Before I went to Washington DC I had the idea in my mind that it would be a little less crazy than NYC. I was proved right but DC also surprised me in more ways than one and over the four days that we spent there I kind of fell in love with this city. I could have spent weeks exploring all the museums and monuments around and it just won me over more than NYC did. Washington DC is less crowded, cleaner and easier to navigate. I am not saying I disliked NYC, I think it’s a great city with lots of positives but Washington DC was just more… me.
If you are planning a trip to DC (which I really think you should), then hopefully this guide will help you decide what to do, where to eat, where to stay and how to get around this great city.
GETTING THERE AND GETTING AROUND
We arrived into Washington DC (Union Station) by train from New York City (Penn Station). The train took 3.5 hours (express trains are available) and cost us $49 each for a one way ticket. I booked the train in advance before we even left for the US on the Amtrak website and printed my ticket off at home. Easy right?
We picked up a SmarTrip card at Union Station which allows you to use the Subway system throughout the city. The card itself was $2 and most fares were the same price. Some fares were a little more (around $2.40) such as going from the city out to the airport (DCA). The subway system is really easy to use as there isn’t anywhere near as many lines as in cities like NYC or London and I found the actual stations much nicer and easier to navigate than in NYC.
As a side note, our Amtrak train did stop at Baltimore and Philadelphia on the way from NYC to DC and so if you wanted to spend a day or two in either of those cities it would be really easy to tie that into your trip.
Washington DC isn’t anywhere near as spread out as other cities and most of the sights are within walking distance of each other. You can also take the subway to cross the Potomac River if you want to go into Virginia and see Arlington Cemetery for example.
WHAT TO DO
Explore the area by the National Mall – There is so much to see that you will easily spend a full day doing this. Start at the west end with the Lincoln Memorial and head east via the Vietnam War Memorial and the Reflecting Pool until you come to the World War II Memorial. This is a nice place to sit by the fountains and reflect on where you are.
You can then move on to the Washington Monument, along the National Mall, passing the impressive Smithsonian Castle, before finally reaching the instantly recognisable, US Capitol. You can go inside the US Capitol which I would highly recommend. They have guided tours to take you behind the scenes or you can visit a small museum area and the Library of Congress (which despite being a library is pretty impressive!) at your own will. You should expect crowds, particularly inside the Lincoln Memorial and the US Capitol but if you have been to NYC before then this whole area will feel quiet by comparison.
Visit the many museums – OK so you probably won’t bother with them all because there are so many but it is definitely worth visiting some of them if museums are your thing. We went to the American History Museum, the Holocaust Museum and took a look inside the Smithsonian Castle. If none of those take your fancy then there is the National Art Gallery, the Air and Space Museum and the African American History and Culture Museum to name just a few. You really should find it easy to find a museum or gallery that caters to your interests. Take your pick!
Arlington Cemetery – A short ride on the subway will get you to this vast graveyard for American heroes. Here you can see the burial site of JFK and I would recommend witnessing the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A cemetery isn’t exactly a fun day out but it certainly puts things into perspective. I was stunned by the huge size of this place and seeing all the gravestones makes you realise just how many people lose their lives in the military. It is a place for quiet reflection and remembrance. Close by you can also visit the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, the Air Force Memorial and the US Marine Corps Memorial which depicts the famous scene from Iwo Jima.
Discover Georgetown – Primarily known for its University, this area of Washington DC is awash with great restaurants and shops, both small and large. It has more of a small town feel rather than a big city vibe and is a great place to visit day or night.
Take a look at the White House – Ok so it isn’t like you are going to be able to go inside for a cup of coffee but is there a more iconic building in Washington DC than the White House? It isn’t somewhere that you can spend a long time as there isn’t really much to do but it is still cool to be able to say you have seen it in person.
WHERE TO EAT
Founding Farmers – Basically if you come to Washington DC, you have to eat here. Please bear in mind that the place gets very busy, so don’t expect to rock up at 9.30am and get a table without a 30-45 minute wait. It is definitely advisable to book. By the time we left at 9.15am one morning, a queue of around 20 people were waiting for a table. The food and atmosphere are the reasons why this ‘farm to table’ place is so popular. A cooked breakfast, eggs benedict, orange juice and tea cost us $40 including tip. We got chatting to a couple of people in there as we were seated at a sharing table which was actually nice even though I am not a morning person (who is a morning person though right?).
Il Canelo – Located in Georgetown this is a sizable Italian with a great atmosphere and friendly service. Of course I opted for pizza which was really good! Two pizzas, a prosecco and a soft drink cost $60 including tip which seemed very reasonable for what was a very popular restaurant. Whilst in there we also noticed newspaper articles on the wall featuring famous diners that they have welcomed in the past. People such as Hilary Clinton are among the many esteemed guests to have eaten here over the years.
Bangkok Joe’s – Perhaps the best restaurant in terms of value for money! This restaurant is right near the Potomac River which means you can have a really nice stroll along the waterfront either before or after you eat. It was busy but they managed to seat us although larger parties weren’t so lucky. We ordered a curry, a beef rice dish, a side of wontons and two sodas and was astounded to be presented with a bill of less than $50! The tip took us to the $55 mark but we thought the food was fantastic and well worth the modest price tag.
Georgetown Cupcake – At $7 for 2 cupcakes it may seem a little on the pricey side but there is a reason that people literally queue out of the door for this place. If you love cakey goodness then pay this place a visit!
WHERE TO STAY
The River Inn – This was the cheapest hotel that we stayed in during our two week visit to the US at £101 per night but I don’t have a bad word to say about it. The hotel is on a quiet street in the Foggybottom district of Washington DC and is just a few minutes walk from a supermarket and a subway station. Founding Farmers is close enough on foot so you don’t have too far to walk for breakfast! You are pretty much located mid way between Georgetown and Central DC, although it is a 10-12 minute walk to either.
The room was great, it had a little kitchenette (although we ate out all the time) and the actual room was a really good size considering the price we paid. The staff were all really friendly and nothing was too much trouble for them. They gave us a map of the area and recommended different restaurants in Georgetown and where some of the main shops were. The subway station was only a few minutes walk away through a very quiet and picturesque neighbourhood and that station was able to connect us to anywhere in the city really well. If you plan to drive here though, be aware that the parking is pricey at around $40 per day.
The WiFi was free and was a really good speed and there was a fitness room although I didn’t use that (who wants to go to the gym on holiday?). The hotel does have someone who comes by once a week to do an organised running tour so if you are a keen runner then that is something you could get involved with. There is also a restaurant and bar on site and although we didn’t use it, the menu seemed surprisingly good and reasonably priced.
Room and Bathroom – 8/10
Location – 8.5/10
Price – 10/10
Extras (WiFi, Gym, Pool etc) – 7/10
Staff – 5/5
Parking/Commuter lines – 4/5
TOTAL – 42.5/50
WHY I LOVE WASHINGTON DC
Picture this; we were walking across the National Mall surrounded by beautiful buildings and monuments and the sun was shining. There was no pollution, in fact we couldn’t even really see a car from here. Some people playing football on the grass and others just peacefully going about their day. There was no pushing and shoving and no touts approached us, we were free to walk at our own pace.
That was the scenario I wanted from DC and that is what I got. Both of us commented that we could quite easily see ourselves living in this city and maybe having a walk down to the reflecting pool on our lunch break. The architecture is grand as you would expect from the capital city of the USA. Although you are in a city you can easily head up to Georgetown for more of a small town feel and a nice change of pace. The city is much more compact than NYC and the subway is much easier to navigate and just generally a bit nicer. It all feels clean and just a little more open plan than some other cities I have been to, I don’t remember ever really seeing any litter or poorly kept grass or anything like that. To be quite honest I would struggle to come up with any negatives! It ended up being everything I wanted and I would go back in a heartbeat.
I hope that this guide has given you a little more insight into what Washington DC has to offer and helps you to plan your trip. If you have any questions at all about Washington DC then please ask away in the comments section and I will 100% give you the best answer I can.