Living Life

Washington DC – Attractions and Getting Around

white house at night

If you noticed that my posts have been absent for the past week, it’s because I’ve been on vacation. A much anticipated trip with just the Hubby. Peanut stayed at home with her Grandparents – a situation that was enjoyed equally by all involved parties. This was my first trip to Washington DC. Hubby was there since last Wednesday for work, and I joined him on Saturday. I was in Washington for a total of 4 days, 1 half-day and 1 evening. Most of that time I was pretty busy – and walking! If you’ve never been to Washington, there is LOTS of stuff to do, much of it free. Here’s what I did.

 Activities:

Landmarks:

I’m sure you are well aware that there are many famous landmarks to see in Washington. The ones I saw were the White House (at night only), the US Capitol Building, Smithsonian Building (“The Castle”), WWII Memorial, Washington Monument, Reflecting Pool, Lincoln Memorial, and, from afar, the Jefferson Memorial. Many of these are great to see both day and night. Some offer tours or visitors centers inside (like the Capitol Building), but I didn’t take part in any of these. In addition to what I saw, there are many, many more landmarks and historic sites to see, that I just didn’t have time for (and the weather did NOT want to cooperate).

lincoln memorial at night

Museums:

Before I actually went to DC, I had no idea there are so many museums there. The Smithsonian Institute is located on and around the National Mall, and it has a plethora of museums to peruse, most for free. They also offer a free zoo, which looked awesome, but I did not have a chance to go. There are also numerous private museums, which I didn’t make it too. 

It had been quite a long time since I’ve been to any sort of museum, but even if you frequented museums on a regular basis, I’m sure the Smithsonian offerings would be impressive. Each builing was huge, requiring several hours to see everything in depth. Here’s what I saw:

US Botanical Gardens – Not affiliated with the Smithsonian, but located nearby. There are both indoor conservatories and outdoor gardens, both for free. If you like plants, check this out. The conservatory features separate rooms for  Jungle, Desert, Medicinal Plants and more, plus a large Orchid exhibit. I spent no more than an hour here.

National Air and Space Museum – If you like airplanes and space, this is the place for you. They have several exhibits/galleries related to flight (early flight, WWII, etc.) and space travel. We spent probably 2-3 hours here, and saw most of the exhibits, but didn’t read/watch everything that was presented.

Canadian embassy

National Gallery of Art – Again, not a Smithsonian facility, located nearby. If art is your thing, prepare to spend at least a whole day here. We only just skimmed the artwork, stopping to take pictures of some of the more famous works, but spent 2 entire afternoons here, and we didn’t even make it to the East building (yes – there are two buildings. The place is HUGE!). Luckily for our tired feet, they have benches and couches scattered throughout so people can stop and rest while staring at art. 

American History Museum – We only spent maybe an hour here, to see a couple of exhibits. I really wanted to see their FOOD exhibit, complete with Julia Child’s actual kitchen. We also browsed the Power Machinery exhibit. Who would have known that a dietitian would want to see a food exhibit, and an engineer would want to see an exhibit about power machines?

Natural History Museum – This was by far our favorite museum, and we spent the most time here. In total, we spent probably at least 6 hours here, and we looked at everything presented, most of it in detail. This museum also seemed the busiest, with many school groups touring the building. If you are at all interested in animals, the ocean, gems and rocks, evolution and early man – you will find something you’ll want to see here. You will also get a chance to see the famous Hope Diamond.

US capitol

Shopping:

I did almost no shopping on this trip. But there were a couple of places I went worth mentioning. The Eastern Market is an indoor market that sells fresh meat, cheese and produce Tuesday – Sunday. On weekends they also have an outdoor market with food, craft and antiques vendors. I found it fun to walk through, and there was some good food available (more later).

On our last day, we visited the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, VA. This is basically a shopping mall for art. It’s 3 floors of art studios and galleries. You can meet the artists and peruse their galleries, and purchase some original art if you wish. There are all types available, from paintings to sculptures to fiber art to jewelry and more.

Lincoln memorial statue

 Getting Around:

If you travel to DC, I do NOT recommend renting a car. From what I saw, parking seemed to be in short supply. The parking that was available, at hotels and such, seemed to be quite expensive. Taxis are readily available and seemed to be reasonably priced. During my trip, I only used cabs twice, and once I was stuck in traffic (at 6pm on a Saturday night) for a long time. Our transport of choice was the Metro. It was easy to navigate, fast and cheap. There are 2 options for payment: Farecards (paper cards that are basically disposable) and Smartrip Cards (plastic cards that can be reloaded with money at vending machines). The Farecards don’t have a cost associated with them, but each trip that you take using them costs $1 more than if you had used a Smartrip card. Smartrip cards cost $2 initially to purchase them, and money can be added to the card at vending machines for free. You scan your card when you enter and exit the metro, or when you get on the bus, and the cost of the trip is deducted from the balance on your card. Trains come fairly often, and maps/schedules are clearly posted in all stations. The metro lines extend into Virginia and Maryland, so getting to the suburbs is easy too. We stayed in Alexandria for half the trip, and had no problems getting there. The cost of trips is based on the distance traveled. 

view from lincoln memorial

 If you go to DC, you absolutely need to bring comfortable walking shoes. Most days, we walked all day. You might be walking to and from, as well as inside museums and between landmarks. The landmarks that I saw are all located within reasonably close proximity to each other. In fact, I saw them all (with exception of the White House) within one afternoon, and I was walking. While it is possible to walk to see them all, it is a long walk. My feet have been sore ever since, and that was almost a week ago! I estimate that I walked around 5 1/2 miles that day, and that doesn’t even include walking around inside buildings! If it’s a nice day, and you’re traveling without kids, I would highly recommend renting a bike to get you around the National Mall and from monument to monument. Much more efficient travel.

Me with davinciStay tuned about more DC info – the best part: FOOD!

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Chad
    June 13, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    Hi Carissa –
    Just wondering if you had a chance to experience the Crime Museum while in Washington D.C. My family and I are looking to make a trip out there from Orlando in the coming months.

    • Reply
      Carissa
      June 13, 2014 at 5:23 PM

      No, unfortunately I didn’t. I did look into it though when I was doing research for the trip and it looked cool. I just didn’t have time – there’s so much to do there!

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