If you’re visiting the US capital for the first time, it can be tough to sort through the maze of its must-see sites. Go beyond-the-norm and do DC just like a local
Lincoln Memorial? Check. Smithsonian troves? Done. National Zoo? Clicked a selfie with the pandas. But there is a lot more to do in DC beyond visiting its astonishing museums and historical sites. Have you had a bite of the very bucolic Georgetown’s famed cupcakes or flicked through 500 years of news history at the Newseum? If you haven’t, here are a few unusual things to do when in Washington DC. This way you won’t wind up ensnared in queues for most of your trip.
Washington’s oldest and wealthiest neighborhood, Georgetown, can be divided into four sections – the marketplace along M Street, the university, the historic residential neighborhood where miniature cottages stand side by side with rambling mansions, and the waterfront. Stroll or bike along the tree-lined paths that offer wonderful views of the Potomac river, indulge in some serious designer retail therapy, step into the town’s past with a visit to Tudor Place, a Federal-style mansion of the Custis-Peter family, or spend an evening enjoying sunset drinks aboard a cruise. You won’t regret a visit to Dumbarton Oaks. The lovely oasis boasts of galleries filled with Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and European art, as well as acres of meticulously tended historic gardens. You can easily spend a day in Georgetown as the vivid street scene invites you to linger.
TIP: Georgetown is almost always crowded at night. Driving and parking are difficult, so it’s wise take a bus or taxi.
With so many spellbinding yet free museums in the city, it’s easy to overlook those that charge a fee. The Newseum set in a dramatic glass-and-silver structure on Pennsylvania Avenue, smack between the White House and the Capitol, is an interactive news and media museum that chronicles the rise of multimedia; and how radio, TV, and the Internet transformed worldwide news dissemination. It houses 15 state-of-the art theaters – including an eye-popping “4-D” theater and one with a 90-foot-long screen – that feature news, sports, and documentaries throughout the day. Play the role of journalist, try your hand at investigative reporting or step behind a camera to capture a compelling photograph. Dedicate no less than an hour to the Newseum. And if you’re a media maven, you may easily spend anywhere between 1.5 – 2.5 hours here.
Must-see exhibits: Pulitzer Prize winning photos, the largest piece of the Berlin wall outside Germany, including a guard tower, Reporting Vietnam, 9/11 gallery and a display dedicated to the importance of the First Amendment.
Tip: View the orientation films on the concourse level, take the elevator to the top, and work your way down. Also, the top-floor terrace offers one of the best views of the Capitol.
The largest cavern in Eastern America, Luray Caverns is located just 90 minutes southwest of Washington DC, and 10 minutes from Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park. Discover cathedral-sized rooms and chambers with towering stone formations, and natural wonders at every turn. It also features the world’s only “stalacpipe organ,” composed of stalactites (calcite formations hanging from the ceilings of the caverns) that have been tuned to concert pitch and are tapped to create echoing sound. The organ is played electronically for every tour and manually on special occasions. Beyond the organ, Luray Caverns holds plenty of natural beauty, like the Dream Lake that perfectly mirrors back the stalactite, Titania’s Veil and the Double Column. A one-hour tour begins every 20 minutes.
GREAT FALLS PARK
If you want to get out of the city and closer to nature without travelling for hours, Great Falls Park, Virginia is only 25 km outside of Washington DC which makes it a great day trip destination. Located along the Potomac river, the 800-acre park is a spectacular landmark. Hike along dramatic clifftops, bicycle on one of its scenic trails or go for adrenaline-pumping activities like rock climbing, horseback riding and kayaking (only recommended for exceptionally skilled kayakers). The park is also an excellent location for birding and fishing. Take along a pair of binoculars and a bird guide and get ready to spot one of the 163 species of birds that live here. Or simply picnic with a grill and soak in the surrounding greenery. Whatever you choose to do, be sure to wear sturdy shoes and carry enough drinking water.
You can view the cascading falls from several observation areas. Follow the river trail, beginning just downstream of the falls, and you will see spectacular views of the Mather Gorge. One of the top things to check out is the pole marking the flooding levels from major floods in different yea
MUST EATS IN DC
1.Drop in at Ben’s Chili Bowl, an icon of U Street. It’s a family-run, old-school chili-dog joint that opened in 1958. Order Bill Cosby’s Original Chili Half-smoke or sample it’s fresh Beef Chili Burger.
2. Fancy a cupcake? You can’t return without having a designer one from Georgetown Cupcakes. Try red velvet, bubblegum pink or chocolate ganache. Missing it is truly a sin!
GOOD TO KNOW
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Visit in Spring if you wish to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom on the Tidal Basin Tour or Christmas is a great time to experience splendid celebrations and decked up streets. Summer is a bit difficult with the high heat and humidity.
DC is a compact, walkable city and you can move between neighborhoods easily. The Metro subway system or the bus go around town and to nearby suburbs, and there are plenty of taxis, too.
GO OFF BEAT IN DC
Snort the ‘corpse flower’ at the Botanic Garden
The United States Botanic Garden is the National Mall’s ignored gem. Roam past roses, orchids and ferns and look for the Amorphophallus titanum, a gigantic flower that smells like rotting flesh.
Get to see Helen Keller’s ashes at National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral is not an ordinary house of worship. Here you can delve into the crypt containing Woodrow Wilson’s marble tomb and see Helen Keller’s ashes. Gargoyles shaped like fictional character Darth Vader and moon rocks embedded in stained glass windows are other rare things you’ll spot here.
PRE-BOOK YOUR WHITE HOUSE VISIT
If you’re hoping to tour the White House during your visit, plan ahead. Anyone can tour the presidential dwelling, but you must submit requests no less than 21 days in advance through the Indian embassy in Washington DC. The tour is free of cost.