Washington D.C. is a federal district, not a state, located between Virginia and Maryland on the East Coast of the United States of America. It’s 365 km (227miles) south-west of New York, which is approximately four and a half hours by road, three hours by train and one and a half hours by plane. The federal district was founded in 1791 and has an estimated population of almost 620,000. Commuters from Maryland and Virginia raise the city’s population to over one million people during the Monday to Friday workweek.
Washington D.C. is best known as the capitol of the USA and home to approximately 176 foreign embassies, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international headquarters as well as the Washington Monument, The White House, the United States Capitol and many Smithsonian museums located along The National Mall.
The National Mall is a large, open park in downtown Washington that stretches east to west between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol. The Washington Monument and the Jefferson Pier are located near the centre of the mall, south of the White House. The mall is often the location of political protests, concerts, festivals and presidential inaugurations.
Ten of the Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C. can be found along 1.6 kilometres from 3rd to 14th Streets between Constitution Avenue and Independence Avenue. The Smithsonian Institution is an educational foundation that maintains 16 museums and galleries and the National Zoo in Washington D.C. All of these are free of charge.
Georgetown is a historic neighbourhood located in the northwest of Washington D.C., along the Potomac River. The town was founded in 1751 and was once considered quite poverty-stricken. It is now one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in Washington D.C. It’s a beautiful place with amazing architecture and old homes from the late 19th century.
Currency: $ / US Dollar (USD)
EUR €10 = US $13 – $14 (approx.)
GBP £10 = US $16 – $18 (approx.)
AUD $10 = US $8 – $9 (approx.)
Things you will notice in Washington D.C.
- The Smithsonian museums are free – check out the museums, zoos, research centres and exhibits on the Smithsonian website
- Washington is humid and hot in summer and very cold in winter.
- Food comes is large portions and sometimes I just had to order the appetiser.
- Food prices generally do not include the tax or tip. In NYC the tax is 8.25%, but it is as high as 10% in Washington D.C. A tip of 15-20% of your total bill is always expected, and as a result, service is almost always very good.
What to do and see in Washington D.C.
- Visit the Smithsonian Institution Building – pick up a map and information of all the Smithsonian museums to plan your trip and visit the ones you are most interested in.
- Tour the National monuments and memorials – Visit by tour bus during the day for informative talks, or at night when all of the monuments are illuminated and less crowded. Memorials are dedicated to civil wars, the Korean war and many of the nation’s presidents including Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt. Don’t forget the Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, world champion boxer Joe Louis and the Tomb of the Unknowns.
- Tour the Houses of Government – the U.S. Capitol Building, the White House and then U.S. Supreme Court. Plan and book ahead!
- Walk though Georgetown – great for historic sites, shopping and restaurants.
How to get around Washington D.C.
Metro and public buses
The Washington Metro and Metrobus are the two public transport systems that serve the District and its connecting suburbs. The DC Circulator bus system also connects commercial areas within central Washington.
Peak fares range between $2.10 and $5.75 during weekday peak times and $1.70 to $3.50 all other times. There is an extra $1 surcharge for a paper farecard from the ticket machines or ticket office. Metrobus Passes and Metrorail Passes can also be purchased for one day, 7 days or 28 days and provide you with unlimited travel between specific times (peak or non-peak).
Metro riders can take advantage cheaper fares and discounted transfers within a two-hour time by using a SmarTrip® card. A SmarTrip® card is a permanent, rechargeable farecard that can be purchased and recharged online or from any Metro Sales Office or select retail outlets. You simply touch the SmarTrip® card to the circular targets on top of or inside station faregates or on the farebox on Metrobus to pay your fare.
Please check out further metrorail and metrobus information at http://www.wmata.com/.
Capital Bikeshare has over 1,500 bicycles and 165 stations in the District and adjacent Arlington County. You can join Capital Bikeshare for 24 hours ($7 fee), 3 days ($15 fee), 30 days ($25 fee) or 1 year ($75 fee), and have access 24 hours a day, every day of the year. You can purchase membership at any station kiosk or online for accounts open for more than 30 days. The first 30 minutes of each trip are free, with each additional 30 minutes incurring an additional fee. For example, a 90-minute trip would cost you nothing for the 1st 30-minute period, $1.50 for the second 30 minutes, and $3.00 for the third – for a total of $4.50 for the whole trip. Helmets can be purchased for an extra $16.
Please check out further information at https://www.capitalbikeshare.com/.
I am a big fan of the tour bus because they provide you with local history and commentary about the sites you visit. They also help you learn where everything is in a big city so that you have a better idea how to get around.
I find that the hop-on hop-off options are usually more flexible and allow you to visit the sites on your own schedule. I recommend the City Sightseeing tour as it offers four different routes and the 48 hour All Loops ticket includes a free, 50 minute cruise along the Potomac River.
How to get to Washington D.C.
Interstate 95, the nation’s major east coast highway, bends around the District. Interstate 66 and Interstate 395 both terminate shortly after entering the city.
Union Station is the Washington D.C’s main train station and intercity bus transit centre. Amtrak, Notheast Corridor, Acela Express, Maryland’s MARC, Virginia’s VRE and the Metrorail Red Line all provide service into Union Station for interstate visitors and local commuters. Trains are frequent from many major cities in the US.
Three major airports serve Washington D.C. International flights are likely to arrive and depart from Washington Dulles International Airport, 42.3km west of the District in Virginia. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is close to downtown Washington in Arlington, Virginia and is the only airport nearby that has its own Metrorail station. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is 51km northeast of the District in Maryland.
Weather in Washington D.C
Spring (March, April, May) – A very pleasant time to visit the Capitol with temperatures averaging 20°C / 67°F. Bring a jacket for cooler evening temperatures and be sure to check out the famous cherry trees and gardens bloom in an array of incredible colours and shades.
Summer (June, July, August) – Can be humid and hot with temperatures averaging 30°C / 85°F. Temperatures can soar as high as 40°C / 104°F in July and nights are warm.
Fall (September, October, November) – With temperatures between 10°C / 50°F and 26°C / 79°F, days are similar to springtime but the evenings are a little warmer. There is less rain in autumn than any other time of the year.
Winter (December, January, February) – The mid weeks of January are the coldest with freezing temperatures, snow and ice storms. Average snowfall between January and February is 17 inches.
What to pack for Washington D.C
Good walking shoes, whether you are exploring the many free museums, monuments or memorials you will be walking great distances. An umbrella is a good idea since it will rain approximately one third of the time between December and August.
During the summer, pack warm weather clothing that is comfortable, yet respectable for the places you will be visiting. During the springtime and autumn months it is advisable to pack a jacket or warmer clothing for the evenings. You will need to pack winter boots, coats and accessories for winter months, especially in January and February.
Other interesting articles and handy hints
- Getting the most out of Washington D.C.- Four family friendly activities
- Whichhotel4me.com’s top 10 hotels in Washington D.C.
- Ideas on 5 off-beat things to do and see in Washington D.C
Looking for more travel inspiration?
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Amsterdam, Bali, Berlin, Brisbane, Bristol, Budapest, Cambridge, Canberra, Cappadocia, Chamonix, Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Istanbul, Kotor, Kyoto, London, Lyon, Madrid, New York City, Paris, Riga, Scotland, Tokyo and Washington D.C.