Any trip to our nation’s capital is going to be largely spent on the vast, two mile long mall which stretches from the Lincoln Memorial, past the Washington Monument, and all the way to the U.S. Capitol Building. Visitors to the mall have the opportunity to explore these national treasures, the museums of the Smithsonian, and the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam War Memorials. And while a person could easily spend a week or more taking in all of these sites, there are several other interesting places and monuments worthy of a visit when you are in Washington D.C.
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington is just across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial, and walking through it is a humbling experience, as you take in the over 300,000 grave markers of those who have served in our armed forces. If you look closely, you might even find the graves of some famous Americans such as Joe Louis, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, and former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. There are several monuments and historical sites to see throughout the cemetery, such as the estate of Robert E. Lee, the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial, and the grave of John F. Kennedy, but if you see only one monument during your visit to Arlington, be sure to see the Tomb of the Unknowns, which is the final resting place for the remains of unknown American soldiers from World Wars I and II, and the Korean conflict. The changing of the guard, which takes place every half hour, is like nothing you’ll ever experience (I stayed and watched it three times).
The site where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated is on 10th St., five blocks east of the White House. It houses some interesting artifacts, such as the long coat Lincoln was wearing that night, the blood stained pillows which were placed beneath his head after he was shot, the gun John Wilkes Booth used to commit the crime, as well as the room Lincoln was taken to at the Peterson House where he eventually died. And although it is not possible to actually go into the presidential box, you can stand just outside the doorway to the box, where Booth stood when he shot Lincoln in the back of the head.
16 miles southeast of Washington D.C., the plantation of George Washington has many interesting attractions, such as its Orientation Center, Museum, and Education Center. A tour of the home is worthwhile, if for no other reason than to see an original key to the Bastille presented to Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette. Walking the grounds will lead you to the carriage house, greenhouse, slave quarters, and tombs of George and Martha, as well as many breathtaking views of the Potomac River. Mount Vernon is a quick twenty minute drive down George Washington Parkway, through Alexandria, Virginia, and is an ideal spot to get away from the hustle and bustle of some of the traditional Washington D.C. tourist spots.
U.S. Marine Corps Memorial
The famous depiction of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima’s Mt. Suribachi is located just north of Arlington National Cemetery, but is still off the beaten path of many of the more famous monuments in Washington D.C. Don’t let this deter you from visiting this mammoth and awe inspiring structure. Until you’re there, it’s size is unimaginable, and the view of the mall beyond it is incredible. Much like Mount Vernon, this is an ideal spot to get away from the tourist spots on the mall. When I was there, on a weekday in the early afternoon, there were only a few other people in the park, and I was able to sit down, relax, and soak in the power and majesty of the monument.
Here are some resources that give more information on these attractions:
Fodor’s Washington D.C. 2012 – This has just about anything you would want to know about Washington D.C., including attractions, accomodations, and restaurants. It also has information about each of the four attractions I have highlighted.
America’s Best Historic Sites – 101 Terrific Places to Take the Family by B.J. Welborn – This book includes sections on both Mount Vernon and Ford’s Theater. It gives location and tour information, as well as lists of attractions and artifacts to see at each site.
Where Valor Rests – Arlington National Cemetery – essay by Rick Atkinson- Although this is more of a coffee table type of book, it talks about the history of the grounds, lists some of the notable people interned there, and gives detailed information about many of the unique monuments and traits of our national cemetery. This information, and the outstanding pictures, will seriously whet your appetite to visit Arlington.