Washingon, D.C. is an incredibly attractive destination for tourists. Sure, it can be uncomfortably hot or cold at certain times of the year, and yes, the traffic can be a nightmare. But the American capital is breathtaking to behold in person, built as a combination of a modern city and a cluster of monuments that preserve an older time. The city was designed with the glory of ancient Rome in mind, and almost surprisingly, it still calls that kind of imagery to mind, even in 2017.
The main attractions include the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building, the White House, and numerous memorials and monuments to past events and leaders. A lot of tourists like to see many of these sights simply by walking through the city, perhaps ducking into a restaurant or a museum now and then while they’re at it. But if you’re in D.C. for longer than just a day or two, you might find yourself looking for some more unique activities as well. Granted there’s enough to do to fill several weeks, but sometimes it’s only by finding some off the beaten path sights and activities that you truly feel you get to know a city.
With that in mind, here are some unexpected things to do in D.C.
National Capitol Columns
No, we’re not talking about the ones that are actually built into the current Capitol Building. We’re talking about the old ones. Atlas Obscura, incidentally an excellent site for those curious about obscure attractions, tells us that in 1958 the sandstone columns of the Capitol’s east portico were replaced with fresh marble ones. The sandstone ones had been in place since 1828, and rather than being destroyed, broken down, or stored away somewhere, they were simply stood up in the National Arboretum in town. These are the same columns that presided over presidents like Abraham Lincoln and many others, which makes them somewhat fascinating to behold – even if they no longer have a building (or portico) to support.
Alexandria is essentially a suburb of D.C., though many people think of it more as a district of the city. You can get to the older center of the town via the D.C. metro, and once there you’ll feel as if you’re in a different city entirely – perhaps like a Southwestern ski village in the summer, or a small lake town in the Midwest. That’s the kind of charm that oozes out of the shops, bars and restaurants of Old Alexandria, and altogether it makes for a great break from the busier D.C. area.
The International Spy Museum
We’re fascinated by spies. There’s a reason James Bond might be the most popular action franchise of all time, and why it’s led to countless spinoffs. There are spoofs like Austin Powers, Americanized versions like Mission Impossible, and even some subtler takes. Slotsource has a whole arcade game devoted to “Agent Jane Blonde,” a cartoon female twist on the character that didn’t even come from a show or film. She’s simply the subject of a one-off internet slot reel. So why are all these things popular? Basically because most civilians can’t get enough of the idea of tradecraft and international espionage. And of course, as you can glean from the name, that’s just what you’ll learn about at this museum. One can assume the museum isn’t spilling any vital modern secrets, but it actually provides some great education on the history of American espionage.
Lincoln’s Summer Cottage
It’s shocking how few visitors realize that Lincoln’s Summer Cottage is actually in D.C. With all the other monuments to great presidents and other significant men from U.S. history, you’d think it would be more of a focal point! In reality however it’s somehow become a little bit obscure, which makes it a lot of fun to check out. It’s well north of city center, and granted there’s not a great deal to do once you’re there. But it’s humbling to stand where the legendary leader once hung out when he was escaping the busier parts of the Capitol.
Tour Georgetown University
It may not be the most common recommendation in the U.S. for tourists to explore college campuses. But just as many visitors to London make the short journey to get a look at Oxford or Cambridge, you ought to take the time to have a walk around Georgetown, or possibly even take an official tour. Buzzfeed just recently ranked it as D.C.’s most beautiful campus, but going beyond that it’s probably one of the most attractive in the U.S. Located just over the Potomac River across Francis Scott Key Bridge from the main city, it’s a comforting and impressive environment, complete with some great little local bars and restaurants.