WASHINGTON DC- Trip Review & TIPS
with Sue & Philip Williams
Washington was everything we expected and more. The overall impression is of grandeur. As a city built to be the capital, it has to have been done with great large federal buildings and architecture that inspires. If you love museums and history, you will love this city.
Five Day Stay. Was it long enough?
We were there for five full days, and for me, that was enough to do what I wanted, but my husband, 'The Museum Nerd', could have stayed longer because there are just so many must-see museums to visit. The Smithsonian has 11 museums and galleries on the National Mall and six other museums and the National Zoo in the greater National Capital area. There is something for everyone, old and young. They are all very different from each other and include Space, African History, Art, Indigenous Indian history, Congress Library and much more.
How did we get from the airport to our accommodation?
We flew in from New Orleans. It was an easy walk across the airport to the Metro station (underground rail) and we took the Metro to our accommodation, which was in the Capitol Hill area.
Where did we stay?
We stayed in an Airbnb rental in C Street SW, in Capitol Hill. It was just a 10-minute walk to the underground trains. It was a very large house with two rooms for rent and we all shared the kitchen and living area. Our room was large and had its own large ensuite. Our own bathroom is a must!
We found this to be a very convenient location as we could be in the centre within 25 minutes, without having to pay the more expensive rates for an inner city hotel. Another advantage of Airbnb accommodation is that we could cook our own meals and eat at the house, which saved us money, as we did not need to eat out all day, every day and we were usually too exhausted after walking all day to make the effort to go out again.
How did we get around?
The underground /metro was not easy to navigate. We have been to many cities with underground train systems and were surprised at how dark these stations were. The signage for the stations was not brightly lit, and in fact, was on the back wall of the tunnel, so you needed to look at the tunnel wall from the train rather than the station. After a couple of journeys, we had it sorted, but couldn’t help comparing it with Tokyo, which was so easy in comparison, even though the signage was in a different language.
We bought a 3-day pass at the train station. This is the cheapest option and saves you buying tickets every time you travel. All tickets are purchased at the machine which is a bit tricky as there is no one to help, but if you take your time and read each screen you will figure it out. You can use your credit card if you don’t have enough change.
All of the places mentioned on our "Must See" list are easily travelled to on the underground train system and this is why the 3- day pass is such a good idea.
We also used the hop-on hop-off bus on our first day. There are plenty of choices of hop-on hop-off buses. They are all much of a muchness. Buy your ticket online, as it is cheaper and you will get the best deal. They all do a stop-off at Arlington and give you information about where everything is and you can then decide your routes for the following days.
How did we get from our Airbnb to the Station at the end of our stay?
We were heading to New York from Washington and taking the train to New York was much cheaper than flying. We took an Uber from our accommodation to Union Station. Uber is not expensive and it was the easiest way with our bags.
Union Station is a gorgeous building with a decent café and no overwhelming noise. Even though it is busy there doesn't seem to be a lot of rushing around, unlike other USA stations we visited. It is worth a visit whether you are catching a train or not.
Eternal Flame. Arlington National Cemetery Photo- Tim Evanson
OUR "MUST SEE" LIST
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Arlington is a huge military cemetery and the easiest way to get there is from the hop on hop off buses. We didn’t do that and that was a mistake.
There are 400,000 graves. Yes! That’s right! 400,000! And room for more! It is across the Potomac River from Washington, and actually across the State Border in Virginia. When we were there we were disappointed because of the noise levels. There is a tram/trolley that takes tourists around with a guide on a megaphone pointing out all the important graves through the area. This was very loud, and as many of the staff were asking everyone to be quiet, this seemed a contradiction to what they were trying to achieve.
There are a lot of famous people buried at Arlington but a highlight is the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame. It is a presidential memorial at the gravesite of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. The permanent site replaced a temporary grave and eternal flame used during President Kennedy's funeral on November 25, 1963.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture
is another Smithsonian Institution Museum located on the National Mall. It was established in December 2003 and opened in September 2016 in a ceremony led by President Barack Obama.
Compared to many of the others this is a relatively new museum and Oprah Winfrey donated 21 million dollars to help build it. It gives the history of the enslaved African people and their life since being shipped to the USA. It is very, very interesting and we both learned a great deal. Right from the beginning it really captures your attention and it is very moving as the stories of the people unfold. There are videos, artifacts and lots of information.
It is hard not to be moved by how terribly they were treated. I thought I knew about slavery but I had my eyes opened wide.
You have to get your tickets online before you go. Do book early to get the tickets. We hadn't done this and the only way to get in was to go online at 6.00 am to get in that days allotment of tickets.
This is the centre of government, the meeting place of the United States Congress, and another amazing building. Once again, book tours early online before you go.
You will see where the inauguration of the President takes place and then you can walk from there on the iconic route to the Lincoln Memorial.
It was wonderful to get the view from the 'Forest Gump' movie with the reflection pools. The Presidential Inauguration happens at the Capitol Building and not The White House to highlight the fact that the President is elected by the people.
When the House of Representatives is in session you can go into the gallery and listen to the debates. It's impressive to realise that you are seeing where so many important decisions in US politics takes place.
The White House -
is the official residence and workplace of the president of the United States. It is an arduous process to get a tour and you need to go online at least 3 months before for security purposes and fill in documentation.
If you are not on a tour, you can see the building but are kept well away behind lots of bars. Security is very tight. All the windows in the building are bulletproof and there are infrared sensors everywhere, even checking the sky and underground. There are also drones to keep a check on the area and destroy any unknown drones in the area and the steel and rebar fence is a spiked 11 feet high and is climb resistant and vehicle resistant.
The National Gallery of Art
There are actually two galleries here. The East Wing houses the contemporary collection, and in the western building, is art from the 13th to the 20th century Both can be accessed from within the building.
The building in itself is gorgeous and the art covers centuries and has all the most famous artists’ represented. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.
The Lincoln Memorial -
built to honor the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. There are lots of tourists visiting every day and it is beautifully lit up at night and it is also a little quieter then.
You will see the very impressive 19-foot tall, 175-ton statue of President Lincoln looking out over the Mall.
You can stand where Martin Luther King made his speech and there is a plaque to commemorate that. This leads to the reflection pool, which leads to the Washington statue, which leads to the Capitol Building.
Photo courtesy of Ted Eytan
The White House
We found a great whiskey bar near our accommodation and the food and service was great.
However, you can eat at many places throughout the city and the choice is wonderful. There are great restaurants and Trip Advisor is always a great help when choosing the kind of food you want to eat.
In Washington, we didn’t eat out a lot as, every day we walked and walked and walked, so we were happy to eat at home or go to the local whiskey bar.
National Art Gallery, Washington DC
As part of the hop-on, hop-off ticket, we did a ferry trip to historic Georgetown, which is an older suburb of Washington on the Potomac River with cobblestone streets and historic buildings.
There are shops and cafes but not much else. It was a pleasant trip to see the Potomac River and the iconic buildings from the river and we always love a ferry trip.
We found Airbnb was ideal for Washington DC and we were happy to get around on the transport system. We loved Washington and would go back again and there are not many places we say that about.
It truly gives you the impression of grandeur and government, and we enjoyed the ability to be a total nerd in all the museums.
To help us book trips we always refer to 'Get your Guide'- a wonderful website which gives you all the options in any city for trips and tours. They are very reasonable and we have not been disappointed yet.
We use Google and “anything near me” i.e. ATMs near me – or liquor shops near me etc.