Commonly known as "America's attic," the Smithsonian Institution is the world's largest museum complex and research organization. Organize your tours of the Smithsonian buildings in Washington by starting at the Institute's easy-to-locate red sandstone Gothic castle. Ongoing video presentations, touch screens, maps and helpful staff members will help you create a plan to navigate the many varied museums. The building is also commonly referred to as the "Castle." The castle is also the final resting place of the Smithsonian's founder, James Smithson, as his tomb is located in the crypt in the north entrance.
Located at the west end of the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial is a principal landmark of the city. It offers magnificent views of the city from several vantage points. Daniel Chester French's 19-foot (5.7-meter) statue of Lincoln seated and deep in thought, along with the carved text of the Gettysburg Address, provides a glimpse into a weighty period of American history. The 36 Doric columns represent the number of states in the union at the time of Lincoln's death. Go at night for much lighter crowds.
Early morning is the time to catch the blooming water-bound plants of this park. Run by the National Park Service, the 12-acre marshland park is often overlooked by visitors who head for better-known Washington sites. As a result, the park is an uncrowded getaway. Nature-lovers and children especially will enjoy more than 100,000 flowering plants and fauna sightings.
The legislative branches of the U.S. government, the Senate and the House of Representatives all meet in the Capitol Building. The building's cornerstone was laid in 1793 by President George Washington alongside other masons. The first session of government in the building was held in 1800, although the building wasn't completely finished being built until 1811. Today, visitors can view the Senate and the House from the galleries when Congress is in session. Public tours form on the east side of the Capitol and include visits to the Rotunda and other chambers.
The symbol of the city of Washington DC, this 555-foot marble obelisk on the National Mall honors the nation's first president. The cornerstone of the Washington Monument was laid in 1848, but construction was not completed until 1884. About one-third of the way up the obelisk is a visible change in the marble, evidence of the onset of the Civil War. Construction was halted during the war, and when builders returned to the same quarry to complete the project afterward, enough time had passed to cause a significant change in the color.
The second president, John Adams, was the first to live in the White House in 1801. Originally called the "Executive Mansion," it earned the nickname "The White House" after its marble exterior was whitewashed to cover burn marks from damage by the War of 1812. Student and military veteran group tours are available with advance notice. The White House occasionally closes without notice for official functions.