Washington D.C. Introduction Walking Tour, Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Washington D.C.

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia or simply The District, is the capital of the United States and, in many senses, America’s front yard. After the American Revolution, the need for the newly independent nation's federal government to have authority over a capital city and not rely on any state for its maintenance and safety, came in the wake of the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783 during which soldiers had besieged Congress then met in Philadelphia.

The new seat of government was founded in 1791, built on the north bank of the Potomac River on the land donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia, and was named in honor of George Washington, the first president of the United States and a Founding Father. The federal district was named Columbia (a feminine form of "Columbus"), a poetic name for the United States commonly used at that time, and included pre-existing settlements of Georgetown and Alexandria. It was thus not a part of any U.S. state.

In the 1830s, the depressed economy of Alexandria, heavily reliant on slave trade, prompted residents to petition Virginia to take back its land donated to the D.C., out of fear that abolitionists in Congress would end slavery. In 1846 Congress agreed to return all the ceded Virginian territory, so today the District of Columbia consists only of the portion originally donated by Maryland.

The outbreak of Civil War in 1861 led to the expansion of the federal government and notable growth in the District's population, including a large influx of freed slaves. The District was the first city in the nation to undergo urban renewal projects as part of the "City Beautiful movement" in the early 1900s. Increased federal spending in the 1930s led to the construction of new government buildings, memorials, and museums. World War II further increased government activity, adding to the number of federal employees in the capital.

Today, outside the imposing neoclassical buildings, including the iconic ones housing the federal government’s three branches: the Capitol, White House and Supreme Court, Washington D.C. is renowned for its world-class museums, memorials, beautiful gardens and arts venues. American capital is one of the most visited cities in the world, with more than 20 million tourists annually, and as such is a place unlike any other. Take this self-guided walk to discover the capital city of the United States.
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

Download The GPSmyCity App

Washington D.C. Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Washington D.C. Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Washington D.C. (See other walking tours in Washington D.C.)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.2 Km or 3.2 Miles
Author: irene
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • White House
  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • World War II Memorial
  • Washington Monument
  • National Museum of Natural History
  • National Gallery of Art
  • U.S. Capitol
White House

1) White House (must see)

The White House address on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. is both home and office of the American President, much as the symbol of the United States. While this is not the first home of American presidents, it has been the home of every American President since John Adams moved in here during his presidency in 1800. The design was made by James Hoban and the construction started with the laying of the cornerstone in 1792. Each president ever since has added their own touch to the people’s house, some big and some small.

The original White House was burned, almost to the ground, by British troops in 1814 during the War of 1812. Rebuilding soon began and was finished by 1817. The South Portico was added in 1824 and the North Portico followed in 1830. The West Wing came during an addition in 1901 and then later the Oval Office was added. A fire of 1929 damaged the West Wing but the damage was repaired, and in the 1930s, a second story and basement were added, upon which the Oval Office was moved to its present location.

By 1948 the building was in need of a serious repair prompted by numerous additions made over the years. Load bearing beams were installed and a complete dismantling of the interior was undertaken. Sadly, most of the glorious handcrafted work was lost during that process. In the 1960s Jacqueline Kennedy oversaw another extensive redecoration of the White House whereby some of the artifacts, previously lost, were brought back and the building returned to its grander days.

Today, the White House has six stories, 132 rooms and various amenities including a tennis court, swimming pool, bowling alley and, of course, the First Garden. Following the attacks of 9/11, the White House is no longer open for tours, except on a very limited basis. All those wanting a tour must ask their Congressional representatives to put them on a list and have background checks completed prior to the visit.

The entire tour is self-paced, so you might want to brush up on your White House history (War of 1812, etc) ahead of time, so as to maximize the experience. You will only be visiting the East Wing, so that will limit how much you need to research.
If you're you don't get a tour time, don't be heartbroken. Stand in front of the White House and take a group photo, then head over to the Visitor Center and use the interactive displays where you can see the same rooms.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial

2) Vietnam Veterans Memorial

When most people think of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (VVM), they typically envision the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. There are two other components to the memorial, however: The Vietnam Women’s Memorial and the Three Soldiers statue. All three components are located in Constitution Gardens of the National Mall.

The U.S. involvement in Vietnam began in 1959. The last US serviceman died in Vietnam on May 15, 1975. Throughout this time the country had varying degrees of support for the war. One of the precepts of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was to not let any of the controversy mar the honoring of the service men and women who served during that time. Even though the memorial itself has had some controversy, time is healing the wounds. The somber reflecting wall with all the names etched into stone lets visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial focus on the sacrifice that has been made. There are currently 58,267 names listed on the wall of service personnel that was either killed or missing in action. There are no civilian names listed on The Wall.

The Vietnam Women’s Memorial is situated just south of The Wall. It shows three uniformed women helping a wounded soldier. The women’s names are Faith, Hope, and Charity. A total of 67 women died during the Vietnam War – 8 were servicewomen, and 59 were civilians in a support role.

The Three Soldiers portion of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was created amid the controversy that surrounded The Wall. Some members of Congress wanted a more traditional memorial. The bronze statues of the service members depict soldiers wearing the common gear of the Vietnam War. They are positioned so they are looking at the names on The Wall.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is open 24 hours a day with rangers available to answer questions from 9:30am to 11:30pm. There are directories at the entrance to The Wall to help you find a specific name. There are also several websites that list the names on The Wall.

Why You Should Visit:
The gravity of the Vietnam War is not truly understood until you see all the names etched for eternity on the memorial's wall.

Do it on a clear day if you can. On a wet day, there is nowhere much to shelter.
If you want unobstructed photographs or more peaceful, quiet visits, it is best to visit very early in the morning, just after daybreak.
Lincoln Memorial

3) Lincoln Memorial (must see)

The Lincoln Memorial is one of the most famous monuments and historical places in the United States. It is a nationally recognized location that was built in honor of Abraham Lincoln, who was the 16th President of the United States during the bloody years of the Civil War. The monument is a fine example of a classic Greek Doric temple. Even the sculpture of the President is done in Olympic Godlike fashion. Two well-known speeches of the former President are also engraved there: the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

The Lincoln Monument Association was formed two years after the death of the President. Planning for the memorial, though, stretched out until 1901. The Lincoln Memorial Bill was signed by President Taft in 1911. Interestingly, the entire monument was built for just $2 million. Today, the site is famous as the location for many historic speeches, like the “I have a dream” speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King. It has also been the site for many famous protests. The Monument is cared for by the National Park Service and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The monument is open 24 hours a day.

Why You Should Visit:
The most visited memorial in the National Mall for a reason; it is beautiful and offers a fantastic view of the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument.

Go first thing in the morning (probably before 9am) or later in the evening (when the lights are on) to avoid the crowds.
Right on the steps, look down on the floor for the "I have a dream" block. It's where MLK, Jr. stood when he gave his most famous speech.
Pack your food and water (in the summer) because the food at the refreshment stands is not very good and somewhat overpriced.
World War II Memorial

4) World War II Memorial (must see)

The World War II Memorial has a grand design that reflects the vastness of a war that spanned the entire globe. Two arches at either end of the memorial are symbolic of the Pacific and Atlantic areas of fighting. 56 pillars are arranged in two semicircles around both arches that represent the 48 states at the time of the war and the District of Columbia, plus the territories of Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Philippines.

The walls between the arches and in front of the pillars depict scenes that were typical of the Pacific and European theaters of the war. These are depicted in bas relief. An engraving of the ubiquitous “Kilroy Was Here” is also present. "Kilroy Was Here" is a meme that became popular during World War II, typically seen in graffiti. Its origin is debated, but the phrase and the distinctive accompanying doodle became associated with GIs in the 1940s.

On the west side sits the Freedom Wall that contains 4,048 gold stars each one representing 100 American soldiers who died or remain missing during WWII. Behind the Freedom Wall is the Reflecting Pool on the Mall. In front of the wall is the World War II Memorial Rainbow Pool and the stars reflect in the water. It makes for a very moving scene.

Almost 2/3 of the site is water or landscaping so the components of the memorial really stand out. The site is available for visiting 24 hours a day except around Memorial Day activities. Rangers are on hand to answer questions from around 10am to 11pm.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the more formal-style memorials, it carries a certain gravity, conveys a somber nature, and provides lots of space to reflect on the drama of WWII.
The small bronze relief panels on the walls show scenes of different wartime activities that give you a bit more insight into the lives of people during the war.
The entire site sits on a little over seven acres, so wear comfortable walking shoes.

Entry is free but do it on a clear day if you can. On a wet day, there is nowhere much to shelter. If you join a guided tour, it's recommended to get some explanation of all the symbolism and pageantry.
Washington Monument

5) Washington Monument (must see)

The Washington Monument was built to honor George Washington. It stands in the center of the US Capital to symbolize the importance of President Washington to the country. The idea to build the monument was first discussed in 1783. It wasn’t until 1847 that a design was agreed upon. However, that design was very different from the monument that stands today.

The obelisk was to rise above a temple that would house artifacts of American presidents and heroes. Over the years that plan was dropped, and today the obelisk is rather plain. The first cornerstone was laid in a Masonic ceremony on July 4, 1848. The same Masonic trowel that President Washington used to lay the cornerstone for the Capitol was used.

Work on the Washington Monument was slow and eventually stopped altogether during the Civil War. Modifications were made to the design and the work resumed in 1880, with the capstone placed on December 6, 1884. The hollow shaft of the monument contains an elevator to the top plus a staircase with 897 steps. There are 188 interesting, carved blocks of stone to be viewed along the staircase, quarried of native stones brought from all the 50 states. These stones were originally supposed to arrive with a donation attached to raise funds. Eventually, the stones arrived but the donation did not.

Go to the top of the monument to get the amazing views of Washington DC. It will be a highlight of your trip.

Entry is free, but a ticket is a must for everyone going into the monument.
One person from your party can obtain up to 6 tickets and pick a time to go up in the monument. Tickets can also be ordered ahead of time for a fee.
National Museum of Natural History

6) National Museum of Natural History (must see)

If you're a nature lover and wish to delve into the fascinating story of our planet, from its fiery beginnings through billions of years of transformation, then The National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. is where you should head!

Otherwise known as The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, for being administered, when opened in 1910, by the Smithsonian Institution, this museum boasts the largest natural history collection in the world!

Indeed, here you can indulge your passion and explore life on Earth in the vast 325,000 square feet of exhibition space, featuring more than 146 million objects and specimens of plants, fossils, minerals, rocks, animals, meteorites and other artifacts. Some of the most valued collections are presented in the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals, the Hall of Paleobiology, and other exhibitions.

Among the permanent exhibits on site there are the Hall of Human Origins exploring the epic story of the human species evolution over 6 million years; the Sant Ocean Hall demonstrating intrinsic connection of the ocean to the daily lives of people around the world; the Ancient Egypt mummies; some 300 vertebrate skeletons; and the African Voices exhibit examining the diversity and global influence of Africa’s peoples and cultures.

Additionally, the Museum incorporates an IMAX Theater and a fun Discovery Room on the first floor.

Why You Should Visit:
Great choice for eclectic viewing as there's much more on display than expected, including, for instance, the Hope Diamond and other treasures from the National Gem Collection. Also, a great place for kids, as they will be in awe the whole time with the many levels to check out. The gift shops are awesome – one gears towards children and the other more towards adults.

Tip: If you don't mind walking outside, the food trucks on the Mall will give you a better deal on food items.
National Gallery of Art

7) National Gallery of Art (must see)

If you're an art enthusiast and touring D.C. for a day or two, you wouldn't want to miss The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. for the world!

Curiously enough, this national center of visual art and culture was founded as a private gift to the nation. In 1936, Andrew W. Mellon, a true philanthropist at heart, offered to fund the Gallery and donate his entire, and rather substantial, personal art collection to get it started. Sadly, he himself died before the gallery got underway.

When the National Gallery of Art opened for the first time in 1941, its collection consisted solely of Mellon’s artworks, including 126 paintings and 26 sculptures. Today, the Gallery is home to more than 150,000 works by more than 13,000 artists, including paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photographs, prints, and drawings, spanning the history of Western art from the Middle Ages to the present, and showcasing some of the triumphs of human creativity!

For the breadth, scope, and magnitude of its collections, the National Gallery is widely considered to be one of the greatest museums in the country, often ranking alongside the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Unlike other top art museums in the U.S., however, the Gallery in Washington D.C. does not charge admission fee.

National Gallery of Art is where you find the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the entire western hemisphere! - The portrait of the poet Ginevra de Benci. The Gallery is also home to the only sculpture ever exhibited by the French Impressionist artist Edgar Degas in his life, called Little Dancer.

You can also see the largest mobile ever created, by Alexander Calder. In fact, this is the last Calder in existence, as he died one year before the finished mobile was hung at the Gallery.

If you come early, make sure to climb upstairs to the central atrium for the best photos of the amazing space with massive columns and fountain under a Pantheonic dome. When in need of fresh air, check out the Gallery’s sculpture garden next door!

The National Gallery of Art has THE BEST gift shops in all of DC. Highly recommended!

There are four dining options on site, but if you’re fighting museum fatigue, check out the gelato in the lower level cafe.

There are audio guides and tours available free of charge.
U.S. Capitol

8) U.S. Capitol (must see)

The United States Capitol stands at the opposite end of the National Mall from the Washington Monument. This huge building holds the House of Representatives in the south wing, and the Senate in the north wing. There are 540 rooms, five floors and the beautiful Capitol Rotunda which additionally houses art and sculptures. The artwork depicts events and figures from American history.

After much wrangling about the design, the Capitol cornerstone was laid by President Washington, who was dressed for the occasion in full Mason attire, on September 18, 1793. The north wing was completed in 1800. For several decades, beginning when the federal government moved to Washington in the fall of 1800, the Capitol building was used for Sunday religious services as well as for governmental functions.

Soon after the building was fully completed in 1811, the Capitol was partially damaged in August 1814 during the burning of Washington in the course of the War of 1812. The burnt down portions were rebuilt and the Rotunda was added in 1826. In the 1850s the Capitol was expanded further with a new cast-iron dome added to replace the wooden Rotunda, following which several more renovations and expansions have been made. Among them is The Apotheosis of Washington fresco painted on the inside of the dome, visible through the oculus from the Rotunda floor.

The Capitol is open to visitors and offers free tour. Tickets are available at the Capitol Visitor Center on the first come-first served basis. This center is new, having opened in 2008. There is a 15-minute orientation film about the Capitol that is well worth viewing.

Visitors to the Capitol can watch Congress in action from designated galleries. Passes are available from the offices of Senators and Representatives. If visiting when Congress is in session, be sure to contact your local official and see government in action. Overseas visitors can apply for the passes at the Senate Appointment Desk and the House Appointment Desk inside the Capitol Building.

First off, book your 45-min tour early to avoid missing out and to give yourself a bigger range of time slots.
You'll still have to go to the desk to pick up your ticket by showing the online receipt on your phone.
Get there 30-45 mins before your tour due to security checks before entry (food & drinks are prohibited).
When you've finished your visit, use the tunnel just before the exit to go directly to the Library of Congress (no additional security check).
Interestingly, both the east side and the west side of the Capitol can be designated as the front, so just be aware that “front” is not the best descriptive designation here.

Walking Tours in Washington D.C., USA

Create Your Own Walk in Washington D.C.

Create Your Own Walk in Washington D.C.

Creating your own self-guided walk in Washington D.C. is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Federal Buildings Walking Tour

Federal Buildings Walking Tour

The capital of the United States is home to several notable federal buildings that hold significant historical, architectural, and governmental value.

Among the stately “emblems of authority” in Washington D.C. perhaps the most prominent is the official residence and workplace of the President of the United States – The White House. This resplendent mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.9 Km or 3 Miles
Georgetown University Walking Tour

Georgetown University Walking Tour

Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in the U.S., was founded in 1789 by John Carroll. Renowned for its academic excellence, the campus is anchored by Healy Hall, a National Historic Landmark designed by the architects of the Library of Congress. Jesuit settlers from England, who founded the Province of Maryland in 1634, laid the groundwork for Georgetown University...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Arlington National Cemetery Tour

Arlington National Cemetery Tour

"The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example," a distinguished politician of the 19th century said once.

The historic military necropolis – the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia – is the final resting place for many of America's heroes, whose willingness to sacrifice for their country has earned them the...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Georgetown Walking Tour

Georgetown Walking Tour

Overlooking the Potomac River, in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., lies a historic neighborhood called Georgetown. Those poetically inclined tend to compare Georgetown to "a tapestry of cobblestone dreams and timeless grace." Indeed, this part of Washington, D.C., replete with charming tree-lined, cobblestone streets, cultural landmarks, and a vibrant atmosphere, is a...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.9 Km or 2.4 Miles
DC Monuments and Memorials Walking Tour

DC Monuments and Memorials Walking Tour

"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years," goes the famous quote by Abraham Lincoln.

Indeed, those remembered in Washington, D.C. – the renowned statesmen, politicians, fallen soldiers, and other distinguished persons – had their years filled with life to the brim. What they left behind is a great legacy manifested in historic...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.6 Km or 2.2 Miles

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

10 Unusual Things to Do in Washington DC

10 Unusual Things to Do in Washington DC

You might be inclined to think that the capital of the United States consists solely of museums and monuments, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As a local, I’ve found that there are so many more things to do in this city than just the main tourist highlights. Read on to learn 10 of...
Traveler's Guide to Washington DC: 16 Souvenirs to Bring Home

Traveler's Guide to Washington DC: 16 Souvenirs to Bring Home

The capital of the United States is an attraction in its own right and many things that have originated here or in the nearby areas are of great cultural and historic significance. To decide which of them can make for an ideal souvenir for you to bring home, check out the proposed list of local...
10 Chocolate Destinations in Washington D.C.

10 Chocolate Destinations in Washington D.C.

Let’s be honest, you hear the words "Washington, D.C." and you think politics, history, museums, etc. You can’t take five steps in the city without being surrounded by history. As important as all that culture is, it’s also a bit overwhelming. Make it fun by exploring Washington,...