When it comes to historic American cities, Washington, D.C., packs an educational punch. While it wasn’t our nation’s first capital (in fact, it was the ninth!), Washington, D.C., has served as the federal capital city of the United States since 1802. Fast-forward to modern D.C., a city that welcomes over 20 million visitors each year. Between the monuments, memorials, museums and historic neighborhoods, it can be tough to decide what to experience first. Luckily for us, we can virtually explore it all without breaking a sweat!

I love to start my D.C. deep-dive with a visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where you can interactively browse exhibits on topics from Women’s Suffrage to American enterprise. The collections housed here contain more than 3 million historical objects — including the famed “Star-Spangled Banner” — and trace the American experience from Colonial times to present. Those of you virtually exploring with younger generations might enjoy a visit to the International Spy Museum, one of D.C.'s newest collections (and one of my personal favorites.) Invite your grandchild to join the ranks of Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys as you learn about different spying devices, decoding tactics and more! Check out the museum’s calendar of upcoming virtual events here.

Now that we’ve had a quick history lesson, let’s head outside and explore some of Washington, D.C.’s iconic memorials and buildings. This Google Earth link drops you in the middle of the National Mall. Straight ahead of you is the towering Washington Memorial, a symbol of our first president’s military and political leadership. The tallest building in the world upon its completion in 1884, the concept of its construction was that the monument, much like the man it represents, stood in no one's shadow.

Two blocks to your right is perhaps our country’s most famous residence — the White House. A museum of American history in its own right, the residence is so large it houses a chocolate shop, a florist and a bowling alley — there’s even a pool hidden beneath the floors of the Press Room! Although Thomas Jefferson was the first president to take up residence in this  building in 1801, it wasn’t officially named the White House until President Theodore Roosevelt moved in 100 years later. Normally, a tour of the White House needs to be booked months in advance, but you can you can virtually explore the rooms of the White House with us now!

Just beyond the Washington Monument sits the World War II Memorial, with its beautiful central fountain and evocative Freedom Wall, which features 4,048 gold stars — each star representing 100 of the more than 400,000 Americans who perished in the war. At the other end of this tribute is the Lincoln Memorial. Standing in front of this 19-foot-tall statue of President Abraham Lincoln, I can almost hear the words of his somber but moving Gettysburg Address:

“… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

I always find a walk among the monuments of the National Mall to be a moving experience. From honoring the sacrifices of those who came before us to working together to build a brighter future, these grounds represent the legacy of our country and always make for an impactful visit.

On the opposite end of the Mall sit several of our nation’s most important buildings — the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court Building and the Library of Congress. As you stand before the Capitol Building, be sure to look up to the cast-iron Capitol Dome, completed in 1866 and topped with the bronze Statue of Freedom. To learn more about the architecture and history of this incredible structure, check out this inside look at the U.S. Capitol Building.

End your D.C. exploration with a serene visit to the U.S. Botanical Garden, a living museum of stunning blooms and exotic flora. The oldest continually operating botanic garden in the United States, this three-acre oasis and its corresponding Conservatory are home to an impressive array of plant species.

You’ll find a wide variety of Road Scholar programs in Washington, D.C., covering topics from espionage and politics to architecture and history — even Grandparent programs! Explore the full collection here →

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About the Author

JoAnn Bell, Senior Vice President, Program Development and Strategy, develops and manages more than 5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and 50 states. JoAnn’s extensive travel industry experience informs her expert insight on everything from where to find the world’s most charming streets to must-see hidden gems across the globe.

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