20 facts about Washington, DC

by Danny Baggott

Photography by joe daniel price / Getty Images

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June 2017

USA uncovered: Washington, D.C is full of historical facts, but here are 20 things you might not know. Test your knowledge before you take a trip to the capital.

1. There are 35 bathrooms in The White House

Home to the President of the United States, The White House has a whopping 35 bathrooms, 132 rooms, 412 doors, 147 windows and 28 fireplaces in its living quarters and requires 570 gallons of paint to cover its outside walls.

2. Washington, DC holds a free festival every month of the year

The DC Capital Fair, held every June is a summer carnival with live entertainment, rides and more sugary treats than any daily allowance permits. The H Street festival is a riotous bloc party every September and the National Book festival every summer celebrates all things literature.

3. It has the second largest metro system in the US

Washington, DC is home to the second largest metro system in the United States. Hot on the tails of New York City’s subway, DC’s underground service was used by over 261 million people in 2015.

4. The National Mall is home to some of the area’s best attractions – and they’re all free

The National Mall is a ginormous National Park that encompasses the very best attractions in the district. The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and the renowned Washington Monument are all in the area of the National Mall – and they are entirely free to visit.

5. There is no ‘J’ street

DC’s streets are all lettered from A-Z – apart from the missing letter “J”. Its omission was due to the interchanging of “I” and “J” in the 18th century.

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DC’s underground service was used by over 261 million people in 2015.

  • The White House, Washington, D.C. ©Brian Jannsen / Alamy Stock Photo.
  • Metro Center subway station, Washington, D.C. ©Wim Wiskerke/Alamy Stock Photo.
  • Martin Luther King Memorial, and Washington Monument. ©Rob Crandall/Alamy Stock Photo.

6. There are 1,800 animals at the Smithsonian National Zoo

As well as offering over 300 varieties of animal species to see, the National Zoo is completely free to visit – that’s right: free admission. The National Zoo is home to the brilliant giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian and their cub Bao Bao.

7. The FBI HQ are in Washington, DC

Shhh! The mysterious Headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation are located in North West Washington, DC. With special agents, executives and professional staff based in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the HQ organises and coordinates FBI activities around the world.

8. It has the most successful soccer team in the US

Washington, DC has six professional sports teams - including the renowned D.C. United who, with 13 international and domestic titles are the most decorated team in US Major League Soccer history.

9. There's a Darth Vadar gargoyle on the Washington National Cathedral

The stone Darth Vadar helmet came to be part of the cathedral after a 1980s kids competition. Entrants were asked to design gargoyles that would be added to the cathedral. Third place Christopher Rader drew Darth Vader. First and second place drawings - of a girl with braces and pigtails and a man with an umbrella and oversized teeth, were also built onto the cathedral. You’ll find Darth on the northwest tower.

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  • Steep Exorcist Stairs in Georgetown. ©Coast to Coast.
  • National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. ©Joe Vogan / Alamy Stock Photo.
  • Ben's Chili Bowl - takeaway at 1213 U St NW, Washington, D.C., USA. ©Phil Wills / Alamy Stock Photo.

10. The Exorcist steps, where character Father Karrass falls to his death, are in Washington, DC

The steps were padded with rubber, half an inch thick, for the film stunt, and Georgetown students charged spectators $5 to watch the stuntman tumble down the steps. At Halloween, DC puts on big screenings of the film for the Georgetown students.

11. The National Gallery of Art owns the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in the western hemisphere

The painting is a portrait of a young noblewoman Ginevra de'Benci. From Byzantine altarpieces to pop art, the National Gallery of Art features some of the finest art in the world and offers free admission all year round.

12. Washington serves up a mean chili-covered half smoke

A sausage delicacy associated with DC and the surrounding area, enjoy an enormous chili half smoke of pork and beef at Ben’s Chili Bowl restaurant, located on U Street NW. For just $5.95, the half smoke is similar to a hot dog – just much bigger, spicier and tastier.

13. It hosts an annual giant BBQ battle

The Giant BBQ Battle is regarded as one of America’s top summer festivals. With numerous competitions to enter, categories include sizzling chicken, the Smithfield Rib Championship and best BBQ sauce. Live music, cookery demos and a lot of meat and drink to consume make this festival a real crowd pleaser.

14. The Washington Monument is the tallest stone structure in the world

This iconic monument is still the tallest stone structure in the world. Towering at 169 meters, its height remains unrivalled – it takes two minutes in an elevator to get from the 490’ level museum to the bottom. The monument is actually two different shades of grey. The society who first built it ran out of money and the Government had to complete the upper two thirds using different marble. If you look closely you can see where the original structure stops and the new one starts.

15. There are 2,144 restaurants in DC

Apart from its white table cloth power lunches, DC hasn’t been known for its foodie scene but that is changing with popups, food trucks and plenty of small neighbourhood restaurants serving up, bold, exciting dishes. Filipino restaurant Bad Saint was voted number 2 on Bon Appetit’s top 100 best new restaurants for 2016.

16. Georgetown is home to DC’s oldest unchanged building

The historic neighbourhood of Georgetown, is home to the Old Stone House – the oldest unchanged building in Washington, DC. Built in 1765, it has now been turned into a house museum and is still 85% original to its 18th-century construction.

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  • ©2017 Giant National Capital BBQ Battle.
  • The Old Stone House is the oldest standing building in Washington, D.C., United States. ©Frank Vanden Bergh.
  • Thomas Jefferson Building Hall at the Library Of Congress in Washington, D.C. ©Susan Candelario / Alamy Stock Photo.

17. The White House telephone number was originally just the number 1

The one digit telephone number was introduced in 1878 although the president’s Oval office desk telephone wasn’t installed until 1929.

18. The oldest Washington, DC bar dates back to 1856

DC’s oldest bar is the Old Ebbitt Grill – the perfect place for an early morning breakfast or post-theatre supper. It does the best oysters in the district and serves up delicious clams, lobsters and shrimps. The daily oyster happy hour actually runs from 3-6pm.

19. Baseball’s seventh inning stretch was invented by President Taft

During a baseball game in Washington, DC, President Taft stood up to stretch his legs but the crowd thought he was leaving and stood up as a sign of respect - inadvertently beginning the tradition of the seventh inning stretch.

20. It’s got the biggest library in the world

With over 162 million objects in its collection - and approximately 12,000 new items added every day, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world.

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