DC Trip Quick Tips

Getting around – whether you fly or drive, if you want to visit more than just the “Mall,” stay at a hotel that has a metro in the near vicinity. That will make getting around DC and the outlying areas easy, more economical, and less stressful.  (The Mall is a long line of Smithsonian Museums)

Plan for the weather – No matter when you go, there will be times when you should be inside where it’s cool, dry, etc. vs. visiting monuments and memorials.  Check the weather forecast before your vacation and be flexible.

Getting the most out of your trip – be strategic when planning your itinerary. I group places that are close together so my fiancé and I aren’t spending a lot of time traveling from one attraction to another.

Best way to see most monuments and memorials – take a hop on/hop off tour. There are three companies that offer these tours in DC and tickets can be purchased at Union Station. One word of caution, don’t stay on the tour bus and complete the whole circuit and then go back to the attraction(s) of your choice. If you do, you’ll waste valuable time. Also, be sure to check on times the tours begin and end operation for the day as those vary depending on the time of year.

Washington DC…not just for politicians or history buffs

On this my fifth, yes folks fifth, trip to DC did I see all I wanted to? Heck no, but that just means I will be planning another vacation to that area in the not too distant future. What is the draw to this area? For me, it has a wealth of history, interesting architecture, museums galore, and it’s very affordable due to the many free attractions. Whether you are a history buff or not, there is something for everyone, including children, so it’s a perfect getaway for couples or families.

This trip my fiancé and I focused on monuments, memorials, and tours of famous buildings. Our first full day in DC saw us taking a hop on/hop off tour using Tourmobile. Why choose that company? I’ve used it before and find the route and amount of buses to be a good combination. Plus, this tour includes transportation to key sites at Arlington Cemetery. You will be surprised at how few sites you can visit in any given day, especially when you travel during “off season,” as was the case for myself. All in all, we were very happy to visit the Lincoln Monument, Korean Memorial, Jefferson Monument, and Arlington Cemetery. The Lincoln and Jefferson monuments have museums in the lower level. Arlington Cemetery was the highlight of our day. We stopped at the grave of President Kennedy and due to the timing of the tour, missed the next Changing of the Guard. This actually turned out to be the best thing that could have happened because we got to see not only the next Changing of the Guard, but also a formal ceremony of the laying of a wreath by a visiting dignitary. The ceremony included attendance by ceremonial units from the uniformed services, including the Army band. It was an honor to have attended. I also got my first up-close look at the secret-service at work.

The next three days of our trip found us taking tours I had scheduled in advance for the U.S. Capitol, White House, and Pentagon. The U.S. Capitol was interesting, however, if you visit be sure to get the first tour time. We had the third or fourth time and there were so many people in the building that it was hard to hear our guide. My fiancé and I were so excited to get tickets to tour the White House. Tours have to be requested through your Congressman months in advance and even then you aren’t guaranteed to get a spot. Was the tour worth it? No. Both of us were very disappointed with the little we got to see and the time that was wasted. Plus, no cameras or purses (yes, ladies no purses) are allowed. There is no place to store these items, so if you bring them you won’t be allowed in. So, what about the Pentagon? It was a sleeper hit with both of us. I requested a tour for myself and my fiancé as a “group” of two through the Pentagon website. The combined many “groups” together, which worked well. If you have trouble walking, you may want to avoid this tour as it’s 1.2 miles. Security is tight with two tour guides for each group, one in front and one in back, at all times. The guide that leads the tour in the front walks backwards while talking the majority of the tour. That feat alone was amazing to witness. I would definitely tour the Pentagon again.

Other tours included the Library of Congress (self-guided) and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The Bureau didn’t require timed tickets as it was off-season; however, if you go during busy season, tickets are required. I am so glad my fiancé and I went on this guided tour…big hit. To see the process they go through is amazing. You would be shocked at how much “paper” is printed each year. This is one tour I’d love to take 12-year-old my nephew on. Since we were in the general vicinity, we also went to the Washington Monument. You must get timed tickets in order to go to the observation area. I must say, even on an overcast day, it was so worth it. Be sure to get timed tickets early because even in the off-season they go fast.

Washington DC Slideshow