Washington DC is among the most famous destinations for tourist of the world, receiving over 18 million visitors a year. This spectacular place has a long and illustrious history and the numerous old structures stand tall as testimony to the long history of this place. The city might be small compared to New York or Los Angeles, but it has just as much to offer: culture, arts and music, museums, history, politics, world-class restaurants, parks and recreation and plenty of sunshine. This Mini Guide to Washington DC will let you know everything you need to know if you’re visiting only for a few days or for a long weekend. The guide will tell you what to do, what to see and where to eat – so you can cover most of Washington DC in a short period of time, without having to do the planning yourself.
Put on some good shoes and start your first day in Washington DC with a tour of the National Mall with FreeTourbyFoot. Their licensed tour guides will take you through the must-see memorials along the Mall entertaining you with fun facts, secrets and historical information from past to present time. The price is pay-what-it’s-worth which means that you pay what you think is fair and can afford. Booking is essential, it starts at 10 am and the tour takes about two hours. The White House is only seen from a distance, so recommend a closer look at that after the tour.
Top 3 highlights: The Lincoln Memorial, WWII Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
After walking and talking for about two hours, it’s probably time to find some lunch! Head over to the White Apron Specialty Sandwich Shop over on 11th street where they serve delicious sandwiches with ingredients combined in all kinds of yummy-ways inside their freshly, baked bread.
Try the Greek Tuna or the Chimichurry – you won’t regret it!
With the stomach full and the legs rested, why not try out one of the world most visited museum, The National Museum of Natural History. From the museum was founded in 1846 (building erected in 1910) as part of the Smithsonian Institution, it has collected over an impressive 126 million specimens of plants, fossils, humans, rocks and meteorites. It’s collections and exhibitions are compelling, engaging and beautiful. Spend a few hours here and enjoy!
Admission is free.
Top 3 highlights: The Butterfly Pavilion, the collection of bones and the IMAX theatre.
Assuming you still got some energy left from all the walking (you’re doing good) it is time to step into the world of art with the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Home to one of the biggest and inclusive American art collections in the world, this museum gives you thorough history of arts from colonial times up until today. Their installations and exhibitions change almost every month, so there is always something new and exciting to check out.
Admission is free.
Top 3 highlights: The African American Art collection, the Contemporary Art- and Sculpture collection.
Dinnertime is just around the corner, so get your boots ready as we’re heading to the farm, well Founding Farmers that is. This award-winning restaurant is owned by over 40,000 family farmers, so you can be sure that everything is fresh and made from scratch with passion – they even churn their own butter! The restaurant interior is done very thoughtfully, the service is excellent and the menu has something for everyone, at a decent price.
Try the Slow-Braised Beef Short Ribs or the Goat Cheese Ravioli with Chicken Cutlets and chose the Chief’s Pick for drinks; you are now all set to have an enjoyable and delicious evening. Reservation recommended.
It’s day two and it’s time to visit the gorgeous Georgetown – one of Washington DC’s best-know neighbourhood. How to get there you might ask? By biking. Get out a bike at any Capital Bike Share station (see tip at the end of the guide), and take the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway up to Pennsylvania Ave, make a left and you are now in Gorgeoustown. Park your bike, and start walking around the neighbourhood. Ooh’s and aaah’s are normal speech reactions when seeing all the beautiful townhouses lined up in all their colours and uniqueness. If you get some time, do some shopping. Georgetown is known for their boutique stores where you can find exclusive fashion and interior objects. A boat trip on the canal is also recommended.
Top 3 highlights: Old Stone House, Artist’s Proof Contemporary Art Gallery and Georgetown Waterfront Park
Getting hungry? Head to Chaia on Grace Street for some amazingly tasty, vegetarian tacos with flavours that change along the seasons. Tasty, fresh, healthy and made with love. Try the Taco Trio, and find your favourite.
Need a sugar fix after that healthy lunch? Taste a gourmet cupcake at Georgetown Cupcakes – Washington DC’s most famous cupcakes. Why are they DC’s mot famous cupcakes? Because they are so pretty and delicious that they have their own TV show on TLC! Check it out for yourself: DC Cupcakes on TLC.
It’s time to head back to downtown, and the easiest and fastest way will be to start pushing those bike pedals again. Make your way to the Tidal Basin just down from the National Mall and check out the Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. If you’re visiting during spring, this will also be the best place to see the famous cherry blossom trees in bloom.
For the best view of the cherry blossom trees, rent a paddleboat with Tidal Basin Paddle Boats.
Booking ahead is recommended. $16 per hour two-passenger boat. $26 per hour – four passenger boat.
There is enough time for a stop at the museum today as well, so let’s try out the National Museum of American History. This museum will give you the extensive story of the American heritage though various exhibitions that highlights areas such as politics, military, scientific, social and cultural history.
They have over 3 million artefacts that they preserve, including the Star Spangled Banner, Abraham Lincoln’s hat, dresses worn by the First Ladies of America, the John Bull locomotive – the oldest operable steam locomotive in the world, and everyone’s favourite Sesame Street character, Elmo! Admission is free.
Top 3 highlights: America on the Move, FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000, and The Price of Freedom: Americans at War
Finish the day in the small, but historic neighbourhood of Chinatown where you will find the beautiful Friendship Archway, said to be the biggest in the world. Take a selfie under the archway and then make you way over to China Boy, a true hole-in-the-wall-restaurant. This tiny restaurant has a small menu, but big portions at a good price. Try the Beef Chow Foon and the steamed pork dumplings for a taste of Tiān; the ancient Chinese term for heaven!
The first stop on your last day in Washington DC is at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the US’ official memorial to the Holocaust. The architecture of the museum building and exhibitions are provocative, heart-breaking and stunning, all at the same time. Take your time to take it all in. Getting emotional is normal and allowed.
Pre-booking in high season is a must for the permanent exhibitions and can be done here.
Admission is free, but a donation is recommended to preserve the evidence of Holocaust, to prevent genocide and to confront antisemitism.
Top 3 must-see: Some Were Neighbours: Collaborations and Complicity in the Holocaust, Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story and “I Want Justice”.
Today’s lunch is served at MXDC Cocina Mexicana, which cooks traditional food with a modern twist from various regions of Mexico. The great staff at this place, lead by the well-known chefs Todd English and Juan Pavlovich, never fails to succeed in making awesome, tasty and mouth-watering courses that will make you long for the great beaches in Mexico. Try the Pork Belly Taco and the Mariscada Quesadilla alongside a Blackberry Cilantro for an explosion of taste and flavours.
Next stop on the list is the fun packed International Spy Museum. This museum tells you the story from some of the worlds most classified and secret espionage operations, about the men and woman behind the lines, and their weapons and techniques. The story comes to life with the museums many exhibitions that show cases hands-on-items, audio-visual programs and hundreds of artefacts like historic photographs, counterfeit currency, a flashlight gun and the original George Washington Spy Letter, written in 1777. They also have a live action spy adventure; Operation Spy, which you can be apart of – thrilling and great fun!
Make sure you check out the museum shop which is filled with interesting gadgets, games and books telling you how you can become a real spy… $21.95 per adult ticket or $28.95 for a combo ticket which includes Operation Spy.
Top 3 highlights: The Secret History of History, The 21st Century and the Exquisitely Evil: 50 years of Bond Villains.
Next, you’re going to soak up some culture at the Studio Theatre, which has received an impressive 60 Helen Hayes Awards for excellence in professional theatre. Their four theatres seats only up to 220 guests, which makes the stage performances more intimate and honest. They have a vide range of plays throughout the year, and there is something for everyone. Sit back and simply be entertained. Tickets start at $20.
Ethiopian is a very popular cuisine in Washington DC and a must-eat while visiting. Just across from the Studio Theatre you’ll find Lalibela. They serve great, traditional Ethiopian food in a casual setting.
Try their honey wine and the combination platter that is generous with vegetables, beef, chicken and lamb.
If this is your first time eating Ethiopian: use your fingers with the Injera (flat bread) to pick up the meats and vegetables, no cutlery needed. A little bit of mess is normal; just make sure you have napkins handy. Have fun and enjoy.
GOOD TO KNOW
How To Get There:
Flying: You can fly into both the Reagan National Airport and the Dulles International Airport from most major airports in the US and Europe. Coming from other parts of the world, chances are you need a connection flight.
Bus: You can also get into Washington DC by bus from pretty much all of the big cities in the US using bus companies such as Greyhound, Megabus, Bolt and Washington Deluxe.
Train: The Amtrak can take you to Union Station in DC from Montreal (change over in NY), Boston, New Haven, New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore. For a full overview of stops between cities visit the Amtrak website here.
Most of the neighborhoods in Washington DC have easy access to the public transport system. The Metro is fast and easy to understand, and though the bus is a bit more slow it will take you to the places that the Metro doesn’t serve.
A map over the Metro Lines can be found here and a map over the bus lines can be found here.
Taxi and Uber is also safe and reliable way of getting around, though a bit more expensive then the public transport system.
Where To Stay:
Worth a Visit:
United States Capitol (has scaffolding around the dome until early 2017)
National Geographic Museum (will re-open summer 2016)
The top of Washington Monument (first-come first-serve tickets, usually gone by 9 am. Info here)
U Street and 14th Street
Arlington National Cemetery
Malcom X Park
The Library of Congress
Capital Bikeshare has over 3000 bikes to your disposal divided amongst 350 stations across Washington DC, Arlington and Alexandria and Montgomery County.
The whole system is really easy to work and it’s perfect for visitors. Choose whether you want to buy a Bikeshare period of 24 hours for $8 or 3 days for $17. You pay for the period at the bike station, credit card only. During that period you can take as many trips as you want for free as long as the trips are within 30 minutes. If you ride longer than that the price will increase rapidly. But, it is really easy to stay within the 30 minute period as there are so many stations around, and all you have to do is park the bike and get out a new one. The Capital Bikeshare App can be found here, and it will tell you how many bikes there are at each station and it will give you a full map over all the stations as well.
Photo credit picture 5: International Spy Museum