The Mid-Atlantic states of the United States of America include Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. They are primarily coastal states although Maryland & Virginia extend westward into the Appalachians, so have a more diverse landscape. Since they are part of the Eastern corridor, there are large population centers and considerable traffic on the highways. Although Washington, D.C. is the main draw, there are several other significant tourist attractions, which are described below.
1. Washington, District of Columbia
Washington, DC is a requisite destination for all patriotic Americans. It also has much appeal for the world traveler because of its wonderful museums and beautiful neo-classic architecture, as well as the striking memorials that honor some of the icons of American and world history. Perhaps more important, almost all the attractions of the city are free, a rare occurrence in these times.
The city is laid out as a grid with four zones (NE, NW, SE, SW). The numeric streets run north-south and begin at First Street, at the US Capitol Building. The east-west running alphabetical-named streets begin in either direction from the Mall. The avenues are named for the states of the union and run diagonally, e.g. the White House is on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The primary tourist area is almost entirely within a few blocks of the Mall (a broad, park-like, grassy area between Constitution Ave and Independence Ave, running from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial). Also within the Mall are the many buildings of the Smithsonian, the Washington Monument (which dominates the skyline), and most of the war memorials. The Mall also allows easy access to the White House, the Jefferson Memorial, the tidal basin, and west to the Arlington Memorial Cemetery.
The Smithsonian Museum, the world’s largest museum, occupies numerous buildings on or near the National Mall in Washington, DC. There is also an annex to the Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport, about 30 miles west of the city and two galleries in New York City. The Smithsonian also includes the National Zoo, located on the outskirts of the city.
Major sections (housed in separate buildings, primarily on the Mall) include the Arthur M Sackler Gallery, the Freer Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of African Art, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Postal Museum, the National Zoological Park, the Renwick Gallery, and the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center. Must sees include the following:
The National Air and Space Museum displays the history of flight through a variety of exhibits and experiences.
The National Museum of Natural History houses an immense collection of animals from around the world.
The National Museum of American History has a huge collection of artifacts and memorabilia representing American culture, past and present.
Check out Game Fish in the Renwick Gallery, a small crafts museum on Pennsylvania Ave, near the White House, for a nostalgic look at some true “Americana”. Adults, as well as kids, will be fascinated!
The Washington Monument is a tall (over 550 feet/180 meters), obelisk which occupies the center of the Mall. Visitors can ride an elevator to an observation area which provides spectacular views of the city and the other major memorials. Be prepared to wait in line.
The Lincoln Memorial, at the western end of the Mall, is a moving tribute to one of America’s most beloved presidents. The huge statue of a seated Lincoln commands respect and admiration. On the walls flanking the statue are etched the words of two of Lincoln’s greatest speeches.
The Jefferson Memorial is located on the tidal basin, a large lake connected to the Potomac River. The building which houses the president’s statue looks like it would be at home in ancient Greece or Rome, and has stairs which lead to the water.
The most popular of the war memorials is the famous Vietnam Veterans Memorial “wall” which occupies a spot between the Lincoln and Washington memorials, near the reflecting pool. It is inscribed with the names of all soldiers killed or missing, in chronological order.
Cross Constitution Ave in the vicinity of the Vietnam War Memorial to find the Einstein Memorial at the National Academy of Sciences Building. Kids and adults can climb all over the statue which depicts Einstein seated on a low wall.
Pass the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial into the tidal basin to find an unusual sculpture called “The Awakening”. Once again, kids will love it since they can run around and climb all over the sculpture.
The Library of Congress, Jefferson Building has an original “Gutenberg Bible” on display.
Other attractions in the city, besides those already mentioned include the United States Holocaust Memorial, an extremely moving tribute to those who lost their lives during the exterminations which were perpetrated by Nazi Germany in the years before and throughout World War II. A multitude of media are used in the dramatic and sometimes disturbing presentations. Reservations must be made in advance.
The International Spy Museum, near Chinatown, takes the visitor on an interesting and informative tour of the gadgets and methods used in international intrigue and eavesdropping. There are extensive exhibits which focus on some of the most famous or infamous spies in history.
Explorer’s Hall is an exhibit, offered by the National Geographic Society, which displays, often interactively, some of the famous expeditions conducted by the society. It is a great place to bring kids and fascinating for adults as well.
There are too many other sights to mention them all, but Washington, DC must be savored with several visits over time. Like any great museum, the city cannot be seen all at once.
Other sights in the vicinity of Washington, include Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, the quaint old town of Alexandria, Virginia, and the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex to the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian, at the Dulles Airport in Chantilly, Virginia.
Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate on the Potomac, near Washington, D.C., is fine example of wealthy colonial life. Washington considered himself a farmer at heart, and only reluctantly left his plantation to serve his country as its first president. He retreated to Mount Vernon whenever possible and retired from public life there after his second term. The mansion and grounds have been lovingly restored and contain period furnishings, as well as Washingtonian memorabilia. Guided tours of the house and buildings are offered frequently.
While at Mount Vernon, stroll the grounds after the tour to appreciate the view and the many innovations which Washington incorporated into his farm.
Also in nearby Virginia, just across the Francis Scott Key Bridge, behind the Lincoln Memorial, is one of the most moving spectacles in the entire area. Arlington National Cemetery is the largest and most prestigious military cemetery in the country. It is the final resting place of thousands of the nation’s best and brightest. Just walking through the grounds is emotional enough, especially if family members or friends are interred here. However, the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is particularly symbolic and spiritual. The ritual takes place every half hour during the summer and every hour during the remainder of the year.
Also worthwhile on a visit to the cemetery are stops at the John F Kennedy Gravesite
where a perpetual flame pays tribute to one of America’s most beloved presidents and Arlington House
, the Southern mansion which dominates the highest part of the cemetery, which was the former residence of General Robert E Lee, one of the country’s most celebrated generals.
2. Williamsburg & Hampton Roads Region, Virginia
Williamsburg, Virginia is an authentic, recreated/restored 18th century city which operates as if in a time capsule to give the visitor a glimpse of life in Colonial America during the 1770’s. In reality, it is a huge outdoor museum and well worth the price of admission. There are always events, activities and demonstrations, so a stop at the Visitor Center is a must. Several orientation films are shown frequently throughout the day. Schedule your self-guided walk to take in several presentations. Even meals in the complex’s restaurants are much as they would have been during the days of early America.
Must sees within the complex include the Governor’s Palace, with its Georgian décor and display of hundreds of weapons (designed to impress the colonists with England’s power and might). Other buildings which are interesting are the Randolph House, the Courthouse, and the Jail. Throughout, villagers in authentic costumes act out the daily life of the colony. It is a fascinating experience.
Nearby is Busch Gardens, one of America’s major theme parks, which entertains visitors with thrill rides and other types of activities. There are two venues in the United States: Williamsburg and Tampa Bay, Florida. Besides the amusement park rides, Busch Gardens’ theme focuses on wildlife. Both parks contain extensive areas of wildlife habitat for viewing.
A possible excursion from Williamsburg lies east of the area at Virginia Beach, a popular destination during the summer months because of the extensive beach area for swimming, the boardwalk, and the many other types of recreation which have been attracted to the area. It also provides an excellent base of operations for the exploration of the entire Hampton Roads area of Virginia because of the availability of hotel rooms throughout the year.
At Williamsburg, don’t miss the “Interview with Patrick Henry”, repeated several times during the day.
Take a drive along the Colonial Parkway which links Williamsburg with Yorktown, sight of the British surrender that marked the end of the Revolutionary War, and with Jamestown, location of the first Virginia colony in 1607. Stops at each of these areas are also worthwhile, if time permits.
3. Monticello, Virginia
Monticello is Thomas Jefferson’s estate in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was both his ultimate retreat and his passion, since he was intimately involved in its construction and subsequent modifications. The home contains original furnishings and memorabilia from Jefferson’s eclectic life. One comes away from an experience at Monticello with a better appreciation of Jefferson, the man, and a much greater respect for his intellect.
Stroll the grounds, gardens, and cemetery to glimpse more of Jefferson’s many interests.
For a further tribute to one of America’s Founding Fathers, visit the beautiful campus of the University of Virginia, which Jefferson founded, also in Charlottesville.
4. Shenandoah National Park & Skyline Drive, Virginia
Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park lie along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western Virginia. Skyline Drive is one of America’s premier scenic drives. It extends from Front Royal in the north to Waynesboro in the South. There is limited access to the road, so entry must be planned. Because the speed limit is a strictly enforced 35 miles per hour (55 km/hr), it takes at least two (2) hours to drive the entire length. Shenandoah National Park is noted for its beautiful vistas which can be appreciated at the numerous roadside pullouts and by walking some of the many hiking trails. Wildlife is abundant and accessible.
5. Baltimore Inner Harbor & Annapolis, Maryland
Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is a remarkable area of resurgence and restoration that has become a model of urban renewal for the entire country. The Inner Harbor has become a magnet for tourists and residents alike because of its vibrant, varied activities, as well as its many restaurants and shops. There is now a water taxi service which connects many of Baltimore’s interesting neighborhoods via a pleasant boat trip. There are also new hotels in the area, built to take advantage of the area’s popularity.
Baseball fans will find Babe Ruth’s home, not far from the waterfront, worth visiting.
Not far from the Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area is Oriole Stadium at Camden Yard, one of the newer baseball parks in the country and, whether a baseball fan or not, provides a pleasant area to stroll because of the many food and trinket vendors which have been built into the stadium.
A worthwhile excursion from the Inner Harbor involves taking a water taxi to Fort McHenry, famous because Francis Scott Key wrote the United States‘ National Anthem, “The Star-spangled Banner” while approaching the Fort while it was under attack from the British.
Another great destination in the vicinity is Annapolis, Maryland, the present capital of Maryland and also the location of the United States Naval Academy. Besides these credits, Annapolis is a beautiful, old American city which has preserved and is proud to display, much of its past. The historic waterfront area is especially noteworthy in this respect, since the city was once an important center for international commerce. The many examples of Georgian architecture also distinguish this locale.
To best appreciate the history and importance of Annapolis, take a guided tour of the city which can be arranged and begins at the Visitor Center.
When on the grounds of the US Naval Academy, don’t miss the crypt of John Paul Jones.