D.C. in a Day: Walking Guide & Lessons Learned

This past Spring Break, I took advantage of my precious time off from class and hit the road. My family, boyfriend, and I drove to the Historic Triangle in Virginia, consisting of Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown. The most fascinating stories of the first British colonies and the Revolutionary War were told to us by historians at each site. It was interesting to listen to the stories unfold and imagine how they lived during the 1800s. After exploring the primary towns responsible for the formation of America, we decided to do the fully American thing, and drove about 2.5 hours north to Washington D.C.

This post is a compilation of mistakes we made in D.C. as well as some things we really enjoyed. I’ll list the most useful ways of getting around and my favorite parts of our capital. Here’s the map of the walking route we took, which I think covered most of the historic landmarks.

We did not make it to the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Lost Soldier this trip, but that is definitely worth attending.

The Big Mistake:

The entire day before and even on our way to D.C., we were debating whether to search for a parking spot in D.C. or park at a metro nearby and take it into town. On the way there, I read a blog that recommended the metro so we got off at the next exit, parked our car, and took the metro. HUGE mistake!!!!!! Only one metro was working so they combined the yellow and blue line into one route. We spent about an hour and a half just trying to go what would have taken us 15 minutes by car. I recommend taking the risk of driving into D.C. and finding a parking spot. If you can’t find a metered spot, which can now be paid by credit card and phone, pay $24 for a whole day at the Union Station parking garage. Once there, you can buy a metro card for the buses. Plus, if you do want to tour Georgetown or the cute neighborhoods nearby, you can just go pick up your car and drive there.

The Holocaust Museum:

Our first stop was to the Holocaust Museum because we reserved a slot online the day before for 1pm. If you have a reservation, you avoid the long line that goes all the way out the door. We scooted on by and showed the front desk our tickets that we printed at our hotel and they let us right through. This tour took us about 2 hours, but you could spend so much longer if you weren’t on a time crunch. It is heart wrenching as you walk through each level and experience the lives of the Jewish people who begin as normal citizens and eventually have everything stripped away from them. For children, the first floor has a walk-through story about a Jewish child whose life is turned upside down by the Nazis. Although still very real and very sad, this portion of the museum is less graphic.

Air and Space Museum:

Even though I had toured D.C. before, this was my boyfriend’s first time ever. I wanted him to get the most out of the small amount of time we had in this incredible place. Growing up, he wanted to be an astronaut and then a military pilot, so we chose to tour the Air and Space Museum as it was 3 pm and we could only choose one Smithsonian before they closed. Once again, in every museum you can spend 30 minutes to 5 hours there, depending on how interested you are in the subject matter.

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The United States Capitol:

This is one of my favorite buildings for two reasons: 1.) The architecture and paintings inside are mind-blowing, and 2.) They give tours. I love tours because when stories are told by historians and tour guides who really love the topic, I get really into it and love their enthusiasm. We had a recent grad student lead our tour group who was an excellent speaker, knew his stuff, and even threw in trivia questions for fun. After the tour, we walked to the Library of Congress. It was closed, but we were still able to walk up the steps and admire just how amazing this building really was. I mean, even the door was made of three-foot thick solid wood!

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Dinner at Union Station:

Union Station should be on your list for sight-seeing even if you aren’t taking a train ride or even eating. It is simply beautiful. It’s ceilings reach all-time highs and it doesn’t disappoint when compared to the rest of the architecture in D.C. We ate at the Shake Shack, which serves overpriced burgers and fries. I would probably recommend choosing something else in the food court like Chinese food or Charley’s Philly Cheese Steaks.

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D.C. at Nighttime:

Go see the monuments at night! Lincoln looks even more gigantic then he already is and the White House is beautifully lit for pictures. We walked from the Lincoln Memorial to the Vietnam and Korean War memorials and then to the WWII Memorial. They were all so much more breathtaking when every name on the wall of fallen soldiers was lit up in honor.

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Transportation Options:

While clearly I had a bad experience with taking the metro into town, others have had great luck. The parking is free, and the metro card is only about $5 each. If you do decide to use it, hopefully both metro routes will be working properly. If you choose to park in the heart of D.C., go for the Union station parking lot. As far as once you’re in the city, you walk and walk some more! The buses will take you to certain landmarks, but we just walked everywhere. As long as you make a giant loop around the city, it’s not a bad walk especially when the weather is nice. If you have more time to spend, take a car to see the outskirts. I’ve read of the amazing eats and cute neighborhoods that I will definitely go see on my next trip there. I live about 9 hours from D.C. so I’ve never flown in except on a field trip with a tour bus. I think renting a car would be helpful if spending a week in D.C. as you will want to see more outside the district.

Places to Stay:

Option #1 (cheapest):

In the city, places to stay will be pricey. I just looked it up on Booking.com and found several hostels available if you are looking to meet new people. Some hostels even serve breakfast. A 3 night stay was around $150.

Option #2 (Priciest):

Hotels on the outskirts of D.C. near Arlington Cemetery, like Motel 6, are still $100/ night. However, you are paying for convenience if you choose a centralized hotel, which could be well-worth the cost if you are only staying for a few nights.

Option #3 (in between):

For families or groups of 4 or more, there is no beating Airbnb.com. More space for less money allows you to cook your meals, or at least your breakfast, and fit more people into one house or apartment instead of in multiple hotel rooms. I just looked and found several Airbnb stays for around $100/ night in neighborhoods close to the White House or Capitol Hill.

Here is my link for $40 off your first booking with Airbnb: Katie’s $40 Airbnb Discount

I hope these tips are helpful in planning your next trip to the capital of the United States of America!

Lovely Travels,

Katie

If you’d like to support my blog, use this link to search for and buy anything you need from Amazon.com: Katie’s Amazon link

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Castle Garden

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Smithsonian Castle

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