From Shopping Malls to The National Mall (Washington, DC)

 By Calista Kusuma

While I love my shopping, I’d take a trip to Washington DC’s National Mall over discount HnM at Westfield any day.


Every little step in DC you take boils you in the melting pot of American culture, politics and history that the US capital is. Think about it this way, as a UNSW student, a 30 minute walk will get you from the end of the 891 line to the front. In a single 30 minute walk in DC, I came across the Whitehouse, Petersen House (Abraham Lincoln’s final resting place) and the FBI Headquarters- have you ever absorbed that much history in a single walk?

True American Landmarks

Washington is also full of iconic American landmarks that every tourist should visit. Get your Instagrams ready because all the photos you take will have your followers thinking you’ve just come out of a scene from ‘Homeland’:

  • Capitol Building- Home to the United States Congress. From The Crypt, with a marble compass marking the point where the four quadrants of the District of Columbia meet, to the building’s “symbolic and physical heart”, The Rotunda, complete with iconic paintings such as Trumbull’s ‘Declaration of Independence’- this was my personal favourite. I highly recommend you take a tour to gather all the historical tidbits you can!
  • The White House- You may not like its owner, but you have to admit, it’s a very nice house. You can’t go inside unless you contract your country’s embassy in DC, but just looking at it will allow you to place yourself in the shoes of the political icons that have lived in it.


  • Lincoln Memorial- Warning: The stairs you have to climb may give you flashbacks to UNSW’s equally iconic Basser Steps. But, the view you get standing underneath the 9.1m figure of Abraham Lincoln, gazing at you with a look of humble strength, will make you appreciate all he did for the “hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union”, as the stone behinds him reads.
  • Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool- Take a long walk next to the 618m long icon as you marvel at its beauty. The dramatic reflection of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial cast across it during the day will make your heart feel the emotion that both tributes are meant to arouse times ten. You’ve probably seen it in movies such as ‘Captain America: Winter Soldier’.


  • Washington Monument- Yes, this is the obelisk that Tom Holland/ Peter Parker climbs in ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’. The tall tribute to America’s first president is a sight that you certainly won’t miss- I mean it is DC’s tallest structure.
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial- The dome sits on the Tidal Basin for a breathtaking sight. Inside you’ll find a statue of a Jefferson, Declaration of Independence in hand, surrounded by his own writings carved into white marble.
  • Library of Congress- The second-largest library in the world will make you want to read again. Come to see Jefferson’s preserved Study Room and sit in the gorgeous Main Reading Room, or just stare at the beauty of its mosaic ceilings. You’ll never want to leave.

Looking for a DC landmark tour? Click here and book a tour with Landmark Tour and Travel for a customisable 3 or 4 day tour!


With over 17 Smithsonian Museums and plenty of iconic true American monuments, Washington is a history buff’s home. Here’s a list of some museums that I recommend (click on their names for links to their websites!) :

  • National Air and Space Museum- Come to live out your astronaut dreams with flight simulations that will flip you 360 degrees. With over 61 aircrafts and 51 space artefacts, including the Apollo 11 Command Module that worked with putting Neil Armstrong on the moon, it’ll make you want to be an astronaut.
  • National Museum of American History- See all the First Ladies’ inauguration dresses here, the real ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ that inspired Francis Scott Key to write this country’s national anthem, and for all the foodies out there, there’s a ‘Food’ exhibit just for you-  just imagine coming back with dozens of facts about the ‘Mexican Food Revolution’, they’re great convo starters!
  • International Spy Museum- Start with a spy briefing video before you venture into the exhibitions- from ‘Ballroom to Battlefield’ to ‘The Spies Among Us’, you’ll walk out having lived out your James Bond fantasies. Try defusing a bomb or hanging on as you dangle in the air on a moving rod to test out your spy skills!
  • National Museum of Natural History- Come face to face with the legendary Hope Diamond, mummies and more!
  • American Art Museum- If Abraham Lincoln held his inaugural ball in this museum’s very own Lincoln Gallery, then there must be something special about it.

The District Wharf: A Must-Go


One more must-go in DC is The District Wharf. The Wharf is a new ‘waterfront city’ that stretches along Potomac River. The sustainable ‘neighbourhood’ has lots of fun things to do including swings dotting the boardwalk, DIY fireplaces, rentable kayaks on Recreation Pier and regular concerts on the Floating Stage. After you finish, there’s lots of food to refill your energy. Try out Kirwan’s Irish Pub for good Ginger Ale and Fish Finger Butty, or go to Shake Shack for some great chocolate shakes and crinkle fries (I’m an In-And-Out Burger advocate myself, but this is a respectable substitute 😉 )

Watch this video for a little tour of the Wharf!

A Little Note to Foodies

Washington DC is well-known for its Thai food. Soi 38 is extremely good for street food-style dishes with an innovative take (the Pad Thai will literally take you to Thailand). For Chinese food lovers, ‘Chinatown Express’ is your go-to with large portions of duck and authentic hand-spun noodles that everyone including The Washington Post, who declared their dumplings among the most delicious in DC in 2017!

Feeling hungry now? Click here for Chinatown Express’ menus, and here for Soi 38’s!

Also hit up Compass Coffee for yummy coffee and brownies! The little hipster joint in the Shaw neighbourhood doubles serves a cool nitrogen-infused cold brew and Nutella mocha. Plus, pick up a cute ‘Made in DC’ sticker to show off to your friends, which you can shop for here.

Goodbye DC

Upon leaving DC, you’ll literally feel like you’ve just completed a major in American Studies. I will never forget failing to hang on to the James Bond bar in the International Spy Museum and falling off in front of my Snap-chatting sister. I will never forget walking towards the National Museum of Natural History, boots cracking the cold ice on gravel, staring at the orange leaves rustling around, in a state of complete serenity. I will never forget quietly standing on the edge of the completely frozen, blue Tidal Basin, completely captured by the pure white dome of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial under light grey clouds and thinking to myself, “I really love it here.” I hope you will get to experience that moment too.


Want to hear about other US cities? Read about Marija’s New York experiences here! 

Thinking about the USA for exchange? We’ve had students go on exchange to Illinois, Texas, San Diego and more! Click this link to read some of our University Profiles.

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