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.
This 52-acre park is located north of the Reflecting Pool amid the capital's many famous monuments and memorials. A beautiful place for a stroll, the paths wind through the trees taking you to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a lake and a memorial to the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Steeped in history, this is a must-see on any DC tour.
Visitors should come prepared for an experience likely to be difficult to forget when visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. At the start of the tour, each visitor is given an identity card of a Holocaust victim that matches the visitor's own age and gender. Ordinary reality is skewed through off-center stairways, weird angles and the shadows of other visitors on the glass walkways overhead. An elaborate audio-visual display includes interviews, films and photographs. The Hall of Remembrance provides a calm, empty space at the end of the tour where one can reflect on the experience. The museum discourages children under 11 from attending. Admission to the museum is free. From March through August a free pass is required to enter the Permanent Exhibition, The Holocaust, a chronological history. Passes are not required to gain entrance to the museum building, or to go to any of the smaller exhibitions, memorials, or special programming.
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.