Washington DC is worth visiting. It tells the stories of the American people – the struggles and triumphs, the politics and history. I’ve been there twice. Visiting the same monuments the second time gave me a different perspective than the first.
During the second trip, veterans mostly on wheelchairs were on the same path with me, heading towards the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. At the Vietnam Memorial wall, I stared at the names and tried to visualize those who died. An older gentleman in a red t-shirt and blue pants rolled by in his wheelchair with assistance. He stopped at a particular point in what seemed to be an effort to find a particular name. He stared at the wall for a long time.
There was an infinite sadness. The gentleman was among 20 veterans, mostly in wheelchairs, visiting the war memorials. For a person like me who has never fought in a war, it’s difficult if not impossible to understand the hardships and the loss these veterans had encountered.
Washington, DC is a planned city established by the Constitution of the United States in 1790. President George Washington selected the land, and Frenchman, Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed the urban layout. From an article on smithsonian.com A brief history of Pierre L’Enfant and Washington DC:
L’Enfant designed the city from scratch, envisioning a grand capital of wide avenues, public squares and inspiring buildings in what was then a district of hills, forests, marshes and plantations.
The centerpiece of L’Enfant’s plan was a great “public walk.”
That great “public walk” – is the two-mile National Mall, starting from Capitol Hill, perched on a hill, continuing to the Potomac River. Along the National Mall are the monuments and war memorials.
Trippy member Julian Sabos from Tampa asked:
I’m planning to go to DC, and I wanted to know what I can do in three days? What is really worth it? I want to spend that time the best I can.
Tiffany Weber from Oregon offered a detailed itinerary for Julian.
Here is a summary of what she and other Trippy members suggested:
Morning half day tour
The Monument Walk and White House
1. Stop by the Washington Monument. Pre-book your free tickets if you’d like to go to the top. Tiffany also suggested arriving early in the morning to get your tickets on the same day, if you didn’t pre-book your tickets. The tour lasts around 30 minutes.
3. Walk along the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial. Tiffany said:
I usually take people to the right from here to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (If you want to add two more things on this side, see the Albert Einstein Memorial and the Constitution Gardens which are both small and take no time – just walking time).
4. After Vietnam Memorial, Tiffany suggested: loop back to the Korean War Veterans Memorial, then walk to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, then walk around the Tidal Basin to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
Afternoon half day tour
Tiffany suggested either the Holocaust and Engraving or The National Mall.
Holocaust and Engraving (half day)
For the second half of your day, either visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Both require timed tickets in advance, but this is doable. They are both on your way back to the mall from the Tidal Basin.
The National Mall (half Day)
There are enough Smithsonian in DC to fill an entire week – or more. Look online and see which 1-2 interest you the most or even pick an exhibit in several and just hop from one museum to the other looking at specific exhibits. You don’t have time to see everything in all of them, but they are all fantastic just depending on what interests you. I love the United States Botanic Garden near the United States Capitol, and the best museum lunch is at Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian which is also a fascinating museum.
If you prefer not to walk, the National Mall and Memorial Parks provides bus access at each of the major monuments, memorials, and sites. Space is limited. Download this map for the bus loading and unloading locations.
Morning half day tour
Visit The Capitol and Library of Congress. The tours to the Capitol are free; you must book ahead to avoid disappointment. According to the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, U.S. citizens can book tours through the Office of their Representative or the offices of their senators. Or book the tour online directly on the official website.
From here (Capitol Hill), you can take the tunnel to the Library of Congress which is also free and absolutely gorgeous inside.
Trippy member Alejandra Villarreal from Austin recommended the Library of Congress too. She said:
Absolutely do not miss seeing the Library of Congress. I have lived here for 10 years, and it is my favorite tour (better than the White House and less crowded than the Capitol), and many people don’t see it when they visit DC. They give free scheduled tours, just look up the website.
After Library of Congress, Tiffany suggested:
From here, either walk to Union Station right next to the National Postal Museum or walk/Metro to the Eastern Market which is a nice market (with great pancakes) and a fun area just to walk around and absorb a bit of the local ambiance.
If you have extra time, catch a museum you missed and enjoy the mall.
Tiffany gave a few suggestions for a half day or full day tour:
1. Drive to Georgetown
Visit shops and restaurants, walk along the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historic Park, and kayak from the old Jack’s Canoes and Kayaks.
Stop for coffee and a hand pie at Baked & Wired. If time permits, go up to the Washington National Cathedral.
2. Drive or take the train to Arlington
Go to the Arlington National Cemetery and see the Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial – Museum. It’s a beautiful place and has great views of the city. Take a moment to see the Tomb of the Unknowns.
3. Drive or take the train to Alexandria
Old Town Alexandria is worth at least half a day. You can take the metro there and enjoy walking the streets of old town and stopping at one of many amazing restaurants. I love The Pita House for Lebanese food, but there are many great places. Gadsby’s Tavern Museum is historical – George Washington ate there. You can tour it and stop for lunch or dinner. The Torpedo Factory Art Center is a fun place if you like art. There’s a ton to do and see there – just have fun.
4. Visit Mount Vernon Mansion and President Lincoln Cottage.
5. Go for a show at Ford’s Theatre or see a baseball or hockey game (depending on the season).
The Kennedy Center Concert Hall – NSO has free concerts every evening at 6 p.m., I think. Just check their website for who’s playing.
6. There are many boat tour options on the Potomac or take a boat from Washington, DC to Alexandria, Mt. Vernon or the National Harbor.
7. Visit the museums
One can’t leave Washington DC without visiting at least one of the Smithsonian museums. There is no admission fee to all Smithsonian museums in Washington DC. Our favorite is the National Air and Space Museum.
Trippy member Karen Elizabeth has the following list of must-visit museums:
- National Air and Space Museum
- Smithsonian American Art Museum
- National Portrait Gallery
- American Museum of Natural History
- Asian art
- Freer Gallery of Art
- Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
She added: There are approximately 15 world class options, pick any, you can’t go wrong. If I were going to pay for one museum, it would be the Newseum.
I totally agree with Karen on visiting Newseum. It is $24.95 plus tax for adults below 64 years old to enter. Seniors (65 years and above) $19.95 plus tax, and youth (ages 7 to 18) $14.95 plus tax.
You can’t possibly visit all the museums if you only have three days. Heather wrote:
Prioritize your 2-3 favorites, including the Smithsonian, so you won’t miss out and go early if you are interested in those that require tickets (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, National Museum of Crime & Punishment, International Spy Museum, Corcoran Gallery of Art).
Trippy member Faheem Noor Ali wrote:
Everyone is raving about the Renwick Gallery now, which is next to the White House.
Renwick Gallery is a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum showcasing American decorative arts and crafts from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Kid-friendly things to do
If you’re looking for kid-friendly things to do, Trippy member Avery Zimmer from Berkeley preferred these places:
- National Zoological Park to see panda bears
- Great Falls National Park, VA to see waterfalls (you won’t believe how spectacular they are)
- Baltimore Aquarium
- International Spy Museum- there is a charge
- Old Town Alexandria for shopping, eating
- Mount Vernon Mansion-George Washington’s house
Jennifer from Zurich suggested a boat ride on Tidal Basin. Karen Passmore from Washington DC said:
Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial is a nice place for easy hiking in the woods with the kids. There are rocks along the shoreline for them to climb upon and my family and I bring lunch and enjoy the afternoon eating by the water. April weather may be a bit chilly here, so jackets and a waterproof blanket for the ground would be ideal. Hope you have a great trip!
Where to eat
My family and I like:
- Jaleo by Jose Andres for Iberico ham, dessert, and sangria
- Cafe Mozart for German food and dessert
- Chinatown for noodles
Karen Elizabeth from Connecticut said DC is home to one of the largest Ethiopian communities outside the country itself. On her list:
- Etete on 9th St NW, Yefem tibs, spicy lentils and everything offered there
- Jaleo for tapas
- Bistro d’Oc for French food
- Bistrot Du Coin for French and Belgian food
- Brasserie Beck – European-style brasserie
- Busboys and Poets for good drinks, eclectic and inexpensive menu
Trippy member Faheem Noor Ali from Washington DC has a list of places to eat:
- Restaurants along 14th and U Street area His favorites are Barcelona Le Diplomate, Estadio and Bar Pillar.
- Eastern Market
- Union market (which is a market, not an area)
- H Street NE
For kid-friendly places to eat, Polly Beam from Washington DC pointed out these places
- Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian
- Chinatown for noodles
- Matchbox Vintage Pizza Bistro for pizza
- National Air and Space Museum for dessert and astronaut ice cream
Tiffany Weber offered the following list:
- The National Gallery of Art has pizza and really delicious gelato
- We, The Pizza for pizza, located behind the Capitol just past the Library of Congress up Pennsylvania Avenue for a block or two. There are several restaurants in the same location.
- Eastern Market for pancakes and lunch
- The Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant delicious food that adults and kids like with a more substantial menu
Where to stay
We have a list of favorite places to stay with the help of Trippy members:
- JW Marriott Hotel – my top choice when in Washington DC
- The Willard
- Marriott Marquis Washington DC
- W Washington DC
- Hotel Palomar Washington DC
- Park Hyatt Washington DC
- The Mayflower Renaissance
Michael Green from Staten Island said:
I would recommend that it’s in NW. The other quadrants are great, I live in SE, but for a vacation, it’s best to stick to NW. If it’s too pricey for ya, look at Arlington, along the Orange line but don’t go past the Ballston stop. Pentagon City and Crystal City have a lot of hotels and are both on the Blue and Yellow line. The only issue I have with those neighborhoods is that it’s dead on the weekends and after 6 pm during the week.
Washington DC is clean and easy to get around. Have you been there? What were your favorite things to do in Washington DC? Become a Trippy member and let us know where you stay while in Washington DC.
Article and photos by Claudia Looi