Washington is a city of contrast, division and wide open space. From the National Mall to sports stadiums and musical novelties there is plenty to see and do.
Uber is the preferred way to move around the city but you can also take the metro at similar prices to the London Underground, or even walk if you fancy a bit of a trek.
The Hirshhorn – This modern art museum is set out over three floors, but is still quite a small venue. The bottom floor showcases guest exhibitors (unfortunately this was not the case when we visited), whilst the other two floors display The Hirshhorn collection. This included Ron Mueck’s untitled ‘Big Man’ and Bettina Poustchi’s ‘World Time Clock’ — a circular exhibition running around the centre of The Hirshhorn displaying clocks in multiple time zones around the world. I particularly enjoyed a car crushed by a boulder, sculpted by Jimmie Durham and placed on the plaza just outside.
The National Portrait Gallery/The American Art Museum – Head to these two museums, joined together, for a packed day out.
The American Art Museum hosts the ‘Electronic Super Highway’ (this was actually the main reason we visited). Constructed of multiple TVs displaying video clips representative of each state in America — for example The Wizard of Oz represents Kansas — and highlighted by neon lights, this piece of art work by Nam June Paik explores the visualisation of America through the eyes of both natives and foreigners. This is just one of the delights of the gallery.
The National Portrait side of the gallery holds portraits of America’s presidents (particularly relevant at the time of this post with the gallery’s new installation and plenty of sensory modern art installations that include moving image. A particular video, at the time of my visit, of a crowd of people slowly reacting to being hosed with water was enticing enough to continuously fill the room it was presented in. This piece was by Bill Viola, titled ‘The Raft’ and can be found here.
The mix of these two gallery’s provided the most versatile and varied art collection I have experienced to date.
The Verizon Center (Edit: now the Capital One Arena) – With a beer can the size of my head in one hand and a foam finger covering the other it was hard not to shout ‘Let’s go Caps!’ I still have no idea what the rules of ice hockey are, but I can say that I had the full American experience sitting high up in the Verizon Center.
I later returned to watch a game of basketball. With slightly different seats, knowing the rules to this game and holding a hotdog in my hand, I felt like a true American as I stood to hear the American National Anthem at the beginning of the game. Packing the breaks between plays with small kid basketball games, competitions that involved crawling toddlers, and cheerleader choreography it was hard to get bored; even non-sports fans are sports fans in America.
Showtime – Visiting DC at the hand of a current resident meant that the local musical delicacies were readily available. We took to Showtime dive bar to see ‘Granny and the Boys’, a well know funk band featuring an actual granny. Packed into a tiny space with $3 Natty Bohs (National Bohemian beers) you can’t help but jive along to the classic tunes covered by ‘Granny and the Boys’. They even have their own LP!
The National Gallery – We also happened to stumble upon a national gallery exhibition featuring a jazz band. Playing songs from Frank Ocean to Michael Jackson it was great to unveil good music in a non music venue. DC really is packed full of life.
Places of interest
The White House – It is a must see whilst in this city, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately it was no longer Obama’s domain at the time of my visit and the inauguration had left fences surrounding the building obscuring it slightly from view. However, it was still interesting to see this important building placed on just another street in DC, subverting expectations of a more grandiose setting.
The Library of Congress – I was also lucky enough to experience an in-depth tour of the Library of Congress during my time in Washington. From high ceilings to underground passages, which connected the library to the Senate and House buildings, this is more than just a library. Fellows are afforded a spacious study area where their expertise are clearly valued. Most breathtaking, in my opinion, was the reading room. A symmetrical, rounded room with three floors, rows and rows of outward facing bookcases and the traditional green library desk lamps, it was a sacred space for creativity.
National Monuments – I also managed to squeeze in two tours of the National Monuments, once by night and once by day. Seeing the sun go down, whilst watching the Washington monument in the reflective pool, with the Lincoln memorial just behind me is probably a experience that summed up Washington succinctly. It is a place for celebrating its greatest political achievements both past and present. Take the tour to see the square where Martin Luther King stood to give his infamous speech, and the Jefferson, Roosevelt, Vietnam, and WW2 memorials. If you go in the spring you will also catch the iconic cherry blossom that can be found printed in various forms in all souvenir shops in DC.
Georgetown – Whilst staying in Dupont Circle for a night we took the time to go shopping in nearby Georgetown. From Nike to GAP you won’t struggle to find what you’re looking for here. With plenty of opportunities for shopping there are also restaurants dotted around if you feel as if you need a breather.
Air and Space Museum – A final highlight of my time in DC was the Air and Space Museum. The museum itself is mostly directed at children, so although the information is interesting, the interactive elements can be a bit disengaging. However, the main reason that this is a notable entertainment hotspot is the planetarium. I experienced two of the presentations. As you sit back in reclining chairs the room goes dark and the ceiling is filled with a sky of stars. The immersive experience is a mixture of information, relaxation and a feeling of insignificance as the presentation takes you from the Big Bang to the new and current discoveries of astrophysicists. With presenter Whoopi Goldberg there isn’t really much more you can ask for for an out of this world experience.