Like other urban downtown areas, Washington’s city center is filled with shops, hotels, restaurants, and theaters for every taste. Yet downtown Washington borders Pennsylvania Avenue – often called “America’s main street.” This is the direct route between the White House and the Capitol, and is therefore rich in historic associations. Presidential inauguration parades sweep down the avenue every four years; citizens protest here; President Lincoln was shot and died nearby. Washington’s importance to world culture is reflected in the ease with which local restaurants and stores cater to an international clientele. Recently revitalized, the area draws visitors to the attractions of Chinatown, the Verizon Center, and the feeling of being at the center of the political world.

Pennsylvania Avenue

When the federal government moved to the city in 1800, Pennsylvania Avenue was selected as the “main street” because the area to the south was too muddy after rains, and the avenue offered a direct route from the President’s House to the Capitol – the only substantial buildings in town.

  1. Ford’s Theater

    John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln in a balcony box here on April 14, 1865 – a tragic event that has made Ford’s Theater one of America’s best-known historical sites. A museum contains Booth’s .44 caliber Derringer pistol and other objects and information giving insights into Lincoln and the assassination plot. The restored building also houses theater productions. Directly across 10th Street is Petersen House, where Lincoln died after being carried from the theater.

    • 10th St between E & F Sts, NW

    • Open 9am–5pm daily

    • Dis. access

    • Free

    Ford’s Theater
  2. Verizon Center

    While the Verizon Center is principally a sports arena, it has also become an unofficial community center. It draws crowds night after night with college and professional sports events, big-name concerts, circuses, figure skating performances, and other events .

    • 601 F St, NW

    • Dis. access

  3. Federal Bureau of Investigation Building

    The FBI tour has been a favorite with visitors since it was launched in 1937. Visitors on the one-hour tour learn about the history and goals of the bureau, pass through working laboratories analyzing forensic evidence, then watch a demonstration of officers training in the use of firearms. Although tours by members of the public are no longer allowed at the time of writing, this situation is expected to change in the future. If you would like to visit, call ahead to make inquiries.

    FBI Building
  4. National Building Museum

    This grand structure would be a fabulous place to visit even if it was empty. Its eight massive interior columns are among the largest in the world, and its immense interior space has beautiful natural light. The museum itself is dedicated to documenting and displaying important themes in the art and craft of building structures. It has permanent exhibitions on the city of Washington and on art created from tools, and mounts a stream of temporary exhibitions on topics such as the growth of urban transit and the development of architectural and construction methods. Other exhibits highlight the work of individual prominent architects.

    • 401 F St, NW

    • Open 10am–5pm Mon–Sat, 11am–5pm Sun

    • Dis. access

    • Free, donations appreciated.

    Great Hall, National Building Museum
  5. National Museum of Women in the Arts

    The collection of works by female artists here is among the world’s best, ranging from Lavinia Fontana’s Portrait of a Noblewoman (c.1580) to Brazilian artist Frida Baranek’s bristling 1991 Untitled .

    • 1250 New York Ave, NW

    • Open 10am–5pm Mon–Sat, noon–5pm Sun

    • Dis. access

    • Adm

    National Museum of Women in the Arts
  6. National Aquarium

    One of the oldest aquariums in the world (1873). Sharks, alligators, piranha, and more than 300 other species are housed here, and there are preservation programs .

    • 14th St between Pennsylvania & Constitution Aves, NW

    • Open 9am–5pm daily; closed Thanksgiving, Dec 25

    • Dis. access

    • Adm

  7. Chinatown

    Chinese culture abounds here, with an array of restaurants and shops. A Chinese arch was funded by Beijing and constructed in 1986, with seven pagoda-style roofs ornamented with 300 dragons.

    • 7th & H Sts, NW

    Archway, Chinatown
  8. Willard Hotel

    A glorious center of historic and political Washington. Every US president, beginning with Franklin Pierce in 1853, has stayed as a guest or attended functions here. When Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861, there were already assassination threats. Detective Alan Pinkerton smuggled him into the Willard, and presidential business was conducted before the fireplace in the lobby.

    • 1401 Pennsylvania Ave, NW

    • Dis. access

    Willard Hotel
  9. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library

    This handsome building was dedicated in 1972 as a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. and as a public library. In the lobby is a mural by Don Miller depicting the life of Dr. King and the civil rights movement.

    • 901 G St, NW

    • 202 727 1111

    • Open 9:30am– 9pm Mon–Thu, 9:30am–5:30pm Fri–Sat, 1pm–5pm Sun

    • Dis. access

    • Free

  10. US Navy Memorial

    The centerpiece of this delightful public space is a granite floor – a huge map of the world surrounded by fountains. A statue, dubbed “The Lone Sailor,” overlooks the expanse . A free film shows daily at noon.

    • 7th St & Pennsylvania Ave, NW

    • Open 9:30–5pm Mon–Sat; closed Mon, Nov–Feb

    • Dis. access

    • Free

    US Navy Memorial
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