Straight from DC Insiders!
Top Washington DC Travel Tips for an Incredible Vacation
Whatever you want to see, you will find the downtown locations of our Washington DC bed and breakfasts exceptionally convenient. You will love DC’s Metro (subway) system: it’s clean, safe, convenient, inexpensive and efficient. Hop on at Woodley Park or Dupont Circle and ride in comfort to the National Mall, where you can spend days enjoying our many FREE museums. You will be surprised at how much there is to do and see in DC. Be sure to plan your trip so that you have enough time to see it all!
United States Capitol
The US Capitol is open for tours Monday through Saturday and is a favorite historic stop on the sightseeing agenda. It is a real thrill to see the House and Senate chambers, get a look at your Congressmen and Senators in person, and maybe even hear part of an historic debate. Our favorite part of the tour involves an historic demonstration of eavesdropping that does not include wiretapping! You can book your Capitol tour in advance by calling your Congressional Representative’s office, or just get in line on the day of your visit.
Natural History Museum
Full disclosure! This museum is our family favorite. Our dad spent almost 50 years at the Natural History Museum, most of them as Curator of the Meteorite and Tektite Collection. In addition to seeing his “space debris”, you can see fascinating exhibits on gems and minerals, the oceans, and human origins.
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
The most powerful and heartbreaking museum on the Mall, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, is a testimony to human triumph over unthinkable evil. The capacity of men and governments to destroy human lives certainly did not stop with the Holocaust, and the Museum’s bold and intimate examination of this terrible tragedy is focused on the hope that those who understand history will not be destined to repeat it. Everything about the Museum, from the descending spiral of its architecture, to the passport you receive when you begin your tour, to the pile of victims’ shoes is haunting and profoundly moving. Not focused exclusively on the past, the Museum also shines a spotlight on current world tragedies.
Museum of African American History and Culture
The newest Smithsonian museum houses extensive collections showcasing both the tragedies and the triumphs of the African American experience. Plan to spend at least a half day here – the exhibits are powerful, inspiring and entertaining; the building is architecturally stunning; and the café is not to be missed. Timed entry passes may be required depending on the time of year, so be sure to check the museum guide.
American Indian Museum
Enjoy soaring architecture as you explore American Indian cultures from the Northern and Southern hemispheres – and plan to stay for lunch! You can try tribal foods and regional specialties like the bison burger, buffalo chili, and plank-smoked salmon in the excellent Mitisitam Cafe. The Café is the only American Indian restaurant we are aware of anywhere in the Washington Metro Area and it is not to be missed!
United States Botanical Gardens
This beautiful greenhouse on the National Mall is a living plant museum. This is a must-see for every gardener who visits Washington DC. The Botanic Garden was the vision of our first President and Gentleman Farmer, George Washington. It was established in 1820 and has been in continuous operation since 1850. Our favorite exhibit is the spectacular orchid collection and the “rooms”. The Botanic Garden hosts great summer and
winter concerts! Check their website for details.
Air and Space Museum
Remember when you wanted to grow up and be a pilot or an astronaut? This museum will recapture that feeling and rekindle that flame through spectacular exhibits and exhilarating IMAX films. Among the 60,000 items in the museum’s collection, you will see the original Wright Brothers’ Spirit of Saint Louis, the Apollo 11 Command Module, and the Apollo Lunar Module.
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is one of the most beautiful buildings in Washington, DC and we highly recommend that you include this stop on your sightseeing agenda. It is a shame to go to the Library of Congress and not be able to get into the reading rooms, so why not plan to do something unique to Washington and Library of Congress library card. Plan to visit the Genealogy Reading Room and dig into your family’s history. Be sure to see Thomas Jefferson’s Library and the Gutenberg Bible.
American History Museum
A few days in Washington DC will make it very clear that history is NOT boring! From the 1963 March on Washington, to the First Ladies Inaugural gowns, to Julia Child’s kitchen, to the original Star Spangled Banner and George Washington’s uniform, this museum demonstrates that history is not only the big events, it’s also the everyday events that shape our lives.
The National Archives houses the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the Unites States and the Bill of Rights. Seeing them in person is breathtaking! The Archives holds millions of records in addition to the “Big 3″, and the Public Vaults highlight a thousand or more records of various kinds at any given time. The records on display in the Public Vaults show the depth and breadth of the Archives’ collections and provide a fascinating portrait of American life. Working on your family genealogy? You will definitely want to check out the resources available to you at the National Archives.
National Gallery of Art
A gift to the people of the United States by financier Andrew Mellon, The National Gallery of Art is a national and international treasure. It is an amazing thing to be walking quietly through a room filled with paintings and come face to face with Van Gogh’s Self Portrait or Renoir’s Girl with a Watering Can. And while you’re there, shop in the incredible gift shop and have lunch in the rotunda or the lower level cafeteria.In the National Gallery’s EAST WING, you can explore a 500 piece modern and contemporary collection, housed in the recently renovated exhibition space by the noted architect I. M. Pei. The two tower galleries and outdoor sculpture garden that overlook Pennsylvania Avenue shouldn’t be missed.
Possibly the most popular monument on the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial features an iconic statue of a somber Abraham Lincoln, looking exhausted and grieved by the Civil War that defined and consumed his time in office. The walls of the memorial are engraved with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address. The words are powerful, moving, and sadly relevant to our current time. Many important events in recent US history have taken place on the steps of this beloved memorial, including Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which was the highlight of the 1969 March on Washington.
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial
The United Sates is a Jeffersonian democracy, and the 19-foot statue of Thomas Jefferson in the Jefferson Memorial is oriented so that his piercing eyes are fixed on the Oval Office in the White House. On the walls of this memorial you can find excerpts of the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson’s Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1777). This memorial has perhaps the most beautiful setting of all of the memorials on the Mall, overlooking the Tidal Basin with its ring of Cherry Trees. On a beautiful summer afternoon, you can take a paddle boat out into the Tidal Basin and enjoy the view of this memorial from the water.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
This 7 ½ acre memorial celebrates FDR’s 12 years and 4 terms as President of the United States. Each term is represented by an outdoor “room”, featuring, beautiful sculptures and bas reliefs. As with all the memorials, the words engraved in stone are powerful and as relevant today as they were in the
Depression or during World War II. And as always, one leaves the memorials wondering why we never take these words to heart.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
The newest of the memorials on the mall, the Martin Luther King Memorial is a fitting and powerful homage to a man who life, leadership and ideas had a powerful, positive and lasting impact on American history. The design of the memorial is influenced by MLK’s words in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” The 450-foot inscription wall includes quotes from MLK’s writings, sermons and speeches, including our favorite: “We shall overcome, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The Vietnam Memorial, or “the Wall”, as it is often called, is one of the most poignant memorials on the National Mall. The heated controversy that surrounded its design and construction has faded away as millions of visitors have been moved to tears by the simplicity and power of 58,000 names engraved on a continuous slab of highly polished black granite. The Memorial has attracted so many gifts – including letters, flowers, photographs, teddy bears and even a motorcycle – that an off-site archival facility now exists to house them.
Did you know that the National Zoo – a short 10 minute walk from the Woodley Park Guest House and one Metro station and a short 10 minute walk from Embassy Circle Guest House – is also part of the Smithsonian? The Smithsonian National Zoo is a great place for both children and adults, with its giant pandas, including the new baby panda cub, Bao-Bao, great cats, and a “Think Tank” full of pretty smart orangutans. The zoo opens early, and with its miles of pathways from Connecticut Avenue to Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park, it is a popular route for runners and walkers.
The National Arboretum
The National Arboretum features over 400 acres of gardens and displays including a magnificent collection of Bonsai’s. Public and private tram tours are available for a small fee.
African American Civil War Memorial & Museum
This historic Museum and Memorial honors the contributions and the personal histories of the 200,000 African American soldiers, also known as the U.S. Colored Troops, who served during the American Civil War. The Museum has an extensive collection of primary source material and is an excellent resource for genealogical research. The museum also sponsors fascinating lectures on such topics as the role of African American spies in the war effort, and the role that African American women played in the war. Check the website for lecture dates.
Hillwood Estate and Gardens, the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, advertises itself as the place“Where Fabulous Lives”. We have to agree! The estate is fabulous. Mrs. Post left her estate to the Smithsonian when she died, along with a generous bequest that has funded the ongoing operation and maintenance of the property and the preservation and expansion of her extensive private art collection. The collection includes Russian icons, fabulous paintings, Faberge eggs and porcelain, as well as fashion and jewelry. The 25 acres of landscaped gardens are spectacular and should not be missed.
The Phillips Collection, located in Dupont Circle, is one of theworld’s great, private art collections. Duncan Phillips opened his home/gallery in 1921 as the first modern art gallery in the United States. The Phillips is the home of Renoir’s Boating Party, the Rothko Room and many other impressionists to modern masterpieces. They are open late on Thursday evenings and they host great Sunday afternoon concerts. Because the Phillips Collection is a private museum, there is a small entry fee.
Washington National Cathedral
Within easy walking distance of the Woodley Park Guest House and a longer walk or quick bus ride up Massachusetts Avenue from Embassy Circle, the Washington National Cathedral is a favorite stop for our guests. The Cathedral
offers many touring options, including guided and self-guided tours, garden tours, Behind the Scenes tours and more. Whichever tour you take, be sure to
take the elevator to the 7th floor observation tower for an excellent view of the city… and if you enjoy liturgical music, check the Cathedral’s calendar for organ and choral recitals.
Mount Vernon Estate
There are several ways to get to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. The estate is approximately 20 miles away by car. A popular option is to take a cruise along the Potomac River from the SW Waterfront to the estate. Another unique way to reach Mt. Vernon is by bike, or a bike and cruise combination. It is also accessible via public transportation combination of metro and city bus.
Udvar Hazy Center
It is an excursion to get to this museum, located about 30 miles outside of DC near Dulles Airport, but we think the effort is well worth it! This incredible companion to the National Air and Space Museum features the Space Shuttle Discovery, the Gemini 7 Space Capsule, an Air France Concord, the Enola Gay, and the SR71 Blackbird among many other civilian and military air and spacecraft. It’s definitely easier to get to this museum if you have a car, but you can also get there through a combination of public transportation options. If you have a late afternoon flight out of Dulles Airport, this is a great way to spend a few hours the day of your departure. You can take the shuttle from Dulles to the Museum and stow your carryon luggage in lockers provided at the museum. If you have larger suitcases, you will need to roll them around with you.
Arlington National Cemetery
Many Americans don’t realize that Arlington National Cemetery is a Civil War Cemetery. The site was the home of Robert E. Lee, the leading Confederate General during the Civil War, and his wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee. The Lee’s abandoned the property at the beginning of the War and moved to Richmond. The Union Army used the Lee mansion as its headquarters, and to ensure that the Lee family would never move back into the house, they buried Union war dead all the way to the front door. Be sure to take the National Park Service bus tour of Arlington. The stories you will hear are rich and exciting, and the bus will take you to the Kennedy gravesite, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and, of course, the Lee mansion. Be sure to ask about the graves that bear the single word, “Citizen”.
March – April: National Cherry Blossom Festival
Washington, DC welcomes the arrival of spring with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, a tradition that showcases the beautiful gift of 3,000 cherry trees that the city of Tokyo gave to our nation’s capital. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is an annual two-week, city-wide event featuring more than 200 cultural performances and over 90 other special events. From arts and exhibits to cuisine and sports, there is something for everyone to enjoy!
April: Smithsonian Craft Show
The Smithsonian Craft Show is an exhibit of 120 exceptional craft artists, representing works in ceramics, decorative fiber, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, paper, wearable art, basketry, and wood. This is your opportunity to purchase items from the most prestigious exhibition of contemporary American crafts in the nation, and a great opportunity to see the exquisite National Building Museum as well.
May: National Cathedral Flower Mart
The National Cathedral Flower Mart is Washington, DC’s annual outdoor festival for garden enthusiasts and families. Each year one of Washington’s embassies is honored. The 2008 event celebrates the centennial of the National Cathedral. Details will be announced as the date approaches. The Flower Mart encircles Washington National Cathedral with its tents and includes more than 50 booths offering gardening items, handbags, jewelry, and more. Food vendors will be stationed throughout the grounds with fare including Asian specialties, pizza, BBQ, Cajun cuisine, lobster rolls, Italian sausage, fried mushrooms and artichoke hearts.
July 4th: National Mall Independence Day Celebration
The nation’s premier Independence Day holiday celebration, A Capitol Fourth concert and show includes an evening of patriotic and uplifting music followed by a spectacular display of fireworks over the Washington Monument.
Walk of the Town
This is a free, no reservations needed group walking tour of the National Mall (which means the payment is tips.) Tim has been the TripAdvisor #1 ranked DC tour guide for quite some time. Take a look at his website for the different tours, meeting points and schedule.
Washington Walks offers group, no reservations needed walking tours of Washington, DC. They offer tours of the National Mall and memorials, but also several different tours tailored to some of the historic and unique neighborhoods of DC. Most tours cost $15 per person. See the website for the tour descriptions, meeting points and schedule.
DC Metro Food Tours
Choose a neighborhood, book your tour online, meet the tour guide at the designated location, and bon appetite.
DC by Foot
This is another great option for pay what you like walking tours. See the website for a schedule of their daily tours which include the staple National Mall tours, but also several themed tours around the city. Reservations Required.
Susan Murany – Private Licensed Tour Guide
Susan is a licensed tour guide who has crafted several themed walking tours. See her listing of tours and fees on the tours by locals website, or give her a call. She can also create a customized tour based on your interest. See us at the front desk for the folder with some of her tour descriptions.
Cultural Tourism DC
DC is a living, cosmopolitan city, so interesting events are going on all the time. A GREAT source for unique DC events that you might not find listed anywhere else is Cultural Tourism DC. Here you can find listings for a French jazz trio at the Bohemian Caverns, (Duke Ellington’s old club), book signings at the Smithsonian, concerts at the Austrian Embassy or the National Gallery of Art, lectures at the Kennedy Center, or films at National Geographic, the Archives or the Library of Congress.
Culture Capital is another great site for discovering interesting and entertaining one-time, one-of-a-kind DC events. Check out the links on the left-hand side of Culture Capital’s home page for listings of special exhibits in our major museums, lectures at the Smithsonian and the National Geographic, or films and concerts at the Library of Congress. Don’t miss the “Free Events” link which, as the name implies, gives you a listing of free events in DC.
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