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Springtime always brings houseguests to our home and many of our visitors are first-timers to Washington DC. Although each person has their own particular interests/dislikes, and depending on their length of stay, there are sights I suggest everyone should see during their maiden journey into the city. My top 10 Washington DC (and surrounding area) must see list is as follows:

  • The Monuments at Night ~ The monuments are spectacular anytime of day but when they are lit up, they become magical. Bonus if there’s a full moon.
  • The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Performance ~ There are free performances of music or dance every night at 6 pm.For a schedule, click here.

Capitol Building from the top of the Washington Monument
The National Mall ~ Smithsonian Museums, National Gallery of Art and The US Capitol

  • Smithsonian Museums ~ It would take weeks to explore all the wonderful and free museums in Washington DC. Visitors should “speed-date” by walking along The National Mall and ducking into each museum to see the highlights. Visitors can return to the museum they liked best for a deeper dive into all the treasures. Some of the more popular displays are: the Hope Diamond at the Natural History Museum, the Star Spangled Banner flag at the American History Museum and the Kitty Hawk at the Air & Space museum. Click here for more information on all things Smithsonian.
  • The National Gallery of Art ~ My personal favorite. Again, this could take weeks to explore but it’s worth popping into the gallery for a few hours to gaze at the paintings and sculptures which spans from the middle ages to the present. Don’t miss the: Little Dancer (Degas)Self Portrait (Rembrandt van Rijn), and the paintings by the masters such as Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and many more. For information on hours and directions, click here.

Capitol Building with scaffolding

  • The U.S. Capitol Building ~ Take a tour of the Capitol building and stop in to see the Senate in session.
  • The Library of Congress ~ The building is gorgeous especially the Reading Room. There’s an original copy of a Gutenberg Bible (circa 1455)  on display in the lobby. It’s the first bible (major book) printed in Western Europe using movable metal type and was one of the turning points from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance era.
  • Mount Vernon Estates ~ Mount Vernon is located 14 miles south of Washington DC along the GW Parkway. The house and grounds are lovely. Give yourself about four hours in order to tour the home, wander the grounds and visit the on-site museum. Mount Vernon is accessible by public transportation, boat, biking and private vehicle (parking is free). For directions and assistance on getting there, click here.

Arlington Guard

Washington Monument

  • Washington Monument ~ Tickets are free but have a $1.50 service charge per person and anyone two years and older are required to have a ticket to go to the top of the monument. Tickets go on sale three months prior and I highly recommend purchasing them online the day they go on sale. Tour buses snap them up quickly. Click here for more information. If you’re unable to get tickets online, there are a limited number of Same Day tickets distributed at 8:30 am at the National Park Service building located at 15th street near the monument. These are free same-day, timed tickets and one person can get up to six. The line forms much earlier than 8:30am so get an early start.
  • Georgetown ~ It’s a dynamic area of DC to wander around; parts of it are serene and parts are packed with people. Stop in to see the gorgeous Georgetown University campus, take a peek at The Exorcist stairs (and run up them if you’re in great shape), walk along waterfront park and stop in for coffee/pastries at Baked and Wired.

Please note: All buildings in Washington DC have security at the entrances and be prepared to go through a scanner. There are lists of prohibited items on each website. It’s best to pack lightly when touring around DC.

I’ve used my list for the last five years for about thirty first-time visitors. Only one houseguest went rogue. She preferred to visit the National Cathedral, Catholic Basilica, the Botanical Gardens and the Arboretum. That’s the great thing about Washington DC ~ there’s something for everyone!

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Arlington House and cemetery

Arlington House ~ The Robert E. Lee Memorial

Arlington House was built by George Washington Parke Custis and his slaves between 1802 and 1818. His daughter, Mary Custis, great-granddaughter of First Lady Martha Washington, married Robert E. Lee. The Lees inherited Arlington House when her father passed away. Arlington House has a long, interesting history ~ it’s been a home for the Lee Family and Custis Families, a plantation estate and home to 63 slaves, a monument honoring George Washington, a military headquarters, a community for emancipated slaves and is currently a National Cemetery.

Arlington Tomb sign

Alrington Single cross
Arlington Cemetery

Arlington Guard
Old Guard Soldier at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers.

We stayed for the changing of the guard ceremony which takes place on the hour (Oct-March) and every half hour (April -Sept). Note: the ceremony may seem “over” but don’t start talking until you leave the site of the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers.” We were “shusshed” for whispering after the ceremony. I cringe at that as I would never want to be disrespectful in such a place of honor.

Arlington Eternal Flame
Eternal Flame at the John F. Kennedy gravesite

Arlington Amphitheater
Arlington Amphitheater

Arlington Women's Memorial
Quote at the Women’s Memorial at Arlington Cemetery

Arlington House Sideview

Gravestone of George W. George ~ I tried to find more information about him but there wasn’t much on the internet. One of the fascinating things about Arlington Cemetery is all the famous people buried there. It reminded me of when I went through the National Portrait Gallery in London. I wanted to look up the stories of all the names I saw. I’m sure there’s an interesting life story behind all of those graves.

Arlington L'Enfant site

Burial site of Pierre L’Enfant, a French-born American civil engineer who designed the streets of Washington DC in the late 1700s. His grave has sweeping views of Washington DC ~ including the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol.

Arlington Cemetery
The family photo at Arlington Cemetery

If you visit Arlington Cemetery, check out their site here. The cemetery is open 7 Days a week, 365 days a year. The hours are 8am – 7pm (April – September) and 8am – 5pm (October – March). The parking garage closes 1 hour after cemetery. From the Arlington, it’s an easy walk over the Memorial Bridge to the Mall and the monuments.

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