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Top 10 Things To Do in Washington, D.C.

Journey south of the border and visit some of the United States’ most culturally and historically significant landmarks, including the White House, Capitol building and more. Here are 10 Washington, D.C. attractions you absolutely can’t miss.

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1. United States Capitol

From the elevated site that Pierre L’Enfant described as “a pedestal waiting for a monument,” the dignified Capitol has stood unwavering as the symbol of American democracy throughout its 200-year history. From the legislative session called by President Jefferson in 1803 to approve the Louisiana Purchase through to the House of Representatives’ vote in 1998 to impeach President Clinton, these halls have witnessed an often rough-and-tumble democratic process. The Capitol’s frescoes and art collection qualify as a notable museum, but its millions of tourists come, above all, to brush shoulders with history, both remembered and in the making.

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2. The White House

Possibly the most famous residential landmark in the world, this dramatic Neo-classical mansion has been the residence of the US president and family, the seat of executive power, and a working office building for over 200 years. Situated at the nation’s most recognizable address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House reflects the power of the presidency. Its 132 rooms preserve and display the cultural settings of America’s past and present. Lafayette Park to the north and the Ellipse to the south are popular sites for viewing this American icon.

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3. Arlington National Cemetery

Some of America’s most cherished burial sites are found in the 624 acres of the nation’s best-known military cemetery. The rolling lawns filled with white tombstones, the Tomb of the Unknowns, and the grave of John F. Kennedy are conspicuous symbols of sacrifices made for freedom. The flags fly at half-staff from before the first and after the last of 25-30 funerals per day, as the graves of veterans continue to multiply. Nearly four million people visit the cemetery every year, some attracted by the historical importance of the site, many wishing to honour those who have died in the nation’s wars, others taking part in the funeral of a friend or family member. The cemetery visitors center provides maps, personalized information, and guidance.

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4. National Air and Space Museum

This fascinating museum’s 22 main exhibition galleries pay homage to some of the most ingenious and beautifully crafted objects of flight, from the Wright brothers’ airplane to powerful spacecraft. America by Air outlines the history of America’s airline industry, including airplanes from the formative years of mechanical flight. Compelling exhibitions put these historic objects in their social and political context. Moon rock is displayed so that the public can touch it.

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5. Library of Congress

The focus of this immense library – the greatest accumulation of information and images in the world – is the magnificent Jefferson Building. Its main reading room is one of the most captivating spaces in the city. Collections encompass many subjects – the law library is especially notable, as are materials and books relating to Africa, the Middle East, and the rest of the world. In addition there are collections of comic books, jazz recordings and memorabilia, photography, films, and television broadcasts. The Adams and Madison buildings are more recent additions.

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6. Washington National Cathedral

This famous Gothic building is the focus of public spiritual life. The structure is the sixth largest cathedral in the world – and was completed in 1990, with a 10-story-high nave and a central tower of 676 ft., the highest point in the District of Columbia. This Episcopal church, officially named the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, will be undergoing renovations until 2016 following earthquake damage.

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7. National Museum of American History

Three huge floors filled with a variety of fascinating objects make up this paean to American culture. The first floor focusses on science and technology, including hands-on experiments and exhibitions on transport, electricity, and machinery. The second floor is home to the famous Star Spangled Banner, while the third floor features a stirring tribute to the American presidency and military history.

(Photo courtesy of wallyg/Flickr)

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8. Mount Vernon

This graceful mansion on the banks of the Potomac River is the second most visited historic residence in America after the White House. George Washington inherited the estate at the age of 22, and lived at Mount Vernon for over 40 years. With many of the buildings and activities brought back to life, no other place better portrays the character of the first US president, or the role of slavery-based agriculture in the young republic. Be sure to visit the Ford Orientation Center and the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education center for exhibitions and artifacts.

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9. National Gallery of Art

The collections at this immense gallery rival those at any art museum in the world, displaying milestones of western art from the Middle Ages though the 20th century, including Italian Renaissance works, Dutch Masters, French Impressionists, and all ages of American art. John Russell Pope designed the harmonious Neo-Classical West Building in 1941. The East Building is the work of architect I.M. Pei, and it is often considered a work of art in itself.

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10. National Zoological Park

One of the most visited destinations in Washington, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo is a beautifully landscaped 163-acre urban park and an innovative centre for animal care and conservation. Children and adults delight at seeing rare giant pandas, endangered Asian elephants, and majestic tigers. More than 2,000 animals live here, increasingly housed in habitats that allow natural behaviour. The zoo, which opened in 1889, was one of the first in the world to be founded partly with the goal of preserving endangered species.

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