Washington, DC is an incredible city to visit; there is so much to see and the vast majority of it is within close radius of the National Mall. Which leads to a slight issue: there are as many hidden gems outside the National Mall that are often overlooked by visitors.
By no means an exhaustive list, here are some sites you should also check out when visiting the American capital.
The home of Marjorie Merriweather Post is hidden in a residential area of northwest Washington, DC. It tops our list of most unexpected museums in DC. Part historical home, part lovely gardens and part museum of 18th and 19th-century French and Russian art, Hillwood Estate is completely surprising. The estate shows how the rich and famous lived during this era. It is also oddly relevant as Marjorie Post’s other home was a Florida estate called Mar-a-Lago… currently owned by Donald Trump.
The Library of Congress is not just the largest library in the world, it also has a fantastic museum and it’s free. Often overlooked because it’s not a Smithsonian (and not quite on the National Mall), the museum can be toured in a couple of hours. On display is a Gutenberg Bible, an original King James Bible, and even a First Folio (Shakespeare’s original Complete Works). Although, its neighbour, the Folger Shakespeare Library, has 82 First Folios (the most in the world) and is also worth checking out. Also noteworthy is the original Thomas Jefferson’s Library, which he sold to Congress to remake the Library of Congress after it burned during the War of 1812.
On your way to visit Mount Vernon, if you look on the Maryland side of the river, you will see the huge 19th century masonry Fort Washington. People often wonder why they don’t know about this huge structure. Fort Washington is in an interesting position: it is an incredible structure, which just happens to be far enough from the centre of DC to be overlooked by most visitors. Because of this, the fort is in a state of elegant decay, as nature is slowly reclaiming it. Visitors can appreciate the great achievements of man and the power of nature. And for my money, the view of the Potomac River from Fort Washington is the most beautiful way to take in the river.
The National Cathedral is the sixth largest cathedral in the world and took nearly 83 years to build. It’s run by the Episcopal Church, but welcomes people of all faith. As this mammoth structure is a good distance from the Mall, visitors often don’t get a chance to see it, which is a shame as it is one of the most incredible buildings in the city. It also boasts a plethora of unusual things to see, such as a stained glass window with a moon rock in it and a gargoyle with the head of Darth Vader. The National Cathedral is also the final resting place of Helen Keller.
Frederick Douglass is one of the most interesting men in American history and is someone worth learning about. The Frederick Douglass House, nestled away in a urban neighbourhood, is often overlooked. Yet, his home is also one of the most incredible of all house museums. The vast majority of the objects in the home are directly traceable to Douglass. Unlike many other historic homes, which only years later are converted into museums and are dressed with period furniture, Cedar Hill was made a museum shortly after Douglass’ death. The house has a lovely visitor centre and home tours are guided by knowledgeable park rangers.
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is the most popular museum in America. But the problem is, when the museum gets a new object, those objects tend to be airplanes or spaceships, which as a rule tend to be rather large. To help with this issue, the Air and Space Museum opened a second campus, called the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum, in Northern Virginia in 2003. Due the the distance from the city centre, visitors often skip the second campus of the Air and Space Museum, which is a real shame. The museum is housed in two massive airplane hangers that house some of the most incredible air and spacecrafts ever built. The collection includes the Space Shuttle Discovery, The SR-71 Blackbird and a Concorde. The museum is also home to the Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 which bombed Hiroshima.