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For many people, visiting Washington DC means making sure the family sees the monuments, zipping through a White House tour, then heading off to Philadelphia or Williamsburg. I have lived near USA’s capital city for over 20 years, so Expedia.com asked me to share some of my favorite, surprising things to see in Washington DC.
8 Great Surprising Things to See in Washington DC
One of my favorite surprising things to see in Washington DC is the Albert Einstein statue. This is my favorite instagrammable spot in DC and surely will be one of yours. Climb on the good doctor’s lap, put your finger in his ear or nostril, or stroke his mustache. The 2x actual size statue of Einstein sits right across the street from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
McCool Travel tip: At night, park right in front of the statue and you will likely have the place to yourself. It is convenient and fun to visit the nearby Lincoln Memorial area monuments (Vietnam, Korea) at night.
The Newseum celebrates and defends the First Amendment and the Freedoms of Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly, and Petition. Highlights among the Newseum’s seven floors include the Berlin Wall, Pulitzer Prize Photograph Gallery, and the poignant and powerful 9/11 exhibition. During your visit, be sure to check out the magnificent views along Pennsylvania from the balcony level. For a lunch break, visit the Wolfgang Puck cuisine on the ground level. Who said museum food is boring? Save 15% on Newseum admissions by buying tickets online.
>>> Read our McCool Travel article Fun Places to Visit in Washington DC.
Washington DC Museums
Every time I visit Washington DC, I am astonished at the quality and quantity of world-class museums. Many of them are Smithsonian museums and are ABSOLUTELY FREE. The top two most visited museums in the United States are in Washington, DC (both are free): Natural History Museum and Air & Space Museum. Also part of the Smithsonian collection is the National Zoo which is also free, FREE, FREE. If you visit on a scorching hot summer day, overhead water misters keep you cool—but try to visit in the spring when there are baby animals.
Those are amazing museums but I also enjoy other Smithsonian properties—including American Indian Museum, Portrait Gallery, Renwick Gallery, Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden, Botanic Garden, and Folger Shakespeare Library. Some superb museums with an admission fee include Newseum, Spy Museum, and National Geographic.
Skip that trip across the Atlantic Ocean because one of the surprising things to see in Washington DC is the world’s largest Shakespeare collection at the Folger Shakespeare Library. The on-site Folger theatre hosts performances, lectures, and other events. Located only a block from the US Capitol Building, Folger also houses an amazing collection of works from Renaissance Europe. On my last visit, I spent an hour looking at dozens of books from the 14th to 18th century.
McCool Travel tip: View the even older Magna Carta (from 1215)—along with the original Declaration of Independence and other rare historical documents—at the nearby National Archives.
For an inexpensive dining experience, try breakfast or lunch at the Dirksen Cafe in the Senate Office Building. This is where most Congressional workers dine but it is also open to the public. The salad bar is an especially nice deal. I like to make my own salad here and it costs about half the price of nearby places. In the middle of November, Dirksen serves a traditional Thanksgiving lunch. Two summers ago, I walked past Bernie Sanders on the sidewalk outside the building. So I truly can say you never know who you will see there.
McCool Travel tip: You can also eat at cafes inside the Supreme Court and US Capitol Building.
Explore the World
Nearly every country in the world has an embassy in Washington, DC. People from those countries work at these embassies, so simply walking into the buildings you meet someone from Romania, Togo, or Yemen. Every May, Passport DC hosts fun events at dozens of embassies; the EU (European Union) open house is especially popular. At the Embassy of India, view the impressive statue of Mahatma Gandhi.
While you can find great food all over Washington, DC, food trucks are something DC does very well. On most weekdays, you can find a dozen food trucks near Union Station, another 15-20 food trucks in McPherson Square, and dozens more across the city. In addition to typical Mexican, Italian, and American offerings, DC food trucks serve Laotian, Ethiopian, Cajun, Jamaican, Vietnamese, Venezuelan, Peruvian, and other cuisines.
McCool Travel tip: Check the Food Truck Fiesta website and app for food truck listings in Washington DC, along with Northern Virginia and Maryland.
>>> Read our McCool Travel article 8 Great Washington DC Food Trucks.
“The Exorcist” Steps
Georgetown is the oldest part of Washington DC and contains gorgeous row houses, old brick cobblestones streets, and a world class university. One of the more surprising things to see in Washington DC is the infamous staircase from the revolutionary horror movie The Exorcist. I have seen visitors from all over the world walking up and down the Exorcist Stairs. Do you dare? For something a little tamer, visit the nearby labyrinth in Georgetown Waterfront Park.
What are some of your favorite surprising things to see in Washington DC?
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