Five Presidential Experiences in Washington, DC
This article is produced in partnership with Destination DC
Many glorious destinations leave a lasting memory on the business visitor, yet, only Washington, DC, provides a uniquely Presidential experience, mixing a distinctive sense of history and politics, as well as cultural thrills and an unmatched range of venues in which to both work and play.
Here are a selection of those Presidential explorations in the iconic city voted America’s number one historic destination:
Lincoln: The Great Emancipator
No DC visit is complete without taking in the Lincoln Memorial at the National Mall’s western end. Its iconic Doric columns and giant seated statue have become symbols of democracy. Here, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his inspirational 1963 “I Have a Dream'' speech before 250,000 people. The memorial is free to visit and open 24 hours a day, it is particularly breathtaking during a moonlit monument tour.
Lincoln met his fate at Ford’s Theatre and passed away at the Petersen boarding house on 10th Street. The two buildings are maintained as a museum, although the theatre has been restored and features live performances.
The downtown Willard Hotel is where Lincoln stayed before his 1861 inauguration. His $773.75 hotel bill, paid with his first paycheck as president, is framed and on view in the lobby. Indeed, the hotel has hosted almost every U.S. president since Franklin Pierce in 1853. Regarded as one of the finest hotels in the city, The Willard’s unique blend of contemporary luxury and historic charm faithfully reflects the spirit of the city.
Meanwhile, just three miles from downtown, you can visit Lincoln’s cottage in a neighbourhood called Petworth, where he sheltered during the Civil War and drafted parts of the Emancipation Proclamation now housed in the National Archives on the National Mall.
Lincoln Memorial at Night
George Washington: of Monuments and Mountains
George Washington’s presence is everywhere in the city that bears his name. Presiding over the capital, the giant Washington Monument was, when it opened in 1885, briefly the tallest building in the world (until the Eiffel Tower in 1889). The views from the sky gallery are unforgettable.
Nearby, the National Portrait Gallery has a collection of more than 100 portraits of George Washington, many dating from the American Revolution. View Gilbert Stuart’s full-length “Landsdowne Portrait” of the Father of the Country that depicts him as a president rather than a general. The museum has the only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House. The National Portrait Gallery building connects to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the enclosed Kogod Courtyard with its soaring glass canopy ceiling is one of DC’s most magnificent event spaces.
South of DC, in Virginia on the Potomac River, lies the first president’s Mount Vernon estate, a former tobacco plantation on which Washington farmed wheat, corn, cotton and more. A guided walking tour highlights the stories of the enslaved people who built and operated Mount Vernon. The 11,000 square feet mansion has been restored as close to its 18th-century decor as possible. Indulge your historical fantasies over a whiskey cocktail at the onsite distillery, one of several outhouses.
Kogod Courtyard at National Portrait Gallery
John F. Kennedy’s Georgetown Romance
Kennedy lived in Georgetown for 13 years before becoming president, and his family’s links are all over the renowned university neighbourhood. It’s easy to imagine Kennedy and Jackie walking the cobbled streets to and from a variety of family homes and also visiting their favourite Martin’s Tavern breakfast spot, where he proposed to her in 1953 (you can book the actual booth).
Georgetown is perfect for walking, lunching and boutique-shopping, but if you have time, head out to Middleburg, Virginia, known today as the nation’s “horse and hunt” capital. There lies Wexford, the 166-acre estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains, to which the Kennedys would escape and also the smaller lodge Jackie later used to indulge her passion for horse riding. Channel Jackie during your own bucolic horseback ride or enjoy a spa treatment at nearby Salamander Resort and Spa. There are also 20 wineries within 30 minutes of Middleburg.
Georgetown neighbourhood in Washington, DC
Jefferson and the Blossoming of Independence
Thomas Jefferson’s memorial was controversial when commissioned in the 1930s, partly because of its classical design and partly because of the destruction of some elm and cherry trees it required. A bronze sculpture of Jefferson – one of the key figures behind the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the U.S. – was added in 1947. In a beautiful location on the banks of the Potomac River in West Potomac Park, its design is enhanced both by its location and the surrounding cherry trees that bloom each spring. The Jefferson Memorial plays host to all manner of events and celebrations during the year – not least the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival every March and April.
Thomas Jefferson sold his private collection of 6,487 books to the U.S. government for $23,950 to re-establish the Congressional Library after its collection of books were burned in the Capitol during the War of 1812. Today, about one-third of Jefferson’s books remain in the core collection of the domed Library of Congress—the world’s largest library with 164 million items, including the Gutenberg Bible. The library’s Gilded Age architecture, artwork, painted murals and changing historic exhibitions makes it worthy of a visit as well as one of DC’s most unique event venues.
Library of Congress
Eisenhower and The American Dream
The combined star power of Dwight Eisenhower and the globally renowned architect, Frank Gehry, is dazzling. The latter’s magnificent 2020 memorial to the former is proof that DC doesn’t rest on its laurels, adding new attractions that simply could not exist anywhere else.
Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, DC
Gehry’s Eisenhower Memorial represents the ‘American Dream’. Three dramatic representations of “Ike” symbolise this popular President’s journey. In a public park across from the National Air and Space Museum, a mix of green spaces, sculptures and a steel tapestry represent his humble childhood in Kansas, Eisenhower’s period as Allied Supreme Commander in World War II and his time in office as the 34th president.
Whether you admire Gehry’s magnificent vision during a break in your day or savour the symbolism under dramatic night lighting, we are sure that you will “like Ike,” too.
Visit Washington.org/meetings to learn more about Washington, DC.
Main image:Washington Monument viewed from Thomas Jefferson Memorial