After playing the video game Fallout 3 a few years ago, I put Washington DC at the top of my list of places I wanted to visit in the United States. Being also a huge museum buff, I was also particularly interested in visiting all the Smithsonian museums in the city.
On the way back from a work trip to Toronto, I stopped at DC for 3 1/2 days. This is was also my first time being hosted by a Couchsurfer. I arrived early morning on a Friday and headed to the National Mall right away.I had the same feeling I had when I visited the big cities of Europe like Paris and Rome. It was an emotional experience to be at a place with so much history.
It is nice that all the museums and monuments are within walking distance. What was not nice was trying to find a place to store my backpack. None of the sites had a locker big enough for it, and since I would’t be arriving at my Couchsurfing host’s house until the evening, carrying it around for a whole day was out of the question. I finally found a place to store it at Union Station for $20/day. A total ripoff, but I had no other option.
I spent almost all of the 3 1/2 days in the touristy National Mall area. That was what I was there to see. I followed the tip of visiting the monuments at night, when lighting is more dramatic for photographs and there are fewer people. I could have easily spent another 3-4 days there to check out the remaining monuments and museums. That will have to wait for a future trip.
The Couchsurfing experience was very positive. Even though my host Lisa was very busy the entire weekend, she and her 3 roommates made me feel very welcome.
Here are some brief thoughts on the museums and monuments in order of visit:
National Air and Space Museum
Much smaller than I expected it to be. Some very unique older aircraft on display. The free guided tour I took was interesting and informative. I wished the museum had more modern aircraft. I later found out that all this good stuff is at the separate Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center.
You only get to see it from a distance. Some people had told me beforehand that it was actually smaller than they expected. I thought it looked just like in the movies in terms of size.
Smithsonian Natural History Museum
Again, smaller than I expected. I was excepting this huge place that would take days to see it all. What it lacks in size, it makes it up in the variety and rareness of the things in display. I think my expectations were too high and I didn’t find it to be way better than some of the other natural museums I’d been in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Some very cool modern art exhibits. A whole section of portraits of American presidents. Beautiful building inside and out.
Bigger than I expected. It was closed for repairs. I was able to take some nice nighttime pictures.
World War II Memorial
Very nice memorial with the Pacific theater on one side, and the Atlantic on the other side. A nice fountain in the middle.
My favorite memorial. I spent a long time there and look a lot of pictures. Lots of people there even late into the evening.
US Vietnam Veterans Memorial
It is very dark at night. It caused me sadness to see so many names on the wall. The directories to find the names were as thick as phone books.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
I was there on the opening day of the Ai Weiwei’s “According To What?”. I write about the exhibit on a separate post. This was my favorite museum experience during this trip.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
I regret having such limited time for this museum. I only spent about 90 minutes in there and found it very engaging, particularly the Nazi Propaganda exhibit.