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Best Free Sites in Washington DC

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Part of the original design for the federal city, this massive park stretches from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and around the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial. It has played host to many momentous, world-changing events throughout history including the 1963 March on Washington, the Million Man March and several presidential inaugurations. Today, the National Mall serves as a place for reflection, a memorial to American heroes, a symbol of freedom and a forum for the exercise of democracy. The Smithsonian museums, the Vietnam Memorial, the Reflecting Pool and the iconic Washington Monument are a few of the most well-known of the National Mall's many iconic sites. Certainly, any visit to Washington DC should start with a tour of the United States National Mall, aptly named "America's front yard."

Located at the west end of the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial is one of the principal landmarks of Washington DC, its stately form overlooking the Reflecting Pool, a gleaming stretch of water that lays sprawled before its base. Daniel Chester French's 19-foot (5.7-meter) statue of Lincoln, seated and deep in thought, watches over the nation he helped create, alongside the carved text of the Gettysburg Address, providing a glimpse into a weighty period of American history. The memorial itself draws inspiration from the Greek architectural style, its 36 Doric columns representative of the number of states in the union at the time of Lincoln's death. Surrounded by greenery, on the banks of the Potomac River, the Lincoln Memorial makes for a soul-stirring, picturesque sight; a fitting ode to one of the nation's most revered Presidents.

The symbol of the city of Washington DC, this 555-foot (169-meter) marble obelisk on the National Mall honors the nation's first president, George Washington. 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 the builders returned to the same quarry to complete the project afterward, enough time had passed to cause a significant change in the color. An emblem of the United States and an icon of the nation, the Washington Monument is a moving sight, its elegant form mirrored in the Reflecting Pool of the Lincoln Monument nearby.

Established on May 29, 2004, the World War II Memorial is the first national memorial to honor the American troops who fought in the war. The design by architect Friedrich St. Florian marks the Pacific and European Theaters of World War II with magnificent arches and remembers the Americans who died with 4,048 stars along the Freedom Wall. It is located on the National Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial was unveiled in 1982, as a tribute to the 58,000 Americans who died in the Vietnam War or remain missing in action. Maya Ying Lin may have been no more than a 21-year-old graduate student when she won the design contest for this memorial, but her work is now etched in the memories of countless visitors who have walked along this black granite wall filled with names.

The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden is located just a short walk from the National Gallery of Art. The garden features sculptures from the National Gallery's collection, as well as pieces from traveling exhibitions. Sit down on a bench and marvel at the fusion of man-made and natural beauty that this garden affords. The garden also contains a large water fountain that is transformed into an ice rink in the winter, and a cafe where visitors can grab a pastry to enjoy among the sculptures and flowers.

An integral part of the West Potomac Park, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial is an impressive memorial honoring the life and glory of the legendary civil rights activist. The memorial, which is an extension to his valiant, dignified and equality-seeking identity, is based on the very foundations of justice, hope, and democracy. Laden with motley inscriptions and quotations from his speeches, including the iconic 'I Have a Dream', the memorial site is also home to a 30 foot (9 meters) statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., a pristine white sculpture signifying pride, equality, and an indelible political legacy. Fashioned from white granite, the structure is awash in Social Realist style and has been the subject for artists and critics alike. The crowning glory of Washington D.C., this iconic memorial has ignited a strong sense of political, social and historic integrity among the global audience.

One of the most popular rail trails in the country and also the most used, the Capital Crescent Trail is a pleasant 11-mile (17.70 kilometers) stretch covering through Georgetown on Water Street till Silver Spring. Set on the once deserted Georgetown Branch rail line, it is a hotspot for rollerbladers, hikers, skateboarders, walkers, bikers and joggers. Most of the trail is asphalt and is also used for commuting. Winding through parks, wooded areas, water bodies and local attractions, it is indeed a landmark in the locality and the nearby areas. So if you're planning to spend a day outdoors without venturing far away from civilization, then Capital Crescent Trail is your destination.

The Rock Creek Park contains a beautiful wild forest and serves as an oasis for city residents and tourists. Attractions include picnic areas, winding trails and bike paths, a nature center, a public golf course, tennis courts and stables. The centerpiece is a working gristmill, complete with a turning water wheel. Rock Creek Parkway runs alongside the meandering creek. Parts of the road are closed to traffic on weekends and turned over to cyclists and roller bladers. Although the Metro is nearby, a car is required to visit many of the key sites in a single trip. The park is also a popular spot in the winter for sledding, snowballs and other outdoor merriment.

This pleasant park is situated just north of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. With its flat terrain and location right on the water, the park attracts cyclists and boaters, but its biggest draw is probably the close proximity to the airport (a mere 400 feet away). People come to watch the planes land and take off, flying in low right above them. An added bonus is a nice view of the Washington skyline.

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass purchased this 21-room home, making him the first African-American to buy a home in that area. Known as Cedar Hill, the home became the nation's first Black National Historic Site. The original furnishings are in large part the ones Douglass himself owned. They include the 1200-volume library of this self-taught man. Also on display are gifts given to Douglass by such contemporaries as Mary Todd Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

The National Archives is a bombproof, fireproof facility that protects the nation's most treasured documents. The methods used for storing the documents safely are nearly as interesting as the documents themselves. Sealed glass vaults are raised into the exhibition areas for viewing each day but sink back into safety each night. Here, you will find the most significant of our national documents--the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Among the other documents and artifacts housed here are copies of the Magna Carta and the Emancipation Proclamation.

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