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Washington DC

I plan to visit Washington DC September 20-25, flying into DCA. I haven't been in quite a while. I'll be visiting a friend who lives there (Tenleytown) as well as friend who is flying over from London.

While I'll be spending time with my friends, I don't know exactly how much time I'll be spending with them or what their schedules are going to be. So, I'm trying to plan for what I should do, either by myself or with my friends.

I'm hoping the weather will be decent. Late September is often wonderful in Chicago with sunny skies and low humidity. I assume, at the least, DC in late September is more pleasant than July or August.

For this many days, I assume Air BNB or VRBO is the best choice, but I'll keep an eye out for any hotel specials that pop up. I'm thinking Adams Morgan, Georgetown, or Dupont Circle would be the best areas to look.

I'm an experienced public transit user, so I assume it'll be easy enough for me to figure out the Metro, but are there any tricks or tips?

I'm blown away by the number of attractions to see in DC, so narrowing them down will be impossible. But, here's a few ideas from my early research. Keep in mind my last major trip to DC was when I was in 8th grade!

  1. The National Gallery of Art is my only absolute must see. I assume 3 hours is barely enough to scratch the surface. Is the Phillips collection also worth a visit?

  2. I plan to go to the Washington Nationals vs Miami Marlins on September 24, I am probably going to wait until a few days before the game to get tickets as I don't know if either of my friends will be going and I want to keep an eye on the weather forecast. I don't mind paying good money for tickets, but if it's likely to be rained out, I don't want to pay top dollar for tickets and then find myself eating them if I'm on a plane home the next day.

  3. I'd like to see the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, perhaps at night. I remember being blown away as a young 8th grader. I assume both monuments don't really take a lot of time. I wasn't impressed with the Vietnam Memorial when I saw it the first time, I'm not quite sure if I'll like the FDR memorial since I initially didn't agree with showing him in a wheelchair and I understand the Washington Monument is closed, but I can see it from outside.

  4. A few other ideas I had was to email Senator Duckworth and see if I can get a capitol tour. Worth it? I decided against the White House tour since it seems the security is insane and you don't see much. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving was quite interesting to my younger self and I did love the Bank of England museum in London. The National Archives is also of interest. Finally, I know there are numerous Smithsonian museums so I'll have to do further research, but feel free to suggest your favorites. I am a 'museum person.'

Posted by
1914 posts

Although I'm not usually a person who likes to see cities by tour bus, I really enjoyed seeing the DC monuments at night on this tour:

Somewhat hokey driver/guide patter, but an easy way to see the sights, and we were given a decent amount of time at the Lincoln memorial and FDR memorial to walk around.

Posted by
2732 posts

Metro is very easy to use, and there are personnel who assist the confused. You can take Metro from National Airport. It's the best way to get around. Most sites are within .5 miles of a metro stop.

We were in the National Portrait Gallery yesterday. Very nice exhibits. More than portraits. Well worth a visit.

The cafeteria at the National Museum of the American Indian is a great stop for lunch. Not cheap, but very good food.

Posted by
54 posts

Those all sound like excellent choices and very doable in the time you have. Personally, I would add the Library of Congress and the Air & Space Museum, maybe the National Portrait Gallery, but there's only so much time, so ... As for the capitol tour, I did that about twenty years ago and I found it well worth it as a political junkie. Just having a chance to take a look at the Senate in person was cool, and I enjoyed having lunch in the Senate Dining Room, where there were lots of lawmakers having lunch. I seem to recall a dress code (no sneakers). Have fun!

Posted by
7014 posts

There's no trick to the metro system, it's as easy to use as in Chicago, but I would keep the website handy for any alerts since there is always something going on on at least one of the lines that impacts service ( - and you can use the Trip Planner feature to figure out route, time, cost info. You'll need to purchase a SmarTrip Metro card which you can do once you arrive. That card can also be used on another bus system called The Circulator which loops around all the monuments ( Late September should be pleasant, although we can get Indian summer type of weather but the humidity shouldn't be an issue at that time of year.

There are lots of DC neighborhoods you can look into, it just depends what kind of vibe you're shooting for and how much activity/noise you can tolerate. The closer you are to downtown, the easier it will be to get around by foot (some areas that people traverse by metro are frankly quite walkable and not that far from one another). Don't hesitate to use the bus (either WMATA/MetroBus or Circulator) to get around in some areas like Adams Morgan, Georgetown, etc that are not immediately adjacent to the metro.

The National Gallery is a great museum and it could literally take you most of the day. The Phillips Collection is private and very nice too, but see what exhibit(s) is/are being featured before deciding whether to venture there. One of my favorite places are the sculpture gardens - one is across from the Hirshhorn Museum and the other across from the National Archives. Another is the Library of Congress (well worth touring, along with the Capitol).

Yes, there is so much to do here I'm a bit of a loss as to what else to recommend right now without getting too much into the weeds.

Posted by
115 posts

I personally think the National Archives is a win (even over the Smithsonians on the mall) - I am however a history nerd. If you do decide to go to one of the Smithsonians, they become packed on Saturday and Sunday. The best bet on the weekend is to arrive at opening spend 1-2 hours and leave by lunch. The Air and Space Museum is usually the most popular -it has an amazing exhibit on the Wright brothers and contains the plane they flew in NC.

The monuments at night are fabulous. After the Lincoln, my favorite to visit is the Korean War Memorial. Seeing it lit up at night is very moving.

As for the weather-that is a little more hit or miss. It should be nice, but it's not unheard of to have a hot/muggy days into October.
Have a great time visiting your friends and enjoying the city!

Posted by
23990 posts

The weather might be decent in late September, or it might be unpleasantly hot and humid. Shouldn't be 95F, though.

There is no Metro station in Georgetown, which makes staying there less convenient for sightseeing.

Do read about the various Smithsonian buildings to see which might especially interest you. The gem and mineral hall is a brilliant display of very strong contents.

The Air and Space Museum bores me to tears, but it is the most popular branch of the Smithsonian, and all those folks cannot be wrong. There's a food-truck outpost along Maryland Ave., right at the museum. Most of the trucks are just OK (none are bad), but I absolutely recommend Crepes Parfait if it happens to be there when you are in the area. It will probably be there one day a week. Those crepes are as good as the ones you get in northern France. I confess that I don't know how easy they are to eat on the go; I buy them and take them back to my apartment to eat off a plate, using a non-plastic fork. The Red Hook Lobster Pound truck has very good lobster rolls, but that truck has been showing up less often since the company opened an outlet down on the waterfront.

The National Gallery is quite large even if you ignore the East Wing. If you just have three hours, I think you'll need to focus on just part of it. The Freer has Asian art. The Smithsonian Asian Art Museum and African Art museum are near the Freer. Those two are probably stronger on decorative art than on painting, but I haven't made a comprehensice visit to either one (which is stupid, i know).

Haven't been to the Phillips recently, but it is worthwhile if the National Gallery doesn't suck up all your time.

There are some good restaurants along 7th St NW, just north of the Archives. Various ethnicities.

I like the FDR Memorial a lot; it has a good bit of water, so it's more pleasant than most of the others if you're stuck with a hot day.

The Korean War Memorial is fabulous at dusk or on a rainy day.

Note that most of the memorials are a significant distance from the nearest Metro station. Totally walkable, but it will cut into your actual sightseeing time.

The zoo is very good and free.

Posted by
6651 posts

I lived in the DC area for several years and loved going to the Smithsonian.
The Air and Space Museum as well as Natural History Museum were my favorites, but there are many more.
METRO is the way to go to get around the city.

Posted by
361 posts

I go to DC fairly often since my son lives there. So much to do - I never run out of new places to see.

Another vote for the National Portrait Gallery, but any of the (free!) museums in DC are wonderful. I've enjoyed a couple museums that I paid for - Newseum and the Women's Art Museum. If you want to see the new African-American Museum, you probably need to get tickets ahead. There are some other museums and sites that trace the African-American presence in DC that might be interesting. There's also the Holocaust Museum, well worth a visit (although not "fun").

If you saw the Vietnam Memorial when you were in 8th grade and was unimpressed, you might want to look again if you are in the area. It can be quite moving - but an adult might feel that more than a young teen.

I took a tour of the Capitol a couple years ago and it was worthwhile. I think I just went online and got a timed ticket, but maybe you see more if you go through your Senator's office. In any case, check on your Senator's website anyway to see if he/she has anything special for constituents. When Al Franken was in office, he had a regular event for visiting constituents.

I also took a tour at the Supreme Court that was interesting. Check online for details. Before 9/11, I took tours of both the FBI and the Pentagon (they were both more interesting than I expected), but I'm not sure they do these tours any longer.

As others have said, the Metro is very easy to use - good signage and maps. You pay different amounts depending where you start and end. I just buy a ticket and load some money on it, then keep loading more as it diminishes. They do have charts at each station that shows you the cost between stations if you want to load only the exact amount on the card. It is definitely the easiest way to get to/from the airport (except Georgetown). I have also taken the Circulator to some places that were more difficult to get to on the Metro.

Since your friend lives in Tenleytown, you could look at places to stay anywhere along the Red Metro Line and it would be easy to get wherever you want to go. I have sometimes stayed with relatives in Chevy Chase and Bethesda, and the Red Line took me easily to all the tourist sites.

You will have no problem filling up your time!

Posted by
1759 posts

I second the suggestion to do a night bus/trolley tour of the memorials. I found it more atmospheric and several of the newer memorials (at least, they were new to me since my last visit in 1991) were very beautiful illuminated at night, especially the FDR memorial.

Call your senator's office and see if they can get you tickets for a capitol tour, National Archives, and the Supreme Court. Ask if they have any other options available - those congressional staffers can perform miracles for their constituents. However, they do need to know what days you will be there so that might not work with your highly flexible plan. Congress will be in session at that time, so it could impact visits.

Posted by
11294 posts

You've gotten a lot of good advice.

I agree that staying in Georgetown means a lot of time on Circulator buses, since it's not on the metro. (At least now they have Circulator buses; before, staying there was a real pain for seeing the rest of the city). Similarly, if you will be going to Tenleytown often, it will be more convenient for your accommodation to be near a Red Line stop - or else you'll get very familiar with changing lines at Metro Center!

The Philips collection overall is good, but Renoir's Luncheon Of The Boating Party is astounding, and alone justifies the visit. This is one of those paintings that looks far more impressive live than it does in reproductions, so if you have any interest in Renoir, go!

All of the Smithsonians are great, and since they're free, you can go to one if it appeals, and leave if you don't like it as much as you thought you would. My favorites of the less-known ones are American Arts and the National Portrait Gallery, which share a building. Since they're off the Mall, they have the advantage of being less crowded. I'm another one who doesn't get anything out of Air and Space. The National Gallery of Art (West Wing) has an amazing collection, and you're right that you could easily spend several hours there. The East Wing is temporary exhibits, so my interest depends on what's showing.

I always find something to love at American History, and since it's next door, I usually then pop into Natural History just for the gems (although the last time I went, the Hope Diamond had been temporarily re-set in a very ugly way that completely destroyed its beauty and specialness; I hope when you go it's back to its proper setting).

I agree that you will probably find the Vietnam Memorial much more meaningful as an adult. I too had gone as a youngster and didn't "get" it. What I didn't understand is that you can't just look at it from afar, but have to walk through it and experience it. When I did so years later, I kept thinking of designer Maya Lin's description of it - "a rift in the earth."

A great way I did a do-it-yourself "walking tour" of Georgetown was to go to all the places Jackie Kennedy Onassis lived in the area over the years. There are a large number of them, and seeing them takes you to beautiful residential blocks and off of Georgetown's overly commercialized strips. Here's the list with map:

The only "trick" to using the Metro, coming from Chicago (or New York) is the need to tap in and tap out. I'm used to putting my Metrocard away right after use in New York, and not thinking about it. In Washington, like London, you have to have your SmarTrip card handy on exit. (My sister, who lives in DC, has the opposite adjustment when visiting New York; she starts fishing in her purse for her Metrocard every time she wants to get off the subway).

Posted by
11294 posts

Having said I don't care for the Air and Space Museum, I forgot to mention that I was quite fascinated at their other branch, the Udvar-Hazy Center, in Virginia right near Dulles Airport. This is where they have the large planes like the Concord and Blackbird, as well as all kinds of others. Some of the early ones really do induce the response, "how'd that thing ever fly?" It's not easy to get to without a car, so this may be something to do with your friends.

Note that the only onsite food option is McDonalds, so you may want to plan for a meal break outside the museum (it does take time to see everything).

Posted by
5875 posts

The Phillips Collection has great Impressionist art and would be especially worthwhile if you're staying around Dupont Circle. That's a good neighborhood choice with lots of restaurants and on the Metro Red Line a few stops from Tenley Circle. Georgetown has no Metro (but has, perhaps related, a big parking problem). Adams Morgan's Metro service requires a walk across the Calvert St. bridge to the Woodley Park station, a pleasant walk but it will get old after awhile.

Besides your two Senators' offices you have a Congressman or -woman whose office can also help with Capitol tours. And you might consider the Capitol Hill neighborhood, east of the Capitol, for a place to stay. Looks like Georgetown without the congestion and with better Metro access (not directly to the Red Line though).

Besides museums others have suggested, there's the Holocaust Museum. Not a fun experience but a very educational and moving one.

Posted by
773 posts

I travel to DC regularly and the recommendations of the other posters are spot on, especially the night tour of the monuments. I have a few ideas to add:

  • For neighborhoods to stay in, I prefer the Adams Morton and Dupont circle neighborhoods, especially Dupont Circle. They are close to Metros, but for me most importantly, I feel most at home when I stay in those neighborhoods (great restaurants, cute little shops)
  • One of the place that you and your friends might enjoy is the W hotel’s roof top bar: Go at sunset or shortly after for great views of the Washington Monument and the WhiteHouse.
  • Since you are going to the National Gallery of art, consider timing your visit with one of free Jazz concerts. In the summer, they are in the sculpture garden and in September they are iin doors. Here is the link:

Have a great trip.

Posted by
23990 posts

Metro used to have a handy brochure with instructions on how to get to the various memorials. I don't know whether they're still producing it.

Posted by
11294 posts

The Circulator buses have done a great job of filling in gaps in Metro service. The National Mall Circulator (shown in red on their maps) goes to almost all the memorials. They take the same SmarTrip card as the Metro, and as a bonus you get a 50 cent discount by using a SmarTrip card instead of cash (which they also accept).

Here's the info page:

Posted by
3754 posts

This bears repeating, often it seems as if the metro stations were
placed as far as possible from tourist sites! Reaching the Lincoln,
Jefferson, FDR, MLK, Vietnam memorials, the Washington monument, the
Washington Cathedral, the Holocaust Museum etc by metro requires good
shoes, carrying water, snacks, sunscreen, a bandanna to wipe off
sweat, and a walking stick.

As Harold mentioned in the post above, the Circulator Bus is ideal for tourists to visit the memorials, the Smithsonian, etc. Very easy too so you no longer have to hoof it.

I plan to go to the Washington Nationals vs Miami Marlins on September
24, I am probably going to wait until a few days before the game to
get tickets as I don't know if either of my friends will be going and
I want to keep an eye on the weather forecast. I don't mind paying
good money for tickets, but if it's likely to be rained out, I don't
want to pay top dollar for tickets and then find myself eating them if
I'm on a plane home the next day.

If the Nats are not in postseason contention, you will be able to find good deals on good seats using Stubhub. The Marlins aren't a must-see team either so that could help. So definitely wait because of weather concerns. This is what we do as we make going to a ballgame a perk of our business travel.

Posted by
1316 posts

Thanks for all the feedback. I got amazingly quick service from Senator Tammy Duckworth’s office and have the congressional pass for the US Capital tour as well as the Library of Congress.

Posted by
2064 posts

I’m amazed you got the Capitol tour. Usually takes several months.

The air/space out at Dulles is superb. You can go by public transport, although it takes a while.

For a view of DC, go up the old post office tower. When we went, there were more guards and rangers than tourists!

We were there first week in Oct. nice weather

Holocaust Museum is probably the best museum I have ever been to.

Hated the American Indian Museum. Too bad since my neighbor worked for a couple of years setting it up.

Posted by
1765 posts

I would also look at going to the Newseum. While it is not free, it's a must for news junkies, history buffs or anyone. They have a great assortment of hands-on exhibits and a cool balcony on which you see the Capitol dome in all it's glory. I spent 4 hours there looking at everything.

Posted by
914 posts

Although Smithsonian cafeteria food can be expensive, the quality of the meals at the National Gallery of Art cafeteria is excellent. The Senate cafeteria (not the formal dining room) in Dirksen is one of the cheaper meals you can buy and as far as I know the public can still eat there.

Outside of the District: Great Falls at the C&O Canal is interesting and we’ve had plenty of rain this year so I’m assuming the water is running high. Also recommend Mt. Vernon if you haven’t been.

Posted by
23990 posts

The restaurant of the National Museum of the American Indian gets positive comments.

As I mentioned above, the food trucks along Maryland Avenue are mostly fine for a quick meal (a few are better than that) if the weather is conducive to eating outdoors. You'll probably be sitting on the grass. There's a not-bad food court under L'Enfant Plaza, but it's farther from the museums.

There are other food-truck locations authorized by the city government, scattered around. Your odds of good food are better if you go to one of those organized spots (obvious because of the large number of trucks and the high-traffic location).

During the growing season there are once-a-week farmer's markets in a few locations useful for tourists. They generally have at least a few stands with high-quality prepared food:

Thursday 11 (?) AM to 2:30 PM at southern end of Vermont Avenue very near the White House and the Renwick Gallery (crafts).

Thursday 3-7 PM at 8th & E or F NW, not too far from the Archives. Also handy for the National Portrait Gallery. But that's also a good restaurant neighborhood.

Friday, USDA, 14th & Independence SW. Not managed by the same organization as the others, and the prepared foods are, overall, not quite as high-end. Convenient for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Holocaust Museum. The food at the H.M. itself is kosher and reportedly bland.

DC isn't Italy. If you buy fruit that isn't to be peeled, wash it before eating it.

Posted by
1316 posts

I ended up booking Days Inn at 4400 Connecticut Avenue NW. I got tired of seeing $250 damage deposits on Air BNB. I'm sure they're refunded without hassle 99% of the time, but I'm not wanting to have to play games in the odd chance that it isn't an easy process.

I looked at the Trip Advisor reviews for the Days Inn. I'm not expecting luxury and the rooms look a bit worn, but the hotel seems fine and the location isn't too far from Tenleytown. Plus, it's close to the Metro for sightseeing.

Posted by
5875 posts

Your hotel is close to the Van Ness Metro on the red line, which you'll be riding every day. If you're a senior citizen, here's info on getting discounted fares. The fares add up over several days of round trips!

Posted by
7014 posts

Some good places to check out in the vicinity of Van Ness: Politics and Prose Bookstore (great independent bookstore; a Washington institution), Bread Furst Bakery, and further south and closer to National Cathedral - 2Amys Pizza (Neopolitan style; temporarily closed due to pipe burst, but hopefully will reopen soon!)

Also, Rock Creek Park is great for biking and walking.

Posted by
177 posts

Your hotel is pretty far out from the major sights but close to the Red Line. Metro is not your only option. The Metro bus system is good and has the added advantage of allowing you to see the sights while you travel above ground. It uses the same Metro card.

Another vote for the Philips. If you are a member of one of your local museums that are part of NARM or ROAM, there is a reciprocal agreement for entrance fees. Bring your membership card.
Also, I like the Building Museum near Judiciary Square (on the Red line). Interesting museum and they have a great gift shop.

Check Groupon. They often have deals for Nat’s tickets, especially at the end of this less than stellar season.

Posted by
1316 posts

I will check, I am a member of the Art Institute of Chicago.

And, yes, I'm a huge baseball fan and I know the Nats have thrown in the towel for this season. So, I'm looking for excellent seats at a bargain price. I only wish I had time to fit in a visit to Baltimore, but that'll be for next year.

Posted by
177 posts

A couple of additions - I recommend the Martin Luther King memorial. The WWII memorial is my least favorite monument but if you go on a weekend, you might run into Bob Dole. He loves to greet and take photos with everyone.

Cultural Tourism DC does some great neighborhood tours for a couple of weeks each September. They cover neighborhoods or topic specific parts of DC. They tend to fill up fast, so if any interest you, sign up now.

Posted by
49 posts

You've gotten a lot of good suggestions already, so I'll just talk about the Nats game. Given the fact that they've given up on their season and they'll be playing the Marlins (also not so good); I'm quite sure that you could wait until the day of the game and buy a ticket by walking up to the box office. If you use an on-line ticket app like SeatGeek, you could probably even get cheaper ones. The ballpark is very nice; you'll like it. Decent ballpark food as well; overpriced, but not horrible. It's very easy to get there - it's a two block walk from the Navy Yard / Ballpark metro stop on the green line. The whole area has changed dramatically in the last few years -- lots of new restaurants and bars now are within a couple of blocks.

Posted by
307 posts

OK -
We stayed at the Days Inn on Connecticut Ave years ago and it was a little worn then.
W go to the DC area often because we have family there.
We have stayed at the Kimpton Glover Park when it was under another name.
Don't know your price range, but you can get reasonable accommodations if you are willing to Metro-it-in from Tyson's Corner or Arlington. Lots of reasonable options if you are willing to stay a little out of downtown.
You should have no problem getting tickets for the ballgame.
Nats stadium is a fun place to go and are likely running a lot of specials to fill the stadium.
Have fun!

Posted by
7014 posts

So how did your trip go? I hope you can report back with some highlights (and lowlights).

Posted by
1316 posts

I’ll write up a more detailed trip report later. The Days Inn is fine for what it is, a budget hotel that needs a refurb. Of course, that will be the end of the $125 rooms. The immediate neighborhood is very residential, there’s not a corner bar or anything like that for a night cap. And, with the Metro shutting down so early, that would have been a nice touch. The Italian restaurant next to the hotel has good food and a small bar area with politics during the day and sports at night.

I love the Metro, much cleaner than the CTA. However, it does seem that every place requires a transfer.

Highlights so far: The monuments at night, the Capitol tour, and the library of Congress. Lowlights are the drink prices at some of the bars, I’m from Chicago and used to big city prices, but the $8 beer has a home in DC.

Posted by
7014 posts

Looking forward to your trip report, and thanks for writing up a short summary. I agree with you about the drink prices, they are ridiculous. I love Chicago and the neighborhood bars. DC does have them (including some real dive bars) but not in the neighborhood you were in. You were not far from the famous Pizza Gate place (actual name is Comet Ping Pong) where that nutty guy came with a gun to perform his "rescue".