On a small spec of land between Maryland and Virginia (with Delaware nearby) is the capital of the United States, Washington D.C. It isn’t a state, want to know why? When the framers of our country back in 1787 decided where the capital would be they didn’t want one state to seem more powerful than any others. At first it was going to be in Philadelphia but that was changed fast. Instead they named a District to house the capital. Over time memorials and monuments filled the city, also housing several museums in one area (called the National Mall) which makes it perfect for visiting if you love old archecture, history, or nature (lots of parks and gardens!)
Getting to Washington D.C.
There are several international airports in the area meaning it’s easy to price compare to each one if needing the cheapest is what you need. Ronald Reagan Washington International Airport is the closest to the city and all airplanes seem to come in for a landing from the southwest, meaning if you’re on the left side of the plane you should get an awesome view of the National Mall (featuring Washington Monument, Lincoln Monument and several others). The other one is Dulles (pronounced dull-us not “dools”) International Airport which is just outside of the city, meaning if you have a rental car situation that might be best. The last is Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Airport which is actually in Baltimore, Maryland.
I know what you’re probably thinking, “I don’t have a car and that’s nowhere near D.C!” Unlike the rest of the US Baltimore and Washington D.C. are easy to get to if you don’t have a car. There is a train station at the Baltimore Airport, a local train called MARC and the Amtrak (I’ll talk about them more later). Outside of the airport there is a shuttle to the MARC/Amtrak station and it’ll take you there (it comes every 15 minutes). There you can buy a one way ticket and take that train to D.C. You can’t miss the stop, since the signs all look like this:
If you don’t see the sign, the D.C. stop is the last one on the train and all of the doors open for that so it’s really hard to miss even if you can’t hear the conductor or read the signs from the train. For pricing information I took a picture of this below. It’s the most recent and up to date information I have as of October 2017.
You want the Penn Line in this instance. To and from BWI is $7 one way. They have 5 day week passes, 7 day week passes, and monthly passes all at different prices. Also children under 6 and senior citizens (65+) have different pricing as well. Since this can easily change I suggest asking once you get here.
Taking the Train
If you’re already in the country and want to see D.C. but don’t have a car this is another option. I’m surprised more people don’t take it to be honest. It’s so much cheaper than flying (although does take longer) and there isn’t a restriction on luggage. Although the train has become less popular in this country and many train tracks have been taken out of many regions (I’m looking at you New England) it is still a way to get around. There are local trains that get to D.C. like the MARC (I just mentioned) and there is also the Virginia Express Railway (guess you can’t figure out when state that comes from!). Amtrak is a train that goes all over the country. They do have a hub in D.C. so if you’re coming from any major city, New York City, Chicago, Jacksonville, or even as far away as Los Angeles taking the train is an easy and cheap option.
Taking the Bus
There are many regional buses in the country and this is usually the second option people take when not using a car to get around (the first is flying). The biggest bus company is Greyhound. Everyone has heard of it. They have hubs in every city, even in some moderate or small towns. It’s another cheap option and again, no restriction on luggage like an airplane. There are smaller ones like Megabus is super cheap with tickets starting at $1 one way (they aren’t always that cheap). There are others too, Continental might go that far south (they’re mostly the northeast) and there is a Chinese bus that goes from Canada to Virginia too.
A car is how most Americans get around so naturally that’s the first option many people have. Renting a car can be inexpensive but they like people to be over 25 in most situations. If you are under that age some companies will allow you to be 23 with an extra cost, while others will go as young as 21. If you’re 18 there are some companies that will allow that to happen, but it’s rare and it’s more expensive. It’s awful being young, isn’t it?
Getting Around D.C.
I actually think you don’t need a car to get around Washington D.C! There is a bus system, not only that but they have a subway system too and the city itself is walkable and they have bike rentals ($2 a ride for 30 minutes or less). Parking looks like nightmare so if you have a car, I suggest leaving it at your hotel unless you really think you need it.
I wrote a whole guide to take the subway if you’ve never been on one before here. The D.C. subway system is fast, clean, and easy to get around once you get used to everything. The stations are well lite as well. There are several good and bad things about using subway system.
- Fast pace (doesn’t slow down during rush hour)
- Cheap ($2-$4 depending on the stop)
- When you need to transfer the other subway meets in the same station, just go up or down a floor
- More room for other people
- Trains come frequently and a time table is shown when the next one is coming
- It goes all over D.C. and connects to the local rail lines for getting out of the city without a car
- It’s pretty complicated and confusing (especially if you’ve never ridden on a subway before)
- Very loud
- Can’t see the city passing by out the window
There are both local buses and tourist buses in Washington D.C. and it’s called the metrobus. If you buy a monthly pass with the MARC train then it has complimentary tickets for the metrobus as well. Just like the subway they have different fares for different times of the day (during rush hour or not) and the price changes depending at what stop you stop at. This is what they say on their website, “Metrobus fare for regular routes is $2.00 using a SmarTrip® card or cash. The fare for express routes is $4.25 using a SmarTrip® card or cash. Fare for seniors and people with disabilities is $1.00 for regular routes, $2.10 on express routes.” If you do have a car and need to use the bus thy do have parking stations at some of their bus stops. Because D.C. is such a small area, they go into Virginia and Maryland also.
Renting a Bike
Bike rentals are common in Washington D.C. now. The city is relatively flat and if you don’t want to spend your time getting on one subway to a different bus all day this is can a good alternative. One bike company I saw said it was $2 per ride for up to 30 minutes. If you wanted it for longer you’d have to pay more. There aren’t many bike lanes around the city though, so many ride on the sidewalk. There is plenty of “bike parking” areas everywhere you go so putting the bike up with a bike lock shouldn’t be an issue.
Whether you already have a car or you’re renting one, I’m not completely sure it’ll be worth it. Like most cities parking is hard to find and is metered everywhere. Washington D.C. is not even 70 square miles (or 112 square kilometers). The rest of the United States is very car centrentic but I don’t suggest brining one here.
Where to Eat in Washington D.C.
While I was in D.C. there was a huge event there so it seemed like there was 100 food trucks of every kind of food you can imagine in the National Mall. I don’t know if this is an every day occurrence or not. Indian food, Mexican food, Philly Cheese steaks, Ice Cream, Burgers, and just about everything else was at this place. If you have the thought that food trucks are a cheap alternative while in Washington D.C. you’re wrong. They costed about the same, if not more, than regular restaurant food. A hot dog was $7, and it was just a normal one, nothing added onto it. Most of the burgers and sandwiches advertised 7-10 dollars each. At the National Mall there isn’t that much seating either. Unless you really like the food truck experience I suggest going to an actual restaurant or grocery shop.
Like the rest of the U.S. the closer you are to the tourist area the more expensive food is. I mostly ate in the train station but full meals including drinks were around 8-12 dollars each. If you’re staying less than 4 days I think this wouldn’t be a bad way to eat most of the time. If you’re staying for longer I suggest going grocery shopping.
What to Do While in Washington D.C.
This zoo is gigantic, I think I lost 10 pounds just from walking to one side to the other. It’s 163 acres, which is a lot of walking! Plan accordingly if you’re coming here with small children. I know people don’t really like the idea of zoos but I couldn’t resist writing about it! Entrance is free, but the pamphlet they give you with a map is $5. They like donations, of course. The habitats the animals are in are huge and they sure do like to hide. Here you can see a sloth bear, which isn’t a sloth at all. You can also learn about the panda’s natural habitat in Asia and how to help protect the environment. The subway stop you want is Woodley Park on the red line. It’s a few blocks down Continental Blvd. Parking lots get full fast, I didn’t see any meters for the zoo itself but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Plan accordingly.
The most famous landmark in the city, and when it was first built in 1848 it was the tallest building in the world and it reminds us the first president of the United States of America, George Washington. As of right now the elevator is out of commission. Something we read said indefinitely but another said until 2019. Nothing I read said the stairs were closed but I didn’t climb them while I was there. The best place to see it is from the Lincoln Memorial. It is free to enter. The subway stop is Smithsonian on the red line. Parking is all metered and there isn’t many places surrounding the area.
Across the reflecting pool (which is disgusting by the way, so much algae, it doesn’t seem to come up in pictures) is the Lincoln Memorial. Surprisingly this is a long walk, at least, longer than I expected. This monument reminds us of the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. For those that don’t know he was the president during the civil war and freed the slaves in 1863 and kept the United States together when the south wanted to separate. On one of the walls is his famous Gettysburg Address. The best part is, turn around when at the top of the stairs and get the most famous view in the city (pictured under “Getting Around D.C.”).
World War II Memorial
This one wasn’t on many lists of things to do while in Washington D.C. and the main reason is it’s relatively new. It was only completed in 2008, although the project was started in 2004 all while Bush was president. The amazing thing about this memorial is it remembers both sides of the World War, the Pacific and the Atlantic (so Europe and Asian/Pacific Islander side as well). Along the main entrance is sculptures depicting different events of the war. One was of the red cross, showing how different women helped out. Others were manufacturing airplanes (pictured), a recently new invention of the time and showed D-Day and several other events. My favorite part of the memorial was this:
This was the best picture I could get of it because there were so many people. Shown is Lady Liberty, in this case “walking liberty.” This was on coins in the late 1800s and before World War I. She has her foot on a helmet and a broken sword saying, “This is done, the war is over.” Above it are eagles (the most American thing ever, am I right?) carrying a wreath by a ribbon (not pictured.)
American Indian Museum
As I write this out Thanksgiving is just over a month away and I remember that this is practically the only time of year we Americans even remember that Native Americans exist, or that they were here before us. Even though many people claim to have Native American ancestry (including myself) we tend to forget about a whole race of people. This museum talks about the past and present Native Americans including those in South America as well, not just the ones in the US and Canada. There are several cultural events at this museum at different times of the day, different days of the week, in case you were interested. In the picture is a way many tribal women would carry their baby on their back.
Natural History Museum
The entire world’s history outside of human interference is explained here, who wouldn’t want to learn about that? This elephant must me the most famous one by the way, if you see pictures of “the Smithsonian” online it’s usually this guy above. The architecture of this building is amazing by the way. Everything from Pangea, sea animals, and what makes the earth’s surface, is explained here.
Constitution Gardens — Declaration of Independence
No one told me about this being here either. In the middle of the Constitution Gardens is a memorial from 1976 showcasing the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. It has an small explanation of where these people were from and who they were (mostly lawyers). It’s the document that started it all and it’s in a fun little park to enjoy.
In the Washington D.C./Baltimore area? Now you can save 40% on tickets to Ripley’s Believe it or Not! in Baltimore, Maryland.