A change of heart…
I never had any real inclination to visit Washington DC.. I always knew there was plenty to see and do but I’m not really a ‘museum person’ and could take or leave the politics.
So I embraced this particular new year’s mini break with less enthusiasm than usual…. and was blown away! The city was a revelation and made for a fantastic destination….despite all the museums!
What I particularly liked was the variety of indoor and outdoor attractions. This worked well for us as we had 2 wet and 2 dry days and could plan accordingly.
1. Arlington National Cemetery
A visit to this beautiful, peaceful place is a very moving experience and the near uniformity of the headstones, laid out row after row, makes for a sobering sight. One could easily spend a few hours here, wandering around the grounds and watching the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
(In December, 44,000 volunteers laid holiday wreaths on 245,000 headstones)
(The Tomb of the Unknowns, overlooking the city)
(The Kennedy Gravesite)
2. The Monuments
Most of the major monuments are located in or around ‘The Mall’…. a 2 mile long parkland stretching from The Capitol to Lincoln Memorial. One could see everything in a day but we were able to visit the Mall on a few occasions during our trip. Everyone comes away with personal favourites but there are so many to choose from its difficult to settle for just one..
(On our first night we visited the Lincoln Memorial – A great start to our trip)
(The incredible Korean War Veterans Memorial – my favourite)
(Vietnam Veterans Memorial with over 58,000 inscribed names)
(The Stone of Hope at the Martin Luther King Memorial – another favourite)
(Evening at the Tidal Basin with the Jefferson Memorial in the background)
(Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial )
(And of course The White House. The National Christmas Tree is lit every December by the President)
3. The Museums
Each museum could easily take up a full day. Its impossible to see everything on a short city break and no point in even trying. Because the Smithsonian museums are free of charge, there may be an inclination to whizz through them all. But its best to select a few based on your own personal interests. We opted for Newseum, Air and Space, Natural History and, as we were passing by and a tour was just about to begin, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. My personal favourite was Newseum (but maybe because it was our first so exhaustion and museum fatigue hadn’t yet set in!!)
(A portion of the Berlin Wall in Newseum)
(Air and Space Museum)
(National Museum of Natural History)
4. National Gallery of Art
As with the museums, time may not allow for a leisurely visit. We opted for the East Building which displays modern and contemporary collections. Again, there is no entrance fee so one could make numerous shorter visits to the gallery over a few days.
(The Atrium with its enormous Calder sculpture)
5. Capitol Hill
Admittance to the US Capitol is restricted to guided tours but there is free access to the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. Our prebooked tour lasted about 45 minutes and began with a brief orientation film before getting to see some of the building with its fantastic architecture, art works and of course the beautiful rotunda. We ate in the cafeteria before taking the tunnel to the Library. Highlights here include The Great Hall, the Minerva Mosaic, The Gutenberg Bible, The Main Reading Room and should not be missed. If you still have time and energy then drop in to the Supreme Court where you can watch the visitors’ film, admire the Great Hall and Courtroom or even sit in on a court session. Visits to the three buildings make for a great day out.
(Detail of the incredible Rotunda)
(The beautiful interior of the Library of Congress)
(The Supreme Court)
6. Away from the Monuments and Museums
Its great to break away from the Mall for a while and head into some of the other neighborhoods of the city.
Georgetown – This historical section of the city makes for a perfect getaway with its picturesque housing, shopping, galleries, canal, river activities and restaurants.
(M Street – heading in towards Georgetown)
Eastern Market in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood is open 6 days a week selling mainly fresh produce but on Saturdays and Sundays the stalls spill onto the streets with food, crafts and general bric-a-brac.
Food and Drink
Breakfast: I love American breakfasts and will travel any distance to follow up on a good review! Our favourites were Ophelias close to Eastern market and Afterwords Cafe at Dupont Circle which was closer to our hotel.
(Afterwords Cafe Dupont Circle)
Lunch was mostly on the run grabbing a soup and sandwich wherever we could between museums and monuments! There wasn’t a lot of choice around The Mall if you don’t fancy eating in the museums. No doubt summertime offers a better selection with food trucks etc.
Dinner: Although we had a choice of restaurants close to the hotel, we preferred to walk into Georgetown in the evenings with what was left of our energy. We welcomed the New year in Clydes and spent another night in the very busy Martin’s Tavern where the staff will proudly tell you about their famous clientele. We had to visit Ben’s Chili Bowl of course and also ate at Meze in Adams-Morgan (Luckily we hit it on a Tuesday night which was half price wine night!)
We spent 5 nights at the Renaissance Dupont Circle (room only) which was walking distance of Georgetown and had plenty of restaurants close by. I see the property has been sold since our visit and is now called the Wink Hotel.
There is so much free stuff in the city – not just the Smithsonian but guided walks, music events etc. Don’t skimp on your research before your visit
If planning to tour the Capitol then prebook in plenty of time to allow yourself a choice of time slots that suits your schedule. Also plan well in advance if you wish to visit the White House.
A Metro SmarTrip Card costs $10 (of which $2 is the charge for the card itself leaving $8 for rides.)
Check the weather and plan your indoor and outdoor activities accordingly.
Be ready for a LOT of walking