Visiting Washgington? What A capital Idea!
I love Washington; it’s a vibrant, elegant, and beguiling city that oozes charm, history, culture and sophistication and, if you let it, it will capture your heart the moment you arrive.
Most visitors to the capital normally stay only two to three days and often that is barely enough time to see everything of note however, if you plan your days carefully there is much that Washington can offer.
It’s always a good idea to try and stay as close to the centre of the city as possible for I find that Washington is best seen on foot, but remember it can be bitterly cold in winter and impossibly hot in summer. April and May are the best months as; although slightly chilly at night it is perfect weather for walking.
Alternatively, if walking is not your thing one the best ways to see the Mall—especially during a muggy summer—is by bike in the early morning or evening. Rent one from the Capital Bikeshare stands, which are located all across the city and then, set off and explore.
The National Mall and Memorial Parks are the ideal places to start and, if you are lucky enough to be there in spring, the spectacular cherry blossoms will be in full bloom. These Japanese cherry trees produce a riot of colour, almost like a fireworks display as the trees explode in bursts of white, pink and purple offset by the azure blue skies that Washington lays on at this time of year.
At the west end of the mall is probably one of the most austere statues ever carved from granite. Abraham Lincoln sits in a giant chair gazing, I have always felt, pensively at the reflecting pools wondering perhaps at the changing face of American politics. I have spent many an hour sitting at his feet looking eastwards to the Washington Monument, the view seen so often in countless movies shot in and around the city; it is something quite magical.
Just peaking at 555ft (and 5in), the Washington Monument is the tallest building in the district. When I first visited Washington I took the 70-second elevator ride to the observation deck and I was instantly able to get my bearings with the 360-degree view of the entire city.
I am never one for war memorials but every time I am here I am drawn to the black, low-lying ‘V, a sober monument to the fallen of the Vietnam War. Designed by 21-year-old undergraduate student Maya Lin in 1981 this somber structure has the illusion of descending deep into the concrete that surrounds it. As one walks through it, the names of the 58,272 fallen soldiers – listed in the order in which they died, are to your right. It’s a subtle, but profound statement and leaves a deep and lasting impression.
The Mall holds a host of attractions, especially the Smithsonian Museums, where one can lose oneself in for days on end. When faced with a daunting array of sites to see, consult a good guidebook and select which sections of the Smithsonian that will interest you.
Reach the end of the mall and there it is, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue a.k.a. The White House and, no matter how many pictures you’ve seen of it, it won’t disappoint especially now that a new president has taken up residence there. ( Not that I am too pleased about this one !!)
If walking isn’t for you and you prefer a more leisurely way to see all the monuments, head down to the Georgetown Waterfront to pick up the Washington Monuments Cruise. I have taken this this relaxing sightseeing cruise in summer; it is a great way to see D.C., from a whole new angle!
Meandering down the Potomac River you past pretty much all the famous monuments, landmarks, historic buildings, and plenty of natural beauty. Some of the top sights are the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, and more.
A good way to get ones bearings and a definitive feel for the city is to hop on the DC bus tour as this is a perfect introduction for the first time visitor to D.C. it’s an excellent way to get a good overview of the city’s top attractions.
I always seem to run out of time when in Washington, but on my last visit I did manage to slow things down a little with a stroll through the United States Botanic Gardens. The wonderful curators offer free tours that last about 45 minutes and take visitors through the impressive Conservatory that houses a plethora of themed special collections.
Washington isn’t just about monuments, museums and art galleries, of which there are many, and naturally one should squeeze in as many as possible. This is the nation’s capital filled to overflowing with politicians and lobbyists and consequently there many five star restaurants, funky bars and exquisite hotels, so once the sun goes down do try to get to as many as you can, as they wont disappoint… In many ways Washington has it all, that’s why I love this place!
Written for Air India in Flight magazine.
Paul v Walters is the author of several best selling novels and when not cocooned in sloth and procrastination in his house in Bali scribbles for several international travel and vox pop journals. His latest offering, Scimitar was released in late 2016. His latest offering , Asset, is due out in late 2017