Next »

Washington, DC Spotlight

Monumental buildings, powerful people – Washington, DC is a capital town

By Jordan Simon

July 6th, 2005

Nowhere on earth is the aura of power so tangible as it is strolling Washington, DC's broad boulevards. Washington was built on a grand scale to impress foreign powers and express the noblest democratic ideals. For many visitors to the US capital, the experience is akin to strolling through a living history textbook that eloquently resonates with revolutionary sentiments from "We the people" to "I have a dream."

The great French architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant vowed in 1791 to design a city "on a dimension proportioned to the greatness which the capital of a powerful empire ought to manifest." His "pedestal waiting for a monument" took a century to crystallize, but Washington's memorials, monuments, and government buildings have achieved mythic, iconic status – and not just for Americans. Every turn downtown and along the Mall seemingly reveals another famous edifice; most, including the Smithsonian's many museums, in true democratic fashion, are free to the public.

Today Washington offers a marvelous combination of historic and hip, constantly morphing, adding exciting new attractions, daringly contrasting neoclassical with postmodern. The all-American town is also a quintessential melting pot with lively, colorful ethnic enclaves reenergized by immigrants from Cambodia to Colombia. Washington's multi-cultural neighborhoods truly express the American dream from the Civil War to civil rights. Passionate urban renaissance has also restored parts of downtown and Logan and Dupont Circles – magnificent Georgian, Italianate, Romanesque or Federal Revival, Beaux Arts, and Art Deco buildings teem with trendy boutiques, hotels, galleries, bars, and restaurants. And it's all wonderfully walkable (or reachable via cheap, efficient public transport), with plentiful cafés and peaceful green spaces to reflect or renew.

Washington demurely reveals more of itself with each visit, with delightfully quirky, culturally significant, and deeply poignant attractions. A three-day trip is sufficient to take in the main monuments and a few museums downtown and on the Mall, while a weeklong stay allows you to discover the vibrant diversity of the many neighborhoods, as well as venture into Virginia for more living history at Alexandria and Mount Vernon. Did we mention much of it is FREE? We did? Good, because that's one of the practical marvels in this city built on dreams.

Our Experts save you money with travel deals and advice

Sign up for the Top 25 Newsletter to get exclusive weekly deals