Okay, it's not Europe, but I just bought RT airline tickets for D.C. We will have 2 weeks. My hubby has never been, and I had a flight delay 2 years ago and ended up in D.C. for a day. I didn't have time for more than the HOHO bus. So you might as well say I've never been. I'm trying to gauge how much time we should allow for D.C. itself. Once we are done there we will get a car and travel around until it's time to come home. Here are my initial questions - 1. In D.C. how many days for seeing the historic sites, monuments and museums? I was thinking 5 full days. Enough, not enough or too much? We don't care about doing things like shopping. 2. Any recommendations for things to do that might not be in a guidebook, or things you particularly enjoyed doing? 3. For outside of D.C. one thing I'm looking at is going to Colonial Williamsburg. I enjoy historical places, but am open to just about anything. Suggestions can be anywhere in the surrounding states. 4. What is the best area of D.C. to look for lodging for sightseeing purposes. I would be most interested in an apartment, but would consider a B&B or economical but not dumpy hotel. I'm trying to keep D.C. lodging round $150 pr less. Any recommendations? Thanks in advance! We will go back to Europe next year!!
Andrea????? You've flat-out lost it right? Let me put it this way. I was born in Alexandria and kept going back until everybody died off. I worked across the creek for a few years a couple of times. I still wander back every once in a great while. I HAVE YET TO SEE IT ALL. The aviation museum has an annex out at Dulles which you can't see in a day, for an example. You could spend the whole time within three blocks of the mall. I ain't about to type a laundry list. Rack 'em up and break it down, and I'll take as stab at it. Unless Laura steps up to the dirty job. Try staying in Old Town, Alexandria. It was a mess when I was a kid, but I ate there a few months ago and it's almost as good as Georgetown and half as expensive.
I'm biased because I live here, but I would highly recommend Old Town Alexandria, VA (King Street stop off the metro/subway). There are a number of historical buildings, a former torpedo factory-turned-into-art-studios, a nice waterfront and plenty of places to stroll and eat. Within 10 miles or so, you can see Washington's Estate at Mount Vernon. http://www.visitalexandriava.com/ My other favorite place in Virginia is Charlottesville, site of Monticello and UVA and a lovely area of many vineyards and hiking opportunities (it's about 2 1/2 hours drive away). Also there are lots and lots of Civil War sites - Fredericksburg is close by, for example. Loudoun County is another great area with lots of wineries and rolling hills - it's lovely just to drive around. Then there's the awesome Udvar Hazy Space Center near Dulles Airport, a branch of the Smithsonian Museum with tons of old plane models from various wars (fascinating stuff!). Those sites are best served by car. In DC proper, you can easily spend a number of days touring the museums - my favorites are National Gallery, Freer Gallery, and American Indian museum. There is enough to do easily to fill 5 days in DC alone. As far as hotels, Virginia will be cheaper than DC proper in general...I like the Kimpton boutique hotels but they may be pricey. There are lots of hotels in Old Town where I live very close to the metro station (Hampton, Embassy Suites, Hilton, Westin, etc), but you'll need to ride the metro to get into DC. Try booking.com to look around - if very expensive, just do hotwire.com. There are a lot of great neighborhoods in DC as well (e.g. Woodley Park) When are you coming? It's unbearable in the summer...in fall, it's great
Visit Mount Vernon (there's a boat trip you can take to get there). I also really enjoy Alexandria, VA. If interested in art museums, apart from the National Gallery of Art (NGA), which is supremely excellent, my two favs are the Corcoran Gallery and the Phillips Collection. Great waterfall café downstairs in the NGA.
Nuts. I forgot where Agnes is from. I'm gone.
"Colonial Williamsburg" is more of an amusement park than a true historic site. I would spend my "outside DC" time visiting Montecello and some of the other recommendations listed above. As for Kimpton hotels, I love them. They are not necessarily pricey as they have the best discounts around for seniors and government employees---not every hotel, but many do. And most allow dogs. (Not relevant to you as you are flying, but it is to us on road trips).
If you like music under the stars, check out the summer schedule for Wolftrap to see if anything appeals. Also good nightlife in the Adams Morgan district. Seriously, though, you need to pick up a good guidebook and start making a list. There's enough in D.C. proper to easily fill several days.
There is plenty to do to fill five days (and more)I took the grandsons there a few years ago and we spent 3 days and did see a lot, but we were on a roadtrip, so that was all the time we had. Favorites for the boys..Washington Monument, Vietnam War Memorial, hanging out in front of the White House as they knew Obama was there, but one memory that they still enjoy was sitting on the train (we stayed a bit north of the city) reading The Onion:) If you are taking your extra days and driving, we headed north and really enjoyed Annapolis (beautiful) and spent a day in Baltimore.
You guys are awesome! Such fast responses! My hubby has worked at airports his entire adult life, went to an aviation high school and is totally into aviation. I'll tell him about the place at the airport. He is a government employee (local), as I was until I had to take an early retirement a few months ago for health reasons. Not sure that we would qualify for senior discounts, but I have AAA, so that's also a possibility. Additionally I like the Priceline Name Your Own Price option for hotels and cars. I was thinking an apartment in order to avoid eating every meal out. I will check out the options for Alexandria. I was looking at Georgetown but found there wasn't metro access there. Monticello is definitely on my want to see list. Good to hear that Colonial Williamsburg is something we can miss. More time for other things. I know 2 weeks isn't enough time to see everything, but we can't get away for longer on this trip. We may visit a relative near Richmond, so things near there are a possibility. We will be there late September and into October. As for guidebooks, I have a Frommer's Washington D.C. Day by Day and a book for Virginia that includes D.C.
Then he has to visit the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall!
Late September, early October... then you have to try to get a bit into the countryside and as far north as possible to see some of the beautiful east coast fall colors!
Natural Bridge, VA. on your way to Monticello and Richmond. Jefferson actually bought Natural Bridge from the King of England. A must-see. Eastern Market, Julia Child's kitchen in the Smithsonian. OMG, there's so much in DC.
The Air & Space Museum is on our so-far mental list of things to do. Smithsonian's (not sure which ones yet) and Holocaust Museum are also must do's. I do enjoy art museums, but those will take a back seat to historical things. I do want to see countryside too. Maybe a week for D.C. and a week for the rest?
The Newseum is also really interesting, very interactive.
If you want to try to tour the White House or go into the Congressional galleries on Capitol Hill, you need to arrange that well in advance. Google 'Visit White House' and 'Visit US Congress' for instructions on how to do these things through your Congressional Representative's office. I also enjoy going to the Supreme Court (you can go into the Court Room where the Justices sit to hear the most important U.S. legal cases), and the Library of Congress. And don't forget the National Cathedral, which is a bit outside the center of town. And nice to walk around up by DuPont Circle -- a zillion restaurants up there. Good grief, there's just so much...
'If you want to try to tour the White House . . . .. you need to arrange that well in advance.' The White House cancelled tours three months ago and hasn't resumed.
Bummer, Ed. Haven't kept up with it, and was speaking from experience of about a year ago. Should have known re sequestration. Thanks for the correction.
The cancellation of White House tours was big news when it first happened. Maybe they will resume by the time I go. Wishful thinking I know. I will definitely contact my congressman.
Andrea, I'm maybe planning a trip to D.C. sometime in the next year or so. I have an old book (Washington, D.C. from $60 a Day) by Frommer"s that is 15 years out-of-date but has lots of good tips and info in it. Maybe you could find a recent edition for your trip. The little research I've done at airbnb shows lots of rentals. VRBO might be worth a look, too. It appears that all the chain hotels have beds in D.C. A friend visited D.C. a few years ago and enjoyed a Greyline tour of the city.
OK... so don't follow my directions and head north looking for Annapolis... as Ed clued me in... it is due east. Actually, I am not sure how I even found it as I often don't know what direction I am headed. Anyway, it was as we were on our way north:)) Worth the visit...
"Colonial Williamsburg" is more of an amusement park than a true historic site. I would spend my "outside DC" time visiting Montecello and some of the other recommendations listed above. Lola, how could you say that? Did you go to UVA or something? Maybe I'm a bit biased (William and Mary grad here who visited Williamsburg every year as a child), but I've never considered Williamsburg to be anything but a historic site. I have a great fondness for it. I loved seeing all the demonstrations by craftsmen like the blacksmith when I was kid. Sure, all the buildings are restored, there are interpreters in Colonial garb, and there are lots of activities for kids. In many ways, it is similar to the open air folk museums of Europe ... except that the buildings haven't been moved here from other parts of the country. It is a real place where real history took place. It was the capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1780. It is where Patrick Henry made his "Give me liberty or give me death speech." It is home to the oldest academic building in continuous use in America(the Wren Building - 1695). It is where lots of famous people like, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and Jon Stewart went to college. Plus you are also close to Jamestown (1607 first permanent English settlement) and Yorktown (1781 - the British Surrender). If you go to Williamsburg, definitely stop for lunch at The Cheese Shop and get a sandwich with house dressing. You might also consider a visit to Annapolis, the National Aquarium in Baltimore's inner harbor, Charlottesville, and Skyline Drive.
Wow! Agnes and Laura have hit this one out of the ballpark! Great advice. Just about everything already covered. Andrea, defintely visit Williamsburg. If you are going down into Virginia, you may want to include a swing by the James River area. James River is where many of the old Colonial era plantations were, and a lot of early American presidents ancestors lived there. Beautiful places such as Berkeley Plantation, Sherwood Forest Plantation, and Shirley Plantation. I second someone's suggestion to stay in the Old Town, Alexandria area for trips by subway or tube into D.C. to see the museums. But if you go out into Virginia to explore the countryside, you will want to change hotels. You do not want to drive back to D.C. every night if you are out as far as Charlottesville to see Monticello (117 miles)and then are going on to other sights out in the country. To rent an apartment for the first week in Alexandria, but keep the second week open to move around through Virginia and do hotels may work. But there is enough to keep you busy in D.C. for two weeks! Tough choices, what to see, where to go! There is a big difference in price in hotels near D.C. and out in the country, of course. I recently checked for a trip myself; Hilton Old Town Alexandria; $299. a night. Charlottsville Hampton Inn; $79. a night. Summer is high season; if you are going in the fall, you'll find better prices.
"Colonial Williamsburg" is more of an amusement park than a true historic site. Amusement Park???? Perhaps she is confusing it with Bush Gardens Williamsburg, which is an actual amusement park. Colonial Williamsburg is a lot like a lot the historic village reconstructions one would find in Europe....only better. Some other interesting sites include the National Cryptologic Museum at the NSA headquarters at Ft Mead. It's open to the public, free, and you can get an authentic NSA t-shirt at the gift shop:) Also interesting is National Museum of Health and Medicine, in Silver Springs. It has incorporated the exhibits at the old Pathology Museum at the now closed Walter Reed. The Spy Museum, although pricey, takes it's subject matter very seriously and worth a visit.
You may want to explore the C&O Canal in the Georgetown neighborhood. It has a path beside of it that is used as a jogging trail. The neighborhood of Georgetown is worth walking around in just to see the neighborhood. Also lots of great restaurants in Georgetown. 3271 P St NW is a townhouse that was the home of JFK when he was a Senator and young bachelor. A couple of blocks away at 3307 N St. NW was the home of John and Jacqueline Kennedy after they were married. It's a beautiful Federal house. This was their home during the presidential campaign, and JFK Jr. was born while they were living here. Georgetown is a quiet neighborhood, lots of beautiful homes and townhouses to see, tree lined streets, and some old gas lights in front of some houses.
Andrea, you'll need 5-days to even scratch the surface. For our 5 days a few years ago, we toured most of the Smithsonian, the Lincoln memorial, Arlington and walked through the large WWII and Viet Nam memorials. We also toured the U.S. Capitol and sat in the gallery in the Senate. Not enough time to sit at the Supreme Court. Toured the Smithsonian aviation museum at the mall but couldn't make it out to the space museum at Dulles. We then left D.C. and toured a lot of historic Virginia including Williamsburg, Mt. Vernon, Monticello and a couple of other president homes. It was a 3-week vacation for us. We did good but there is so much to see.
Another strong vote in favor of Colonial Williamsburg and Annapolis, MD...also, Baltimore is very interesting (more down-to-earth and a Pittsburghy feel - that's a good thing) and not too far away. And Arlington Cemetery is definitely worth a visit too. Great to hear you're coming in fall - it will be wonderful then! And hotels will be a lot cheaper too
You may want to see Ford's Theatre, where President Lincoln was shot. It's at 511 Tenth St, NW, in D.C. It is maintained by the National Park Service and the interior has been kept just as it was (restored) the night he was shot. You really feel as though you have gone back in time when you stand there and look up at the balcony where he was sitting. You may also want to go out to Manassas, Virginia, to see the Civil War Battleground. It was the first major land battle of the American Civil War, and called The First Battle of Bull Run. Great Civil War Museum there. Not far at all from D.C. or Alexandria.
I can clearly see that I should have allotted more time! Maybe I should have asked these questions BEFORE booking the flights. I got such a great airfare deal and just got excited. So little time...so much to see. I'm glad to hear from others that Colonial Williamsburg is worth going to. I have been envisioning it as being similar to the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. If anyone has been to both, maybe they can weigh in. I'm leaning towards a week in the D.C. area (I like the idea of Alexandria) and a week out of D.C. to drive around to see other sites, maybe on the fly, to see where we end up each night. I don't mind driving distances. We live in California, so that is the norm for us. We will be flying home from Dulles. Our flight is at 5:30 p.m., so that might be a good day to see the aviation museum before we head home. Thanks for all the great information everyone. Keep it coming! Just try not to overwhelm me too much!! :-)
Hello Andrea. I grew up in a suburb of Washington, D.C., in Virginia near Alexandria. And I was a student at a college located in Maryland very near the north border of Washington D.C., one year. And I worked in an office building in Washington D.C., very near the White House, one year. And I was an employee in a big publishing company located in Washington, D.C. I saw nearly everything in Washington D.C. that visitors like to see there. Your time in Washington, D.C. could be planned something like this : Day One : Walk through the White House, if you can. And the Lincoln Memorial. Day Two : United States Capital building, and the Library of Congress. Days Three, Four, Five : Smithsonian Institute museums, including the Air and Space Museum. Day Six : National Archives, and the Holocaust Museum.
Day Seven : A walking tour of Georgetown.
Ron, thanks for your thoughts. Mount Vernon is not worth a visit? I thought that would be something very interesting to see. What do the rest of you think? We will probably skip art museums on this trip due to there being so much historical things to see in the time we have. It's not like I haven't already been to some of the best art museums in the world. I'm hoping to see a little bit of Maryland too. It is becoming clear that we won't see it all and will have to return. The same thing I say about Europe!!
Larry, I know you won't be at our meeting this month, and next month I will be out of town on meeting day. I hope we can talk about D.C. and Virginia in August.
I do think Mount Vernon is worth a visit. The grounds are lovely, so go on a day when the weather is nice. I've only been twice ... once in the first grade and once 10 years ago when I took some house guests. I do recall that there was a long line and it is crowded as you move through the house. However, it is still interesting to see. We really enjoyed walking through the grounds. As far as the museums, all of the Smithsonian complex is free and so is the National Gallery. It is pretty easy to just walk through if you are in the area and just want to spend a short time. I think the East Wing of the National Gallery is just a cool building (designed by IM Pei).
Oh, and the Washington Monument is currently covered with scaffolding. While you can't go up, it looks really cool right now --- almost like a piece of modern art.
Ron, you are probably right about the mountain drive. I live very close to the Sierra Nevada's and they are pretty spectacular! Even though I've been to many places in Europe, I still enjoy historical and older areas in the U.S. In California a place that is over 100 years old is unusual, so I really enjoy seeing older places like that in NYC, Boston, Savannah, New Orleans, etc.
Laura-–no UVA affiliation; I am a West coaster all the way and spent my college years in Palo Alto, CA. But as part of that I did spend a summer in DC as a Comgressional intern. Some of us went to Williamsburg for a weekend and I could not afford to buy lunch. Everything had a high price. Maybe that made me bitter. But my comments are actually derived from a recent conversation with a young Russian woman, newly married to a nephew. She is thoughtful and articulate, and speaks beautiful English. She worked there for a year or so, along with other Russians. She said they were told what to wear, and what to say, it was all an act. It is a private foundation, not a National Historic Park. But they will take you to Jamestown, for a fee. Yes, I suppose you could compare it to the European open-air museums. As long as you understand that what you are looking at is a reconstruction, prettied -up and fictionalized, and that you are paying a premium to be there, it's fine.
A few years back we stayed at the Hotel Harrington in DC, low rates and walking distance to The Mall. It was clean and I would stay there again. Much better than the Virginia suburbs. Skyline Drive and the Shenandoah Valley are worth the drive from DC. A nice loop with Monticello on the southern end. There is lodging on Skyline at Big Meadows, in Sheandoah National Park. Basic, nice rooms on top of the mountains. Enjoy the trip!
Yeah...I'm afraid I'm gonna have to start proceedings to get this thread shut down. As a reminder from the 'Get Started'/'Travelers Helpline Help Section': "...General Europe -- covering all your general questions about weather, health, safety, food, books, best walking shoes, and more, that can occur in any European country..." And Missy, if you think saying "Okay, it's not Europe, but..." is going to save your hide...... ;-) (and BTW, if you think guidelines like "If you don't have anything useful to add to a discussion, please move on to the next topic" and "If you want to engage in a one-on-one conversation with another poster, send a private message rather than reply to their comment on the message board" apply to me or anyone else after your flagrant disregard for the posting guidelines...... ;-) )
When my family and I went to DC we stayed at the Harrington Hotel one block north of the mall. You may consider it dumpy. It was OK at best but we needed an AC-conditioned place to crash it was very convenient. In addition when the rest of the tourists started driving back to their hotels we got to squeeze in the Smithsonians, Archive, etc the last few hours with no crowds. You may look at Air BnB. There are apartments along the metro stops 30 minutes out. We took Amtrak, took the Metro, and used the buses with no problem. I think a car can be a pain to park. Try to get Gallety Passes for the Capitol from your Congressman's office. We also got the Library of Congress tour from them. Mount Vernon is very nice now with a lot of multi-media. I highly recommend the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress--very beautiful and never crowded. Right next to the Capitol and the Supreme Court. I found the most reasonable place to eat was the Supreme Court basement cafeteria and the Department of Agriculture cafeteria. We went in July and it was the hottest place I had ever been! And I grew up in Florida. Stay hydrated.
I've been looking in Alexandria and see a few possibilities. I'm just not sure about their proximity to the metro. What about the DuPont Circle area? I've gone through my D.C. guidebook and am working on the Virginia guidebook now. If I allow a week for D.C. and a week for Virginia it looks like we could make a loop through Virginia and see quite a bit.
"DuPont Circle area, in my opinion, does not have the charm of Old Town Alexandria, and is a bit "rough around the edges". I would hesitate to walk around that neighborhood after dark, but that's just my opinion, formed by several visits to D.C. staying with friends." I disagree (having lived in DC for two years). It's a great area for restaurants, so there's usually plenty of people walking around. My single favorite restaurant in the city is there, Bistro du Coin. Great reasonably priced French bistro food.
" She said they were told what to wear, and what to say, it was all an act. It is a private foundation, not a National Historic Park." Of course they were told what to wear and what to say. They are dressed in period clothing and represent people of that time, acting as such on the tours. Anyone giving a tour anywhere is told what to say. Colonial Williamsburg does not make any secret of its reconstructions. They give you lots of information on the excavations that led to its development. That doesn't stop it from being a real place where real people from American history lived and worked, or from being a first class representation of life at the time. The Rockefellers spent their money wisely here. And having been there fairly recently, I can tell you that the prices are not out of line with any other tourist venue (and miles cheaper than Busch Gardens Williamsburg, which really is an amusement park).
Just to clear up a few things...neither the Mall area nor Dupont Circle are "high crime areas" to be avoided after dark - the Mall area/downtown is pretty dead after hours (after office workers file out) whereas Dupont Circle is lively because it's an actual neighborhood surrounded by rowhouses/residential streets. I walk around both all the time in the AM and PM and have for many years without any issues. As far as the Smithsonian goes, I think the space center right by Dulles (Uvar Hazy) is much bigger, better laid out, and more comprehensive than the Air & Space Museum on the Mall - it's in a huge airport hangar and has a great variety of planes on view. If you are flying out of Dulles anyway, I would give yourself at least 2 hours beforehand to check out the museum before you hop your flight. A few more fun things to do include Eastern Market and Dumbarton Oaks Gardens (walking distance from Georgetown). By the way, the Circulator bus service is excellent, inexpensive, and you can use it to get to Georgetown (the nearest metro stop is a 10-15 minute walk).
....going to Virginia's Atlantic Ocean coast is not worthwhile Except maybe driving across the 23-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and having a bit of seafood at that sort-of cheesy place on the far side.
Domestic spy museum... Text Adm Yamamoto and ask if he's impressed with intercepts.
I also think Dupont Circle would be a good choice ... tons of great restaurants (I second the Bistrot du Coin recommendation) and if you like art, the Phillips Collection is a great small museum in the neighborhood. I'd choose Dupont over Alexandria for convenience. Another neighborhood in DC you might consider is Cleveland Park. It is more residential, but still has a number of restaurants and is well-connected by metro. I'm an Arlington native, so if you find something there, I'd be happy to comment. Narrow down your choices and check back and I'm sure you can get a few more opinions. Maybe we could even do the first ever DC area RS meetup ... but no Panera. Maybe a local DC place like Busboys and Poets?
Andrea, I'll add a few comments to the many good points that have already been made. I'm glad someone mentioned the Library of Congress; it's a gorgeous building from the 1890s that often has small exhibitions and always has a Gutenberg printed Bible and a handwritten Bible from the same time. I enjoy Mount Vernon for its handsome rooms and its historical associations, and they have recently added a distillery to the buildings you can visit - Washington was concerned about the reliance on tobacco and tried to diversify, including starting to distill whiskey. Mom and I did the distillery tour a few years ago on our way around some of the state's historical sites. We also spent 3 days in Richmond, and didn't see it all - there's Maymont, an amazing late 19th century house, John Marshall's house (first Chief Justice), the Confederate White House, the Valentine Museum, Wilton House (you can tell we like historic houses). Also Maggie L. Walker's house - she was born a slave but ended up overcoming the obstacles and making an amazing success of life. South of Richmond is Pamplin Historical Park, which is an excellent Civil War museum. Then on to Colonial Williamsburg (I'm another fan; I really enjoy talking to the tradespeople) and the other sites in the Historic Triangle - Jamestown and Yorktown. Both Jtown and Ytown have a National Park site and a separate reconstruction site; at Jamestown you can visit an Indian village, climb around on the recreated ships and marvel at how TINY they are, walk through the buildings in the recreated fort, etc., or go to the NPS site and see the foundations of the buildings, the excavations, the museum... And Yorktown is similar. We've visited a lot over the years, and my daughter is now at William and Mary, so let me know if you want lodging/restaurant recommendations. And have a great trip!
You are all so awesome! I like the idea of staying in a charming location like Old Town Alexandria, but the practicality of staying in a area that won't require so much transportation time has it's own appeal. @Laura - I would very much like to attend a meet-up of your local RS Helpline participants. We have been meeting monthly in Sacramento for 3 years and our meetings are so much fun. It's nice connecting with kindred spirits. At this point I'm allotting a week to D.C., so we would be there from 9/25-10/2. No need to go to a Panera! We meet there for the wifi and because they don't have servers. We can stay as long as we'd like without anyone bothering us. Any place would work.
I'm so glad to see that the Williamsburg Defenders were out in force. It's a wonderful place to visit. Yes, it's pricey, but I loved my visit and still have my Williamsburg cookbook so I can fix some of those colonial dishes! I would like to recommend the National Gallery of Art. It has spectacular works. I love the Air and Space Museum, but the Smithsonian itself has amazing exhibits. I've not been to it yet, but the National Holocaust Museum sounds wonderful. You should be sure to schedule time to to go to the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Viet Nam Memorial and the more recent Memorials on the Mall. I hope to get back to DC and see the new ones--WWII and Martin Luther King. The older ones moved me to tears. The Capital is wonderful. And go to the Archives and see the documents that established our country. And eat wonderful food! I discovered softshell crabs on a visit to DC. : ) PAm
I'm weighing in late and I hope I'm not repeating too much. You can spend entire days (weeks) just exploring the Smithsonian Institution's various museums. How many cities offer you so many entirely FREE sites? Both the original Air and Space Museum on the Mall and the museum Annex out near Dulles Airport are worth seeing. If you do have an interest in aviation I suggest going to both. There is a charge for parking at the Dulles Annex one, although I've heard (but never taken) that there is a free shuttle bus out to the Dulles branch (offically the "Udvar Hazy Center")from the Mall's museum. Beyond Air and Space, I personally find the Natural History Museum to be one of the best organized and entertaining of the SI museums. The Holocaust Memorial and Museum should be seen by everyone who visits. Don't forget to see Arlington Cemetery, including the JFK gravesite, and Robert E. Lee's home.
(continued) The Newseum (museum of news) and the International Spy Museum are privately run and cost a fair amount of money to get in, but both are excellent. As for trips away, I agree with Colonial Williamsburg (which can be paired with trips to Jamestown and Yorktown), or the Charlottesville area. But you could also do an easy daytrip from DC to Baltimore's inner harbor area which includes, among other things, the real National Aquarium. Don't be fooled by any hints of an aquarium in DC itself. That is just a few small fish tanks in the basement of the Commence building not worth your limited time here. Enjoy your visit to "DC" (not "Washington" so we're not confused with the state). One bit of advice when staying in Alexandria, or anywhere outside of the city. Our subway ("Metro") is undergoing track repairs constantly and especially on weekends the wait between trains can be long. Be sure you give yourself plenty of time to get into and out of the city for any events with timed entry, theater performances, etc.
Enjoy your trip to DC.
@Matt - thanks for the information. That's good to know about the metro. Maybe we should focus on somewhere IN D.C. I have found a few places in the DuPont Circle area. What is your opinion of it?
We just returned from a week in DC - too much to see in a week! We stayed at a hotel in Arlington (Crystal City area), very close to DCA. The metro was 2 blocks away and a very easy walk. We had no problems navigating the metro, usually using the blue and yellow lines which had no delays. You might want to check VRBO - vacation rentals by owner. There are a lot of great apartments available in the city. Safety was never an issue, but we were usually back in Arlington for the evening. Wear good walking shoes!
Dupont Circle is a great area to stay in and, if you want to experience any kind of nightlife, is far more convenient to stay there than to stay out in Crystal City (where you are essentially staying in the middle of office buildings and chain retail/chain restaurants) or elsewhere in Virginia. Dupont Circle has great Metro connections, plenty of restaurants, cafes and shopping. If you are looking for an apartment on Airbnb, Woodley Park and Kalorama are also close to Dupont Circle, but still easy to get to your major sights and they are nice areas where you would likely still be able to keep in your price range vs. Georgetown which can be pricey for what you get. If you want a hotel, try Hotel Tabard Inn (it's a bit higher than $150/night unless you book a room with a shared bathroom) which includes free breakfast and WiFi. It also has the kind of charm and quaintness that Ricknics love to wax poetic about (no elevator, but it does have a/c). Otherwise, see if you can get a deal on one of the Kimpton hotels.
In my opinion, every American, at some point in their life, needs to go to the National Archives to see the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
Just curious - IS THERE an ongoing RS meetup group in the DC area? If so, could you PM me or let everyone know when/where the meetings are? Many thanks!
Thanks to you all for your wonderful suggestions. We have decided that a week in D.C. to see as many historical things we can will be our focus. Between my guidebooks and your suggestions we will fit in as much as we can. The 2nd week is a little more up in the air. We have places we are hoping to see. The monkey wrench in that week is that my uncle told me this morning may join us. He lives in Kansas and is considering driving to D.C. to pick us up and go to an area in Virginia where my mother's family lived in the mid-1700's. I'm hoping that if he does come we can do a mix of our plans and his. We plan to get an apartment for the week. I have found several that say they are in the Dupont Circle area that I will inquire about. I think that area will be good for transportation and evening activities. I don't believe there is a meet up group of people from the helpline in the D.C. area. I've never seen a mention of one anyway. I would enjoy meeting with anyone who would be interested. We will be there from 9/25-10/2. Maybe it would be the start of a D.C. group!
I just put in a request for vrbo# 390722. It looks like it will be just right for us. There were many good reviews too. If anyone who knows DC would like to weigh in on the location it would be much appreciated. This particular apartment is very booked up and there was a small window of time open that were the dates we wanted. There is also a very good cancellation policy so if we find out it isn't a good location we can cancel. Thanks again for all the help!!
Was in D.C. last summer and had a great time. Took two great walking tours with a company called free by foot the tours are run by locals you tip
What you want at the end? They were great. I used the same company in New York.
Ron, we will probably take an airport shuttle to the apartment when we arrive. The apartment we are renting is within our budget and will provide us with a place to prepare some meals and do some laundry. It is near metro and bus stops for ease of getting around D.C. For our week outside of D.C. we will get a car the night before we leave. The landlord will provide a parking permit. That way we can get a quick and early start the next day. We will return it at the airport when it's time to leave. We have a late afternoon flight back to Sacramento. My 77-year-old uncle has been doing family research and previously mentioned to me taking a trip back east with him. For a variety of reasons it didn't happen. Now that he found out we are going he proposed that we travel in Virginia together. He doesn't like to fly and would drive from Kansas to Virginia. If that actually happens, and I have my doubts, I will be happy to spend the time with him. If we can't do everything we want, so be it. We can return another time. My uncle has a PHD, is a retired university professor, and is very smart. But he is a techno phob and doesn't use a computer, cell phone, etc. He's worried that if he is gone for a couple of weeks his bills won't get paid. That's why I think he won't actually do this. We will wait and see. Thank you for your concern.
I would like to recommend the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. We've visited the holocaust museum in Jerusalem, and Dachau and Auschwitz/Birkenau concentration camps and associated museums. They are all excellent and, after 3 visits, I believe the one in DC ranks up there with the best. Having said that, I realize that for some folks holocaust study is not their cup of tea. That's okay. So whatever you do, have a great trip.
The Holocaust Museum is definitely on our must do list. I donated money to help with the building of the museum. I have been to Dachau and to the Shoah (Holocaust) museum in Paris. While it is not a 'fun' thing to do, I believe it is important for people to see what happened to those who were persecuted. I don't get how anyone can deny the holocaust ever happened.
I agree with Agnes, Charlottesville is fantastic!!! Our youngest daughter lives there. James Monroe's home is just down the road from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home. Also, James Madison's home is just a little north of Charlottesville. If you get to Charlottesville stay at the Omni, its at the end of the Downtown Mall which is a pedestrian mall, lots of good places to eat and some really nice shops.
The campus of the University of Virginia is beautiful and a wonderful place to walk around at.
There have been so many excellent suggestions that I hardly need to put my 2 cents in, but I will anyway. I strongly endorse Williamsburg along with nearby Jamestown and Yorktown. If you have any interest in the Civil War, there are three magnificent National Historical Parks nearby: Harper's Ferry, where John Brown's Raid made the war almost inevitable; Antietam, the most bloody battle in all of American history and a crucial turning point; and Gettysburg, which has a superb new Visitor Center. Standing on Little Round Top where the future of the nation and the world hung in the balance is an awesome experience. All of these are about an hour to 1.5 hours away from DC or Northern Va by car. A little farther away, but actually possible as a daytrip from DC (though better as an overnight), the area just to the west of Wilmington Delaware has Winterthur (an astounding museum of American decorative interiors, furniture/paint/rugs/etc), Longwood Gardens, and other Dupont mansions. If you could find a deal on a hotel room in the Ballston-Clarendon-Rossyln stretch of Arlington, you could access the D.C. core by Metro very quickly and easily. Much of D.C. has been gentrified in the last 20 years, and you will be in more danger from hipsters than from muggers.
We leave in a few weeks for our D.C. adventure and I'm getting excited. We will be in an apartment in the Dupont Circle area for our week in D.C. I don't have anything specific scheduled yet except to meet up with Helpline people in the D.C. area on 9/29. Agnes has posted the information about the meet up for whomever might be interested. I put in a request to my congressperson for some tours. They won't know what will be available until it gets much closer. I'm sure we will have plenty to do to fill our time. When we leave D.C. we will head for Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania, stopping in Baltimore on the way. We will spend a night there, then late the following day we will go to Gettysburg. We will spend a night there, see some of the sites the next say, then drive to Charlottesville, VA for 2 nights. Unfortunately for us, those nights are Friday and Saturday and UVA has a home game that weekend. Hotels were slim pickings and expensive. Oh well. That's actually the only reservation I've made for that week so far. After that we will stay a night just outside of Richmond to have dinner with a relative. Then we'll have 2 nights in Williamsburg before heading back to Dulles to fly home. We will be sure to go to the Air Museum before our flight. I just wanted to thank everyone again for their suggestions and recommendations. I wish we had more time and I know we can't see it all, but I'm looking forward to seeing so many historic things.
I'll give you some info at our meeting. Hillwood Estate, the Merriweather Post mansion is fabulous in DC (gardens, orchids, a Russian Dacha country home). Grab a drink on the upper floor patio of the Kennedy Center near sunset for a view of the mall. Free bus transportation to the KC. Take the Arlington Cemetery tour. Excellent. Take the trolley all over town. It no longer stops at the National Cathedral, which is a must see. So, try the Hop on, hop off bus. Have tea atop the Cathedral. For food: Adams Morgan area: (every ethnic kind you can think of) High tea: at the Willard Hotel (next to the White House);or the Mayflower Hotel You can get special private tours of the Capitol, etc. if you contact your local congressman. I enjoyed Williamsburg (3 hours away) and Monticello (even further), but it seems you should just come back to see them. They are quite a distance and you'll have plenty to do. Kramer's Books: Dupont Circle (famous)
You'll have the National Gallery of Art; also loved the Phillips Collection The DC Metro is the cleanest and easiest one I've been on in the US. You'll have no trouble getting around DC. It's about a 10 block walk from the Metro in Alexandria to Old Town Alexandria. Your days will be full in the DC area!
IF....you are agile and in decent shape.....try the DC Segway tour.
Hi Andrea, in case you want to just book a tour of the Capitol on your own, here is the link: http://tours.visitthecapitol.gov/
You don't actually need to go through your Congressman, although they may give you access to areas that the public tour would not. The link would just save you a bit of time from waiting in line - everything is timed entry. You'll have to give yourself enough time to get there via metro from Dupont.
@kat - Welcome home and thanks for the information. We are spending a week in D.C. and then another week with a car for Williamsburg, Monticello, etc. Maybe we can get together for lunch or something and we can talk about D.C. If this months meeting is anything like August it will be hard to really get one on one time with so many people. I'm making notes of all the suggestions. I booked a tour of the Capitol Building (thanks for the link Agnes) this morning, but will cancel it if Matsui's office comes through with a tour. I'm hoping they can arrange other tours I requested too.
Are you coming in summer or outside tourist season? If I had a choice, I'd skip DC in the summer when it's both crowded and sweaty. Things to see? The White House and Washington Monument are out for right now. DC has world class museums and all the Smithsonian related ones are free, you have to decide which interest you most and plan an itinerary around them. The most popular are Art, Natural History, Air and Space (the annex at Dulles is a drive and about $12 to park), Holocaust, American Indian - but there are many more. You can stop at the castle (the original red building off the mall) and find out about current exhibitions. For (free) History in DC? Ford's theater (need to book free tickets). The Archives building has the founding documents on display (long lines in summer, walk right in off season). The portrait gallery has the portraits you've seen in your American History textbooks. Mt. Vernon is a great choice. They recently built a museum there so it's even better than it used to be. Also consider Monticello. You can also visit Montpelier (home of Madison) and (not as nice) Ash Lawn Highland (Monroe's home) which is oriented toward Monticello.
Williamsburg is also great. To fully appreciate it, talk to the costumed workers - they can tell you all about life in the period they represent (including jobs, religion, income, possessions/conveniences, daily routine, family, hobbies, etc.) to me it's fascinating. Yorktown isn't much but Jamestown is worth a stop. Between Williamsburg and DC, stop at Frederickburg. See the "Sunken Road" site from the Civil War battle. It's the most compelling site for how crazy military tactics were back then - marching about 20,000 union soldiers across a mile of open space in a futile effort against a perfect defensive position. I think the Union General was Burnside who wanted to "keep the initiative". Arlington Cemetery is a good stop too. Most people know Arlington House belonged to Robert E. Lee (given him by his father-in-law). Most people don't know that Lee's father-in-law was George Washington Parke Custis. The same person who was a ward of George Washington (his step-grandfather, Martha Custis was his grandmother) although Washington had no children of his own.
I'd suggest looking for hotels near a metro stop. As long as you can get to a metro, it will be easy to get downtown. Alexandria is probably nicer than most places served by the metro - so not a bad choice - but far from the cheapest (but security should be a consideration too). You might also consider Falls Church or Vienna (many apartments walking distance from West Falls Church and Vienna metro stops, some may be rentable for a week at a time). An apartment in Crystal City would also be convenient to the metro and safe. Crystal City has a lot of temporary duty military (who work in the Guard Bureau or the Pentagon), so I'd expect a lot of short term apartments available. Once downtown, the sights are spread out quite a bit. If it were me, I'd use the city bike system to get from one sight to the next. It's $7 a day to rent a bike - big caveat - as long as you don't use it more than a half hour at a time. 30 minutes is plenty of time to get to the next sight and drop the bike at a city bike stand before you get charged extra. When you're done with that site, grab another bike and pedal to the next site. You do need to map out where the stands are but they seem pretty prevalent. The working crowd in DC is really into lunch wagons, that park during lunch hour and sell a variety of foods, some of it is good and usually costs about the same as a DC fast food meal (which isn't that cheap). One place I always see lunch wagons is along 12th Street NW across from the Macy's.