I have always wanted to visit our nation’s capitol. I thought it would be interesting to see the area that our country stems from and all the sites where history has occurred. Last week I had a couple days off of work and decided I would do a quick trip to Washington D.C. I would have two full days, an evening, and a morning. Knowing that there is a lot to see, I did my research and made a game-plan in order to see as much as I could during my time there. In this post, I will share with you the accommodations, transportation, and site-seeing that I did throughout my stay.
When looking for hotels in the area, the cheapest I would usually be able to find were $200/night. Farther out of the National Mall area of D.C. there were usually hotels for cheaper, but still above my budget. I ended up using AirBnB to book a place for my stay. There were a lot of options both near the National Mall, and others farther away from the main area. I wanted to be as close to the National Mall as possible, so I ended up booking an AirBnB that was a 10-min drive from the National Mall. It ended up being less than $200 for all three nights I stayed there. I had my own bedroom and shared the bathroom with the host who was very welcoming. It was located on Minnesota Avenue which was fun since that’s where I am from. This was my first experience staying in an AirBnB by myself, and I felt very safe and comfortable and would definitely do it again.
From where I was staying, Ubers were the easiest way to get around. They were usually $8-13/trip. There is a metro system that I didn’t look into; had I stayed farther away this would have been very useful. There were also Bikeshare bikes you could rent: $2/30min or $8/day. Of course you could drive as well, but I did not want to deal with the hectic roads or paying for parking; Uber was my best friend for transportation.
I had worked the night before so I came home and slept for a couple hours before making the 6-hr drive from Charleston. I had booked a Monuments At Night bus tour for 7:30pm. I had gotten many recommendations that seeing the monuments at night was a must-do because of how they were all lit up. When looking for night tours, there were a million! Both walking and bus, with bus being the most common. I ended up going through Zohery Tours. There were only three of us on the tour so we didn’t feel rushed at all.
The bus driver took us around Washington D.C. to see many of the monuments, the Capitol, and the White House. He gave a lot of information about the monuments we were seeing and the buildings we were passing. It was all very interesting as I didn’t know much about the buildings in the area or the extra tid-bits of history he shared. We made a total of five stops where we were able to get out, go up to the monuments, and take pictures. After the tour, I went back to my AirBnB and went straight to bed because I knew I’d have a big day in the morning.
I got breakfast at Lincoln’s Waffle House which was right across from Ford’s Theater. The food was yummy, service was good, and price was cheap. After breakfast, I visited some of the street vendors before heading over to Ford’s Theater for my tour. I had signed up for the 9am tour. The tours are free, but you can book in advance and reserve a spot for a $3 fee. The tour takes you to four different sections: the museum, Ford’s Theater (where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated), the Peterson house across the street (where Abraham Lincoln passed away), and the education center. The tour was very interesting and it was quite sad and realistic seeing the spot where Lincoln was shot and where he passed away. Lincoln’s assassination is something you grow up learning about, but to actually go and see the spot in person makes it much more real instead of just a story.
After the tour, I headed over to the International Trump Hotel. This building used to be the old post office and there is a clock tower at the top of the building. For free, you can ride the elevators to the top and go on the observation deck which is where the clock is. You get a great view of Washington D.C. from here! Most people go to the Washington Monument for the observation deck, however, it is under construction until 2019 so the old clock tower is the next best view.
Next, I went down to the Capitol where I had booked a tour at noon. Once again, the tour was free – it is good to book in advance though as it does fill up. Because it is a slower season, we were able to tour five different rooms in the Capitol. Our tour guide informed us that on busy days sometimes they only get to take the tour groups to two rooms. I then took a tunnel connecting the Capitol to the Library of Congress.
The library was such a beautiful and majestic building. I had no idea of the beauty and artwork this library contained. The main reading room, that everyone thinks of when they think of the Library of Congress, is viewable through an overlook room. The library also has free tours, however, I was a little tuckered out of tours so I just explored it on my own.
I then walked past the Capitol again and along the National Mall. I got a snack at one of the refreshment shacks and then went over to the National Archives – admission was once again free. There was no picture taking allowed in this building. There were several different rooms you could go into, but I just went into the main room that has the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The Declaration of Independence is very faded – I could only read, free and independent, and John Adams’ signature. The Constitution and Bill of Rights are much more readable. The room with the documents is dimly lit in order to help prevent fading of the documents. My tour guide from the bus tour the night before had told us that at night the documents go down 40 feet into a fire-proof and earthquake-proof room.
I then chose to go to one of the Smithsonian museums. There are a total of nineteen museums, galleries, and zoo that make up the Smithsonian. Seventeen of those are in Washington D.C. and eleven of them are along the National Mall. All Smithsonians are free admission. I chose the museum of Natural History – mostly because that’s the museum that’s featured in the movie Night in the Museum. My favorite displays were the gemstones, the insects, and the butterfly house (admission to the butterfly house is free on Tuesday’s).
To end my day, I met a friend for dinner at Old Ebbit Grill. It was historic looking on the inside and the food was delicious. The place is hopping with both locals and tourists, and if you plan to eat here it is best to make a reservation. I was exhausted after this day and turned in early so I could be rejuvenated for the next day.
I woke up bright and early again. I still hadn’t seen all the monuments so that was my goal for the morning. I got dropped off by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and rented one of the Bikeshare bikes for the day. I was able to bike around the rest of the monuments and over to the White House all within decent time. It was perfect going so early in the morning because the monuments weren’t crowded at all. There were quite a few bikers and runners out that morning; there are a lot of trails around the monuments and the National Mall making it the perfect place for these activities. My favorite monuments were the Thomas Jefferson monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the World War 2 Memorial. All three of these monuments were so majestic and so powerful to see in person.
After spending my morning biking and visiting monuments, I took an Uber to the National Zoo. The zoo is part of the Smithsonian and is also free. The first exhibit I went to (and the main reason I came to the zoo) was the panda bears! There are only three zoos in the United States that have panda bears. The first two panda bears we had in the United States were a gift from China, and in return we gave China two oxen. We then tried to breed the panda bears and after many failed attempts we were finally successful in welcoming a baby panda into the world. The two pandas that the zoo has now are on loan from China. Apparently, China has some rule where all panda bears can only be owned by China. So the pandas bears at other zoos are loaned out from China. There were many exhibits at the zoo – primates, cats, reptiles, African trail, North American trail, and Asian trail.
I had two other areas of town I wanted to visit that day – Georgetown and DuPont. Before doing research on Washington D.C. and talking to locals, I never realized that there were different districts in D.C. Most people recommended Georgetown to me so I went there first – by Uber. I was dropped off by the waterfront and took a stroll along the Potomac River. There was a bridge there that crossed over to the Virginia side. Georgetown had a downtown that was full of shops – both brand name stores and boutique shops. I stopped for a Georgetown Cupcake. Apparently, there’s usually a long line for the cupcakes; but being a Wednesday afternoon and a little on the chilly side, there were only three people in line in front of me. Across the street from Georgetown Cupcakes was Pete’s Coffee – a hip little coffee shop bustling with people. Georetown is also home to the oldest colonial house still on its original foundation – Old Stone House. Unfortunately the area was currently shut down otherwise usually you are able to tour this house. Georgetown was one of my favorite places of the trip – it was so classy, historic, and unique.
It was about a twenty minute walk to DuPont where I went next. DuPont is a very diverse and unique area. Tons of cultures come together here. There are about a dozen embassy’s; there were a lot of restaurants from other countries; and the people population was quite diverse. In the center of DuPont is a fountain with a circular path that branches off onto the different streets. For supper, I ate at Kramerbooks & Afterwards – a cute and cozy bookstore that had a café in the back. After supper, I Ubered back to my place to get ready for the show that night.
The night before, on my way to dinner, I had passed by the National Theater that had a big sign that was advertising the play, Mean Girls. I went into the theater and asked about tickets for the following night since I had nothing else planned yet. I got super lucky as they had exactly one ticket left! The theater was way more packed than I had thought it would be. It was historic looking with pink painted walls and golden trim. The singers, actors/actresses, and dancers were all very talented. It was probably one of the best musicals I have been to. It was a great way to end my day and to spend my last night in D.C.
In the morning, I headed out early and said goodbye to my AirBnB host. I drove to the National Arboretum so I could see the Capitol Columns. The arboretum is very large and there is a lot to see there. Unfortunately, I was on a time crunch because I worked that night so I just had time to see the Capitol Columns. The National Arboretum was also free. Because I was there so early, it was pretty empty besides a few early risers who were running on the paths.
After seeing the Capitol Columns, I stopped at Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon is about thirty minutes outside of Washington D.C. and costs $18 for the standard mansion tour and to see around the plantation. The plantation was absolutely beautiful
and the backyard was right on the Potomac River. It felt so surreal to be in the mansion that George Washington had lived in and to think that he had walked on those same floors and climbed the same stairs. George Washington and his wife (Martha Washington) along with twenty-three of their relatives are all buried on the plantation. I could’ve spent a long time at the plantation as there was a lot to see (the port, servants’ quarters, relaxing on the back porch, all the historic buildings), but as I mentioned I was on a time crunch; I buzzed through the rest of the plantation and then headed back to West Virginia so I could make it in time for work. I would definitely go back to Mount Vernon and make sure I had more time to spend there.
All-in-all, my trip to Washington D.C. was a wonderful one. It was packed full of history, site-seeing, and exploring. There was so much to do and most of it was free! It’s definitely a place I would love to visit again.