Washington DC is steeped in United States history.
Washington DC is steeped in United States history. Rae Wilson

The place where wise words are etched ... everywhere

MANY wise words from America's past leaders are etched into impressive monuments across Washington DC. Many remain true today.

Engraved in the walls of the huge Thomas Jefferson memorial are four excerpts of profound insight and foresight rarely articulated by political leaders today.

Washington DC is steeped in United States history.
Washington DC is steeped in United States history. Rae Wilson

While we have abolished slavery, allowed women and indigenous people to vote, and legalised same-sex marriage, there will always be a need to evoke change to take society forward.

This passage sums up the need for continual societal evolution perfectly.

"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind,” it reads.

"As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.

"We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilised society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

Having never been to Washington DC before, riding on a bike past the most familiar of sites was almost surreal.

From the iconic US Capitol Building to the grandeur of the Lincoln and Washington Memorials and the White House, they've featured on so many television shows and movies that there's a sense of déjà vu when seeing them in their true architectural glory for the first time.

But, also, accidentally arriving in the city, just 4.5 hours by bus south of New York, on Memorial Day made the experience even more screen-worthy.

Memorial Day 2018 in Washington DC in the United States.
Memorial Day 2018 in Washington DC in the United States. Rae Wilson

People lined the streets to watch service men march down the main street to mark the annual day, akin to Anzac Day or Remembrance Day but less sombre, with marching bands providing an uplifting ambience to the parade.

Three days was not enough to spend in this magnificent city, especially if you're a political or museum nut, but here are some tips to help plan a visit.

Washington DC is well-known for its free museums but that means they are super busy and during peak times you sometimes have to reserve a time for entry or risk long lines.

This city is home to world-renowned National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of African American History and the National Gallery of Art.

There's also the air and space museum, the spy museum, the museum of American history which boasts crowd favourites like Julia Child's kitchen, Dorothy's ruby slippers and Abraham Lincoln's stovepipe hat.

Washington DC is steeped in United States history.
Washington DC is steeped in United States history. Rae Wilson

The Smithsonian Institution - which includes 17 museums, galleries and a zoo - are like entering another world with millions of objects that spark awe and fascination.

The various monuments are also powerful and worth a visit.

Washington DC is steeped in United States history.
Washington DC is steeped in United States history. Rae Wilson

THE MANSION ON O STREET

Busting out super sleuth skills to search for 70+ secret doors in the O Museum's themed rooms will take you back to your childhood, and that of your parents.

The timewarp that awaits you inside the 100-odd rooms of an unassuming mansion on O Street is incredible.

From celebrity-signed guitars to a retro kitchen to pinball machines and vintage clothing, it's hard to know where to look.

Especially when you're on the hunt for secret doors to secret rooms and compartments - to enter new rooms themed in the Victorian age to Art Deco and Avant Garde.

But unlike Narnia where the kids enter a new world through a wardrobe, these doors are all either push or pull and you have to have a keen eye.

Before sending me off on my journey, she tells me the adventure is not like Narnia and there will be no furniture leading to a doorway, nor will there be any secret openings behind art pieces, fireplaces.

But the doorways are more in sync with Alice in Wonderland because they come in all different sizes.

"If you come back tomorrow, it's a different house,” she says.

"We're constantly moving things and changing the rooms.

"If you don't find the wine cellar, let us know so we can give you a hint, but we won't show you.”

The collection rotates and changes daily. It is an immersive, tactile experience where you will hear rare studio cuts, leaf through manuscripts, touch sculptures and experience different architectural styles.

GEORGETOWN

Home to palatial mansions and stately churches, Georgetown is the perfect place to just wander the streets and imagine the lives lived in the gorgeous homes in the neighbourhood.

There are cobble stone streets and a gorgeous waterfront, all easily accessible by bus from the city centre.

Washington DC is steeped in United States history.
Washington DC is steeped in United States history. Rae Wilson

You can also check out The Exorcist steps, at the corner of Prospect St and 36th St NW, made famous in the 1973 film

There are walking tours for the area or you can DIY, but make sure you stop by Georgetown Cupcakes for a delectable treat. 

CAPITOL HILL NEIGHBOURHOOD

Check out Airbnb for out-of-the-box tours to see a different side of the city or gain insights from a local.

One example is the Capitol Hill Neighbourhood Tour which takes you on foot through the stunning Library of Congress to one of DC's oldest residential neighbourhoods.

Washington DC is steeped in United States history.
Washington DC is steeped in United States history. Rae Wilson

Engage in a lively discussion and debate about historic and current American politics, all lead by a local guide, and finish up with a drink on DC's historic Barrack's Row.

Or do a street art tour or ghost tour or foodie tour.

The Newseum is a bit of a mecca for journalists in Washington DC in the United States. A visit to the loos is met with much mirth as classic headline errors have been made into wall tiles.
The Newseum is a bit of a mecca for journalists in Washington DC in the United States. A visit to the loos is met with much mirth as classic headline errors have been made into wall tiles. Rae Wilson

NEWSEUM

At a time when traditional media is regularly accused of being 'fake news', seeing the importance of journalism spread across six floors is a welcome relief.

There's no doubt Washington's Newseum is a mecca for journalists like me.

The Newseum is a bit of a mecca for journalists in Washington DC in the United States. There is a section on coverage of the 9/11 terror attacks.
The Newseum is a bit of a mecca for journalists in Washington DC in the United States. There is a section on coverage of the 9/11 terror attacks. Rae Wilson

But speaking to other visitors provided further insight into why it's vital to meticulously record the media's role in some of history's biggest events.

It's worth buying the two-day pass, yes it's one of few museums that charge but its worth every cent. Take your time getting through the incredible exhibits but also consider jumping on some of the tours.

I can recommend the 11.30am first amendment tour.

There are so many displays it's hard to pinpoint the best but you should not miss exhibits on the FBI, prize-winning photos, Vietnam, 9/11, interactive theatres, a News Corporation history hall and a journalist memorial.

The Newseum is a bit of a mecca for journalists in Washington DC in the United States.
The Newseum is a bit of a mecca for journalists in Washington DC in the United States. Rae Wilson

NATIONAL ARCHIVES

Standing in a dimly-lit room trying to jostle with students and families for a spot to glimpse barely-visible ink that constitutes the most important documents in the United States is as profoundly disappointing as it sounds.

Viewing the Bill of Rights, Constitution and Declaration of Independence is no doubt a goosebumps moment for Americans, especially at a time when many believe the sentiment in the country's founding documents is being eroded.

But it was tough as an Aussie to get excited about that room. That said, the archives have other wonderful exhibitions including a huge touch screen about key contemporary issues.

There's also a fascinating collection of letters, photos and videos worth checking out in the Public Vaults.

In a building that houses so much communication on the public record, people are interested to see how Donald Trump's presidency will be represented. Apparently his tweets, and the replies, are considered official and will be permanently archived.

If you're keen to go, it's best to line up at the appropriately imposing building about 9.30am for a good spot in the line for a 10am opening. Even better, it's worth paying the $US1.50 online reservation fee to book the daily guided tour at 9.45am to get more out of the visit.

SPY MUSEUM

The International Spy Museum is as cool as it sounds, offering up espionage intrigue and interactive exhibits worthy of James Bond impersonations.

With interactive and immersive exhibits, the museum puts visitors in the shoes of the officers, agents, and analysts who work in the shadows, as well as the leaders who make use of their work - sometimes with life or death consequences.

As well as giving you the chance to use the tools of the spycraft trade, it throws up controversial topics such as covert surveillance and torture to spark debate.

Along the way, you will be challenged to analyse clues, keep your cover, find and contact sources, collect intel at dead drop sites and more. Your skills are monitored and you can access a personal score sheet online when you return home.

Speaking of heading home, make sure you drop by the gift store on the way out for amazing Secret Santa gifts - from reverse-mirrored glasses, to secret flasks disguised as soda cans and peanut butter jars, and recorder pens.

US CAPITOL BUILDING

Housed in the iconic 'wedding cake' dome at the end of the National Mall, the Senate and House of Representatives galleries are open to visitors when in session but passes are required to enter.

International visitors can obtain passes from the appointment desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Centre.

You can book 90 days in advance online for free tours of the capital building, including the halls of the Senate, the chambers and various collections housed in the impressive architectural marvel.

The space under the dome is lined with marble statues of dignitaries from years passed. Beware of the security checks - pack some water for the wait.

THE WHITE HOUSE

Donald Trump's home of three years is the one you would expect to book for a tour first up, especially as a West Wing fan.

But the Australian embassy says they can no longer arrange White House tours for Aussies.

The Whitehouse in Washington DC in the United States.
The Whitehouse in Washington DC in the United States. Rae Wilson

So photos from out the front are your only option aside from a tiny White House visitor centre.

Across the road there's a great souvenir shop with Trump magnets with his mouth as a bottle opener, Trump toilet paper and other fun bits and bobs.

SUPREME COURT

The United States Supreme Court, the highest in the land, has made the news a lot lately with Donald Trump's most recent pick the subject of controversial hearings and one of the oldest judges on the bench having poor health.

So to have the chance to view the justices listening to arguments or handing out judgments is a fangirl moment for a justice and politics tragic.

But on judgment days when the sitting is short, it's first-in, best-dressed and I missed out by three people when they cut off the line after filling up the court.

Washington DC is steeped in United States history. This is the Supreme Court which is open to the public.
Washington DC is steeped in United States history. This is the Supreme Court which is open to the public. Rae Wilson

On oral argument days, the website says there are two lines for people wanting to hear entire arguments and another three-minute line to check it out.

Be there at 9am to get a good spot in the line for the 10am sessions where some of the country's most important decisions are made.

But there are also great tours in the supreme court building and other interesting exhibits and displays. 



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