Two Trekkers believe a trip to the US isn’t complete without a visit to Washington DC. This place is the proud beating heart of America. It’s where you can arrive not knowing a thing about the United States and after a week of visiting all the museums and monuments you’re an expert on all things American. From the continents natural and ancient history, it’s politics and political systems, Americas wartime history, African American slavery, Indigenous cultures, notable people, art, music, invention and technology – It’s all here and it’s all freeeeeee!
Here are our tips and tricks for maximizing the most of your stay in the capital city!
1. Stay central and stay in an apartment!
We stayed five nights in an Airbnb a few metro stops from Capitol Hill. This meant we could easily reach the National Mall and surrounding areas each day and could also self cater meals. It’s also much cheaper than staying in any of the hotels in DC.
2. Get a metro card
Cards are $2 and you load money on them for travel. Just don’t overload as once you’re done you can’t get the money on card refunded! Use the metro to get into the mall with a mix of walking. There are pleanty of metro stops throughout the mall at regular intervals. It’s also a good idea to get off at the furtherest stop then walk back to where you need to go.
3. Check Uber before you Metro
We amazingly scored an Uber Pool ride home to our apartment for $3 for the two of us! Cheaper then the metro! We caught another one from our apartment to the bus station and it was only slightly more expensive then the metro and 10 times more convenient then lugging your packs around the metro.
4. Plan your day but also have a back up
We headed to the Air and Space museum later in the day and the queues to get in were insane! We decided not to wait and headed to some of the smaller and less busy attractions like the African American Art Museum and the Asian Art Museum. If you didn’t have any spare days then this would be a massive thorn in your side.
5. Go early (or late)
The popular attractions like the Air and Space, The American History and The Natural History museums are always busy and full of kids!! Head there first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the craziest times.
6. Arlington Cemetery is a must see!
It can be super hot wandering the lawns so take water and your hat. We were so privileged to see a traditional funeral ceremony with the folding of the American flag, the firing of rifles and the bugle playing. A sombre and patriotic experience. The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was also worth waiting for as well as a chance to rest. Finally, don’t miss touring the Arlington House that includes beautiful gardens and views over the National Mall.
7. Friday Fun
If you’re in DC on a summer Friday head to the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden for some free jazz in the afternoon. Laze in the gardens with the locals and enjoy a beer or refreshing jug of sangria.
8. National Mall Monuments
It’s a long walk, but totally doable, to check out all the monuments along the National Mall in half a day starting at Capitol Hill then working your way down to The White House, Washington Monument, WW2 Monument, the reflecting pools and the Lincoln Memorial. We also recommend checking out the monuments at night – they’re all lit up and it’s much cooler walking around without the blazing summer sun on your back!
9. Mix it up with Monuments and Galleries
A monument morning followed by a gallery afternoon taking in the galleries during the hottest part of the afternoon is a good idea. The American Art Gallery and National Portrait museum were our favourites. By organizing your day you can maximize your time as everything is very spread out and a lot bigger then you think!
10. NPS Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens
If you have a car, definitely check out the NPS Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens. Our fabulous Airbnb host took us for a look and it boasts the most amazing ponds full of rare water lillies and lotus flowers! We had never seen anything like it – truly magical!