ESSENTIALS: Washington, DC

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The Nation’s Capital is defined by imposing memorials, tributes to our democracy and love of freedom, plus iconic museums and corridors of power. There is such an embarrassment of must-see riches here that putting together a sightseeing itinerary can be a daunting task. We’ve put together an expert list of the best of the best that can be accomplished in three days.

The National Mall. For visitors—and many Washingtonians—the National Mall is the epicenter of the nation's capital. There you will find the many museums of the Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian museums are a guide to the most fascinating aspects of our world – and the best part – admission is free.


National Air and Space Museum first; you'll beat the crowds if you arrive when it opens. The galleries are filled with all manner of airborne craft, from vintage airplanes to rockets.

National Museum of Natural History. It's so packed with things to see that you'll need to pick a few select exhibits rather than trying to take it all in during one visit. Perennial favorites include animal dioramas, the Hope Diamond and other glittering gemstones in the Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals and the free-flying beauties flitting through the Butterfly Pavilion.

Note: A timed ticket is required to enter the Butterfly Pavilion, and the wait can be up to an hour. Popular Dinosaur Hall is closed for a complete renovation and will remain closed until sometime in 2019.

The presidential and war memorials, clustered in West Potomac Park which is an extension of the Mall, are all worth seeing. Visit those that have special meaning to you: the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial , the Korean War Veterans Memorial , the Lincoln Memorial , the World War II Memorial , the Thomas Jefferson Memorial , the Vietnam Veterans Memorial or the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

If you've got time, include the National Museum of African American History and Culture in your sightseeing. The Smithsonian's newest museum, occupying 5 acres between the Washington Monument and the National Museum of American History, celebrates the diversity and rich cultural expression of the African American experience.

Touring the White House is a memorable experience, but arrangements must be made in advance through a member of Congress, and you must be with a group of at least ten people; if you haven't done the required homework, learn more about the Executive Mansion at the nearby White House Visitor Center.

You'll need a ticket to go on the guided tour of the United States Capitol. It's worth it to see the magnificent Rotunda—with huge paintings, a dome canopy and an encircling frieze all depicting events in American history—but, be forewarned, the wait can be long, especially during peak tourism seasons.

Spend the day in Georgetown, Washington's oldest residential neighborhood and one of the most popular places in the city to shop, eat or just hang out. Window shop the stores and boutiques along M Street and Wisconsin Avenue.

For a great place to stay, check out the Fairmont Washington, DC  in the West End, adjacent to historic Georgetown. And don’t forget, just visit your AAA Travel Agent or call 800-444-8691 and will help plan your historic trip to the nation’s capital!

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