Pleasantly Surprised by Washington DC – USA

Now that the election is over, all eyes are on Barack Obama as he prepares to move into one of the most famous homes in the world. But what else does Washington have besides the White House? know.

I visited Washington a few years ago when I was in the U.S. with my partner. We rented a car and drove from New York. My first thought when I arrived in the city was that it almost looked fake – it was extremely clean and tidy compared to the other places we had seen, almost like someone had done a spring cleaning right before we came, as though they were trying to make a good impression. And they did! I was pleasantly surprised. We hadn’t planned on seeing the USA capital, but we had heard good reports from other travellers we had met and so we decided to stop off for photo ops, if nothing else.

There are lots of things to see and do in Washington. The National Mall is a three-kilometer stretch of land home to some of the most recognisable landmarks in the world, from The Capitol Building which serves as the seat of government for the U.S. Congress, to the Washington Monument (a Presidential Memorial to the first U.S. president, George Washington) and the Lincoln Memorial.

In between, there are numerous museums, including the National Museum of American History, National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History. You can spend a number of days along the Mall, there are so many attractions here.

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Don’t miss the Lincoln Memorial – a 20-foot sculpture of the assassinated president, Abraham Lincoln. It was on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that Martin Luther King gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech in 1963 – very symbolic after the election of the country’s first black president.

Close by, there are various war memorials: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the National World War II Memorial. You will notice a sombre mood when you visit these sites, not at all surprising.

Of course, you couldn’t possibly visit Washington and not see the White House. There were lots of people standing around the parameter, using their zoom functions to get a good shot. I imagine it will be even busier from 21 January when Obama moves in!

We went to Arlington Cemetery, a short drive from the centre of Washington and a military cemetery, another sombre trip. We saw the grave of JFK, marked with an eternal flame and the Tomb of the Unknowns, houses the bodies of soldiers who were never identified.

One of the most intriguing sites I’ve ever seen is the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns. The Tomb has been guarded continuously – 24 hours per day, 7 days per week – since 1937. It is considered one of the highest honours for a guard and involves a meticulous ritual of taking 21 steps in front of the Tomb, facing the Tomb for 21 seconds, waiting for 21 seconds and repeating the process until the end of the shift. The Changing of the Guard happens every 30 minutes in summer – fascinating to watch.

Overall, I enjoyed my time in Washington. I love when a destination surprises me, better than what I expected. Obama will certainly not be bored in his new city if he ever has a day off! You can easily spend a few days in Washington; having a rental car gives you a chance to get outside the city.

Make sure you bring your camera and fully charged batteries – there are more photo opportunities than you could shake a stick at!

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