As promised, we’re going to start exploring some “Great American Cities” here after finishing up a long series on the national parks. It makes sense to start with the capital, so our journey around America will begin in Washington, D.C.
Name: The city was named after the first American president, George Washington. The “D.C” part of the name stands for the “District of Columbia.”
Location: Washington is not actually located in a US state. Rather, it is a federal district. It is located on the east coast in the mid-Atlantic region, and it borders the states of Maryland and Virginia. It was formed by land ceded from both of these states, but the land was eventually returned to Virgina. As such, all of Washington, D.C. was once part of Maryland.
Nicknames: Many nicknames have been used for Washington throughout history. Some common ones include: The District, D.C., and The Nation’s Capital. It has also been known as “Chocolate City” for its large black population, although the demographics have been changing leading some to call it “Vanilla City.” Finally, some people call it “Hollywood for Ugly People” – a reference to the politicians who may want to be famous but aren’t exactly good-looking enough for the big screen.
Year Founded: July 9, 1790 marked the signing of the Residence Act by Congress, approving the creation of a capital city along the Potomac River. George Washington chose the location, and the city was eventually named after him on September 9, 1791. Congress began its first session there in 1800.
Population: As of 2013, the population of Washington, D.C. is just under 650,000. It is the 23rd largest city in America. It’s part of the Washington metropolitan area, which is home to 5.8 million people.
Main Industries: Not surprisingly, the government is the largest industry in DC, accounting for almost 30% of the jobs. Tourism is the #2 industry, as DC attracts millions of visitors every year. Other large industries include education, scientific research, and public policy.
Transportation: As the nation’s capital, Washington is a major transport hub. A few highways go into the city, but most simply go around. You can get to the city by air, train, or bus. Three airports serve Washington, D.C. – Ronald Reagan, Washington Dulles, and Thurgood Marshall. Union Station is the second-busiest train station in the country, behind New York’s Penn Station. In the city, you can take the Washington Metro, a rapid transit system. There are also a few bus systems operating here, and you can always find a cab.
Famous Places: Many of America’s most iconic landmarks are in D.C.: the White House, US Capitol, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial are all located here. You’ll also find the World War II, Vietnam, and Korean War Veterans Memorials along with plenty of museums and galleries in the central part of the city.
Culture: D.C. is definitely a national center for the arts. On just about any night, you could see an orchestra, opera, ballet, and a variety of other performing arts. Some of the country’s best museums are also here, including the National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum. There’s a vibrant music scene in D.C., including the “best big room” in the country according to Rolling Stone magazine – the 9:30 Club.
Sports: Washington has professional teams in all four major men’s sports (baseball, basketball, hockey, and football) – one of only 12 cities in the country. The teams are as follows:
- Washington Redskins – NFL
- Washington Wizards – NBA
- Washington Nationals – MLB
- Washington Capitals – NHL
The city also has a WNBA team – the Washington Mystics, and an MLS team – D.C. United.
Travel Experience: Like many other young Americans, I took a class trip to Washington, D.C. when I was in middle school. Alongside a few of our teachers, we visited many of the famous sights of our nation’s capital. Of course, being 12-13 years old, we were more concerned with goofing off and having a good time with our friends than learning. I have returned to D.C. twice since then – once with friends in college to see a concert at the 9:30 Club, and once again last year to visit a friend on our way to Hampton, Virginia. With only half a day of free time, we did a speed-walk around the National Mall. We started at the US Capitol, and walked along the Mall past the museums. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit any of them on our short trip. Instead, we took in the Washington Monument (which was under construction), the WWII and Vietnam Veterans Memorials, and the Lincoln Memorial. Finally, we paid a short visit to the White House just to snap a few photos. Some visitors to the United States may be surprised to see protestors outside of the White House. The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees free speech, and no matter how crazy you are you can set up in front of the place where the president lives and voice your opinions.
Discussion: We’d love to hear from you, our readers, about Washington D.C. Feel free to answer these questions and leave a comment to practice your English!
Have you been to Washington, D.C.?
If yes, what did you do there? How was your trip?
If no, would you like to visit someday? Why/why not?
Which place would you most like to see in Washington?
For some good listening practice and more information about Washington, watch this interesting BBC travel video about the “Real Washington”: