When Charles Dickens nicknamed Washington D.C., “the City With Magnificent Intentions,” he did so with only a dash of tongue-in-cheek. The capital was still young in 1842 and hadn’t quite lived up to expectations, but its statesmen had a vision of a city that radiated democracy.
A century and a half later, exploring the achievement of that vision could take days or even weeks. Not only is D.C. home to the three branches of government and countless federal departments and agencies, but it is also the locale of myriad museums, monuments and memorials, many that plumb the depths of democracy and American history and culture.
The Smithsonian alone comprises 19 museums and galleries with more than 137 million objects, including irreplaceable historic artifacts, works of art, scientific specimens and cultural exhibits. All are free to the public, and several are within walking distance of each other on the National Mall near the White House, the Capitol and the U.S. Supreme Court. Groups can arrange tours of the White House and the Capitol through their U.S. congressional members in advance. Same-day tours of the Supreme Court with trained docents are available when court is not in session.
Taking it all in, or even just a small piece, can be a daunting task for groups visiting the city, but that’s part of the adventure of visiting D.C. To add to the challenge are more recent additions, relatively speaking, to an already chock-full cityscape that drew a record 19 million visitors in 2013.
Construction is also in full tilt on several new projects. The old Convention Center is being redeveloped in two phases, the second of which will include a 350-room upscale hotel that will open in 2018. The milelong Southwest Waterfront area is now being revamped to create a mixed-use community with restaurants, shops, condominiums, hotels, marinas, a waterfront park and an expanded riverfront promenade with public access to the water.
In addition, the Kennedy Center is undergoing an expansion to add rehearsal space, classrooms and multipurpose rooms, gardens, an outdoor video wall and an outdoor performance space on the Potomac River. Two new museums are also in the works: the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, set to open next year, and the National Law Enforcement Memorial Museum, set to open this year.
Until these additions open, groups may want to consider a few of these other activities and sites while attending meetings in D.C.