Washington DC Review

Washington-DC-collage_7930

The nation’s capital is only 4 or 5 hours drive from Virginia Beach so it’s a good place to go for your first holiday. There are many many hotels to choose from and everyone has different priorities, so it’s impossible to give a definitive recommendation. Basically have a look at a city map and choose the area you think you will be spending most of your time in and try to locate yourself there. The city centre isn’t that big and easily walkable so you won’t really have a problem getting around (there is also a subway system if you need it). One thing to bear in mind is that you are likely to have to pay to park your car at your hotel – this seems pretty common so remember to factor it into your calculations. Alternatively I know that some people have stayed out in Alexandria with free parking and then taken the train or subway into the city every day. Take your pick. Try to avoid going in the summer months as these are the hottest and most humid. We went in August and it was far too uncomfortable. April is a good month to go as all the cherry trees are in blossom, however this is a really popular time to go so you will pay a premium for it.

There are lots of museums in DC and, thanks to the generosity of a British benefactor, many of them have free admission (www.si.edu is a good place to start). You can find a museum to fit almost any of your interests. We concentrated on the Air and Space Museum, Natural History Museum and some of the art galleries. It’s worth noting that there is a much larger Air & Space Museum outside of DC, near Dulles Airport, which is a lot more impressive. We didn’t have the time to visit it but it is on our to-do list for our next trip as we have been told by many people how great it is. It also has free admission however it costs $15 to park. Other interesting museums charging admission include the Newseum (www.newseum.org) and the International Spy Museum (www.spymuseum.org). You will not run out of things to do if the weather is bad in this city!

One place we would highly recommend is the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (www.kennedy-center.org) which offers free guided tours of its theatres including a peek into the Presidential boxes. The hidden gem here is the rooftop which gives spectacular views across the city and to the Pentagon. As non-US citizens it is pretty much impossible for us to gain access to the White House so don’t get your hopes up about this. However you can get incredibly close to the outside for some great photo opportunities. Just beware of straying an inch or two on the wrong side of invisible borderlines if you don’t want to meet the security guards!

There are also a huge number of monuments in the city which are free of charge and incredibly beautiful, again perfect for some lovely photos or just lazing about and people watching. Our favourites were the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial and Iwo Jima. It’s worth visiting them at night, not only are they a lot less busy but you get a totally different perspective to a daylight visit. You can easily spend a whole day traipsing between them all. We made it easier by hopping on a red bus tour (www.bigbustours.com). There are several routes to choose from. We did the Red & Blue Routes which I think cost about $28 per person and allowed us to hop on and off for a whole day. The other bonus with this is that it takes you out to Arlington Cemetery (www.arlingtoncemetery.mil) which is a couple of miles out of the city. This is free to visit and well worth the time. Highlights include the Kennedy graves with the eternal flame and also the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. This is guarded constantly by members of the US Army and it is a spectacle to watch the changing of the guard every half an hour (every hour in the winter). The Iwo Jima memorial is also located just outside of the cemetery walls.

One final monument worth a mention is the Washington Monument, which is the tall thin monument in the centre of the National Mall. It’s quite spectacular when you get your first view of it from the Interstate. You soon get sick of it as it is visible from pretty much everywhere within the city. However it serves as a really useful reference point if you get lost! Due to the 2011 earthquake the monument is currently closed but normally you can climb to the very top and have some great views (just go to the Kennedy Center though, it’s free and easier to reach the top!)

Another place you might not think of going is Union Station (www.unionstationdc.org). Despite being a train station, we spent a couple of hours in here without actually seeing any trains or even the platforms! It is full of shops and eating places of various standards (full restaurants down to snack carts). It also has some nice architecture inside but I don’t think it’s as impressive as Grand Central Station in New York. Worth a look though.

You can easily take day trips out to some other places while in DC. We were going to visit Baltimore which is about an hour on the train but in the end we didn’t have the time.

As you can see, there is plenty to do in DC, certainly something for everyone and also no matter what the weather does. Also many activities are free of charge so you don’t have to break the bank. Which means more money to spend at the IKEA store which is about half an hour’s drive out of the city on your way home!!!

One general website that we found very helpful was www.destinationdc.org which is helpful for information before you go and also offers some good deals on hotels.

Suzi Jones Aug 12