In 2011 I went on a road trip with my family… or parts of my family… One of my brothers was tramping around South America at the time but myself, my mother, and my other brother packed ourselves into our minivan and started our month long trip across the USA.
We went across the upper states, visited Mount Rushmore, had my 21st birthday in Chicago, IL, and met my dad in Washington, DC. You see, he was on his motorcycle and would meet us periodically on our way down to Florida. The first place we met? Washington, DC.
We drove into the city in the middle of rush hour. I do NOT recommend doing that… Washington’s rush hour is extremely busy. And we weren’t even going into downtown… we were staying on the outskirts. We had only 2 nights in the DC area
Dad, of course, ,came in very late… like 2 am late. So our limited time in the Capital was lessened even more by the fact that we naturally started late the next morning.
We had no plans… none at all… that’s how my family has a tendency to travel, we plan a few key points and then make up the rest as we go along… So when we hit the city we had absolutely no idea what we wanted to do or see. and the first thing we came across? Arlington National Cemetery.
Arlington National Cemetery
It was a rainy day – did I mention that? A hot, rainy day… I had never known it to rain when it was hot. In Alberta we don’t have the kind of humidity they get on the east coast and let me tell you – I’m not a fan.
A visit to Arlington is a must if travelling to DC. The sheer vastness of this cemetery puts everything into perspective. It houses JFK’s eternal flame, Memorial Amphitheater, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded 24/7 and this guard is changed every hour, on the hour.
Take an hour or two to visit Arlington, see the changing of the guard, and gain some perspective.
Downtown DC and the National Mall
From Arlington we went into the centre of the city and parked our car and hopped out for a wander around downtown Washington and the National Mall.
We found the Canadian Embassy, meandered past the United States Capitol, and discovered that the FBI building looks exactly like it does on TV. We wandered our way to the White House and snapped the obligatory picture.
The Big Bus Tour
Have I mentioned that I believe double decker buses to be one of the best ways to see a city? Especially if you’re short on time and just want to catch the highlights. Plus if you’re hot and exhausted, sitting on the second level in the breeze feels amazing.
We drove through the capital city and found out all sorts of interesting facts, we drove by the Pentagon and were told photos weren’t allowed (I may or may not have listened to that but I won’t tempt fate by uploading any here).
And that was about it for the day. The hop-on, hop-off ticket lasts 24 hours from the time of purchase (another plus to using this tourist transportation). We were exhausted so we went back to our hotel for the remainder of the evening.
We had to check out that morning as we were heading down the coast that afternoon. So after packing up, checking out, and making our way back into the city we only had about 4-5 hours before we had to leave.
Into the city we went. The one thing we wanted to see, the one place we definitely wanted to visit was the Smithsonian. This is a massive museum in the heart of DC and it’s free of charge. Actually, to call it a single museum would be misleading – it is a number of museums making up the whole.
There are many museums to visit but as stated, we only had so much time. So we chose three. First up?
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
The name of this museum is pretty self-explanatory. This is where the first airplanes and spacecraft are kept and by far the place we spent the longest.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
This is what I would call your classic museum. Full of dinosaur bones and fossils and rock formations. Oh, and the Hope Diamond.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Finally we visited the Museum of American History. The place I, for one, found most interesting. This is where you find all the niche things that we love about America. Every first lady’s Inauguration ballgown, the original Muppets, Michael Jackson’s hat, and the Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Little pieces of America’s, and therefore the world’s, history.
And that was it. We were on to our next adventure!