Q: On Saturday, I board the Empire Builder in Seattle and, for 46 hours, get to bumble about on a train until I reach Washington D.C. on Tuesday. I have six days (and a limited budget) to saturate myself with this village. Any suggestions on what to do with a day? I don't plan on eating out (lentils, onions, and rice for dayz), but if I were to, are there any places that would be worth throwing dollars at (or nicely handing the dollars to the folks)? Favourite tree?
I’ve been visiting D.C. my entire life, and living here (more or less) for about ten years. And I still haven’t exhausted the options for a fun afternoon. This place is a veritable fire hydrant of free entertainment, and your week, my friend, is the proverbial Dixie cup.
So, here’s my advice – think about what you love the most, no matter where you are, and take it from there. If I were in your shoes, I’d check out the schedule of free performances at the Kennedy Center. I’d make sure to spend a looooong afternoon wandering through the National Gallery (both East and West). I’d buy a loaf of bread from my favorite local bakery to make my PB&J’s awesome. I’d be sure to eat one of those PB&J’s in the KogodCourtyard, especially if it happened to be raining outside. I’d walk from the FDR Memorial all the way around the Tidal Basin, even if the cherry blossoms weren’t quite blooming yet. I’d pop into the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress and shamelessly let my jaw drop over what might very well be the most beautiful room on American soil.
But that’s just me. Your plan could be totally different, and equally spectacular. It’s honestly hard to go wrong….
Charity (Inner Grown Up): My sisters are going to tell you to spend all of your time at The National Mall. They are right. Take special time for The Library of Congress. Go and see the Main Reading Room. You might have to pick up a library card which will take about 10 minutes. It's free and it's totally worth it. Also, the West Wing of the National Gallery. I love the East Wing too, but I'm a sucker for French and American impressionists. It's one of the greatest collections in the world. The National Cherry Blossom Festival along with the blossoms themselves are about to pop and there are lots of free events in associating with that.
For your next trip: The Kennedy Center offers free concerts every day on their Millennial Stage. The Portrait Gallery is in the middle of Chinatown and has lots of free programs. The Renwick Museum is one of my favorites, and it's nestled right up against the White House. The largest Catholic shrine in North America is at Catholic University. It is gorgeous, the second tallest structure in DC and worth a visit. The National Cathedral is right by one of DC's favorite pizza places, 2AMYS.
A few neighborhoods that are popping: H Street NE (which brings us to &Pizza, which brings artisinal pizza to the masses. Next big thing. Just watch...), Dupont Circle, U Street, Georgetown, Chinatown, Adams Morgan, Barracks Row and the Historic Eastern Market, where you can catch a beginners tango class every Thursday night for 10 bucks.
Liberty (TMI):Wait, so you’re taking a train across the entire country?? That sounds so incredibly awesome; I want to do it now. Except maybe a little less than I would have wanted to do it had I heard about your plans before watching Transsiberian last week (and yes, I know this isn’t Russia, but still, watch the movie, you’ll understand).
See—Anywhoo. DC is actually a great city to tour while poor. The vast majority of the attractions are completely free, and it’s pretty small geographically which can help cut down on transportation costs if you’re savvy. If this is your first time in DC, you should really just take in the tourist-y sights. Go to as many Smithsonian museums as you can (seriously, they’re all fantastic), see the White House, arrange a tour of the Capitol with your congressman, take a walk through all of the memorials and monuments, and try to catch a glimpse of Obama’s motorcade going by. You’ll love every minute of it.
Move—Plan your routes. The DC Metro is expensive (at least $3 a trip if you don’t have a SmartTrip card), and the cost of rides adds up quickly. Circulator busses offer a much cheaper alternative for getting around the city. They run every 10 minutes, cost a buck a ride, and go most places a visitor would like see. Another even cheaper option for moving your body is the transport system you come equipped with, DA FEETS! This is coming from someone who is admittedly a bit irrational when it comes to walking, but hear me out. Traffic here is terrible, so it often takes almost as long to get places by bus as it does by foot. Also, if you pass something intriguing, stopping is totally within your control. P.S. For extra points, if you do find yourself riding the metro, when taking the escalators remember to stand on the right, walk on the left J
Eat—The good news! There’s a fair amount of yummy cheap eats in this city. The bad news? Very few (like, maybe none) of them are near the main tourist centers. The Capitol mall is a magical wonderful place, until you get hungry. So if you’re headed to the museums be sure to pack a sandwich and some snacks. Those who fail to will find themselves schilling out more than they’d like for vitals as mediocre as they are meager. If you’re willing to wander your options will certainly improve. On weekends you can prowl Eastern Market for vintage and artisan gems, while noshing on free samples from local farms. While you’re there you can grab a couple apples to shove in your knapsack for snacking later on, or a tripped out wiener from DC-3. During the week, there are a couple of gems I frequent near Dupont Circle that are perfect if you can bring a friend or have access to a fridge. The Well Dressed Burrito and The Greek Deli (both on 19th NW, just south of Dupont) offer up big flavors on even bigger plates. Premal and I have made a ritual of sharing the El Gordo at WDB, and a platter from the Greek Deli always lasts me two (and more often three) lunches across a week. Finally for dinner, I’d recommend one of the many new noodle joints that have opened up across town. They offer the triple threat of tasty, trendy and thrifty.
Mercina (To the point): So many wonderful options! I'm going to try to keep mine short and sweet. Here are my favorites sights and eats:
Museums & monuments -
- National Gallery (one of my very favorite museums in the entire world!)
- Natural History Museum
- Portrait Gallery
- Air and Space Museum
- Lincoln Memorial
- Washington Monument
- National Mall
- Freer Gallery
- Botanic Gardens
- Founding Farmers (veggie burger - 'nuff said)
- seventh Hill (their Nutella calzone may be my favorite food ever)
- We the pizza (the mushroom pizza is insane - head next door for a mind blowing toasted marshmallow shake from Good stuff)
- Leopolds (delightful)
- The sweet lobby (some of the best cupcakes I've ever had)
Have a wonderful time!
Glorianna (Junkie): I like to spend my days in Washington DC like any good teenage girl -- At the Mall. Were I in your situation, this would be my itinerary for the day:
Start your day at Union Station, where you presumably just got off of the metro. Admire how beautiful this center of trans-national commuting is, despite construction. If you haven't already eaten, meander over to Bagels and Baguettes for a delicious, federally-themed breakfast sandwich. As you munch, make your way past a few Senate office building towards the Capital's capitol dome itself. Admire. Proceed past the reflecting pool (don't inhale, if at all possible), and start to make your way down the near side of the National Mall. Stop inside the National Gallery of Art for and hour or two*, then move on to the Museum of Natural History about two blocks down. Skip the American History Museum (still excellent, but pass-able). If the cherry blossoms are out, continue past the Washington Memorial and head over to the Tidal Basin. Take a rest and bask for a few minutes in the puffy pink beauty which surrounds you. Head back up the Mall (if you hug the outside, you might come across the DC WWI Veterans Memorial, an exquisite and under-frequented bit of architecture). Next stop: the Hirschorn Museum of Modern Art, then cap off your superbly-curated binge with the National Air and Space Museum.
I almost feel bad for giving you such an obvious answer, but not really because the museums in DC are pretty much as good as they come. If you've already seen all of them and don't feel like going again, then I'd suggest finding your way down to the National Arboretum or the Congressional Cemetery -- some of my favorite (non-Smithsonian) haunts.
*I could spend an indefinite amount of time in any of these museums, so just decide early on if you're aiming for breadth of experience or depth of experience. Both are good.