Ten highlights of Washington DC

By Megan Singleton

1. The Smithsonian museums

The world's largest collection of museums with free admission, most within easy walking distance of each other on the Mall. They include the Air and Space Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Museum of Natural History (with the largest blue diamond in the world), Museum of the American Indian and even the Washington Zoo (admission applies).

You'll need at least two hours for each museum.

2. Tour the monuments and memorials after dark

Moonlight tours around the DC monuments are a totally different experience. They are elegantly floodlit, and without the throng of tourists and government employees the city is like an enormous memorial to leaders, heroes and sombre reminders of the many wars America has fought in.

3. Arlington National Cemetery

More than 300,000 white crosses mark Arlington's hillside graves of servicemen and women who lost their lives serving in the military or who retired from service and have since passed away. An average of 28 burials are conducted here every day. Visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which is guarded around the clock and the eternal flame at JFK's grave.

4. United States Holocaust Museum

Warning: this museum is harrowing. It has exhibits from survivors, actual footage and interviews shown on a large screen as well as diaries and letters of life during this shameful part of history. Not recommended for children younger than 11.

5. National Gallery of Art

This museum is not part of the Smithsonian but is also on the Mall. The building itself is an architectural masterpiece, holding some of the best painting, drawings, photography and sculpture collections in the world.

6. WWII Memorial

Between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, this memorial garden is a stunning sculpture and water feature commemorating those from every state who gave their lives for freedom. See it just before dusk to catch both day and night views.

7. Georgetown

This is the hip and happening part of town for dining, shopping and nightlife. It is home to the Georgetown Uni crowd. Cobblestoned Wisconsin and M Streets are lined with historical buildings that are now boutique stores and restaurants.

8. The Korean War Memorial

These eerily lifelike sculptures are designed to make you feel like you're there as life-size figures walk through the Korean terrain with guns at their sides during the 1950-1953 war. See this memorial at night or on a misty, rainy day. While you're there, visit the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial which honours the names of more than 58,000 servicemen and women who died.

9. Lincoln Memorial

Stand on the steps of the memorial, beside the enormous statue of the president credited with beginning the effort to rid the country of slavery and where Martin Luther King Jr gave his "I have a dream" speech.

10. Museum of Natural History

See the 67-carat blue Hope Diamond. Originally 112 carats, it was crudely cut when sold to King Louis XIV of France in 1668. He had it recut before it was stolen during looting of the crown jewels in 1772. Fifty years later, what is believed to be the same diamond showed up in the possession of King George IV of England who eventually sold it to pay debts. It was sold several more times before arriving in Washington.

Tip: Pace yourself. If you only have two or three days, don't try to see everything. Plan a "must-see" list and use the Metro. Allow a couple of hours in each museum.

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