One day in Washington DC
Washington DC is home to the US presidency and is full of iconic landmarks, often featured in television shows and Blockbuster films. Most of these landmarks are within walking or cycling distance of each other, making it really easy to visit them all in one day. Having quit our Appalachian Trail thru-hike in Virginia, we were not exactly close-by, but we wanted to visit New York before coming back to the UK and Washington was en-route. I'd wanted to visit DC since secondary school, as I was meant to go there on a school art trip. It was cancelled due to terror threats and worried parents, but I promised myself I'd one day go. I'm also a huge fan of the author Dan Brown, who mentions Washington's architecture and symbolism in his novel The Lost Symbol. Although we didn't have enough time in advance to plan tours of the buildings, it was still really cool being able to see them all from outside. We had a great day on our tiny budget and got to see everything we wanted without feeling that we were rushing around.
Here's what we got up to and would recommend to others -
A beautiful, historical area full of Georgian architecture, culture, shopping, cafes, restaurants and bars. We stayed here, in the lovely Georgetown Boutique Hotel, situated right by the canal and within a couple of minutes walking distance to all the restaurants and shops. The canal is currently empty of water as it's undergoing a restoration project, but it's still beautiful to walk along. We spent a couple of hours wandering round, drinking coffee and doing a spot of people-watching, before walking along the Potomac River towards the memorials and National Mall. Georgetown is the perfect place to stay due to the range of restaurants, bars and coffee shops, and is cheaper than finding a hotel in central Washington.
Memorials and Monuments
The National Mall is home to most of Washington's famous memorials, including the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and World War 2 Memorial. They are all within walking distance, so we circled round the paths to link them up. It was very crowded, as we visited on Memorial Day and there were thousands of veterans visiting with their families to pay respects to fallen friends. Our itinerary was dictated by whichever memorial had less of a crowd, but any other time of the year it is probably a lot easier to get about and see them all. It is also really easy to hire bikes in Washington and lots of people choose to cycle around the park. The paths are really wide, so bikes aren't restricted to roads as they are in England.
The Washington Monument is currently closed for general repairs and maintenance, but is usually open to the public and would give fantastic views over the city and parks. We had been advised to get there really early if we planned to go up, as it gets very busy. No-one wants to spend hours in a queue, especially if you only have a day to see everything!
The White House
Tours inside the White House are free, but need to be planned ahead as they require approval from the US Embassy or your member of Congress. We booked our trip last minute, so didn't have chance to research and book this. I would have loved to look around inside though! There is also a Visitor's Centre if you can't arrange a proper visit.
Chris is a huge fan of airplanes, rockets and anything related to NASA, so we went to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Entry was free and the museum was air-conditioned, which kept me happy on a very hot day. I'm not usually that interested in space (thinking about it starts to freak me out and makes my head hurt), but there were some great exhibits, including the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia (the only piece of Apollo 11 to return to Earth), a piece of rock from the moon and the 1903 Wright Flyer, which had the first sucessful flight.
If air and space travel aren't your thing, you can visit one of the other many Smithsonian Museums nearby. Including The National Museum of American History, The National Museum of Natural History, The National Museum of the American Indian, and The National Museum of African Art.
The Capitol Building, or United States Capitol is home to the United States Congress and is arguably the most iconic of all of Washington's landmarks. The dome was the first thing we saw as we arrived off the coach at Union Station and sits above the height of the surrounding buildings, drawing your attention to it whenever it's in view. Guided tours are free and there are some same-day passes, but it's best to book ahead online to make sure there's space. As we were there on Memorial Day, it was too busy to get on a tour, so we walked around the outside instead. Summer holidays and weekends are the busiest times and spaces are limited to 15 people per tour.
Even if you don't arrive by coach or train, you should check out the amazing design and architecture of Union Station. The painted domed ceilings are magnificent, as are the huge chandeliers hanging down from them. Unfortunately there are high levels of homelessness in the city and this is very evident around the station, with people hugging their belongings as they sleep in the park outside. With this in mind, I'd recommend being aware of your own belongings when visiting the station as it gets very busy and tourists can attract pickpockets.
Having said that, there is a welcoming and friendly atmosphere throughout the city and we found that people were genuinely interested in offering us tips and advice for our stay, as well as finding out about our vacation and what brought us to their city. Americans seem to love speaking to us Brits, although often can't tell if we're British or Australian!
Watch our Washington DC vlog here and tell us what you think. What would you like to do in Washington DC? Is there anything we missed?
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