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Published on Thursday, August 29, 2019

Mole Expert Hub - Visitor Experiences in Washington, DC

A former architectural designer and lover of all things brick and mortar, Carolyn Muraskin left her desk and founded DC Design Tours so she could talk about buildings rather than draw them. She customizes historical Washington, DC tours with a focus on architecture and urban design.

In this Expert Hub article, Travel Mole taps into her knowledge of how different visitors perceive and experience the US capital.

What do your different visitors find really exciting, different and fascinating about Washington, DC?

The novelty of seeing things from the TV and movies, particularly in the Mall, is exciting for visitors of all nationalities. Every single person mentions Forrest Gump when you take them to the National Mall. International guests love to see Embassy Row and are excited to see their own's country's embassy.

Many international visitors, especially Europeans, are surprised by how European the city feels. They are impressed by the cleanliness and the friendliness of the people. I think this surprises people, especially if they have come from New York, because it's just such a different experience compared to New York.

Europeans are always stunned at the size of the White House. They expect it to be like Buckingham Palace or Versailles, but are often a bit underwhelmed by its small size.

Adams Morgan
The Adams Morgan neighborhood

How about American visitors? What do they expect and enjoy?

Americans are excited to be in their capital. They want to see all the big national landmarks and be able to stand where Martin Luther King stood delivered his famous speech, or close to where the President stands when inaugurated.

We get a lot of locals on our tours, especially millennials. People are really interested in learning about their own backyards - the backstory and context to places they walk past every day.

What do kids and school groups like? What are their favourite Instagram locations?

Children also want to see the landmarks, especially things they've seen in movies such as National Treasure and Spiderman. Slightly older kids want to learn about the Lincoln assassination or the Civil War - the boys in particular like the high drama, the murder and mayhem.

In terms of Instagram spots, The Lincoln Memorial with the reflecting pool and long glorious vistas is popular. The east side of the Capitol is also a great spot, as a lot of people don't get to go there, unless they go into the Capital. If we go to the National Cathedral that's a real favourite because it's one of the largest cathedrals in the world and its very photogenic. Then of course, the White House, because it's the White House.

Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial

What are the misconceptions visitors have about DC?

A lot of visitors expect it to be a sterile, political town, but people are impressed when they come and realise there is so much more to the city, the local culture, and places to go out off the Mall. There's so much to the city beyond the fact that it's the capital of the USA.

There is a difference between Washington and DC. Locals say DC which refers to the regular people and the neighbourhoods, whilst Washington refers to Capitol Hill and the political core. Visitors don't know this before they arrive but they really like that they can experience both when they come.

Architecture - what do people enjoy?

One of the most popular tours we have is our Dupont Circle and Embassy Row tour, which is off the beaten path and includes the Gilded Aged mansions, embassies, homes of different Presidents and social clubs. There's such a diversity of neighbourhoods beyond the Mall, like Georgetown, Dupont and Eastern Market - we encourage guests to get beyond the Mall and those that do are very positive about their experiences.

Our Georgetown tour visits the old canal and the oldest building in DC - the Old Stonehouse. Visitors of all nationalities are impressed by the architecture of the Smithsonian museums. There are 20 in and around the city and they are so diverse. Each has a fascinating story, whether gothic, neoclassical or Victorian.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

Any hidden gems?

There are tonnes of hidden gems in the city and we try and highlight as many as we can, but we do find tourists will only venture so far out of their comfort zone.

What do you find most interesting about DC?

Embassy Row is great for history and architecture and lots of juicy stories around Gilded Age politicians and their wives, and all sorts of crazy theatrics which went on in the neighbourhood.

Carolyn Muraskin is the founder of DC Design Tours, who offer historical tours of Washington, DC with a focus on storytelling through architecture, urban planning and design. This Expert Hub article was produced in partnership with Capital Region USA, who have extensive information and resources on Washington, DC and the wider Capital Region.

Carolyn Muraskin
Carolyn Muraskin


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