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Washington DC – Frequently Asked Questions About Washington, DC

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How did Washington, DC get its name?

In accordance with the "Residence Act" passed by Congress in 1790, President George Washington selected the area that is now the permanent capital for the government of the United States. The Constitution established the site as a federal district, distinct from the states, giving Congress legislative authority over the permanent seat of government. This federal district was first called the City of Washington (in honor of George Washington) and the city around it was called the Territory of Columbia (in honor of Christopher Columbus). An act of Congress in 1871 effectively merged the City and the Territory into a single entity called the District of Columbia. Since that time the nation’s capital has been referred to as Washington, DC, the District of Columbia, Washington, the District, and DC.

I am visiting Washington DC for just a few days, what should I be sure to see?

Most people who visit Washington, DC spend a majority of their time on the National Mall. For a short visit I would recommend taking a walking tour of the national memorials, choosing a few of the Smithsonian museums to explore and visiting the U.S. Capitol Building (reserve a tour in advance). If time allows, explore Arlington National Cemetery, Georgetown, Dupont Circle and/or Adams Morgan. Read also, Top 10 Things to Do in Washington, DC and Best 5 Museums in Washington DC.

Should I take a sightseeing tour of Washington, DC?

Sightseeing tours are great if you find the right tour to match your needs. If you want to see a lot of the city in a short period of time, then a bus or trolley tour will guide you around to the popular attractions. For families with small children, seniors or disabled individuals, a tour can make it easier to get around the city. Specialized tours like bike and Segway tours can provide recreational fun for the young and active. Walking tours are probably the best way to learn about historical sites and neighborhoods.

More information: Best Washington DC Sightseeing Tours

Which Washington DC attractions require tickets?

Many of Washington, DC's major attractions are open to the public and do not require tickets. Some of the popular attractions allow visitors to avoid waiting in line by pre-reserving tour tickets for a small fee. Attractions that require tickets include the following:

How much time do I need to visit the Smithsonian and where should I start?

The Smithsonian Institution is a museum and research complex, comprised of 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoological Park. You can't possibly see it all at once. You should choose the museum(s) that you are most interested in and spend a few hours at a time. Admission is free, so you can come and go as you wish. Most of the museums are located within a radius of about one mile, so you should plan ahead and wear comfortable shoes for walking. The Smithsonian Visitor Center is located in the Castle at 1000 Jefferson Drive SW, Washington, DC. This is a good place to start and pick of maps and a schedule of events.

More information: The Smithsonian - Frequently Asked Questions

How can I tour the White House?

Public tours of the White House are limited to groups of 10 or more and must be requested through one's member of Congress. These self-guided tours are available from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and are scheduled on a first come, first served basis approximately one month in advance.

Visitors who are not US citizens should contact their embassy in DC about tours for international visitors, which are arranged through the Protocol Desk at the State Department. The tours are self-guided and will run from 7:30 am until 12:30 pm Tuesday through Saturday.

More information: White House Visitor’s Guide

How can I tour the Capitol?

Guided tours of the historic U.S. Capitol building are free, but require tickets which are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. The hours are 8:45 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Monday - Saturday. Visitors can book tours in advance. A limited number of same-day passes are available at the tour kiosks on the East and West Fronts of the Capitol and at the Information Desks at the Visitor Center. Visitors can see Congress in action at the Senate and House Galleries (when in session) Monday-Friday 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Passes are required and may be obtained from the offices of Senators or Representatives. International visitors can receive Gallery passes at the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Center.

More information: The U.S. Capitol Building

Can I watch the Supreme Court in session?

The Supreme Court is in session October through April and visitors may view sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Seating is limited and given on a first-come, first-serve basis. The Supreme Court Building is open throughout the year from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Visitors can participate in a variety of educational programs, explore exhibits and see a 25-minute film on the Supreme Court. Lectures in the Courtroom are given every hour on the half-hour, on days that the Court is not in session.

More information: The Supreme Court

How tall is the Washington Monument

555 feet 5 1/8 inches high. The Washington Monument is one of the country's most recognizable structures, a white-colored obelisk at the west end of the National Mall. An elevator takes visitors to the top to see a spectacular view of Washington, DC including unique perspectives of the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the Capitol Building.

More information: Washington Monument

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