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Guest Elizabeth Ebner and Kristina Luc

Washington DC Museums

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Guest Elizabeth Ebner and Kristina Luc

One of the great things about Washington museums is the fact that for the most part they are totally free. The major museums in town are part of an educational network called "Smithsonian," which is paid for by your tax dollars, so that when you come to the Nation's Capitol you don't have to pay for most tourist attractions. Another great thing about the museums is that they are all metro-accessible, and most are within walking distance of each other. The most famous Smithsonian museums, including Air and Space, American History, Natural History, The Smithsonian Building, the Hershhorn Museum, and the National Gallery of Art, are all located downtown in a fairly concentrated area. Over Key Bridge in Arlington, Virginia you'll find the "Newseum," which is not part of the Smithsonian but is a must see.


Air and Space, Natural History, American History, and the National Gallery of Art are all must-sees for the Washington tourist. If you have time peak into the Smithsonian Institution building to get a feel for its architecture, and walk around the Hershhorn Museum to take in the sculpture (especially if you are an art fan). The Air and Space museum has several interesting exhibits about air and space crafts (some of which you can walk around in), and wonderful "Imax" films that you have to buy tickets for. Call ahead or go to the museum's web site to see what's playing. The Natural History Museum has dinosaur skeletons, stuffed animals, exhibits about people indigenous to the United States, and more. Our personal favorite exhibit there is the Insect Zoo, where you can watch tarantulas being fed, and touch hissing cockroaches if you are so inclined. The American History Museum in neat because it brings the classic textbook material to life. Don't be fooled by its boring name, this museum is a lot of fun and is totally worth checking out. The Nationally Gallery of Art is one of the world's premier art collections, and is worth seeing whether or not you are a big art fan. The "West Wing" houses classic art, such as the old-masters collection. The "East Wing" has the zanier modern art, complete with huge, obscure murals hanging from the wall. Depending on your personal preference, you can get a tour of the gallery, or you can just walk around at your own pace.


The United States Holocaust Museum is not part of the Smithsonian, but it was funded by a U.S. Congressional charter as a memorial to the 6 million victims of the Holocaust. There is one permanent exhibit and two changing exhibits that tell the story of Nazism through oral histories, films, artifacts, and photography. As you might guess, this museum is very sad and very time consuming, so set aside a considerable chunk of time see it if you have the time.


The National Zoo isn't downtown with the rest of the museums, and is located in Northwest D.C. near the Woodly Park-Zoo metro exit. It is part of the Smithsonian Institution, and has one of the largest animal collections in the country. Make sure you check out the reptile and bird houses, and see the panda bears and prairie dogs. While the Zoo isn't necessary to see if you are short on time in the city, if you have time definetly try to see it.

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Guest (Class of 2000) from the Sidwell

The United States Botanic Gardens


The United States Botanic Gardens, located on Maryland Avenue, walking distance from the Capitol building, is the perfect getaway from the city. If you want an escape after touring the mall, we recommend checking out the beautiful array of exotic and native plants. It is open every day of the year from 10am to 5pm (from June until August it is open until 9pm) except December 25. It has a glass and aluminum conservatory with an plentiful collection of azalea (90 species), chrisanthemums (300 species), poinsettias, lilies, cacti, citrus, and orchids. It contains a rain forest and exotic jungle that house a permanent display of tropical and subtropical plants. The Botanic Gardens also have a beautiful terrace where you can view hanging baskets and annuals, in addition to a glorious seasonal display. We highly recommend a trip to the Botanic Gardens is you are seeking refuge from the city. It is accessible by metro (Federal Center). For guided tours Monday through Friday you must call and make reservations: (202) 225-8333.


The Old Post Office Building


The Old Post Office Building is a hot spot of D.C. We recommend going to get lunch under the magnificent interior skylit courtyard. It houses many delicious restaurants, shops, and federal cultural offices. A new addition opened in 1992 that contains retail shops, a food court and a theater. Being the third highest spot in D.C., the Old Post Office has one of the most spectacular views of the city. The National Park Service provides guided tours through the Old Post Office Tower where you can learn about its fight for survival in the late sixties. It also holds the Congress Bells, which are one of the largest set of ringing bells in North America and are also the official bells of the United States Congress. For more information, visit its website.

The Old Post Office


The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool


The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool is a great place to sit and relax. The pool itself spans a third of a mile and is lined with trees. When the weather is nice there are always people lying on the grass surrounding it either picnicking or getting some sun. At one end you can see the Washington Monument and at the other is the Lincoln Memorial. This was the site of the famous "I have a dream speech," by Martin Luther King, Jr. back in the sixties. If you are visiting the Lincoln Memorial it's hard to miss.


The Watergate


The Watergate is infamous for being the site of political scandal. In 1972, 5 burglars were arrested for breaking into the Democratic Committee headquarters located within. This eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. It is located across from the Kennedy Center and overlooks the Potomac River. It is not the kind of place you want to go in and visit, but it is worth driving or walking by just to say you saw it. There is a great bakery off the central patio, which also has a unique fountain. You can access it by metro (Foggy Bottom stop).


Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens


Situated along the Anacostia River, the Kenilwoth Park and Aquatic Gardens has a grand display of aquatic plants. It lies on 14 acres of preserved marsh land that are home to numerous plants and animals. Because of the tides of the Anacostia River, the wildlife in the Park is constantly changing. It is managed by the National Park Service and specifically monitored by the National Capital Parks-East. Late June through July is the best time to visit the Park for there is a beautiful display of aquatic flowers. But it is a nice escape year-round from the city. It has a large open space that has ball fields, picnic tables, and a comfort station. Rangers give walking tours on the weekends at 9am, 11am, or 1pm. If you are into studying marsh-life, this is for you. But be prepared, you don't want to get lost in this neighborhood so call in advance for detailed directions.

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