Washington, D.C. is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Tens of millions of visitors flock to the nation’s capital each year to experience a piece of the city’s history and culture. It’s no wonder D.C.’s top sights can be overrun with people—not every traveler’s ideal sightseeing environment.
But the sheer number attractions in D.C. means that if you’re willing to veer off the well-trod tourist path, you can discover a host of under-the-radar sights that will give your trip a unique touch and you a more peaceful experience. Here are a few places to check out on your next visit.
A breathtaking combination of art and nature, the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens near Rock Creek Park offers an amazing outdoor experience and an impressive collection of 18th century art all in one place. The former residence of businesswoman and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post, this estate features the largest collection of Russian imperial art outside of that country and 25 acres of landscaped gardens, including an impressive orchid collection. Every year, the estate holds a summer French festival and a winter Russian festival, celebrating the art and culture found throughout the estate. Bring some food and drink and snag a complimentary blanket to have a picnic on the grounds.
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Located at one of the highest points in the city, Lincoln Cottage is a national landmark that served as the summer residence for Abraham Lincoln from 1862-1864 and was the place where he worked on the Emancipation Proclamation. The Gothic-style home, on the land of what’s now known as the Armed Forces Retirement Home, first opened to the public in 2008 after a $15 million renovation. Visitors can explore the home and take guided tours that delve into Lincoln’s public and private life, examine the toll the Civil War took on the president and inspire guests to follow their own path to greatness.
National Postal Museum
Who knew stamps could be so interesting? At this lesser-known Smithsonian museum, located across from bustling Union Station, you’ll get to explore every angle of philately, from exhibits that trace America’s postal history, to authentic postal vehicles from different eras. And there are tons of stamps, as the National Postal Museum holds one of the world’s largest collections of these simple, yet creative, aspects of everyday life. You can even start your collection with a selection of free stamps. It’s a fascinating peek at history through letters and the people who delivered them.
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Bethune Council House
Activist Mary McLeod Bethune was an instrumental figure in the civil rights movement, focusing her efforts on advancements for African-American women. Bethune was the president of a college (The Bethune-Cookman School) and the highest ranking African-American woman in the federal government when Franklin Roosevelt named her a director in the National Youth Administration. The majority of her work with the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) took place in a rowhouse where she lived near Logan Circle, which has been meticulously restored with many of the original furnishings. There, you can explore exhibits that detail the black experience in D.C., as well as for women, during Bethune’s era.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
This national memorial takes the shape of a forested oasis tucked inside a bustling urban area. Theodore Roosevelt Island was created in the 1930s out of the remnants of an overgrown island in the Potomac River, and can only be accessed through a bridge from Arlington, Virginia. Featuring numerous trails, trees and vegetation, the island’s topography makes for a true escape from the hustle and bustle of the National Mall just steps away. Take a ranger-led tour to learn more about one of America’s most active presidents, or keep track of the numerous bird species found on the island.