I absolutely LOVE DC, and made it official by moving here 8 years ago. As a local, I know that this city has SO much to offer – even to the virtual visitor. So I decided to put together a list of the best virtual experiences you could have here. So whether the virus is keeping you indoors, or you simply want to do some research for your next trip, this is the post for you. Keep reading for the ultimate Washington, DC Virtual Travel Guide!
A Short Overview | Washington, DC
The area known as Washington, DC was initially home to the native Piscataway and Natcotchtank peoples before the arrival of European settlers in the 1600s. The area was selected as the new nation’s capitol in 1790, taking equal land from Virginia and Maryland. One little known fact is that the city was originally a perfect diamond shape, having 100-sq miles. But this all changed with the advent of the civil war and Virginia taking back land.
Today this city is known as being not only the nation’s political center, but also a center for culture, arts, and sports. While not a huge city, it’s metro area is the 6th largest in the US. While the largest industry here is government, 2nd largest is tourism, which is why there are so many great virtual tour options here.
Virtual Tour of the National Mall
The National Mall is one of the most iconic locations in the city. A huge stretch of land located between the capitol building and the Washington Monument, this area is where you’ll typically find locals exercising, lounging, and more. And it’s also a place where many tourists rest in between visiting the many cites located nearby the mall.
For the best view of the National Mall, I recommend the panoramic views provided here on the YouVisit site. In addition to views of the mall itself, you can also find panoramic views of the surrounding monuments.
Fun Fact: I attended grad school at George Washington University in DC, and got to graduate on the National Mall! (We are the only school in the city/country permitted to do this).
Virtual Tour of Washington, DC Monuments
What is Washington, DC without her monuments? After “visiting” the mall, it’s time to start checking out some of the classic monument sites that really make the city what it is today.
Washington Monument Virtual Tour
The Washington Monument, built in honor of our first president, George Washington, is the tallest building in the city. It is also the tallest obelisk in the world, as well as the tallest building made predominately of stone. This monument sits at one end of the National Mall, opposite the Capitol building. The video below provides a great virtual tour of the monument, as well as some additional history on the building.
Lincoln Memorial Virtual Tour
This memorial, built in honor of President Abraham Lincoln, is another popular landmark in the city. This monument was carved from marble found in different locations throughout the US to represent Lincoln’s role in unifying the United States. Click here for a virtual tour of the monument from HistoryView.
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Martin Luther King Memorial (MLK) Virtual Tour
The newest of the DC monuments, this memorial commemorates the efforts of MLK in making this country a safer and more inclusive place for black people in the United States. While I couldn’t find an official virtual tour, this video does a great job of providing history on MLK and an overview of the monument as well.
Virtual Tour of Washington, DC Museums
The museums in DC are some of the best found anywhere in the country, particularly the numerous Smithsonian museums located throughout the city. Check out the virtual tours listed below to get a taste of what the city has to offer:
Smithsonian Virtual Tours
The Smithsonian currently offers several virtual tour options, the first three being more of an immersive experience than the rest listed here.
- The Museum of Natural History is probably one of the most popular in the city, and for good reason. It’s full of dinosaurs and recreations of other extinct animals. You’ll also find exhibits on all aspects of our current natural world, including animals, plants, and insects. Perfect for kids and adults alike! The virtual tour of this museum is quite extensive, covering pretty much the whole, massive museum. Click here for the Virtual Tour.
- The Smithsonian Castle is home to the Smithsonian Visitor Center, providing insight into all the museums that are a part of the organization. It features beautiful 19th century architecture, that should be particularly interesting for you who love beautiful buildings. The virtual tour provides glimpses of the common areas, crypt, library, and gardens. Click here for the Virtual Tour.
- The Hirshhorn is a lovely outdoor art gallery that features plenty of unique statues and large art pieces. This virtual tour is not as extensive as the two mentioned above, but is still worth viewing if you are an art lover. Click here for the Virtual Tour.
- The National Portrait Gallery has become famous in recent years for housing the well-know “Obama Portraits. There are several Online Exhibitions available for you to visit at your leisure, including “Up Close with George Washington” and “Portraits of African Americans”. Click Here to See Available Online Exhibits.
- My FAVORITE museum, probably anywhere, is the National Museum of African American History. I don’t you’ll find a more true picture of the experiences of black people in American anywhere else – it is an educational, and quite moving experience. Unfortunately, they don’t have an official virtual tour at the moment, but the below YouTube video does provide some insight into what it’s like to visit the museum.
Virtual Tours of Capitol Buildings
If you love politics, or have simply desired to see where the nation’s government leaders work, there are tours for several of our capitol buildings:
Virtual Tour of the White House
The White House is of course known for being the home of the US President, and has served in this role since the year 1800. Politics aside, this house is beautiful, and much larger on the inside than you’d expect. Check out the virtual exhibits provided by Google Arts & Culture for a peak into this famous home. Visit the exhibits by clicking here.
Virtual Tour of the US Capitol Building
The US Capitol Building has served as the home to the US Congress since the year 1800, and has recently been renovated. The building is huge, having 16.5 acres of floor area, and is quite beautiful to look at. For detailed information on the history of the building and virtual walk throughs, check out the Architect’s Virtual Capitol site.
Virtual Washington DC Tours for Kids
If you have little ones, I highly recommend that you take them to the zoo using the virtual tour provided by the National Zoo. Great for an educational experience, this tour provides an overview of all the exhibits in the zoo, and conservation efforts being taken there. Click here for the Virtual Tour.
Another option for older kiddos is a Virtual Field Trip – this 15-minute video provides a great overview of the city and its history.
Virtual Washington, DC Experiences
For a single, immersive experience on what it’s like to visit Washington, DC, I’ve put together a few free and paid options for you to consider:
Free Virtual Washington, DC Experiences:
For free experiences, I recommend checking out Travel Guides on YouTube. Here are a few ideas:
- Top 10 Things to Do in Washington DC: This video provides a list of things you must see in the city, and provides visuals so that you can get a sense of the city overall.
- Our Favorite Spots in DC: Get more of an insider view of the city while following along a self-guided bike tour.
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Paid Virtual Washington, DC Experiences:
- Virtual Online Grand Tour of Washington, DC: This tour allows you to bring up to 10 people along for a virtual presentation on the city with a history expert. Facilitated via zoom call, you’ll be able to ask questions throughout the 2-Hour experience.
- Virtual Tour of African American Heritage in Washington, DC: Similarly to the tour above, this 2-hour experience will provide an overview of the city as it relates to the experiences of African Americans here.
In Summary | The Best Washington, DC Virtual Travel Guide
I hope that you found this Washington DC Virtual Travel Guide insightful! As a recap, we covered:
- Virtual Visits to the National Mall
- Virtual Visits to the Monuments
- Virtual Visits to Museums
- Virtual Visits to Capitol Buildings
- Virtual Full DC Experiences
Let me know if there are other ideas I may have missed in the comments below!