Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What to consider when planning a vacation or long weekend to Washington DC

Washington, D.C. is one of the top travel destinations in the United States. Every year thousands of visitors come from all over the world to visit the U.S. Capital. The District contains excitement for visitors who seek to see famous places, learn more about U.S. history and see how the government works. Or perhaps tourists simply want to explore the landmarks which make Washington a truly distinctive city.

From a tourist perspective, one of the unique features of D.C. is many of the tourist attractions are free. This is not to say other amenities, such as accommodations and food, aren't pricey, but the majority of the attractions themselves are free for the public to explore.

Here are some of the best features to consider when planning a vacation or long weekend to the U.S. Capital:

National Mall

A trip to Washington isn't really complete without catching a glimpse of, or better yet seeing up close and personal, the monuments and memorials stationed in the National Mall and along the Tidal Basin. These landmarks are run by the National Park Service and are free to the public. 

Visitors who want to see the memorials on the National Mall should keep in mind if they want to go up inside the Washington Monument, tickets are required, so plan to reserve those early so you don't miss out, but these are free. 


One of the biggest tourist attractions in D.C. are the magnificent museums. Washington D.C. is home to the Smithsonian Museums, which are also free! The Smithsonian museums provide visitors with amazing exhibits and a wealth of information regarding history, culture, technology and most facets of society.

There are literally several museums in the vicinity of the National Mall including the Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History,the Museum of Natural History, Freer & Sackler Gallery, National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of African Art and the National Portrait Gallery.

Dorothy's slippers, worn by Judy Garland during "The Wizard of Oz", are on display at the American History Museum
In addition there's also the National Zoo and several other museums. You can learn more about the many museums and research centers of the Smithsonian system on its website.


There are plenty of entertainment venues in Washington, D.C. For visitors who are yearning to see a classical concert, ball game, rock concert or a live performance of a play there's the Verizon Center, Nationals'Stadium, Redskins' Stadium, Kennedy Center for the Arts and Ford's Theatre; the latter also is a museum and has scheduled tours.

Nationals' Park

Capitol Building and White House Tours

Another highlight visitors can opt to do is tour the U.S.Capitol Building and White House. These two tours are open to the public, but special permission must be granted before a trip to D.C. These are scheduled only, and specific procedures must be followed in order to be permitted on a tour.  Visitors can visit the Capitol Building (these can also be booked online for a limited number of spaces or you can reserve through your Congressperson) and White House websites for more information on how to reserve a tour. 

White House all set up for President Obama's second inauguration

Northern Virginia

Visitors who are traveling from afar who may not get the chance to see the Washington D.C. Metro area again may want to consider venturing out a bit and exploring nearby Northern Virginia. Just across the Potomac are important and noteworthy landmarks such as Arlington Cemetery (and Arlington House which is on the cemetery grounds), Mount Vernon, Woodlawn Plantation and Gunston Hall, to name a few.

Mount Vernon
Old Town Alexandria, also located near D.C., is deeply rooted in early American history and there are many small museums to see inside this section of Alexandria. History and architectural buffs will enjoy what Old Town has to offer. There are many amazing things to see and do in Old Town, not to mention the charm of the city offers and a certain ambiance. For lunch or dinner, there are many charming and affordable restaurants in Old Town.

Another great feature for visitors to the District is the ability to travel by Metro. The Metro system goes to most of the aforementioned attractions and is relatively cheap in comparison to renting a car or using taxis. Visitors who choose to go Metro won't have to waste time with parking, which can be expensive and/or hard to get in the high traffic and populated areas.
Visitors to Washington, D.C. can choose to self-guide and tour the great attractions on their own, or can book an organized tour of the city. There are pros and cons to both, but it is important to note that organized tours are a bit on the pricey side, so if you're traveling on a budget, self-guided tours may be the better way to go.
DC is a great place to explore year-round, for a vacation or quick weekend getaway. After close to a decade of living here, it is still fun finding things to explore.

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