A Capital Time to Visit

New retail areas and museums, the cherry blossom festival and iconic monuments make D.C. an ideal spring vacation.

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The displays at the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture are visually stunning.Photography by Alan Karchmer for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

The nation’s capital will knock your socks off, whatever your politics. After more than a dozen visits, I am still bowled over by Washington. There are even more reasons to make the trip now. Ideally, plan to spend a week – there’s that much to see and do. Bring good walking shoes.

The monuments unfailingly inspire awe, the art galleries constantly showcase the best the world has to offer, and the museums have no comparisons.

Fly into Reagan National Airport. It costs a few extra dollars, but the views coming in low over the Potomac River to the District of Columbia are worth it: Georgetown, the Watergate, the Mall, then the Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson monuments with the Capitol in the distance. If you’re on the other side of the plane, the mammoth Pentagon sprawls.

What’s New

A major setting for National Cherry Blossom Festival activities this year is the new Wharf, a one-mile stretch on the Washington channel of the Potomac between Interstate 395 and North Street Southwest. It’s filled with waterfront parks, shops, restaurants, a concert venue and hotels, including the Wharf Intercontinental with its view-friendly, 5,000-square-foot rooftop lounge.

This rite of spring festival runs until April 15, but when the thousands of cherry tree blooms rimming the Tidal Basin hit their peak always depends upon the weather. We won’t know until about 10 days before. In 2017 and 2016, it was March 25; in 2015 and 2014, it was April 10.

Museum of the Bible

Oklahoman and Hobby Lobby president Steve Green opened this museum in November. This self-described attraction, “dedicated to a scholarly and engaging presentation of the Bible’s impact, history and narrative,” has earned a spot on your don’t-miss list.

Visitors explore the History of the Bible display located on the fourth floor of the Museum of the Bible.
Photo courtesy Museum of the Bible

Two blocks from the National Mall and three blocks from the Capitol, the museum features biblical art and antiquities, treasures from the Vatican Museum, biblical manuscripts, printed Bibles, narratives from the Hebrew Bible, a New Testament Theater and a remarkable journey above Washington, which reveals how some of the District’s landmarks were influenced by biblical texts and imagery.

The museum is open daily.

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Part of the Smithsonian Museum complex on the National Mall, this culmination of decades of planning (back to Woodrow Wilson’s presidency) has hit a home run. Opened in September 2016, the stunning, architecturally iconic, $540 million, eight-story, 400,000-square-foot building is filled with a dozen exhibitions housing 183 videos, 13 interactive exhibits and 3,000 pieces.

The museum tells the emotional, often heart-breaking, but also often triumphant stories of African-Americans. Artifacts range from the coffin of Emmitt Till, the 14-year-old whose lynching in Mississippi in 1955 helped propel the civil rights movement, to Harriet Tubman’s shawl, Muhammad Ali’s terry-cloth boxing robe and Nat Turner’s Bible.

Open daily with free admission, the popular museum requires timed passes to enter. Visit etix.com to get your tickets.

Washington D.C. is known for its beauty during the spring, and its National cherry blossom Festival.

Other Suggestions

Stop for a peek at the recently unveiled portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Also, swing by the National Gallery of Art; after three years, the fabulous renovations inside the East Building are complete.

There are many great hotels in the District; my favorite is the Willard Intercontinental Washington, the city’s grand dame, a block from the White House.

Massive security in Washington is mostly unseen; the District is surprisingly open and accessible. Mass transit is clean, safe and efficient via the Metro, which offers both rail and bus service.

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