Washington DC is a really cool city for a good few reasons. Firstly, it’s one of the most historic places in America, secondly, after the amount of Scandal and Designated Survivor I’ve watched it was really cool to see in person, thirdly, I had been reading Michelle Obama’s autobiography (she’s a queen, definitely would recommend reading Becoming) while I was over so I had a greater insight into American presidential life, and finally because it has a whole bunch of banging museums.
While we were there I did witness some political activity – one was a pro-life protester who argued that black people should be against abortion as it reduces their political voice when it comes to voting, and of course another was calling for Trump’s impeachment – cause who isn’t?
The thing about DC is that the centre is basically just a huge park and all the memorials and sites of interest are sort of spread along that. On our first day we actually took a segway tour of the National Mall which was fun and saved us a whole lot of walking. Wheels are the best method of transport actually – after that we zipped about on electric scooters which was ideal. All along the Mall we saw war memorials to Vietnam, Korea and WWII, memorials for Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. The absolute best thing about this was that you can dip your feet in the water of the WWII memorial and god darn I needed that in the 30°C+ heat!
Some extra things we got up to
The night we arrived, we went to the Kennedy Center to see Dance Theater of Harlem’s Ballet Across America programme – it was a medley of load of different things and it was lovely.
As theatre history nerds we made of point of trying to visit Ford’s Theater where President Lincoln was assassinated. Unfortunately they had a production on so we were unable to tour the theatre but we went through the house where he was brought to be seen to and ultimately where he died. I was a little underwhelmed by this and I really wish I could have gone into the theatre but it was not meant to be.
We also took a wee day trip out to Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. (Not gonna lie I had Hamilton songs stuck in my head all day i.e. George Washington’s going hoooome). His estate is interesting I guess with a museum, the actual manor, various gardens, a farm, and a slavery memorial, but the best part was the journey there on the boat. Breezing down the Potomac River was beautiful and a nice relief from the heat! The view from Mount Vernon is also pretty stunning. Trying to get home, on the other hand, was a different story. Right when we were due to head back a freak storm suddenly hit, leathering us with heavy rain, thunder and lightning. We couldn’t help but laugh because it had been 30°C all day and suddenly we were cold and wet – ha! Typical! But don’t worry, we made it back to the city after the storm passed.
To kill some time on our last day we visited the Arlington Cemetery. This is basically a massive graveyard for American veterans who died serving their country. It is dumbfounding to see that many graves all lined up as far as you can see. We saw JFK’s grave and the American changing of the guard – not too bad.
The absolute best thing about Washington DC is all of the amazing museums. Top tip is to visit the Smithsonian Castle first – it’s a bit of an information center about all the museums and it can help you to decide which of the museums will suit your interests. The wonderful thing, too, about the Smithsonian is that all the museums have free entry which gives you loads of activities at zero costs. The first place we popped into was the Hirshhorn Museum next door, which is a modern art gallery – always fun to have a look at and I really enjoyed the graphic exhibition called Belief+Doubt by Barbara Kruger. We also visited the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights – it was alright but I think it’s more meaningful to the Americans than to me.
The newest and most popular Smithsonian at the moment is the African American Museum – you’re best to book in a free timeslot for that one. It has a whole bunch of exhibitions but the main one takes you through the history of African Americans from slavery, to fighting civil rights, to modern day influence. It was really fascinating and full of loads to see. More than that, it really hit me how much progress we have seen but how much injustice still lives. It’s easy to detach from the slavery and think ‘oh that was a horrible thing from the olden days’ but by the time you hit the modern day and you see the stories of police brutality and racism from Emmett Till up to the recent Black Lives Matter movement, ooh it made me mad! It still blows my mind as to how people can be so concerned with their ego and power to try and descriminate against others because of their skin colour – it’s absolutely absurd. The wee section on Barrack Obama made me feel a little emotional, cause I just feel so proud of him and they were playing Glory from Selma which gets me anyway. It felt like the good guy really won in that so I hope I can return to that kind of pride in politics but… not for now (lol).
We also went upstairs to the Culture Galleries and I had a great time looking through the Theatre, Music and Dance sections – so cool to see so many historical productions and artefacts from amazing African American artists over the years.
The Museum of American History is a random one and it kinda has a bit of everything. I think this is a good one for just popping in to see the bits that you’re interested in. While we were there we saw Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Louis Armstrong’s instruments and the collection of First Lady’s inauguration gowns.
And finally, my absolute favourite, was the Newseum. This one actually isn’t a Smithsonian so you do have to pay entry but it is worth it. This museum presents how journalism has developed and changed throughout history and obviously has some incredible stories to tell and impacts to make on the world. I particularly liked looking at a section of the Berlin Wall and the section on 9/11 was particularly emotional. As we are in the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall riot there was an exhibit on the LGBTQ+ rights movement which was brilliant and got me emotional – again with the pesky equality thing – why can’t everyone just let everyone be?!
DC is a great place to visit and I would absolutely recommend it to others. Here are my top tips; you only need to go for a couple of days, pick the museums you’d be most interested and for the busy ones it is worth booking in your free slot so you can avoid the queues, pick yourself up an e-scooter and enjoy!