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  • Amanda Mercer

Geek Out in the Capital: 11 Nerdy Things to Do in Washington DC

Updated: May 2


Four nerdy looking people with a speech bubble wondering what are some nerdy things to do in Washington D.C.

The first documented appearance of the word NERD was in the Dr. Suess book If I Ran the Zoo (1950). Gerald McGrew, the narrator, asserts that he would collect "a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too" for his imaginary zoo. The next year Newsweek reported that Detroiters were using the term Nerd to describe a "drip" or a "square". From there, the term spread like wildfire.


Originally a derogatory stereotype, the term has lately been reclaimed as a term of pride and group identity. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a nerd as "a person devoted to intellectual, academic, or technical pursuits or interests." In that vein...here is a listicle highlighting the geeky, nerdy, and unconventional things to do in Washington D.C.


 

ASTRONOMY NERD


Image of a double quasar taken by the Hubble Telescope

1. Smithsonian Air & Space Museum Planetarium


Are you fascinated by what lies beyond the Earth's Atmosphere? Or maybe just interested in learning more? The Air & Space Museum's Albert Einstein Planetarium offers educational and engaging programs to take visitors out into the universe and beyond. The planetarium was renovated in 2014 and is the only full-domed digital theatre in the DC area.


Examples of shows:

The Sky Tonight: "Learn how to find your favorite constellation, recognize a planet, and more! The facilitator will answer questions and customize the program based on audience interests."


Worlds Beyond Earth: "Based on authentic scientific data from groundbreaking space missions, Worlds Beyond Earth takes viewers on an exhilarating adventure through our cosmic neighborhood."


"Dark Universe examines the invisible dark matter underlying galaxies that, together with dark energy, accounts for that other 95 percent of the universe’s total energy and mass. Narrated by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson."


Address: 600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560

Website Link: Planetarium

 

CRYPTOLOGY NERD


Photo of the German's world war II enigma machine

2. National Cryptological Museum


Almost 2500 years ago the ancient Greeks were using ciphers to conceal communications between military commanders. And since that time, there have been people trying to decode them. Adjacent to the National Security Agency's (NSA) Headquarters, the National Cryptologic Museum houses thousands of artifacts which tell the stories of these cat and mouse games between Cryptographers and Codebreakers.


The museum claims to "remove the veil of secrecy to the most dramatic moments in history from America's first spy ring under George Washington to breaking the German's WWII Enigma machine, from the Hotline to Moscow through the development of supercomputers, from Native American code talkers to modern secure telephones."


NERDY PLUS: The Museum also has a public reference library which maintains an interactive database of their collection. This means...you can access all the nation's declassified documents including reports on the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK's assassination, and Area 51.


Address: 8290 Colony Seven Rd, Annapolis Junction, MD 20701

 

AVIATION NERD


Image of cockpit of American Airlines Flagship Vermont from Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

3. National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center


For twelve seconds on the 17th of December in 1903, Orville Wright made the first sustained, powered flight in a plane built by his brother Wilbur. Thus began the history of aviation. The Air and Space Museum’s annex houses artifacts that track the historical progression of an invention that continues to change the world.


Not only can you see items such as the Enola Gay, the Boeing airplane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima; an Air France Concorde; and the Gemini VII space capsule, the museum has an IMAX theatre and an observation tower that allows visitors to watch planes land at nearby Dulles Airport.


NERDY PLUS: The Udvar-Hazy Center also has flight simulators! You can fly or ride in their Motion Capsule, an Interactive Simulator, and Virtual Reality Motion Ride.


Address: 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy, Chantilly, VA 20151




 

HISTORY NERD


Photo of the original Declaration of Independence in it case at the National Archive Museum in Washington DC

4. National Archives Museum


Are you a nerdy fan of the 2004 movie National Treasure with Nicolas Cage? Well, the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom located on the upper level of the National Archives Museum, is where Cage's character Benjamin Franklin Gates stole the Declaration of Independence believing it was a treasure map. (If you haven't seen the movie...I question if you are a true history nerd, or at least a history, heist, treasure-hunting nerd - but regardless I suggest you watch it before you go).


The Rotunda is the permanent home of the original Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights. They take on greater meaning when you see them in person.


Address: 701 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20408

 

PALEONTOLOGY NERD


Photo of the lobby of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington DC

5. National Museum of Natural History


Do you own - or have you ever owned - a rock polisher? Do you make numerous references to Jurassic Park? Does the Discovery Channel pop up first whenever you open up your streaming service? If so, you may be a paleontology nerd.


Even if you're not - or aren't quite ready to admit it - the National Museum of Natural History has a fantastic new fossil hall! The Exhibit begins 4.6 billion years ago and travels through the evolution of life - both plant and animal - and into today, exploring how the past connects to our present - which then ultimately informs our future.


For dinosaur lovers - specifically - visitors can view giants like the Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, Diplodocus, and the woolly mammoth.


Address: 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560

 

POLITICS NERD


Photo of the U.S. House of Representatives Chamber

6. Watch the United States Legislative Branch in Action


Interested in watching legislative action - or inaction? Well, the visitor galleries are open to the public (passes required) when the House of Representatives and the Senate are in session.


How to get gallery passes depends on your citizenship status.


U.S. CITIZENS: Request passes from the office of your Representative or Senator.


RESIDENTS OF U.S. TERRITORIES: request gallery passes to both chambers from the office of your delegate or resident commissioner.


INTERNATIONAL VISITORS: request gallery passes from the House and Senate Appointment Desks in the Capitol Visitor Center. (Must show valid international ID).


Address: First St SE, Washington, DC 20515

 

MILITARY HISTORY NERD


7. National Mall Military Monuments


Are you fascinated by the true harrowing stories of war? Do you read books on the subject? Or, watch movies like American Sniper, Black Hawk Down, and The Hurt Locker?


The BARDEUM mobile app offers - Step Inside the Story of a true event - audiovisual tours for the Korean War, Vietnam Veterans, and World War II Memorials on the National Mall. Listen to these amazing stories written by award-winning, bestselling authors, journalists and historians as you wander around the monuments - or listen from home.


Cover art for immersive audio visual tour for the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C. written by Hampton Sides
Cover art for the immersive audio visual tour for the Worl War II Memorial in Washington DC entitled Field of Fire
Cover Art for immersive audio visual tour Behind Enemy Lines for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC

Behind Enemy Lines (excerpt in above video) was written by Eric Blehm (Legend, Fearless) and tells the story of one mission during the Vietnam War that went horribly wrong - yet the unbelievably heroic actions of one man over the course of hours - became the stuff of legend.

 

SHAKESPEARE NERD


A photo of William Shakespeare's First Folio from 1623

8. Folger Shakespeare Library


To be or not to be, that is the question. Are thee Nerdy for Shakespeare?


The Folger Shakespeare Library is the world’s largest Shakespeare collection which includes resources from original manuscripts - including the Bard's First Folio from 1623 - to modern interpretations. Here is where you can explore everything Shakespeare - from performances in the Elizabethan-styled theatre, to well-crafted exhibitions, to historical research.


Address: 201 E Capitol St SE, Washington, DC 20003

 

LEGAL NERD


Photo of the United State Supreme Court

9. United States Supreme Court


Beginning on the first Monday in October the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court hear (generally) two arguments a day, three days of the week, in two week intervals through late April. The sessions are open to the public although seating is limited to a first-come, first-seated basis.


The court describes their process in this way: "During an argument week, the Justices meet in a private conference, closed even to staff, to discuss the cases and to take a preliminary vote on each case. If the Chief Justice is in the majority on a case decision, he decides who will write the opinion. He may decide to write it himself or he may assign that duty to any other Justice in the majority. If the Chief Justice is in the minority, the Justice in the majority who has the most seniority assumes the assignment duty."


Address: 1 First St NE, Washington, DC 20543

 

BOOK NERD


A photo of books

10. Library of Congress National Book Festival


If you love to read, are you automatically a nerd? Can you be a nerd and not love to read? Perhaps you can find the answer at a gathering of people who love to read books - and to write them.


Every August the Library of Congress hosts the National Book Festival bringing together best-selling authors, poets, and illustrators for panel discussions, signings, and other fun book-themed activities.


Address: Washington Convention Center 801 Mt Vernon Pl NW, Washington, DC 20001

 

CHESS NERD


Image of a chess board with two people's hands making moves

11. Dupont Circle Chess Tables


Chess players and hustlers come from all over to be part of Dupont Circle's famed scene of open-air chess tables. Watch, pay to learn, play to win - it's all your move.


Address: 15 Dupont Cir NW, Washington, DC 20036


 

Being Nerdy can be a lot of fun.

BARDEUM

BARDEUM offers self-guided audio/visual tours via mobile app. These immersive experiences are written by award-winning & bestselling authors, journalists, and historians.


Available in the App Store and Google Play.



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