Blog: What to do in Washington DC?
The basic information you need to know about Washington DC to create your itinerary.
Washington DC is the political capital of the United States. Washington takes its name from the father of the country and first president of the union George Washington and DC is an acronym for the District of Columbia that is inspired by the navigator Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of the American continent for Europeans. Acquire his feminine form from the name.
The city is located on the east coast of the United States, without direct access to the ocean, but is on the edge of the Potomac River that flows into the Chesapeake Bay that gave access to the Atlantic Ocean. The city is quite small in comparison to other metropolis in the United States, the population in the city is close to 700,000 inhabitants. However, there are two nearby states: Virginia and Maryland. People live there and most of their work and entertainment is in Washington DC, so if we count the entire metropolitan area would be about 2 million inhabitants. Washington DC is a city of much transition, since jobs change according to the government in turn. In addition to having international organizations, embassies and many business trips, the political capital of the United States has a very varied and dynamic population.
Public transportation in Washington DC
There are several ways to get around in the city: metro, bus, bicycle and walking. Sincerely Washington DC is quite small and one can walk almost everywhere, especially if it is in the National Mall area, visiting the museums as they are very close to each other. However, going from Arlington Cemetery to the Capitol or going from the White House to Georgetown, it is a fairly long walk, we recommend using any of the following means of transportation
How to use the subway in Washington DC?
The Metro in Washington DC is quite extensive, but it does not cover most of the tourist destinations that are visited in the city. For example, there are only two subway stops in the National Mall area at L'Enfant Plaza, very close to the Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian stop, very close to Smithsonian Castle and the American History Museum. But there are no stops in the memorial area of the National Mall or Tidal Basin. The metro doesn't take you to Georgetown, which is one of the neighborhoods we recommend visiting. On the other hand, it is quite useful to go to places like the Capitol, Ronald Reagan Airport, Union Station, Alexandria, the zoo and neighborhoods like U Street and Dupont Circle. You must buy a card called SmarTrip that has a cost of 2 dollars and you will have to put credit in that card and this can be done with any international credit card. ATTENTION: DO NOT THROW THE SMARTRIP CARD, BECAUSE YOU MUST USE IT TO ENTER AND EXIT THE METRO AND BUSES.
SmarTrip's buying and recharging machines are a little outdated so check out the video that appears HERE to get a better idea of how it works. However, I can not stop thinking that these machines are from the pre-industrial era and since this is the capital of the richest country in the world, they should have better ones. The rate changes according to the distance and the hour that you take the metro, the cost will vary between $ 2 USD and $ 6.00 USD. Normally you will be staying in the most tourist area, so think that each trip will cost you $ 2.75 USD and so you can estimate how much you are going to spend. But if you stay at hotels that are in the last stops of the Washington DC Metro map see that the cost will be $ 6 USD, so think about that expense when choosing your hotel in Washington DC. There is no weekly or monthly payment for the Metro, so you will always have to put credit in the SmarTrip to move in Washington DC. Here I leave a direct link so you can see the metro MAP of the city.
How to use the Circulator bus in Washington DC?
There are several bus lines that run through the city, but I'm going to focus only on one of these lines which is the most convenient for tourists and was created specifically for them: the Circulator. This line goes to all the tourist areas of the city except the Arlington National cemetery, airports or Alexandria, since they are in the state of Virginia and the Circulator exclusively runs in Washington DC. The Circulator is very convenient because you can always see everything unlike the metro that is mostly underground and could not appreciate the views of the city. As you have the opportunity to see the monuments, museums and tourist places from the Circulator, it will be easier to ask for the bus stop since it always has a stop next to the tourist place that you want to visit. The cost is fixed, $1.00 USD and does not change by distance or schedule as it happens with the Metro. You can pay the Circulator with the SmarTrip or in cash. ATTENTION: THE CIRCULATOR DOES NOT GIVE CHANGE, SO YOU MUST HAVE THE EXACT AMOUNT. Here I leave a direct link so you can see the MAP OF THE CIRCULATOR, but in the buses there are always maps and you will really use 2 lines: the red and the yellow that cover most of all the tourist destinations.
How can I use public bicycles in Washington DC from Capital Bikeshare?
The public bike system, Capital BikeShare, is an excellent option to visit the city, as there are parking lots in all tourist places, except the Arlington National Cemetery. I recommend taking the 1-day pass that costs $ 8.00 USD or the 3-day pass that costs $ 17.00 USD. These passes can be taken with your international credit card in any of the parking lots of the Capital Bikeshare and you have to park the bicycle every 30 minutes so that you do not get charge $ 2.00 USD for exceeding the time. ATTENTION: YOU CAN USE THE BIKE ALL THE TIMES YOU WANT, BUT YOU SHOULD ALWAYS PARK IT EVERY 30 MINUTES.
Thirty minutes to use Capital BikeShare is perfect because all the tourist destinations in Washington DC are less than 30 minutes including the long trip; for example, from the Capitol to the memorial of Abraham Lincoln or from the White House to Georgetown. To know where the parking lots are, there is an APP or simply stay in the main avenues and you will see the parking lots easily. Each Capital BikeShare parking lot has a map that indicates where there are other nearby parking lots in case you arrived at the parking lot and you need to park the bicycle somewhere else.
How to use the Taxis, Uber and Lift in Washington DC?
Washington DC is very small as a city and all the public transportation systems that I mentioned have their positive and negative things. However, for the size of the city I recommend that if you are 3 or more people use Taxi, Uber or Lift. The cost more or less it would be the same. Let's face it, the time when Uber and Lift were the cheapest taxis has ended especially because they are so popular that one ends up paying more with their price increase according to demand. If you are staying in Washington DC, almost all trips by taxi, Uber and Lift to all the tourist places, except airports, will come out at $ 10.00 USD, a little less or a little more. Using the taxi and walking you will see that it will be the most cost effective way to get around in Washington DC, as you will not have to learn how any of the public transportation systems work. There are many taxis in Washington DC so don't worry if you do not have internet to use Uber or Lift. For example, go from your hotel to the museum you want, visit the National Mall area, in addition to the Capitol and return from the Capitol to your hotel by taxi for about $ 20.00 round trip.
Arriving from Ronald Reagan Airport, Washington Dulles International or Baltimore / Washington International to Washington DC, can be done using public transportation.
There are three airports that bring passengers to Washington DC: Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA), Washington Dulles International (IAD) and Baltimore / Washington International (BWI) Most tourists will arrive by the first two airports and some arrive by the airport that is in Baltimore. The best airport to get to Washington DC is Ronald Reagan, which is very close to the city and when you walk in the National Mall you can see how the planes take off and land. This airport only has domestic flights and is quite small so it is very convenient to get there if you are traveling in the United States. Washington Dulles International Airport is further away, but this is the airport you will arrive to if you are coming directly from another country and most airlines from different parts of the world arrive there. The last airport you can get to is Baltimore / Washington International. You will mostly arrive at that airport if your flight arrives from the west coast or southwest in the United States. All airports have a economic possibility with public transportation to get to Washington DC.
How to get from Ronald Reagan National Airport to Washington DC?
The Washington DC subway arrives at the Ronald Reagan airport and takes you directly to the city center in 15 minutes by using the yellow or blue line. The cost will be from $ 2.50 USD to $ 3.00 USD depending on where you go. You must have the SmarTrip, if you want to know more about the Metro "CLICK" here. Taxis are also a relatively cheap option because the airport is very close to the city.
How to get from Washington Dulles International Airport to Washington DC?
There are two ways to get from that airport to the center of the city. The most convenient is Bus 5A that leaves the airport at Gate 4 and says "Baggage / Transportation." Go down the ramp to the exit and cross to the middle where buses and taxis pass, there is a sign that says Bus 5A on the Bus 2E stop. This bus will take you to L'Enfant Plaza Metro on D Street between 6th and 7th SW It will also stop at Rosselyn Metro. There are several hotels there and they are very close to Georgetown, it may suit you stay at that station, the journey takes about 1 hour between the airport and Washington DC The cost is $ 7.50 and you can pay it in cash or with the SmarTrip ATTENTION: IF YOU PAY IN CASH, REMEMBER TO CARRY THE EXACT EXCHANGE AS THE BUS DRIVER DO NOT GIVE YOU CHANGE. I leave a MAP to see the schedules.
The second bus is the SYLVER LINE EXPRESS this depart door 4 at the airport "Baggage Claim level" but at the top, every 20 minutes. It costs $ 5.00 USD and connects it to the Metro Wiehle-Reston East Metro of the Gray line. There you will have to take out a SmarTrip and pay to use the Metro. ATTENTION: THE SYLVER LINE EXPRESS BUS CAN ONLY BE PAID IN CASH. You end up paying about $ 9.00 USD between the Express bus and the Metro to get to Washington DC. The trip takes about 1 hour between the airport and Washington DC, therefore, you have to see which of the two options suits you best according to your schedule.
How to get from Baltimore / Washington International Airport to Washington DC?
There are two ways to get to this airport from Washington DC. The most convenient is to go to the Union Station and buy a MARC train ticket on the Penn line that will take you to the airport in about 45 minutes and has a cost of $ 8.00 USD that you can pay in cash or with an international credit card. There is a free bus that connects the BWI MARC train station with the BWI airport. Here I leave the SCHEDULES of the train. ATTENTION: THIS TRAIN IN THE WEEKENDS HAS LESS FREQUENCY THAT IN THE REST OF THE DAYS OF WEEK.
The second least recommended option is to take the bus that goes to the Baltimore airport, B30 and has a cost of $ 7.50 USD that can be paid in cash or with the SmarTrip. That leaves the Greenbelt Metro, must add the cost of the Metro that would be about $ 4.00 more. At the airport you can find it in the lower part of the International Flight Terminal and the other is in the lower part of Terminal A / B. ATTENTION: THIS BUS ONLY PASSES 1 TIME EVERY MONDAY TO FRIDAY AND NOT THE WEEKENDS. Here I leave the SCHEDULES of the bus.
Arrive using bus or train from New York to Washington DC
Most of all tourists come to visit Washington DC from New York and the best way to get to the city is via bus or train. Taking a plane will cost more money, time and worry, so I recommend you use the train or bus according to your preference. Both transportation systems take about 4 hours between New York and Washington DC so there is not much difference in time, since there are no high-speed trains in the United States. There are many bus companies that come to Washington DC and the prices are the cheapest. The train is the most expensive, but it is also the most comfortable, although if you take the tickets with time you will be able to find reasonable prices.
How to get there by bus from New York to Washington DC?
There are many companies that offer the bus service: MegaBus, BestBus, Chinatown Bus, GoBuses, Greyhound, BoltBus, PeterPan and Eastern. The service is very similar among all these companies. You expect to pay between $ 15.00 to $ 20.00 per ticket from New York to Washington DC. If you take the bus at early morning hours, 1am to 3am, you may find prices starting at $ 10.00 USD and you save your hotel night in New York, while enjoying a play on Broadway or just hanging out at Times Square. There are also companies like MegaBus that offer tickets at $ 1.00 USD but you must ask for them with MONTHS in advance. To limit the time of search of prices and schedules there are two search engines that will help WANDERU and GOTOBUS. There you can buy the tickets, see the time the trip takes, the company and where they depart. If you wish, you can check the price on the company website that appears on these results and you could find $ 1.00 or $ 2.00 discount. ATTENTION: IN NEW YORK THE BUS COMPANIES DEPART FROM DIFFERENT PLACES AND ALTHOUGH IN WASHINGTON DC MOSTLY ARRIVE AT THE UNION STATION, BUT NOT ALL ARRIVE THERE.
How to get there by Amtrak train from New York to Washington DC?
Trains between New York and Washington DC depart from Union Station (Washington DC) which is the only train station and Penn Station (New York) ATTENTION: PENN STATION IS NOT A GRAND CENTRAL STATION IN NEW YORK. Train tickets are normally $ 100.00 USD, but if you book it a few weeks in advance they cost $ 50.00 USD, the lowest price. There are two sites on the internet to buy the ticket, in advance, from AMTRAK or WANDERU. The train usually takes 30 minutes or 1 hour less than the bus on the way from New York to Washington DC.
Museums in Washington DC, Smithsonian Institute completely free.
Washington DC has the largest museum complex in the world and is completely free thanks to the donations made by each person, businesses and wealthy families. However, the land and buildings are public domain therefore these works of art will always be available to all who visit us. The first donation came from a british man, James Smithson who in his will left a fortune of $ 500,000 USD of our current currency to the new nation, the United States, to create a scientific institution to help increase and spread knowledge in the capital Washington DC in 1836. James Smithson never came to the United States and this was a completely voluntary gesture for the new nation in the American continent. The congress took almost 10 years to establish the Smithsonian Institution in 1846 and after 150 years it is the largest museum complex in the world completely free. The hours are between 10am and 5:30 pm, although there are some days when museums are open until 7:30 pm during summer.
What are the Smithsonian museums that I should not miss?
The three most visited and famous museums of the city are the Air and Space, Natural History and American History musuems. However, there is a wide variety of museums that I think are worth seeing and are completely free such as the Museum of Native Americans, the Museum of African Americans, the Museum of the Post Office and the Art Gallery. If you want to know more about each museum you can see this web link of the SMITHSONIAN complex or visit the Smithsonian castle where they will give you all the information of each of the museums. The castle is in the center of the National Mall, impossible not to see it.
The National Air and Space Museum and Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
The Air and Space museum is the most famous and most visited throughout the United States. This must be the only museum that should not be missed because it is really unique since the development of aviation and the race to space in the United States has been very important. The main museum NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM is located in the National Mall, near the metro L'Enfant Plaza. Here you can see the Apollo 11 Capsule with which they returned from the moon, the first V-2 ballistic missile, the Wright brothers plane and the Spirit of San Luis.
This museum has a second building that is worth visiting: the STEVEN F. UDVAR-HAZY Center, very close to Washington Dulles International Airport. To get to this museum using public transport, you must go on the Silver line of the metro to Wiehle Reston-East and take bus 981 or 983. Here is the bus ITINERARY. That bus also goes through Washington Dulles International Airport. If you arrive at that airport or take off from it you can visit the museum as it is a great opportunity to see a space shuttle, the fastest plane in the world Black Bird or the Enola Gay who threw the first atomic bomb. There are some lockers in the museum, but not for large suitcases, however, they allow you to visit the museum with a suitcase, if you can not leave your suitcase at the airport; take the bus to the museum and return to the airport. ATTENTION: IF YOU VISIT THAT MUSEUM WITH LUGGAGE, REMEMBER THAT IN ALL MUSEUMS YOU CAN NOT CARRY ARMS OR FOOD. The cost to go to the museum with public transportation will be about $ 7.00 USD.
National Museum of Natural History
This museum is located in the center of the National Mall and is dedicated to present the evolution of Planet Earth and the history of all the living and dead species of our planet. This museum is quite big and is designed so you can interact in the different rooms that are in it. You will see scientists working with fossils, there is an impressive display of precious stones, including the largest Blue Diamond in the world; a statue of Easter Island and dissected mammals. These are some of the treasures found in this museum. The NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY is located near the Federal Triangle or Smithsonian metro.
National American History Museum
This museum is the largest in the National Mall, they consider it the wardrobe of the American people. Here you can see the evolution of the United States from the cultural, scientific and social point of view. There are treasures in all aspects. For example, there are the shoes of Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz, the flag that inspired the national anthem, the first Apple II, the revolver of Colt and the dresses of all the first ladies from Martha Washington to the present day. I recommend visiting this museum according to the topic that interests them so as not to get lost among so many things, since they have 3 million items in that building. The NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY is located on the National Mall near the Smithsonian Metro.
Other museums in Washington DC completely free: Holocaust Museum and the National Archives
Washington DC has more museums that are not part of the Smithsonian Institution that are also completely free. I invite you to visit the museums that are dedicated to the Holocaust of the Jews during the Second World War and the National Archives.
How can I visit the National Archives?
The NATIONAL ARCHIVES in Washington DC are a gem that few foreign tourists visit. It is in this building that the three basic documents of the foundation of the country are preserved: The Declaration of Independence of 1776 announcing the separation of the 13 colonies of England when creating a new independent country, the Constitution of the United States of 1787 that has in itself the division of powers of the new republic and that impacted more than 100 countries that used it as a model to create its constitution and the Bill of Rights of 1789, which are the first 10 amendments to the Constitution that they grant individual rights as citizens of the United States of America. It is in this document that we find the famous second amendment that gives every American citizen the right to carry arms for his protection.
In the National Archives there are several temporary exhibitions that show the historical evolution of the United States from the perspective of the documents. I think it's worth visiting this place, even if it's to see the documents of the foundation of the country and that does not take more than 30 minutes. It is open every day from 10am to 5:30 pm. The address is 700 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20408 and the closest Metro is Archives-Navy Memorial, green and yellow line, the entrance to the Archives is by Constitution Avenue.
How can I visit the Holocaust Museum?
The HOLOCAUST MUSEUM is not part of the Smithsonian complex and its entrance is completely free. It is one of the most popular in the city. The museum focuses on the history of the genocide of the Jewish population in Europe before and during World War II. There are also temporary exhibitions about other genocides in other parts of the world. This museum is visited chronologically from the top floor, which is the birth of Nazi power and goes down to the extermination of 6 of the 9 million Jewish population in Europe.
It is easy to visit this museum during the months of September to February when there are fewer people visiting Washington DC, but from March to August you have to order the tickets for the main exhibit in advance. I leave a link so you can BOOK THE TICKETS if they come during that time. If you can not book tickets for the day you want to come, you must go to the museum before 10am to line up and receive a ticket. ATTENTION, BETWEEN MAY AND JUNE YOU MUST BE IN THE MUSEUM WITH 2 HOURS OF ANTICIPATION IF YOU DO NOT HAVE TICKETS, TO BE ABLE TO OBTAIN SOME TICKET. The museum is open from 10h-17:30h. The address is 100 Raoul Wallenberg Pl SW, Washington, DC 20024 and the nearest Metro is Smithsonian blue, orange and gray line. There are entrances on 15th and 14th streets, but it is recommended that if they come in small groups enter through 14th Street, since 15th Street is reserved for large groups of 40 or more people.
Private Museums that are not free in the city but are worth visiting
There are some pay museums in the city of Washington DC that are worth visiting: Newseum, International Spy Museum, National Geographic and the Phillips Gallery of Modern Art. Visiting hours start at 9 am-5pm
How can I visit the Newseum?
If you have to pay for one of the few private museums in Washington DC it should be the NEWSEUM. It shows the evolution of the written press and news video, as well as great historical moments from the perspective of the reporters. There is a section dedicated to September 11 and it has the communication antenna that was in the World Trade Center. They have pieces of the Berlin Wall, the photographs that won Pulitzer and a panoramic view of the impressive Pennsylvania Avenue. The cost of this museum is $ 25.00 USD for adults and children pay $ 15.00 USD. It is located at 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. and the closest metro is Archives / Navy memorial.
How can I visit the International Spy Museum?
The INTERNATIONAL SPY MUSEUM is very interactive for both children and adults. In this museum you can see real artifacts that spies have used throughout history and you will also see fanciful artifacts from our fictional spies like James Bond. Very interesting the museum. They are going to open a new building and there they will be able to show everything they keep in their stores. The cost is $ 22.00 USD per adult and children pay $ 15.00 USD. It is located at 800 F Street, NW Washington, DC and the nearest Metro is Gallery Plaza / Chinatown.
How can I visit the National Geographic Museum?
The magazine NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC was born in Washington DC in 1888 and its popularity grew with its spectacular photographs of our planet Earth and those who inhabit it. This museum has temporary exhibitions that change during the year. It is worth visiting as one is impressed with the photographs they take of the animals. The cost is $ 15.00 USD per adult and children pay $ 10.00 USD. It is located at 1145 17th Street, NW Metro Farragut West.
How can I visit the Phillips Modern Art Gallery?
The Phillips family created their wealth with investments and mining, however, the great passion was modern art and thanks to their purchasing power they were able to buy modern art such as Cezanne, Van Gogh, Matisse, etc. In 1929 they opened his home in Dupont Circle as a museum of modern art PHILLIPS COLLECTION. This family was the one that introduced modern art in the United States. The cost is $ 12.00 per adult and children are free. It is located at 1600 21st Street NW and the closest Metro is Dupont Circle.
Visit Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington
MOUNT VERNON is one of the few homes of a president that you can see and that will transport it to the colonial 18th century of the United States. There are actors in the house who are dedicated to recreate the time of George Washington and it is worth talking to them. The mansion is very simple compared to our 21st century standards, but the view of the Potomac River is impressive. It must be recognized that George Washington lived in a beautiful place and he asked to be buried in his house and that is where you can see the sarcophagus of the founding father of the country. The cost of visiting Mount Vernon is $ 20.00 USD per person.
There are several ways to get to Mount Vernon: metro with bus, boat and bicycle.
How can I get to Mount Vernon via metro and bus?
Take the yellow line metro to Huntington and then transfer to bus 101 that drops you off at the Mount Vernon Visitor Center. Here I leave the timetable BUS 101 and the cost should be about $ 12.00 USD round trip.
There is a private bus that makes the trip to Mount Vernon from the town of Alexandria. It leaves from the visitor center 221 King St, Alexandria, VA at 9am or 1:30 pm and returns at 1pm or 4:30 pm with enough time to visit the place. To buy tickets in advance, click HERE. The cost is $ 26.00 round trip from Alexandria, Virginia.
How can I get to Mount Vernon by boat?
The company Spirit Cruises offers a boat trip on the Potomac River to Mount Vernon, the trip takes 3 hours round trip plus three hours of free time to visit the mansion and the entrance fee is included: $ 50.00 USD. The ship departs at 8am and returns at 3pm from the Navy yard south of Washington DC 600 Water St SW, Washington, DC. Here is the link of the SPIRIT CRUISES website in case you are interested. The Metro Waterfront-SEU is the closest to reach the Marina where Spirit Cuises is located.
How can I get to Mount Vernon by bicycle?
The company Bike and Roll offers, during the weekends, to rent a bicycle from the town of Alexandria at 10am and from there to go by bicycle next to the Potomac River with lanes only for cyclists and some impressive landscapes. The tour is independent and the bike ride is 9 miles or 14 kilometers, includes the entrance to the Mansion and a bus company that picks them up in Mount Vernon at 3pm for $ 68.00 USD. Here is the link of the site if you are interested in BIKE AND ROLL.