I was lucky enough to spend three weekends in D.C. when I was staying in Virginia and each time I visited, I discovered something new I loved about it – mainly it had to do with the museums and the food… so I wanted to share some of the experiences that have made it a city I’m ever-so-slightly in love with!
Before I visited D.C. and did a little research, I thought the Smithsonian was one large institution, a little like the British Museum, but I soon found out I was completely wrong. The Smithsonian collection is actually separated out into several museums, not all located in D.C., and even includes a zoo. What’s even better? You can visit this world-leading collection for FREE. I didn’t manage to get round all the museums (just means I need to go again…), but here are some of my highlights.
When we went to the American Indian Museum (of which there is also one in New York, which is really interesting too!), I really enjoyed the long term exhibition Nation to Nation: Treaties between the United States and the American Indian Nation. I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of an exhibition feeling like I had learned so much as I did with this – it explored the treaties, relationships and experiences of American Indians as the United States came to be up to the present day. Also inside the museum, some of the objects on display are absolutely beautiful, displaying wonderful craftmanship and easy to get lost in looking at.
In the Air and Space Museum, the thing I was most fascinated with was the 1903 Wright Flyer. Having grown up with a Granddad who was a pilot and thus a Dad who loved planes, I’ve spent a lot of time in air museums but this was one of the most interesting planes I’ve ever seen. Flown in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on 17th December 1903, the Wright brothers saw a culmination of a four year period of research and development come to a success with their twelve-second flight. To think how far air travel now takes us and to see this as the beginning is quite amazing.
I mentioned above that the Smithsonian even includes a zoo – and I made sure we visited, due to one main thing: THEY HAVE PANDAS. I had never before seen a panda in real life, despite them being one of my first loves in life (sorry, History!). In fact, you can even watch a panda cam here. I think I spent a good half hour just staring at one of the three pandas playing with a giant ball and eating some bamboo, just mesmerized. The Zoo park itself was also a lovely place to walk around with lots of shady spots – it was a really hot day when we visited, and it was nice to hide away from the sun!
Another part of the Smithsonian I was desperate to visit, thanks to my love of the Night at the Museum film trilogy, was the Museum of Natural History. This was a really interesting museum which had something for everyone – from the animal and ocean halls, to halls about other cultures, to a butterfly pavilion, and even huge diamonds. This includes the supposedly cursed Hope Diamond, so named because of its ownership by the Hope family in England. Since the first records of the diamond in the seventeenth century, it has also been owned by French and English royalty, Cartier, American socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean, and eventually by Harry Winston, who, after exhibiting it around the world, donated it to the Smithsonian in 1958. It is well worth a look – it is absolutely HUGE!
After all the fun I had at the National Gallery of Art, I was also keen to visit the Portrait Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian. It certainly didn’t disappoint – the exhibition of portraits of all the Presidents of the United States, shown in order with small biographies, was really interesting and I spent a long time in there trying to learn the order the Presidents went in! I was also really fascinated by the portrait of Pocahontas in the collection, painted by an unknown artist from an engraving of Pocahontas in England by Simon van de Passe. What really struck me is how anglicised Pocahontas appears: her skin is white, and she is dressed head to toe in early-seventeenth-century English costume. This made me feel quite sad that this is the sole portrait contributing to her memory (and why the Pocahontas Imagined Exhibition at Jamestown Settlement is so interesting – but more on that another time!).
Obviously a visit to D.C. isn’t complete without visiting the Washington and Lincoln Memorials, or the White House. The Washington and Lincoln Memorials afforded beautiful views up and down the Mall, where you could see right up to the US Capitol. The sheer scale of the Mall and all the buildings alongside it were quite awe-inspiring!
Another alternative way to see some more of the beautiful memorials around D.C., such as the Jefferson Memorial and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, are by pedalo. If you go to the Tidal Basin, you can hire a pedalo and go out onto the water and have great views of these – it is also really fun (and, as we found, quite good exercise!).
Favourite food spots
- Leopold’s Kafe – we had a great brunch here one morning with poached eggs, avocado and the whole works. They also had some delicious looking brunch cocktails! It also had a gorgeous patio outside for eating, and was on a really cute alleyway called Cady’s Alley, which had lots of quirky places along it.
- Georgetown Cupcake – I can’t sing the praises of the cupcakes I ate at this cute place enough. Famous for the TLC television series, the last weekend I spent in D.C., we went every night because I knew we didn’t have one in the UK. My favourite flavours included the Mermaid Vanilla cupcake and the Pumpkin Spice – but, to be honest, everything tasted amazing!
- Martin’s Tavern – again located in Georgetown, and a favourite of the Presidency (some had booths named after them!), my friend had the most amazing-looking challah French toast, and even though I ate some gorgeous fluffy pancakes, she definitely won at brunch that day!
Find out more about visiting the Smithsonian Museums here.