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Washington, D.C., isn’t just for wheeling-and-dealing powerbrokers. The thriving metropolis has something for just about everybody, from history buffs to foodies to fashionistas. Visit the U.S. Capitol building, the White House and the Library of Congress while you’re there, or check out one of the many thriving outdoor festivals, free concerts and movie showings in the summer months. Here are our top five picks to see and do:
1. Government offices. A trip to D.C. wouldn’t be complete without seeing the government in action. Drop in and listen to arguments at the Supreme Court — expect longer lines March through June, peak tourism months — but tours of the White House and U.S. Capitol building should be arranged ahead of time through your senator or representative (you also can make a reservation for the Capitol online). Tours of the Capitol include stops in the Crypt of the Capitol, the rotunda and the National Statuary Hall (the Senate and House galleries aren't included in the tour; for a peek, ask your Congress member for a separate pass), while the self-guided White House tour offers a look at some of the diplomatic rooms on the lower level, including the satin-walled Red Room.
2. Library of Congress. While you’re exploring the different facets of government, check out the Library of Congress. The largest library in the world is used for research by Congress and includes millions of books, manuscripts, films and recordings, as well as interesting exhibits on American history. Read over early drafts of the Declaration of Independence, see the first map to include America from 1507, view a historic collection of bibles and much more.
3. Annual festivals. D.C. hosts several huge fests throughout the year; one of the biggest, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, lasts for two weeks on the National Mall. The summer festival celebrates international and U.S. cultures through crafts, demonstrations, live music, food and more. The National Cherry Blossom Festival, meanwhile, draws huge crowds in celebration of Washington’s cherry blossom trees — gifts from Japan in 1912 — and has turned into a citywide celebration of Japanese life and culture, complete with kite-flying contests, Japanese art exhibitions and a street festival. Festival dates depend on peak cherry blossom blooms, but expect to visit in late March or early April.
4. Free outdoor events. The summer months mean free outdoor concerts and movies galore in D.C. Starting in late May, every Friday at 5 p.m., the National Gallery of Art hosts Jazz in the Garden, free jazz concerts in its outdoor sculpture garden, while at Fort Reno Park, you can hear up-and-coming local indie bands on Mondays and Thursdays. Washingtonians also enjoy complimentary films on Monday nights on the National Mall as part of the popular Screen on the Green series. Screenings are usually held July through August.
5. George Washington’s home. America’s first president, George Washington, called Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens home, and the grounds include a mansion, the tomb of George and Martha, beautiful gardens, the four-acre Pioneer Farmer site and the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant.
The five best things to see and do in Washington D.C., are visiting the Capitol, the Library of Congress, the Washington Monument and the National Building Museum.