and so much more.
      • Check out The Capitol Building – Even if you don’t have time to tour the interior – even taking in a moment at the steps of the nation’s dream of democracy in action is moving. No matter what your political leanings – this is where our nation struggles and works for a better future for all-Americans.
      • Choose a Smithsonian museum or two to focus your time on…The Smithsonian has 19 museums and each are filled with historical, cultural and scientific treasures that take time to dive into. I recommend The Natural Museum of History and Air and Space Museum for first time visits. I personally love the Museum of the American Indian and National Portrait/SAAM Galleries…
  3. Choose a theme for your trip: Are you focused on history? Culture? Art? Science? By focusing your trip around a ‘theme’ you can give yourself full attention to taking time to focus on slowing down and really learning and enjoying the moment.
    • Ex: My mother and I wanted to dedicate this DC trip to art museums. While we explored a few other DC historical sites as well – our focus was dedicating each day to really taking in the art at several of DC’s amazing art museums.
    • Ex: Have a variety theme: National Zoo, Air and Space, Natural History, The White House and Monuments are a good mixer if you have around 4-5 days in DC
  4. If this is going to be your one ‘big trip’ to DC because you live on the West Coast or overseas – then dedicate a week in the city so you can cover more ground. The good news is most of DC is highly walkable/accessible via the Metro and many of the museums are within a mile of the National Mall.
    • The longer you are in DC the more you can get off the grid and explore outlying areas like: Georgetown, historic Alexandria, Mount Vernon (home of President George Washington), Arlington, Falls of the Potomac, etc…
    • If you are within a few hours or day’s driving distance it might make sense to look at a staggered trip to DC. We are in Raleigh, so aim to visit one every eight months for the next two years (depending on budget) so we can cover more ground without taking a ton of time off in one trip.

I’ll take time to dig into various ‘themes’ and Top 10 lists for DC in the coming weeks, but wanted to start by sharing my favorite haunts in DC. While I’ve been blessed to have visited the city numerous times there is always more to explore and you’ll find DC is a place you want to return to…it offers so much for all ages!

Adele’s DC haunts:

  • Smithsonian: The Smithsonian is a place of wonder and magnitude that you cannot truly grasp until you reach The National Mall and are able to see countless museum buildings that make up this national treasure. I’ll dedicate a blog specifically to the Smithsonian, but a few quick facts:
    • 19 unique museums (several also in NYC) that span natural history to world and American history, art, culture and more.
    • A leading institution for research, science, history and culture
    • Founded on August 10, 1846 – The Smithsonian is 175 years old. It has endured The Civil War, World Wars and been actively partaking as America’s history has unfolded. Their is a mysterious background to the founding of the Smithsonian – which traces its origins to a donation by a wealthy Englishman who never stepped foot on American soil…click here to learn more.
    • I love ALL the museums at The Smithsonian, but my return favorites are The Smithsonian American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery; The Natural History Museum and Air and Space Museum.
  • National Mall and Monuments – I never tire of going up the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument and witnessing the AMAZING view of DC. *Fun fact, I’m a distant relative of the Washington Monument designer, Robert Mills (through his mother’s side of the family)
  • National Archives: Seeing The Declaration of Independence in person is revolutionary as well as other important documents like The Bill of Rights and The Magna Carta
  • The National Gallery of Art – federally funded art collection that houses one of the largest collections of art in the world – and it’s FREE! Home to the only Da Vinci in the Americas and my favorite – Van Eyck (photo at beginning of post)
  • The Phillips Collection – We first discovered the wonders of this collection in November when I attended an exhibiton at the NCMA in Raleigh featuring pieces from the Philips Collection…but there was even more to see at the museum in DC – including the famed Renoir ‘Boating Party’ painting. *Tip located near DuPont Circle – we took an Uber to reach the gallery, but Metro is not far. Worth the distance to view America’s first museum of modern art!
  • National Zoo – part of The Smithsonian- The National Zoo shows a wilder side of DC with thousands of animals including Pandas! The Zoo grounds were originally plotted out by The Olmsteads who also designed Biltmore’s gardens (Asheville) and Central Park in NYC
  • Georgetown
  • Alexandria – Founded in 1749 – this historic town offers a vibrant restaurant and cultural scene – a must stop for history lovers and foodies alike
  • Arlington Cemetery – honor those who have given their lives to our nation’s pursuit of freedom

Next up we’ll tour the AMAZING collection at The National Gallery…

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