A thousand ideas are running through my head and I have no idea how to start writing about a subject I am so passionate about.  So, I decided to start where I am now – Washington DC.  I have visited over 70 countries and probably hundreds, if not thousands, of cities & towns; but, Washington DC would top almost any “Best of” short list.  Washington DC is a beautiful city where you can fill a jam packed weekend or literally be a full time tourist for 2 weeks and not see it all.  If you are considering a first trip to Washington, here are some of my recommendations:
Take a morning or evening walk around the National Mall.  This is a marvelous way to get an overview and first impression of the city.  By strolling the Mall early or later in the day you can skip most of the crowds, get some wonderful light for photos, and really get a feeling for the space, architecture, and grandeur of one of the world’s most beautiful cities.  After your ramble, finish your morning or evening at Eastern Market behind Capitol Hill.  There are dozens of wonderful places to get breakfast, or a drink and dinner after your long walk.  Funky and unique shops are worth exploring, and if you go during the weekend, a wonderful outdoor market offers fresh food, crafts, and exclusive wares.  If you’re a book lover, don’t miss one of the country’s best used book stores, Capitol Books.
Capitol 3.jpgVisits the Monuments.  You would have seen many of them when walking around the mall but make sure to actually visit as many of them as you can. Each monument is almost a small museum.  Wear your walking shoes as you will definitely get your 10,000 steps.  If you are limited by time or mobility, there are several bus/trolley tours that can take you; however, if you are able, take the time to see them on foot –- nothing can replace walking up the steps to the Lincoln; seeing the Potomac from the Jefferson (and if you time your trip right, the Cherry Blossoms); or taking the time to read the history and quotes of Martin Luther King and President Roosevelt.
Museums.  DC has tons of FREE museums.  Don’t bother with those that charge admission unless you’re in town for an extended period, or are really passionate about that particular topic.  The Smithsonian has 19 different museums and galleries, so you will have to prioritize.  Some of the best, for both adults and children include:  National Archives, Natural History Museum, Air and Space Museum, Holocaust Museum, and American History Museum.  But if you have more time, don’t forget to check out some of the less visited museums:  National Portrait Gallery (more than the name suggests), the Zoo (it is run by the Smithsonian so I list it as a museum), and the Postal Museum.  The US Mint is also a fun and worthwhile stop.  Travel Tip:  Get to your first museum about 15 minutes after it opens to avoid the initial queue, as well as the major crowds that will show up later.

DC Institutions.  If you have time to plan your trip and activities in advance, go online and make reservations/requests to tour the Capitol, Pentagon, Washington Monument and the White House.  The White House is the hardest ticket in town to get and the best route is through your Congressman or Senator.  The other tours are easier to arrange with a bit of notice.  Additionally, the Library of Congress and Supreme Court are both beautiful and fascinating buildings and each should only take an hour or two.
See a Show.  The Kennedy Center has a free performance every evening at 6 pm on the Millennium Stage.  The schedule is posted online at the Kennedy Center website.  The Kennedy Center is about a 15 minute walk from the closest metro stop, but there is a free shuttle every 15 minutes from the Foggy Bottom Metro, look for the red shuttle sign just at the top of the escalator. After the show an easy walk along the river will bring you to Georgetown for dinner.
Current Events.  DC is the center of US power and has more Think Tanks than the rest of the world combined.  Check the local papers, THE HILL magazine, or online, particularly LinkTank and http://www.house.gov/legislative, to see what’s happening while you are in town.  These events are almost always free and open to the public.  Most committee hearings in the US House of Representatives and US Senate are also open to the public.  You can find a weekly schedule at http://radiotv.house.gov/today-in-the-house/committeehearings

and http://thomas.loc.gov/home/schedules.html.  Don’t go to the Capitol Visitor Center to watch a hearing.  Instead, go to the public entrance of the congressional building where the hearing will take place, for example the Rayburn building.  Arrive early in order to go through security and find a seat quickly, they fill up fast.

There are a thousand other things to do and see in DC but EVERYTHING MENTIONED HERE IS FREE, (except for eating and riding the metro).  And while you are in town, make sure to cross the I-395/Route 1 Bridge into the city on the Yellow Line from Arlington/Alexandria and look out to the left to see the river with the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument.  It is one of my favorite views and I am blessed that for a time, I get to see it every day!


Additional Travel Tips If flying to DC, make sure to check fares to all three airports.  While Regan National Airport, DCA, is definitely the most convenient, public transportation also makes Dulles and BWI both reasonable choices if the fares are right.  Additionally, I always think it is worth the extra money to stay in the city center, however; if you are on a budget, consider looking hotels in Crystal City or Pentagon City.  They are only a 10 minute metro ride from downtown and still in an area with fantastic restaurant options. Pick up a copy of The Express, a free daily that covers national/local news, local events, shopping and more.  You can find them at any metro stop.

12745743_10209184681002738_2055208577303258210_n.jpgBook Recommendations:  It is hard to pick just one book (or even 10) recommendation for DC.  A fun fiction book is The Lost Symbolby Dan Brown.  I would also recommend spending 10 minutes scanning theFederalist Papers by James Madison.  Not to sound too much like the history geek that I am, these are a 18th Century version of a back stage pass to the founding of a country and a new form of government.  I promise, it will provide fascinating context as you walk around the museums and DC institutions.  But on a lighter note, there are of course thousands of TV shows and movies that take place in DC.  Two of my favorites are The West Wing and, of course, Scandal.


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