Oh, say can you see… Washington D.C. The state containing the real Star-Spangled Banner was a definite star attraction during my time in America. So, on my second weekend off from Camp, my friends and I made the five and a bit hour coach journey from New York to Washington D.C, eager to see the sights of America’s Capital.
Our budgets were limited, but thankfully all the attractions we saw were free! We relied on mostly walking to get us around, with the occasional taxi to allow for maximum time sightseeing. For sustenance, we came armed with plenty of snacks purchased from 7/11, ready to take on Washington D.C.
From the outset, we were already behind schedule. The coach journey, which should have been four hours, had taken over five. Thankfully, the tourist spots on our bucket list for the first day were situated close together, with manageable walking distances between each.
United States Capitol
Our first stop was the United States Capitol. This historic building was definitely a brilliant first stop with its picturesque, neoclassical architecture. Inside the Visitor Centre, we watched a video on the history of the building and how it helped establish Washington D.C as the nation’s capital.
There was also time to stop for a quick tourist picture on the 365 steps outside the Capitol, representing one for every day of the year. I’m particularly proud of this photograph as I managed to get a solo shot in a very crowded area!
The Washington Monument
Next on our list was the Washington Monument, built to symbolise the respect of the nation for one of its founding fathers, George Washington. When initially completed, it was the tallest building in the world at 555 feet and 5 inches. While the option is usually available to go up inside the monument and look over Washington, unfortunately, we happened to visit when it was closed for refurbishments. I was relieved though, as I’m terrified of heights!
Following this, we made our way to The National World War Two Memorial. This memorial honours the 16 million people who served in the US armed forces during the World War II. Surrounding the fountain are 56 granite columns to honour and symbolise the unity displayed by the states and territories during the war. It also features the Freedom Wall, with 4048 gold stars (each representing 100 Americans) who lost their lives.
The fountain invites visitors to dip their toes in, and spend a quiet moment in memory of the sacrifices made by those lost. In the blissful sunshine, it was an idyllic spot to relax, and contemplate the memorial around us. As you can see by my face, it was most definitely my favourite place in Washington D.C.
After having a short rest, we headed off to our next destination, the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. It was surreal to stand here and watch an iconic American image become reality. Furthermore, as a life-long Forrest Gump fan, it was exhilarating to visit the place where they had reunited (although the urge to shout ‘Jenny!’ was admittedly overwhelming).
It wouldn’t be right to visit the Reflecting Pool without seeing the man himself. So, our next venture was to the Lincoln Memorial, where we saw a marble tribute to the 16th United States President.
Tributes to the Vietnam veterans
Next, we visited two of the tributes to the Vietnam veterans. First, we saw the Three Soldiers bronze statue, arguably the most well-known commemoration to those who fought.
Following this, we saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a haunting sculpture formed of mirrored walls that contain the names of those lost to the Vietnam War. Before entering, there is a book of names available to research the soldiers, and information to locate their names on the walls. The sheer length of the wall and the number of names upon it was sobering, the photograph below is just 3 of the 140 panels. This memorial was an incredibly poignant reminder of those lost, and was one of the most impactful places we visited in America.
The White House
Finally, to end our day of a high note, we visited the most iconic place in all of America: The White House. While it was only viewable at a distance (there appeared to be repair work occurring) it truly encapsulated everything fantastic about Washington D.C, and America.
To get some well-deserved sleep, we spent the night at a hostel in a twelve-bed room. It was my very first experience in a hostel and I was pleasantly surprised. Those of us over the age of 21 (myself included) chose to explore some of Washington’s bars before bed, with very positive results.
Smithsonian National Zoological Park
But, there was no time for a hangover as there was more exploring to be done. After the hostel treated us to some very delicious (not to mention free) pancakes, we decided to take a taxi to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.
As a lifelong animal lover, the free-entry zoo was fantastic. It had a wide range of animals, including all of my favourites. There was a very special panda who was delightfully preoccupied with playing with a tub, and who captured my heart immediately. The pandas are on a ten-year loan from China as part of a conservation effort to persevere their species, and allowing tourists like me to see an animal I’ve never seen before! It was the perfect way to spend a morning before heading off to do some more sightseeing.
Now, as a big fan of Night at the Museum and history in general, I knew the Smithsonian was something I wanted to explore. The Smithsonian offers just under 20 options for museums in Washington, and while we would have liked to have seen them all, time simply did not allow it. The queues to get into the museums were lengthy, and therefore we had to be very selective about what we did want to see.
Smithsonian Air and Space museum
We started at the Smithsonian Air and Space museum, where the history of NASA was unveiled to us. I also had the chance to see the Amelia Earheart exhibit, an intriguing look at one of the best-known female pilots.
National Museum of American History
Next stop was the National Museum of American History, which has the Batmobile in the main entrance.
After this, I got to see the fabulous costume used in Kinky Boots, which I saw in London’s West End a couple of years ago, up close. The red sequins were most definitely eye-catching, but they weren’t the only shiny red items I’d come to see.
I followed the yellow brick road all the way to the exhibition which houses Dorothy’s iconic ruby slippers.
The exhibition revealed that the two shoes on display are actually a mismatched pair, but seeing them definitely made a small-town English girl feel like she definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore.