It feels a little bizarre to think of Washington, DC as a travel destination since we are only about 90 miles south, but it’s considered to be one of the top destinations in the world. People will ask me (who have never visited) if it’s like New York or Boston, or some other east coast cities, and I always say no. Maybe I have a skewed view? Anyway, DC is a city of beautiful architecture, history, and culture. You don’t see high-rises. It’s a little more laid-back (as far as hustle and bustle compared to NY) and political. AND there’s a ton of free stuff to do. So, here we go!
The National Zoo-Free Admission: The highlight of the zoo (imo) are the panda bears, but there is a ton of amazing animals to see here. The kiddos usually love it!
The Jefferson, Lincoln, and Washington Monuments-Free Admission: These three monuments are all within walking distance of each other, and are so rich in history that you can’t help just be in awe. The Lincoln monument is my favorite!
The Supreme Court-Free Admission: You can take a tour of the facilities and see where some of our vital court cases are decided that have the biggest impact on our country.
The Capitol-Free Admission: Located at the other end of the mall from the Washington Monument, the Capitol is an absolutely beautiful building. Here you’ll see House of Cards play out in real life.
The White House-Free Admission: Not sure this needs a description. However, to get a tour, you have to contact your congressman to get on the list. I’d do this many months in advance.
The 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon-Free Admission: This is actually located in Arlington, so you’ll want to Uber (which I HIGHLY recommend through DC), but it’s a somber, reverent place that is a must. So many people who served our country died on their own soil, so it’s just my personal opinion that they deserve the respects that many pay to them everyday.
Arlington Cemetery-Free Admission: Also located in Arlington, it’s a place that makes you feel so proud to be an American. It’s also a reverent place, so I’d curb the kids enthusiasm while you’re there. Make sure to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier , which occurs every hour on the hour. There’s few places that I feel every American should visit, and this is one of them.
The Holocaust Museum-Free Admission: This is a fabulous museum, but extremely sobering. Don’t recommend for little kids, but middle-high schoolers should be fine. I’d recommend asking an attendant if the exhibit your about to enter is too much for someone who may be in 6-8th grade. It’s fascinating, sob-worthy, and again, IMO, necessary for us to know our history so that it can shape our future.
The Smithsonian-Free Admission: You’ll need days to get through the museums, but some of our country’s most historic moments are recorded here. You can see Jackie O’s dress from the day that JFK was shot, pre-historic artifacts, the original flag that inspired the Star-Spangled Banner, George Washington’s uniform, all kinds of spaceship stuff, etc. I highly recommend the Air and Space Museum and the American History Museum.
The Newseum: This is a current/historic news museum. Way cooler than what it sounds like. They have theaters, original items from some of our history’s major news stories, etc. Check out their website here.
Walk around the blocks near the White House/Capitol-Free: In just walking these blocks, you will see the Dept. of the Treasury, Diplomat houses, Dept. of Agriculture, and any other government building you can think of.
Georgetown-Free: Just wander through this stunning and historic campus, full of beautiful architecture, gorgeous landscape, and vibrant activity (when students are around).
Georgetown: Hands down, my favorite place to shop (tied with SoHo in NYC). Walk all along M street, up Wisconsin, and a few other side streets to find fabulous shopping. You’ll find everything from high-end to boutiques that you’ve never heard of. It’s awesome. Also, if you’re there Mon-Thurs, stop in at Georgetown Cupcake for one of their melt-in-your-mouth cupcakes (love their strawberry and peanut butter cupcakes!). On Fri-Sun, the lines too long and I’m impatient.
Pentagon City Mall: This mall is your typical mall, but it has a really great Nordstrom and Macy’s. Expect the typical stores, plus lots of Redskins, Caps, Nats, and Wizards paraphernalia. There’s also a great Bloomingdales nearby.
There’s also some other great places to shop, but they’re all pretty far outside the city. I honestly thing that Georgetown is the best.
The Ritz-Carlton-Pentagon City: Don’t freak out. Here’s why I’m suggesting this one…it’s considered to be a business Ritz, so their higher prices are during the work-week. If you’re going on the weekend, it’s pretty reasonable. It’s also across the street from the Pentagon (there’s a walkway), and the memorial there. It’s connected to Pentagon City Mall, where there is a metro on the bottom floor, which makes for convenient transportation (again though, in DC, I’d recommend Uber). It’s literally a 5 minute ride across the Potomac to get into DC.
The Willard (an Intercontinental hotel): This is going to be a pricey option. BUT if money is no object, it’s the place to stay. Centrally located to everything, it’s jaw-dropping gorgeous, and there’s a chance you’ll see some of your congressmen milling about (go have a drink at Round Robin).
Across the street from The Willard is the JW Marriott, which is a little cheaper and also is a great location.
Up the road, close to the Adam’s Morgan area, is the Marriott Marquis. This is cheaper than the previous two hotels listed, but is within a 20 minute walk of the Mall, Washington Monument, etc. It’s also bright, open, and airy, which is not common in DC.
For a cheaper option, there is the Hilton Garden Inn, which is also located a few blocks away from all the major DC spots. Easily walkable! Closer to DuPont Circle, is the Hilton Washington, and the Capital Hilton.
Finally, and I’m going to make this a stop at some point, is the new Trump Hotel, formerly the US Post Office. It opens in the fall of 2016, and it’s the historical Post Office that they’ve renovated. Word on the street is that it is STUNNING. Apparently they kept a lot of the character that came with the original Post Office. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
*Staying in DC can be very expensive. You could easily stay in Alexandria or Arlington, VA and metro or Uber in. It’s a quick, cheap ride as both cities are directly across the Potomac from DC, and your hotel options are likely to be cheaper.
POV: This is a rooftop bar with 360 degree views of DC. They’ve got great food, drinks, and music. It’s a great night spot in the summertime! They do enclose it in the winter, so you can still enjoy. If you’re going on a weekend, I’d recommend reservations.
Filomena: If you like Italian food, this place is amazing. It’s a little pricier, but it’s worth it. Also, side note, the portions are HUGE. You can always save $ by splitting with someone. It’s typical DC, and located off M St in Georgetown. I wouldn’t recommend jeans, but you could easily get away with black skinnies and heels, etc. Also, if it’s around a holiday, they DECK OUT the decor. It’s awesome. Highly recommend reservations any day of the week.
Peacock Cafe: This is a great brunch, lunch, or dinner spot. Located a block or two off of M Street in the Georgetown area, it’s typical American fare. Affordable and brunch/lunch reservations aren’t necessary (unless you have a large group). Sit outside on a beautiful day! We like to pop in here for lunch in the middle of a Georgetown shopping day.
Old Ebbitt Grill: A historical bar, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is a great spot for meals and after-dinner drinks. It’s been around since 1856 and is a hot spot for old presidents and current politicians alike.
Mr. Smith’s: Located on the Georgetown waterfront, this has an old saloon feel that is great for afternoon/evening drinks.
Old Glory: If you like BBQ, this is a great spot. Also located in the heart of Georgetown on M Street, it has 4 floors, with a rooftop bar for later-in-the-night festivities.
Just a couple quick other things:
- If you enjoy running/walking, start at the Washington Monument, then jog all the way to the Capitol building and back. It’s a couple miles all in, and a great people-watching activity too!
- Go down to the Potomac and rent a boat, paddleboat, etc. Seeing DC from the water is fun!
- Come to DC during Cherry Blossom season. It’s beautiful!
- Go hang out on the Georgetown Waterfront….there’s some shops, restaurants, marinas, etc. that make for a fun day!