This is a place every American should visit at least once in his or her life. Home to the Senate, House of Representatives, and Supreme Court, Capitol Hill is truly the heart of our nation. Guided tours of the area are free, but you must book a space in advance, and spots fill up quickly. The beautiful architecture is well worth your time, and there’s a great sense of both the spot’s history and the history-making that is still going on.
Capital Fringe Festival
From July 12 through 29, D.C. will play host to the most innovative arts festival in the nation. Last year’s festival had more than 700 performances featuring 3,000-plus artists, and this year’s event promises to be bigger and better, showcasing the newest, most original performing arts the country has to offer, from theater to dance to puppetry—and beyond. (Note: All performances are uncensored.)
Already seen the Lincoln Memorial? This year, add to your Lincoln repertoire by visiting the historic theater where he was tragically assassinated. The theater is still fully operational and offers plenty of plays and shows centered around American culture and history. You can also tour the theater and associated museum during the day for only $3.50 per ticket if you book in advance.
National Air and Space Museum
Kids and adults alike will enjoy this museum that showcases the history of air and space travel. Famous airships such as the Spirit of St. Louis and the Enola Gay are on display, along with an exhibition on the Wright Flyer, an IMAX Theater, and the jaw-dropping Albert Einstein Planetarium. Sure, it’s educational, but you’ll be having too much fun to notice.
This lesser-known museum is a must-see for the well-informed. A monument both to journalists and to our First Amendment rights, the museum showcases more than five centuries’ worth of news-related artifacts, including cell phones recovered from the World Trade Center, a gallery of Pulitzer Prize-winning pictures, newspapers from the most significant days in American history, and much more. Seven levels and a whole lot of history mean this museum will take a long time to cover.
Smithsonian Folklife Festival
There’s only a small window of time to catch this festival (it runs June 30 through July 4 and July 7 through 11), but it may very well be worth planning your trip to include it. Held on the National Mall, all days of the event are free and open to the public. Booths, displays, and performances will celebrate tradition and international culture, giving visitors a chance to step into and experience diversity, from Appalachian bluegrass to Salvadoran chanchona music—and everything in between.
United States Botanic Garden
The famed cherry blossoms of Washington, D.C., may fade after the spring, but summer still offers plenty of opportunity to see some fabulous flora. Two outdoor gardens, in addition to a glass conservatory, house plants from all over the United States and the world. Where else can you experience Hawaii, the desert, and the rain forest all in one day? Check the website to find out what will be in bloom during your visit.
Population: About 600,000
Average temp. in July & August: 70°-90° F
Distance from Knoxville: 487 miles
Flight Time: 1 ½ hours
Direct Flight from Knoxville: Yes
Time Difference: None. Same time zone.