Washington DC remains one of the most touristy cities in the United States. And for good reason — it hosts the Smithsonian Institution, a 19-museum network, and some of this nation’s greatest historical monuments and memorials. (Did you know this year marks the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination?)
As a result, Washington DC is a veritable tourist magnet — it consistently ranks on the top 10 most visited cities from overseas visitors and, according to the most recent visitor statistics, over 20 million people visited the city in 2013 and spent nearly $7 billion while they were there. But with so many people visiting the city every year, the most popular monuments, museums, and attractions become overcrowded with tourists aching for a bit of culture and history.
The next time you visit, try visiting some of these underrated tourist gems to give yourself a break from the crowds and a different taste of DC history:
The John F. Kennedy Center of Performing Arts: This performing arts venue offers the finest in ballet, theatre, and musical productions. Inside, you’ll find beautiful chandeliers made of crystal, a pipe organ that towers far over your head, and shimmering red and gold silk curtains that were famously given by the Japanese government. The facility is the busiest of its kind in the US; it hosts over 2,000 performances to over two million people every year. With three main theaters, you can choose to attend whichever strikes your fancy — the Concert Hall, the Opera House, or the Eisenhower Theater.
The Titanic Memorial: No, this memorial does not commemorate DiCaprio’s appearance in the 1997 James Cameron classic film (though perhaps it should as well). Rather, this monument — a woman holding her arms outstretched in front of the Potomac River — was erected to honor the victims who lost their lives in the sinking of the Titanic disaster of 1912. It’s a wonderful place to take a walk along the Potomac waterfront, sit quietly and read a book, or just enjoy the scenery and ponder the significance of this historical site.
Korean War Veterans Memorial: This memorial is one of the most impressive monuments in Washington DC but it nevertheless remains an underrated attraction compared to some of the other, more popular, memorials. Meant to honor those who fought in the Korean War in 1950-1953, this memorial consists of 19 statued soldiers caught solid in time as they trek through Korea’s rugged terrain. Across from the statues is an engraved wall with 38 portraits of soldiers (to signify the thirty-eight long months of war) and a shallow pool that adds a lovely serenity to this worthwhile monument.
National Arboretum: Forget the Washington Monument and crowded memorials and visit the serene and relaxing National Arboretum. Visitors enjoy strolling through the 446-acres of natural wonder as they come upon 70 varieties of cherry trees, 100-year old bonsai trees, and sweet-smelling cherry blossoms in full bloom. The Arboretum offers special events, such as Full Moon Hikes, workshops on Zen art, herb pressing demonstrations, and hikes under the full moon. The Ikebana International Exhibit, which is on from April 3 to April 12, allows visitors to learn Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement.
National Gallery of Art: The National Gallery of Art, established in 1937, is filled with one of the most impressive collections of art in the world. Their permanent collection spans from the Middle Ages to the present, and its most renowned collection is of the Italian Renaissance. Visitors get to see Bellini’s The Feast of Gods, da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci (his only painting in America) Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi’s Adoration of the Magi and even Duccio’s Maesta.
With over 75,000 prints, the National Gallery is bound to have something for everyone. They offer self-guided tours, family guides, audio tours, and even a mobile app that allows you to discover highlights right on your smartphone. And, if traditional art is not your thing, you may still enjoy their skating rink, their free blues, jazz, and salsa concerts or their six-acre sculpture garden.