Obviously I also had to plan a visit to the US capital, while staying in the country and to be honest, it turned out to be one of my favourite places. Especially Georgetown with its charming little houses and beautiful old University left me fascinated. If you are planning to visit this not quite typical, yet beautiful American City here´s a quick guide to Washington DC.
I can´t imagine anyone going to Washington DC (unless for work purposes maybe) without seeing the Capitol, the White House or the Washington Monument. I found the Lincoln Memorial the most stunning of the sights I visited, as it is impressive in size and layout and the view over the reflecting pond with the Washington Monument in the background is mesmerizing.
In general, take your time to wander the National Mall all the way from the Capitol to the Washington Monument, and onwards to the Lincoln Memorial, passing by Jefferson Memorial such as the World War II Memorial.
I also encourage you to visit DC´s many great museums, especially as a bunch of them are free and as such the perfect program for a rainy day.
A day away from the city center
After spending a couple of days in the center seeing all the important spots mentioned beforehand and exploring the National Mall, you may ask yourself, what is nearby. My two top tips:
- Go to Georgetown and actually take a whole day to wander through its streets, lined by cute little houses and the big, old University campus. Sit down in a café to relax or have a picnic by the Potomac River after a morning shopping at the many cute little stores. This is one of the prettiest, if not the prettiest neighbourhood of DC.
- Explore Arlington Cemetery, where you can find the gravesite of John F. Kennedy with a beautiful view over the capital, and stop by the Pentagon and 9/11 Memorial that are nearby – all in Arlington, Virginia. I especially liked the cemetery, as you can see a change in the gravesites, walking from more recent ones to the oldest ones. Plan in a few hours for that though, as the cemetery is enormous. These two places are actually on the way from the Airport to the city center, so you might want to think about spending parts of your first or last day here.
So first things first, you can walk a lot in DC, especially if you only have a weekend or a few days and mainly want to stay in the center. But the metro is very extensive and gets you from A to B quickly. Moreover, if you´re arriving at Ronald Reagan National Airport (which is actually in Virginia) a metro line has a stop right there and will make it super easy to get to the city.
From Dulles International Airport the cheapest way to get into the city would be by bus or from the next Metro Wiehle Reston East Sation (but you have to get there). Shuttle and taxi options are available as well. You can find good information here.
Where to eat
I stayed and ate out in Logan Circle during my short stay in DC and let me tell you: “It is great.” This neighbourhood has an abundance of nice restaurants and bars, like the Spanish restaurant Estadio where I spoiled myself with some delicious Tapas one night – to my defense, I didn´t know yet that I was going to go to Spain and eat that food all the time.
Some things that might be interesting or useful
- Navigating through DC is pretty easy as the streets don´t have actual names, but letters (east – west) and numbers (north – south) starting at the Capitol. Only the few diagonal Avenues have actual names. You only want to make sure you don´t end up at the street with the right letter, but in the wrong direction, so check beforehand if you need to go to 2nd street SW, SE, NW or NE to avoid wasting time finding your hotel for example.
- DC has a height limit on buildings, so you won´t see the skyscrapers typical for an American city -unless you take a look over the Potomac River to Arlington, Virginia. It gives the city something special, at times European, which for me was a feature I really liked.
- In spring many visit the city for the Cherry Blossom Festival. The city got 3000 cherry trees as a gift from Tokyo in 1912 and the beautiful natural spectacle is celebrated every spring.
What are your thoughts on and musts for Washington DC?