Washington D.C. has a lot of ground to cover. It’s already a large city in size so when you take into factor all the things that are squeezed into it, it’s only natural if your eyes bug out. So whether you’re visiting DC for the first time or you’re making a return visit, we’ve come up with a few things to know before visiting. Among the four notes we share below, it’s also good to remember to wear comfortable walking shoes and don’t be afraid to venture off course. Some of the best finds are when you wander down a street that looks interesting isn’t necessarily on your itinerary. Ready? Let’s go!
1 - Don’t try to conquer everything. This one may be obvious considering the sheer number of things to do in DC but it’s worth mentioning. There are dozens of museums, hundreds of monuments and memorials not to mention the endless list of other attractions from restaurants to mansions to theaters. The list is endless. Instead of trying to conquer as much as you can, sketch out a plan. It doesn’t need to be a crazy itinerary but it’s good to have some kind of organized to-do list for each day. Focus on what you’re most interested in and work your way through the list.
2 - The National Mall is much larger than it seems. This one I learned the hard way so I’m passing on my misgivings to you. For starters, it’s over 2 miles long and consists of everything from the Smithsonian museums to the Jefferson Memorial. I had thought I’d be able to conquer it in a day. This ambitious thought cost me half the mall. Plan to conquer it in two days, at least if you want to actually spend time at some of the spots along the mall. Take one day to go from the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument. Take another day to explore from the Washington Monument to the White House to the Lincoln Memorial. Don’t forget the Jefferson Memorial but because it’s kind of off on it’s own, figure out where to fit it into your itinerary best.
3 - You need to schedule a lot in advance. I am all for having a flexible itinerary but Washington DC requires at least a little bit of structure in terms of advance tickets and appointments. The White House requires advance reservations and also comes with a slew of paperwork and red tape to go through in order to be granted a visit. Many buildings and institutions don’t require advance reservations or tickets but suggest them. A few of these include the Capitol Building, the Holocaust Museum, the Ford Theatre, the Spy Museum...among others. If you are dead set on hitting some of the more popular destinations, buy your tickets now and claim a reservation now. Do not wait. We looked at tour availability for the Capitol Building through December and open time slots are are limited some weeks and scattered others. Book now, people.
4 - Certain sites need day trips or close to it. I’m thinking of three destinations in particular: Georgetown, Mount Vernon and Arlington Cemetery. Arlington is the closest to DC, just over the Potomac River but it is so massive you want to leave yourself enough time to hit all the sites you are most likely looking forward to. Georgetown is within DC but it might as well be a town of it’s own. There is plenty to see and do and if you’d like to walk or bike along the C&O Canal or take a canoe down the Potomac, you’ll definitely need the whole day. Finally, Mount Vernon is about a 30-60 minute drive from DC pending traffic. Washington’s estate is a popular spot among tourists and rightfully so. Just don’t plan much for the rest of your day if you want to actually enjoy it.