Friday 20 April 2018

Washington DC: Welcome to the museum capital of the world

American Holidays

African-American Museum
African-American Museum
Tacos at elreydc.com
The Air and Space Museum - airandspace.si.edu

Gavin Caffrey

There's more to Washington DC than President Trump, you know. Welcome to the museum capital of the world.

Set the mood

US television political satire The Daily Show opened a Donald Trump Twitter museum in New York for two days last year, chronicling the president's best/worst tweets.

Despite attracting huge numbers, it's not something you'll ever see in Washington DC. The nation's capital is home to over 50 museums and galleries, all charting some of humanity's greatest achievements… and atrocities.

Walking through each building triggers a rollercoaster of emotions: from amazement when faced with the first aeroplane - the 1903 Wright Flyer - at the Air and Space Museum (airandspace.si.edu) to pure horror standing in a Nazi train carriage used to transport Jews to the gas chambers at the Holocaust Memorial (ushmm.org).

If that's all too much to bear, the live Butterfly Pavilion in the Museum of Natural History (naturalhistory.si.edu) is perfect for lifting the spirits.

Guilty Pleasure

2018-03-03_lif_38799634_I2.JPG
Tacos at elreydc.com
 

The U Street Corridor is DC's hippest hang-out spot.

Locals can be found playing cornhole - a bean-bag tossing game - at Wet Dog Tavern (wetdogdc.com) on Florida Av NW, while just around the corner, El Rey's Al Pastor taco of roasted pork shoulder, pineapple, pickled onions, chipotle aioli and coriander - along with their margarita pitchers - are not to be missed (elreydc.com).

For a real DC experience though, check out one of the comedy clubs. We caught Steve Byrne (star of numerous Comedy Central stand-up specials) and Gary Cannon (Conan O'Brien Show warm-up act) at the Drafthouse for $20/€16.20 and two hours of tear-inducing laughter (drafthousecomedy.com).

Cheap Kick

The Smithsonian (si.edu) features 19 museums and galleries - and a zoo - making it the largest museum complex in the world. And they're all free. Most are situated along the National Mall - a stunning two-mile vista of parkland stretching from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol building. In between museum-hopping, the Sculpture Garden offers a tranquil break from the throngs on the Mall as musicians take the stage for Jazz In The Park every Friday evening in the summer.

Insider Intel

2018-03-03_lif_38799879_I3.JPG
The Air and Space Museum - airandspace.si.edu

While most museums are on the National Mall, two must-see attractions lie off the beaten track. The Newseum (newseum.org; a 10-minute walk from the Mall) showcases newspaper front pages from the assassination of Jessie James to the first moon landing. It also features an interactive news room and a large section of the Berlin Wall.

Further afield in Chantilly, Virginia, lies the Udvar-Hazy Center (airandspace.si.edu) - housing a Concorde, the space shuttle Discovery and the fastest plane on earth, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

Top Tip

Planning is essential when visiting some of the more popular museums, which provide timed entry-passes online. This is vital for the Holocaust Memorial (ushmm.org) and African-American History and Culture museums (top, nmaahc.si.edu). Such is the demand for the latter, visitors must go online at 6.30am to book their passes for that day. Don't be disappointed!

Glitches

Demand is high for Trump White House tours. Despite applying well in advance, we were denied access. Submit your request online through the Irish embassy in Washington at dfa.ie three months ahead of travelling.

Get there

Wow Air is providing healthy competition on the Dublin to Washington route. The low-cost Icelandic airline flies from Dublin to BWI every day from €145.99 each-way (wowair.ie).

Trains and buses run daily from BWI to Union Station in DC. See marctracker.com, amtrak.com and mta.maryland.gov.

Read more:

The US Bucket List: 30 things to do in America before you die

Weekend Magazine

Travel Insider Newsletter

Get the best travel tips, deals and insights straight to your inbox.

Editors Choice

Also in Life