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Clockwise from top left: the Reflecting Pool facing the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, another view of the same, the White House, the Iwo Jima Memorial at Arlington National Cemetary.

"First in war. First in peace. Last in the National League."

The capital of the United States of America, Washington, District of Columbia, (colloquially D.C. or The District) is home to the U.S. federal government. Well, most of it. The land was originally taken from Maryland and Virginia in 1790. The Virginia part was returned in 1846 as what is now Arlington County and the City of Alexandria, which are still part of the same urban area. For people in Flyover Country it is often considered to be a Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy, due to its high crime and reported corruption on the local and federal level. A lot of people who live in the metropolitan area agree... and think the flyover states should stop sending their scum and villainy. (Congress, they will gladly point out, does not consist of a single D.C. native.)

    Why Is It Called The District? 
Washington is also not part of any US State. It's a special federal district. As a tragically ironic consequence of this, citizens who live in Washington have less representation in the federal government than other citizens. Up until 1961, residents could not vote for the President of the United States. Representation in the legislature is limited to one delegate in US House of Representatives, who is not allowed to vote. In fact, given that the US Congress has final say over all matters passed by the municipal government, DC's situation is similar to that of colonial America's relationship to Great Britain. Thus, the license plate slogan "Taxation without Representation". The exact technical term is "suzerainty", in that The District is under the direct control of Congress in the same way a king might hold control over a captured territory.

Why does such an ironic situation exist? It was written into the US Constitution. The Founding Fathers feared if the capital district was a part of any state or was considered a state itself, the federal government would treat that state favorably.note  The framers never thought that Washington would become an actual city with an indigenous population, but they overestimated the size of land needed to host a body of government, and that extra land naturally ended up being filled with people who worked in the District.

Why hasn't this been corrected? Aside from the fact that getting Congress to agree on anything is hard in general, politics in the District are incredibly monolithic, leaving both of the major political parties of the US with very different preferences for a solution. The Democratic Party, which enjoys over 90% support in DC, naturally favors statehood or something equivalent, which would add 2 Senate seats (and one House seat) that they would perpetually controlnote . The Republican Party, on the other hand, prefers returning the land of the District to the jurisdiction of Maryland, which gave up the land to form the capital in the first place. This would add a single Democratic-dominated House district to Maryland's allotment, a much smaller advantage to Democrats and thus much more palatable to Republicans.note  A compromise solution has been suggested that D.C. be granted a single seat in the House but no Senators, either by statute (which has passed in the House several times but stalled in the Senate)note  or by constitutional amendment (proposed by Independent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who supported the goals of the statutory path but felt it would be unconstitutional; this has also gotten nowhere). That question of constitutionality is the final nail in the coffin—even if a statehood statute was one day passed, the move would face a steep challenge from the Supreme Court, who would likely rule that an amendment would be necessary. That would require supermajorities in both houses of Congress and of the other state legislatures (two-thirds in Congress, three-fourths in the states), and with Republicans having a solid majority of the latter, such a major political concession sadly seems a pipe dream.note 

The Washington metro area is the sixth-biggest in the United States. Combined with Baltimore, it makes up the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area, the third-biggest "combined statistical area" in the US (behind only New York City and Los Angeles). Baltimore is theoretically less than an hour's drive from Washington. "Theoretically" is the operative word; traffic can be brutal, due, among other things, to the fact that the Baltimore-Washington region is situated squarely atop Interstate 95, the main north-south highway on the U.S. East Coast, so that the Washington Beltway, the ring road surrounding the city, has to carry not only local traffic but traffic heading to the Northeast and Southeast. Also, Washington, being located in the Southern climate zone, is notorious for its poor response to winter snowstorms, which can be reliably counted on to snarl traffic up for a couple of days whenever one hits; the huge 2016 blizzard nicknamed "Snowzilla" by locals is only the most recent example. It's often claimed that Washington has the United States' worst traffic alongside Los Angeles. Urban sprawl between the two cities is pretty much continuous, and essentially forms the southern end of the East Coast megalopolis stretching from Washington to Boston. However, the two cities are culturally distinct, and because of the gap both Baltimore and Washington have separate TV and radio stations covering their areas despite the short distance between the two.

There's also a large cultural disconnect between DC and Virginia, to the point where people, especially Southern transplants and DC natives, actually stick to their own side of the river. Unless, of course, you're talking about Arlington, Alexandria, and much of Fairfax County, who actually have more in common with DC Natives than the rest of their state. Northern Virginia is mostly suburbs of DC and, as such, identify with the rest of the region far more so than the rest of Virginia note .

Washington, D.C. has been described as two cities in one. The first part consists of the famous buildings, government offices, museums, office buildings, and select housing areas, mainly populated by predominantly upper class, predominantly liberal (except for conservative industry lobbyists) white people who run the government (or up-and-coming yuppie policy wonks who imagine themselves doing so and mostly leave disappointed when they end up working for said lobbyists). Most go home to Virginia and Maryland at night. The ones who stay gravitate like magnets to the gentrified, Parisian-style neighborhoods in the Northwest quadrant of the city.

The second part is housing for the mainly-black working classes that staff the government service jobs, clean the offices, and serve the food for the first half. The second city of Washington is almost entirely devoid of public services — everyone lucky enough to have a job works downtown — while the first is an unbroken line of office buildings, luxury apartments, shops, and campuses stretching out from downtown DC to the north and west. While the first is relatively safe, parts of the second city remain ghettos with some of the highest crime and murder rates in the nation. While most American cities have this dichotomy to some extent, DC is one of the more extreme examples.

Central Washington, known as the L'Enfant City (the part laid out by said Frenchman in 1790 as a planned metropolis) has seen massive urban renewal to make the areas convenient to the center "look more like America", "as befits the heart of our democracy" — if America had a mean income of $500,000, that is. At one point these efforts were justified by high crime rates (14th street was the red light district, two blocks from The White House, and downtown DC used to be a collection of boarded-up buildings and souvenir shops). But since the '80s and '90s crime epidemic has actually subsided, it's merely been justified as "quality of life" (and not just for senators and their escorts, either).

The quality of life in most of DC is bustling: It's one of the few cities in America where it's actually pleasant to walk around on foot, although you will find little casual shopping or dining; most of the businesses are tourist, entertainment, or office-related (read: bars). These bars are patronized by aforementioned young urban professionals. Georgetown especially is a haven for these Ivy League-types. It's also the setting for numerous movies. Just about every character on film in DC lives in Georgetown.

Washington is infamous for its long hot summers and known for its plain-dress, anti-fashion sentiment. Tourists are notorious for their flamboyant yet weather-appropriate Safari attire, such as fishing caps, cargo shorts, and fanny packs. Dress appropriately. Note for tourists: If you don't want to get run over, stand to the right on escalators.

Locals typically refer to the District of Columbia proper, as opposed to the suburbs, as "the District". Locals who are native to D.C. and haven't lived in bigger cities often refer to it as "the city". "Washington" means the metropolitan area. Colloquially, the metro area is known as "the DMV";note  the "D" stands for D.C., the "M" for Maryland (specifically the Montgomery and Prince George's Counties), and the "V" for Virginia (referring to the Arlington and Fairfax Counties, and the city of Alexandria that sits between them). "D.C." can mean either. Ignoring this usage is a good way to expose yourself as a newcomer. DC itself is surrounded by a circumferential freeway called I-495, commonly referred to as "The Beltway". Many feel that reality gets distorted by the road.note  Also, don't drive on it during rush hour.

D.C. is also notable for having many, many, many law enforcement agencies, oftentimes causing some jurisdictional friction. There are more than a dozen law enforcement agencies in the city, with overlapping (and specialized) areas of jurisdiction and oversight. Notably:

  • The DC police force itself, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), numbering some 3,100 strong.
  • The United States Capitol Police, charged with safeguarding the United States Capitol Building.
  • Supreme Court Police, which guards the United States Supreme Court.
  • Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which oversees airport security at Dulles International Airport in Virginia and Reagan National in DC.
  • Metro Transit Police, tasked with guarding the Metro stations of MD, VA and DC.
  • Washington National Cathedral Police, which protects the National Cathedral.
  • Smithsonian Police, which guards the many museums of the District.
  • Amtrak Police, which polices the Amtrak network out of Union Station (Amtrak is government-owned).
  • United States Park Police (shares jurisdiction with MPD, but has federal authority. They patrol and protect the many parks and parkways around DC).
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (headquartered in DC, they have their own uniformed protective service, the FBI Police).
  • United States Secret Service (they like the FBI have their own uniformed division)
  • United States Customs and Border Protection (they enforce customs laws at Dulles International Airport)
  • United States Federal Protective Service, which guards federal property that doesn't have their own uniformed or special services.
  • United States State Department Diplomatic Security Uniformed Police, which safeguards the State Department building.

Unlike other U.S. cities, Washington is notable for its complete lack of skyscrapers. This is because of a law on the matter (the Height of Buildings Act of 1910) that restricts building heights within the District to 130 feet (which, contrary to popular belief, does not mention the U.S. Capitol or the Washington Monument). Thus, most skyscrapers are usually located on the Virginia side of the Potomac, which separates Washington from Arlington and Alexandria. More on that later. The building that spurred this act, The Cairo (which stands at 164 feet), is located in Dupont Circle.

DC has an extensive system of trains known as the Metro. Basically, everyone uses the Metro, except Washington Post writers and the politicians on the Metro Board. You can even use it to go far out to suburban shopping destinations (or to the University of Maryland in nearby College Park) and as of November 2022, the newest line, the Silver (Metro lines are color-coded) has been completed, connecting Dulles International Airport with the central city. It does not go to Georgetown, although it does stop nearby at Foggy Bottom (where the State Department is). In the spring of 2016, due to a long string of serious accidents and incidents, some of which resulted in fatalities among commuters unlucky enough to be caught up in them, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which runs the Metro, embarked on an ambitious and highly urgent program to repair the entire Metrorail system, aiming to compress what would normally be three years' worth of work into one; it was universally expected to greatly worsen the region's already terrible traffic situation — and did. There has been debate on how successful it was (or wasn't).

Washington is also one of only 12 cities in the U.S. to have sports teams from all four major league sports: for basketball, the Wizards (formerly the Bullets, before the owners realized the awkwardness in glorifying guns in a city with one of the highest murder rates in the nation), for baseball, the Nationals (nickname: the Nats; formerly the Montreal Expos before they moved to DC in 2004), for hockey, the Capitals (nickname: the Caps), and for football, the Commanders (formerly the "Redskins" before team ownership finally acquiesced to decades of indigenous protests, and then simply "Washington Football Team" for two seasons; now likely to change names yet again since the name "Commanders" is a relic of hated former team ownership). The city and its surrounding area are also home to teams in Major League Soccer (D.C. United), the WNBA (the Washington Mystics), and the National Women's Soccer League (the Washington Spirit). Of these teams, the Washington Commanders actually play in Maryland; all of the others play all home games in the District proper.note 

The museums on the Mall are all free. Good luck finding a place to eat, though; the American Indian Museum is popular. The best times to visit D.C. are March, when the Cherry Blossoms bloom and October, after the summer ends but before the (mild but still annoying) winter hits. Locals take the Cherry Blossom Festival seriously, and much like Mardi Gras, you have to know when and where to actually go — the blossoms never coincide with the actual festival. When they do bloom, millions of people descend on the Mall at once in a blossom-fueled rage. Traffic becomes nightmarish at these times, as tourists flood the city.note 

Tourist Attractions of Washington

  • The Capitol Building: not to be confused with The White House (it has a dome for a start!). This is where both branches of Congress meet. The Congress now can't all fit in the offices there, so there are other office buildings, linked to it via a private tunnel network, which includes a private subway system. It is entirely possible to get between the Capitol, its associated office buildings and the three buildings that house the Library of Congress without ever once setting foot outside, which is quite useful in the middle of winter, avoiding repeated security screening, and keeping the business of government largely out of view of tourists. The Capitol is also the center of the DC quadrant system; every other address is NW, NE, SW, or SE based on where it is in relation to the Capitol. Be on your best behavior; the Capitol Building has its own police force, the United States Capitol Police and they take their job very seriously.
  • The White House: The President's pad. The West Wing contains the Oval Office and other offices for presidential staff; other executive offices are at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (formerly the Old Executive Office Building, or OEOB), a giant gingerbread structure across the street. Thanks to The War on Terror, it now takes six months and a phone call to your Member of Congress/Senator to schedule a tour and the roads in front of and behind the building are closed to vehicle traffic. If the president announces a change in policy, reporters will sometimes declare that "The White House announced..."
  • The Supreme Court: self-explanatory. Long queue to get in for a brief glance at proceedings. They hurry you out after a few minutes, and you're lucky to see anything remotely interesting.
  • Pennsylvania Avenue: Washington's main parade street. Well, Pennsylvania Avenue NW is; SE is kinda average. Pennsylvania Ave. NW connects the Capitol and White House; north of it is downtown DC.
  • The National Mall: Not a shopping center (hard to come by in the District itself), but that long, grassy area between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. Site of many, many rallies, demonstrations, awareness-marches, etc. Softball fields, where office-based teams play the National Sport. This is Serious Business: House and Senate rivalries are especially intense. Many of the Smithsonian Museums are located alongside the Mall.
  • National Memorials: Located in a vast stretch of the west Mall, most notably the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial. The Washington Monument is more interesting on the outside than in (if you picnic or fly kites, at least), and off the beaten path on a little peninsula is the picturesque Jefferson Memorial. Instead of waiting all day to go up to the top, walk a few blocks over to the Clock Tower on Pennsylvania Avenue and get the same view. The Lincoln Memorial is almost always crawling with tourists inside and out, especially during the summer season.
  • The Smithsonian Institution - America's largest Museum Mile. All of it is free and open year-round. For example:
    • The Smithsonian Castle: America's most famous visitor center. Hidden in the basement is an actual institution of learning populated by the academics lucky enough to do research work in the various museums. There are also two underground museums of Asian and African art most people don't know about.
    • These are the Freer Gallery of Asian Art (which is connected to the Arthur M Sackler gallery) and the Museum of African Art. The latter includes art donated from the personal collection of Walt Disney.
    • The Air and Space Museum: touchable piece of the moon, lot of stuff on flight, The Space Race and the Cold War, a Pershing II and RT-21M/SS-20 side-by-side. At approximately seven million visitors a year, it is the most popular museum on the mall (and quite possibly in the world). It has a sister museum, the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, Virginia, near Dulles Airport, which contains items like the Enola Gay, the SR-71 Blackbird and the Space Shuttle Discovery.
    • The National Museum of Natural History: basically similar to the one in New York. Has a hall of gemstones (giant ones) and an insect zoo. Contains vast inaccessible archives popularized in the show Bones and the movie National Treasure, full of old artifacts and butterflies on pins.
    • The National Museum of American History: The Star-Spangled banner and other historical artifacts. Not as interesting as it used to be when it was used for rotating displays of the Smithsonian's vast array of tchotchkes. Now it's highly polished and empty display halls, populated by visiting exhibits paid for with private funds. They still have a naked marble statue of George Washington. Film geeks may also be interested in the museum's Wizard of Oz memorabilia, including an original pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers; TV geeks will be glad to know they are not forgotten, with Archie Bunker's chair being in the collection, soon to be joined by Don Draper's suit and liquor cart.
    • The Hirshhorn, a gallery of modern art along with a very... odd... sculpture garden. The Flying Saucer-shaped building itself was designed by Gordon Bunshaft, and it's called the Hirshhorn as it was initially funded by a guy named Hirshhorn. To locals it is especially well known for hosting terrible science fiction movie screenings in the summer (seriously).
    • The National Museum of American Art, which has the sculpture of Robert Gould Shaw on which the film Glory is based. It also has the Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nation's Millenium General Assembly (see below). Fear Not.note 
    • The National Portrait Gallery, which is a gallery of, well, portraiture. It shares a building (the Old Patent Office Building, to be exact) with the National Museum of American Art, and lends its name to the Gallery Place Metro station (a major interchange between the Green, Yellow, and Red Lines).
    • The National Postal Museum, which is a museum dedicated to the postal service (seriously, it exists). This one isn't on the Mall, but rather is located next to Union Station (it's the building across the street when you get off at Union Station Metro, behind the funny glass bike-rental place).
    • The National Museum of the American Indian. The second newest museum on the mall, the NMAI has striking architecture designed to look like canyon walls, and has the best cafeteria out of all the Smithsonian museums. Even Smithsonian employees tend to agree that it has the best food.
    • The National Museum of African American History & Culture. The newest museum on the Mall, which opened in September 2016. It is shaped like an upside down pyramid. The building is designed after the crowns atop the figures of the carved pillars, of the Yoruba, who have origins in Benin and Nigeria.
  • The National Gallery Of Art: has all the Old Masters in the US that aren't in some other museum like the Met. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT part of the Smithsonian Institution, and is in fact it's own deal (for the Smithsonian's art galleries, see above). So huge, it has an underground complex with an airport-style moving sidewalk. Be sure and touch the world's sharpest corner on a building: the Modern Wing designed by I.M. Pei is shaped like a maze of isosceles triangles.
  • The Holocaust Memorial Museum. Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Rotating exhibits on World War 2 and various aspects of Nazi Germany, plus a large permanent exhibit that can best be described as a self-guided, solemn tour through Hell. An optional aspect of said tour is to take a small dossier representing a real victim which allows the bearer to learn about said individual's fate, which rarely has a happy ending. Initially, this was part of the tour, but was made optional after visitors were overwhelmed by the experience.
  • The Library of Congress: The world's largest library. Required by law to be sent two copies of every book ever published in the US (although they don't keep all of them — some are traded with other libraries or given away). Most are accessible only to researchers,note  but visitors are allowed to explore the gigantic main building which looks like a 19th-century opera house. If you live in the area, or if you're visiting from out of town, and you want to make use of the Library's resources, you can go down and apply for a researcher's card; the process is a bit more involved than applying for your local library card, though, as applicants are taken through a computerized quiz which is focused on ascertaining the fields of knowledge of particular interest to you. Unless you're a Member of Congress or a Congressional staff member, you can't actually check out books; you must request them at the various desks in the "reading rooms". There are a number of these rooms, several of which (e.g., in the Jefferson and Adams Buildings) are quite large, and most of which are devoted to specific topic areas (for example, the Madison Building is where you'd go to do research in law or the performing arts, or look up items in the library's periodicals collection). Researchers are allowed to use laptops and portable scanners, but thanks mainly to former national security advisor Sandy Berger sneaking critical documents out of the building for his own uses, must get written permission first at the reading desks. The Library has a huge annex at Fort Meade in Maryland where extra copies of most of its holdings, as well as lower-demand items, are stored.
  • The US Botanical Garden: A quiet respite from the city, and Washington's oldest museum, a Victorian-era greenhouse. Recently modernized, it now contains an indoor jungle for those seeking a respite from the festering hot air of summer in DC. Also has one of those giant corpse-flowers.
  • Union Station: It's big. It's a train station. It's also a shopping mall. And a Bus Station for long distance buses. It's where you go to catch the train (or bus) to That Other City (which train can also take you to the ones in between, or another big one far away, all really fast). Also where you go to take the slower train to take you home to Maryland or Virginia. Think Grand Central Station (or Penn Station, or, um, Union Station) and you get the idea.
  • The Pentagon: Actually across the river from Washington, in Arlington, Virginia, this is the headquarters of the Department of Defense and the American armed forces it oversees. As with the White House, when the Secretary of Defense or the Defense Department announces a policy, it is often said that "The Pentagon Announced" as if the building actually was talking.
    • Arlington National Cemetery: a military cemetery (also in Virginia; it's only about half a mile from The Pentagon and the Lincoln Memorial), but not everyone there actually died in a war. Veterans who served during wartime can be buried there too, along with their families. Burial place of JFK, his wife Jacqueline, their stillborn children Patrick and Arabella, and his brother Robert. Before the American Civil War, it was the plantation of Confederate general Robert E. Lee; it became a cemetery because the Union Army controlled Arlington and the Union Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs thought it would be deliciously ironic if Lee's house became the Union's hospital, and buried its dead in his fields and gardens. (Also, Meigs had a personal problem with Lee, since Meigs was from Georgia but remained loyal to the Union; each regarded the other as a traitor.) The house still stands overlooking the grounds, and is itself a museum. The Iwo Jima Memorial, a giant statue reproducing the iconic photograph of U.S. Marines (and a Navy corpsman) raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi in February of 1945, is not far from here.
      • Quite famous for its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (properly known as the Tomb of the Unknowns) which currently holds remains of three unknown soldiers: one from each World War and one from Korea. It also held a soldier from the Vietnam War until his remains were positively identified in the 90s and his body was given its own burial. The guards of the Tomb, known as Sentinels, are known for their extremely precise adherence to procedure, especially in the Changing of the Guards ceremony. The mat they walk on during their patrols at the tomb actually has heel prints worn into it because the Sentinels walk the same steps every time. The Changing of the Guard is quite a sight to behold. The Sentinels are known for remaining at the tomb no matter the conditions, and not even hurricanes have forced them from their post.NB  Serving as one of the Sentinels is one of the highest honors a member of the US Army can have. Oh, and a word of advice? Show the utmost respect when you're at the tomb. The Sentinels do not take kindly to people disrespecting those buried there and will not hesitate to call out someone who steps beyond the barriers or speaks loudly or disrespectfully, and in fact a hush falls over the crowd during the changing of the guard; it's that solemn.
  • National Cathedral: America's unofficial giant interdenominational cathedral—nominally run by the Episcopalnote  Church, but open to all—built entirely in Gothic Revival stile. It sits on the highest point in the city. There's another moon rock in the stained glass windows, along with dozens of other nooks and crannies. They recently got rid of the stonecarvers' workshop to make room for a parking garage. It has a Darth Vader gargoyle. President Woodrow Wilson is buried here in an elegant sarcophagus inside the church, as is his second wife Edith. The ashes of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, her teacher, are also interred here, as are Admiral George Dewey (hero of the Spanish-American War) and World War II-era Secretary of State Cordell Hull.
  • Rock Creek Park: A 1700-acre wilderness park set directly in the city.
    • National Zoo. Not congress, the other one. A zoo, but this one is run by the Smithsonian, so it's free. Located in Rock Creek Park, so it's basically situated on the side of a ravine. Has a bit of a Panda obsession ever since Nixon went to China and brought back some. Orangutans use overhead walkways to commute between their home and the Ape House. Visitors, be warned: the Metro station calling itself "Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan" is in fact a good 15-20 minute uphill walk from the zoo entrance (and, for that matter, a 10-15 minute walk from Adams Morgan). One way to avoid this is to get off at Cleveland Park and walk downhill (with about the same distance).
    • The C&O Canal Park: A 400-mile off-road historical trail going through Georgetown from Rock Creek Park all the way to Pittsburgh, PA through the Appalachian mountains as a bike path and canal towpath. Follows the Potomac River. Goes past Great Falls National Park and Civil War battlefields.
  • The Fourth of July is the biggest one-day event in Washington, which used to feature (ahem) smoke-ins and cookouts on the Mall before they cracked down on tailgating.
  • Out in the Virginia suburbs of Prince William County, those interested in the American Civil War can visit the Manassas National Battlefield Park, site of the First (1861) and Second (1862) Battles of Bull Run (a creek running through the area; Manassas is the town immediately south of the battlefield, now a major suburb of DC). Locals are eternally vigilant for threats caused by urban sprawl to the battlefield; in the 1990's, there was a major kerfluffle when Disney wanted to build a theme park next to the battlefield; they withdrew the proposal under pressure from outraged Civil War buffs and locals who didn't want the additional traffic headache. Not all Civil War locations in the area have been as fortunate; the battlefield at Chantilly, another major engagement in the Second Bull Run-Antietam campaign, is now the site of a major shopping mall.
  • The headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service. Americans come here annually to pay their respects.

Offbeat Attractions

  • Sonny Bono Memorial Park.
  • The Einstein Memorial. You're supposed to sit in his lap.
  • The World's Largest Chair, recently rebuilt, in Anacostia. Originally erected as a furniture store promotion.
  • The World's Oldest (Non?)-Working Elevator, located in a fast food shop. Property of Smithsonian.
  • The Arlington Temple, a Methodist church built on top of a gas station. Otherwise known as the "Church of Exxon", since it was an Exxon dealer for many years. Located in the northern part of Rosslyn, near the Key Bridge.
  • Mayor of Silver Spring Memorial Park and Statue, commemorating a local homeless man.
  • The Walter Reed Army Medical Museum. Man made of soap, Lincoln's teeth, and other curiosities.
  • The Ulysses Grant Memorial. Little known presidential memorial, famous among statuary buffs.
  • The Maine Avenue Fish Market. America's oldest fish market, since 1790. Busy at night.
  • Dutch Country Farmers Market in Maryland. Run by the Amish.
  • The Mormon Temple in Kensington, MD (officially the "Washington D.C. Temple"). Easily visible from the Beltway, its bright-white towers and golden spires bring to mind the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz; indeed, a nearby railway bridge had "SURRENDER, DOROTHY" painted on it for many years, until it was removed.
  • National Park Seminary. A formerly abandoned girls' finishing school full of wacky pagodas, castles and windmills. Former psych wing for the military during WWII.
  • The Awakening. Statue of a gigantic, and very angry man buried in the earth. Lived for many years at the very tip of West Potomac Park; has since been relocated to the National Harbor development in Oxon Hill, MD.
  • The National Folklife Festival, a vast Bazaar of the Bizarre which always hosts one state and one country (e.g. West Virginia + Bhutan) often featuring Hermit Guru artisans.
  • The National Museum of Cryptography, located near the massive NSA complex at Fort Meade, MD.
  • The National Lobstermen Statue.
  • The Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nation's Millennium General Assembly.
  • The International Spy Museum. The only museum dedicated to the art of espionage in the US. Offers spy-tours of the city as well as regular evening theme events.
  • Ben's Chili Bowl. Landmark restaurant in the Shaw area from 1958- survived the late 60s riots, white flight, drug dealers and Metro station construction, to become one of the area's most famous eateries. Notable for a sign that says the only people who can eat there for free are Barack Obama and his family, and (formerly) Bill Cosby; many other celebrities have eaten there over the years. Their signature dish is the chili half-smoke (quarter-pound beef and pork sausage with onions, mustard and spicy chili sauce on a warm bun). Also has a second location over at Nationals Park.

Useful Features

  • The Washington Metro is DC's subway system. It is the second-busiest in the nation and designed as something of an antithesis to the New York City Subway, with huge domed-concrete stations, hexagonal tile floors, computer-controlled cars, and notoriously strict rules about consuming food and beverages. Designed in the late 1960s as a Plan B to redirect unused freeway funds to some form of transport (as DC residents saw that they really didn't want freeways cutting apart their backyards and neighborhoods), it was made with an eye toward luring commuters out of their cars — a plan that, 40 years on, seems to have worked. It's starting to show its age a bit (it went online in 1976), has had a huge across-the-board repair project during 2016 and 2017, and is nearing capacity, but still preferable to driving (especially if you're aware of how bad DC traffic is). One trait of the Metro that often surprises people is how clean it's kept, thanks in part to those notoriously strict rules about consuming food and drink (a rule that for the most part, people follow).
    • Travel guides say not to drive into town, but to use the Metro. This is not shilling for the Metro, the Metro really is clean and easy to figure out. And parking is impossible in the city.
    • Nowadays locals tend to have a love-hate relationship with the Metro. On weekdays, if you're a commuter who drives to a Metro stop and parks there, you have to pay a flat parking garage fee, and then it costs money to go in and out of DC. At the wrong times of day (read: rush hour), that could add up to $15 a day just to go to work. And that's not counting whatever is spent on gas. The federal government and some companies will reimburse DC-based and suburban employees for their Metro (or other mass transit, see below) expenses.
    • The Metro is also designed in such a way that if someone wants to go from Maryland to stops in Virginia, or vice-versa, they have to go through DC; there's no bypass lines or ring routes, though several have been proposed over the years, and a partial ring route (the Purple Line in Maryland) is currently under construction.
    • On weekends and federal holidays, Metro parking is free; however, Metro has closed several sections of the system on alternating weekends for track work. As a result, train times can be widely spread out and it becomes an inconvenience for people who want to go into the District without having to drive. This problem became much worse from summer of 2016 to the spring of 2017 when an emergency, system-wide repair project was put into effect as the result of a series of serious, sometimes deadly incidents caused by various parts of the system's infrastructure wearing out or not having been properly maintained.
  • D.C. has notoriously difficult traffic circles. The explanation is that this in case those redcoats (or later, just the Reds) ever come back, they'll enter a traffic circle and will be unable to figure out how to leave it, thus keeping them from burning the city. Again.
  • The Capital Beltway, aka Interstate 495. On its southern and eastern sections, it also contains mainline Interstate 95... which was supposed to go directly through DC on its trek from Miami to Maine, but was redirected by freeway revolts (see above). All in all, it's another reason why invading DC is not advised.
    • It's also useful for navigation purposes to know that the Beltway has "The Inner Loop" (the side of the Beltway which runs clockwise around DC) and "The Outer Loop" (the side of the Beltway which runs counter-clockwise around DC).
  • Just like NYC, Philly and Chicago, DC has commuter trains and buses leading out of the city into the far suburbs; unlike those cities, however, they're mainly for the hordes of Executive Branch workers (and, in the summer, tourists) going into and out of town, and so they don't run on weekends for the most part, except for a few token Metrobus routes. The trains and buses going into Maryland are run by that state's transit authority, and the trains are called "MARC"; MARC also serves Baltimore, and the Penn Line runs on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor all the way to Perryville, MD.note  There's also talk of extending MARC all the way up to Newark, DE or even Wilmington, which would connect it to Philadelphia's SEPTAnote  regional rail system, making travel from DC to New York by commuter rail a real (if uncomfortable, albeit more comfortable than the buses, the only alternative comparable in price) possibility (SEPTA connects to New York by meeting New Jersey Transit's Northeast Corridor Line at Trenton).note  Virginia's system is split between several operators, the biggest being the PRTC/VRE system (which mainly serves Prince William County, a few far-flung locations in Fairfax such as Lorton and Burke, and the 95 corridor down to Fredericksburg). There's been some talk about MARC and VRE merging into one long railroad, which would allow passengers to travel from Maryland to Virginia and vice versa without having to change trains, but until The New Twenties, this seemed unlikely to happen; with building its new headquarters in Virginia, next to the railway, there's been greater pressure to make it happen, and a study advocating the move was released in early 2021.
  • Finally, there's the airports:
    • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) is the closest to town, and serves as a hub for American Airlines.note  Just like the Pentagon, it's directly across the river in Arlington, VA. It used to be just "Washington National Airport", but was renamed by Congress in The '90s (the name change was unpopular in certain circles because of Reagan's breaking of an air traffic controllers' strike in The '80s). Prior to the opening of the Dulles extension of the Silver Line in November 2022, it was the only airport in the DC area with direct rail access via the Metro. This is the airport of choice for Congresspeople entering and leaving town (indeed, it's seen as one of their perks), but also has a limited number of flights available due to noise concerns and the difficult approach to the runway, which requires avoiding skyscrapers in Rosslyn and Crystal City while trying not to crash into the Potomac and avoid heavily restricted airspace nearby. As such, it commands higher ticket prices and isn't quite as busy as the outlying airports. National has a perimeter rule in effect, which means that flights from the airport can mostly only operate to destinations within 1,250 statute miles.note  Also, it's strictly a national airport; there are no U.S. Customs facilities at the airport, so most international flights must use BWI or Dulles.note 
    • Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) is the largest of the three DC area airports and the one used by most long-haul domestic and international traffic. The airport has been a hub for United Airlines since 1986, acting (alongside Newark) as one of the airline's two East Coast gateways. Infamous for being a long, long haul from downtown (25 miles from the White House, through what has since become the highly-populated edge cities of Tysons, Reston, and Herndon), for having an equally long access road reserved especially for it, and for not having any sort of rail access until the Silver Line was extended to it in November 2022note . You will get a ticket on the access road if you're not going to the airport for something; that said, "something" can be going to the FedEx terminal or picking someone up, not just boarding a flight. Otherwise, from the Beltway westward, you're expected to use the Dulles Toll Road and pay the tolls. Dulles was also infamous for its odd "mobile lounges", crosses between buses and jetbridges that, originally, could drive right up to the side of a plane and allow you to board directly. As the airport got busier, though, the lounges became a liability as they were small, cramped and required a slow docking process when arriving at the terminal. Thus, as the airport expanded to multiple, widely-separated "concourses" where arriving and departing planes docked, they were mainly used to shuttle passengers between the main terminal and the various concourses. A new underground people mover (similar to the ones in use at other large airports) has mostly replaced them, although they continue to be used to connect Concourse D (not yet served by the rail line) to Concourse A and the main terminal. The building housing Concourses C and D is supposedly "temporary;" that said, they've been working on the "permanent" replacement since 1983 and not even preliminary designs have been approved. The most striking architectural feature of Dulles is its Raygun Gothic main terminal building, which was designed by Eero Saarinen (the same guy responsible for the old TWA Flight Center at JFK) and built in 1961.
    • And finally, there's Baltimore/Washington International-Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI), which is actually closer to Baltimore than DC but is still popular with DC residents. It's not as busy as Dulles or as restricted as National, meaning flights are often cheap enough that the drive (even longer than the one to Dulles, especially from Virginia) is Worth It. It's also accessible from Amtrak, MARC, and Baltimore's light-rail system; Metrobus also runs a dedicated shuttle to BWI, originating from the Greenbelt station on the Green and Yellow Lines. Also, just like JFK, LAX and SFO, almost everyone calls it by its IATA code than its full name. Even the government, sometimes: Amtrak announcements in some cases (e.g. at the Wilmington, DE train station) just call it "BWI Airport."note  BWI functions as an operating base for Southwest Airlines.


    The Neighborhoods 
In D.C., you are what you do for a living. Policy wonks who work on Capitol Hill are divided into "interns" and "Hill Rats" (lifers). They congregate in Georgetown (Washington's old-line, 18th-century neighborhood, featured in The Exorcist) and Capitol Hill (the cheap ones live on Capitol Hill, which is basically a giant college town for Members of Congress and their underlings). Affluent activists congregate in Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan, an area "historically known" for crunchy artists and ethnic diversity. The Dupont Circle is DC's version of Greenwich Village. Adams Morgan is ten blocks of nightclubs and restaurants (Afghan, Ethiopian, etc.) surrounded by barrios, converted mansions, and brownstone apartment buildings.

Many of the shops and nightclubs in Adams-Morgan are Ethiopian-owned, but most of DC's large Ethiopian community has moved into U Street in the Shaw neighborhood, D.C's historically-black nightlife corridor, named for Capt. Shaw of Glory, which is rapidly being gentrified and taken over by yuppies and college students. Just twenty years ago, it was a high-crime area, and 14th Street NW was considered a bright red line which affluent Washingtonians would not cross. North of Shaw is a series of ethnic communities which stretches north to the Maryland border. The old Walter Reed Army Hospital, which is now being redeveloped, is located here; the hospital left the grounds in 2011 after being merged with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

  • Upper Northwest
    West of Rock Creek park is the exclusive white province known as Upper Northwest, an area of broad boulevards, embassies, private schools, and the National Cathedral. It is also, perversely, the home of D.C.'s Hardcore Punk scene, which helped break out Alternative Rock in the late 1980s. Further into the Upper Northwest, D.C. extends into Maryland in an unbroken corridor of affluence: private schools, research institutions, and centers of learning. Nearby Bethesda, Maryland is a shopping and dining destination. Chevy Chase, which sits on the border of Upper Northwest DC, as well as M Street in Georgetown, is Washington's version of Rodeo Drive.

  • Anacostia
    D.C. is an amalgam of people from around the United States and sits on the dividing line between the North and South, which is still very bright for some residents who refuse to cross the Potomac River except to go to a ballgame. The further south and east you go, the more it resembles a Southern town, such as New Orleans. The houses are small and working class, the neighborhoods mostly black.

    South and east of Capitol Hill is the Anacostia River, hemmed in by levees and old industrial sidings. This marks the boundary with the hard lands, known to some people as "Simple City"note . The Department of Homeland Security has cheerfully decided to build its national HQ in part of a converted mental hospital in Simple City, just south of Anacostia's surprisingly quaint main drag. The other part of the converted mental hospital is now controlled by the District's local government, with its focus being a smallish arena that now serves as the practice facility for the Washington Wizards, the home arena for the Wizards' NBA G League affiliate, the Capital City Go-Go, and most notably as the home of the WNBA's Washington Mystics (all three teams, plus the NHL's Capitals, are owned by the same company). This part of town is also the home of D.C.'s other native music, go-go.note  It is a lo-fi cross between funk and hip-hop that is played with guitar and dozens of percussion instruments. Incidentally, the G League team took its name from this genre.

  • Suburban Maryland
    Going north, into Maryland, it often resembles New Jersey, and is populated by staunchly liberal Yankees, such as the college professors, hippies, and multicultural immigrant neighborhoods in and around Takoma Park, Silver Spring, and Mount Rainier, Maryland. This is where you can find all the delis, antique stores, and curry shops. Riverdale, Maryland is Little Mexico.

    The two Maryland counties that surround DC are Montgomery County to the North and West, and Prince George's County to the South and East. Montgomery County is the richest county in the State, Prince George's County not so much (but not the poorest). An old joke about the importance of Montgomery County was that "The legislature in Annapolis considers its job to pump money out of Montgomery County and into the City of Baltimore."

    There is, however, often a stark distinction between Montgomery County and Prince George's County, the two Maryland counties that border the District. Prince George's County outside of Greenbelt (a leafy, affluent suburb like much of neighboring Montgomery County) and College Park (home to the University of Maryland's main campus) resemble Southeast. However, there is much development of the National Waterfront area.

    Northeast along the high-speed tracks going towards New York is a marginally unsafe dead zone of tire salons and automobile dealerships. Everything west of the railroad tracks can be considered an extension of Upper Northwest and is just as affluent, with quaint Victorian homes. Metrorail service is also much more extensive on the Maryland side, and most of the suburbs have actual downtowns with a train station, restaurants and shops.

  • Northern Virginia
    If DC is a tale of two cities, then the third part is Virginia, across the Potomac River — a haven for infotech workers and military. This is where the heroes in political and spy thrillers live (if you hear the word "Langley", you immediately think of the CIA). Many north of the Potomac consider it the edge of the American South, at least outside Arlington, which is heavily urbanized (and, perhaps, Alexandria and portions of Fairfax County as well?). Many, if not most, modern NoVa-ites tend to consider themselves more "Yankee" than anything else, however - much to the chagrin of their southern neighbors in the rest of the state. The Pentagon and both National and Dulles Airports are there, as is the National Reconnaissance Office (the agency controlling America's spy satellites, which is housed in a high-rise, high-security compound near Dulles Airport). Northern Virginia is actually larger than DC, but much more spread out. Refugees from major modern wars (Korean, Vietnam, and all the Middle Eastern conflicts) tend to settle there due to military connections as well as immigrants from many other regions (for example, NoVA has large Hispanic populations mostly from Central America, including the largest Bolivian American community in the country). Along with the growing number of young urbanites moving into the region, they help dilute the old southern influence.

    The most affluent portion of the region, Northern Virginia has some of the wealthiest and most well-educated counties in the country. South and west, the communities of Arlington, Alexandria and Tysons, with no high-rise limits, resemble Los Angeles or the southern city of Atlanta, with crushing traffic on 8-lane roads, towering high security office complexes (populated by government contractors known as "Beltway Bandits"), and vast office parks, connected to DC proper by the Metro system. Wilson Boulevard provides a vaguely-human scaled "main street" to the area. Just north of that is Loudoun County and its seat of Leesburg, which is a fairly quiet town with not much in the way of excitement (except for the two Roy Rogers fast food joints, as those are getting rarer by the day); the rest of the county is similar, although there are many McMansions out in the fields. Columbia Pike, a former suburb for enlisted military, is one of many small pockets of ethnic diversity. Old Town Alexandria is a quaint historic district, located just north of George Washington's home (in the world's best commuter incentive, he arranged for the District to be built near his house). Some roads in Alexandria area are still named after Confederate Generals. Going west on I-66, or south on I-95 leads to the exurbs of Prince William County, whose county seat is Manassas (see above for its American Civil War role; Manassas was, and still is, the location of an important railway junction). While only the very wealthy own homes in D.C. proper or Arlington/Alexandria, many on the very next rung down on the income ladder own homes in Prince William. The relatively low cost of housing in Prince William County makes it an attractive destination for immigrants, particularly Latinos; the Hispanic population in the area dropped sharply around 2007 after local law enforcement cracked down on undocumented immigrants, but has since rebounded. One of the country's largest discount malls, Potomac Mills, is located here, as is Quantico Marine Corps Base, where both U.S. Marine Corps officers and FBI special agents learn their trade.

Downtown DC itself is deceptively large — the museum corridor is two miles long — and sits on the border between the threenote  areas. K Street, in the center of town, is indeed a Wretched Hive of Scum and V-... er, lawyers and industry lobbyists.

The further you go south of the Potomac River, the closer you are to Dixie. D.C. and suburban Maryland are emphatically northern in mentality. As President Kennedy said, Washington is a city of "Southern efficiency and Northern charm".

All of these neighborhoods are entirely invisible to the tourist population, since Metro travels under them, and the Beltway goes around them. Many of them are quite interesting to visit, however. Washingtonians pride themselves on their inferiority complex relative to That Other City (where many current residents are from), and will sniff haughtily at Chicago's claim of same. D.C. does like being able to beat up on Dallas, Texas, its main football rival, however. That hasn't been going so well lately.

DC in Fiction

Due to being the United States's capital, Washington, D.C. is a frequent target in fiction for foreign (or alien) invaders — so much so, in fact, that Washington D.C. Invasion has its own trope page. Also, the city has inspired its own literary genre, the Washington novel. The Washington novel is distinct from just any novel that happens to be set in the capital; instead, the Washington novel purports to show Official Washington as it supposedly actually is. Reviewers sometimes dismiss it as a subgenre of the Airport Novel.

Due to DC's small size, many works have DC as a base of operations and characters will frequently head into Maryland or Virginia in the course of their duties. This especially applies with military works as the bulk of major military and intelligence facilities, including the aforementioned Pentagon, are outside the District. Few works of fiction are shot on-location in Washington, DC (owing to local laws and inability to film government buildings in any depth), so California Doubling and Stock Footage tend to be common tropes in such works. In most cities that boring looking office building is just that but in Washington it could house something a bit more sensitive to national security work.

Naturally, a large number of DC-set series and films are Government Procedurals:

And a fair number of others have to do with spies and security:

Other media: