Washington, D.C. for History Lovers

Washington, D.C. United States

Insider tips and recommendations from fellow history lovers as well as current and former employees and volunteers.

 

Planning your visit

  • If you know far enough ahead of time when you will be there, check with your local Congressman's office. You will be able to get free tickets to a White House tour, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and a few other things. (Naomi Fain)

When to visit

  • Peak season: From the second week of September to November and from mid-January to June.
  • Off season is from the end of August up to mid-September and from Thanksgiving up to mid-January.
  • The cherry blossoms are in bloom from Mid-March through May.
  • The weather in July and August may be hot and humid.
  • The best time to visit museums, memorials and Arlington cemetery is on a weekday because most Washingtonians are working and most of those places. Crowd wise, they are much easier to navigate. (Larisa Moran Chancellor)

To read or watch in advance

  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Berent LaBrecque)
  • All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (Stephanie Barbour Young)
  • The Post directed and produced by Steven Spielberg

When you visit

  • Nothing beats doing a nighttime walking visit to all the monuments. They are extra special in the dark. (Jim Penebaker)
  • Note that the closing times of the National Gallery, National Archives, and the Smithsonians are all different, and once they're closed and you've had dinner, head back to the Mall and enjoy the monuments at a time when it's easier to focus and reflect, without the large crowds. (Lee Wright)
  • Take a guided monument tour at night, and get out and walk around. Listen to people that live there. (Elaine Schaffer)

Suggested tour by our community

Day 1

  • In the morning, hit the museums. Pick a favorite Smithsonian and explore it. Pop into the National Archives and see the Department of Interior. End at the Capitol by getting a tour through your lawmaker's office. Top recommended museums are the International Spy Museum, Holocaust Museum, National Gallery, Air and Space Museum, Museum of African American History and Culture, American History Museum, and the Library of Congress.
    • Holocaust Museum
          - Devote a whole day to this because you'll need time to decompress after you visit it. It's emotionally intense. (Vanessa Shafer)
          - Be sure to sit at the Survivors station to meet and listen to Holocaust survivors and their descendants' personal accounts. (Rhonda Fett Winings)
    • National Archives
          - Besides the original Declaration, and Constitution, you can also find the 10 Commandments carved into the marble floor. (JC Lamers)
  • Visit the National Mall at night time starting at Lincoln Memorial and wander over to the White House. 
    • Lincoln Memorial
          - Near the top of the steps of The Lincoln Memorial is an engraved stone that shows where MLK Jr stood to give his speech. It is often never seen but if you take the time you can literally stand in the footprints of this great man (Tom Churchill)
    • Jefferson Memorial
           - Do not miss this, there are important words etched on the walls that are especially significant today. (Sandy Macaulay Campbell
    • Vietnam Veterans Memorial
           - It is one of the quietest, most awe-inspiring places in D.C. (Deb Martin)
    • Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial
    • Korean War Memorial

Day 2

  • Tour Arlington National Cemetery
    •  Lots of history here - just riding through lets you know why this country is great. Write down the names you are interested in as you ride through. (Martha Sessions Jackson)
    • Do not miss the Women's Memorial located right at the entrance to Arlington Cemetery. It is a beautiful memorial is devoted to all the women who have served in the military. There is a registry of all women who've served. (Jan Lohan)
    • A must see is the Tomb of the Unknowns - Changing of the Guard (MaryEllen Pace Barnes and Robert Burke)
    • Spend some time at the US Marine Corps War Memorial
  • Hit the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial and then catch a Potomac boat ride to George Washington's Mt. Vernon for a tour of the grounds and the museum.

Day 3

  • There is an insane amount of Civil War history that is in range of the DC area.  Stay in the city and try the Lincoln Tour. This is a fun way to "relive" Lincoln and see parts of the city.  You start at Ford's theater so you have time to see that (which is a must) and end up in Lafayette Square.  It gives you a unique way to see the city and connect with Lincoln. This tour is usually 2 hours.
    • Ford's Theatre is still an active theatre, so if they are showing a play, the "cool" stuff will be off limits.
  • Venture further out of the city and go to either Alexandria or George town, or further out and visiting battlefields like Manassas, Balls Bluff, Bristoe Station. Out of the three, Manassas is the biggest and has a driving or walking tour.  Balls Bluff is in Leesburg and is a very forgotten location, it is tiny in comparison but has a cemetery. (Larisa Moran Chancellor) Also visit Lincoln’s Summer Cottage, the Fort Circle Parks system (defense of DC), Arlington House and the Mary Surratt boarding house(exterior only). (Nicole Foronda)​

​​Other top sites to see:

  1. National Cathedral
  2. National Portrait Museum - a wonderful opportunity to see American history through portraits. It is a national treasure. (Claire Hulton)
  3. Embassy Row - fun to drive up and down to see all the different country’s embassies. (Robert Burke)
  4. The Octagon Museum is where Madison retreated during the War of 1812. There’s also the signing room. It’s owned by the AIA and they give a wonderful tour. (Michael Linkowich)
  5. Daughters of the American Revolution Museum - a hidden treasure (Jennifer McCullough)
  6. Newseum - Very fun museum with lots of interactive exhibits. Always a favorite. (Robert Burke) In here, you can see the door from Watergate (the one the burglars taped), and the file cabinet that was damaged during the break-in of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist.
  7. Watergate Garage landmark - where Bob Woodward met with Mark Felt/Deep Throat. You could walk right by it, completely missing the significance, if you aren't careful. (Stephanie Barbour Young)
  8. New York Ave. Presbyterian Church
  9. Postal Museum

Other notable tours to take:

  • Explore the Revolutionary War era history in Fairfax, which include Gunston Hall, the home of George Mason.  Great Falls National Park is an amazing park that is full of waterfalls and the remains of the Patowmack Canal which was a project started by G. Washington to try and get the Potomac River all the way up to the Ohio River Valley.  The remains of the canals are absolutely amazing.
  • Take the Underground Railroad tour in MD.  You can tack on visiting Frederick Douglas house that is in DC and then head out for a very scenic outdoor tour of the underground railroad. This tour is also around 2 hours.
  • If the people are not up for many hours of walking, or the weather is not too friendly, there are several houses worth visiting. They include: Presidents Wilson residents, Tudor Place, The Old Stone House, Decatur House and the Newton D. Baker house
  • There are some sleepy towns about 40 miles out from DC, one includes the Village of Waterford which dates back to the 1740's. This is a beautiful town with many original buildings - almost like a mini Williamsburg.  Another town also in Loudoun County is Middleburg which dates back to the 1780's. Extremely affluent town and even Jackie O. had a house there and Elizabeth Taylor. The town has a unique history and is also a horse country.  Filled with mom and pop stuff selling antiques and furniture that looks like they just came from Paris. A great place to walk around.


 


Do you have tips and recommendations to add? What else should a history lover visit when they are in the area? Please add them in the comments below.


 

 

Washington, D.C.

 



Shop for gifts for history lovers: