Ten Tips for Washington Tourists|
There's a Lot to See
Don't assume that just because so many of the city's attractions sit next to each other on your map of the Mall that you'll be able to see them all in one fell swoop. Distances are greater than they appear and you'll do plenty of walking in any of the major museums. Our advice: Choose what interests you, see it in depth, and come back to see what you've missed on another trip.
Ditch the Car
The city is notoriously difficult to navigate, with brutal commuter traffic, freeway ramps that appear out of nowhere, strange rush-hour restrictions and few central parking facilities. For most tourist attractions, and most dining and nightlife areas, the Metro is your most effective transportation option.
About the Smithsonian Metro Station
It's small and often crowded, especially as the museums open and close. Consider other stations for your itinerary Capitol South, Federal Triangle, L'Enfant Plaza and Foggy Bottom are all close to popular attractions and likely to be less crowded than the Smithsonian station.
Tour at Night
The Lincoln, Jefferson, and FDR memorials are all open at night and staffed by Park Service rangers, as are the Korean and Vietnam War memorials. With all the major attractions swathed in floodlights, the city looks majestic after dark. An added bonus: It's easier to park, and in the summer the weather is much more comfortable at night.
Get Off the Mall
There are a number of excellent attractions off the Mall: the National Zoo; the Corcoran and Renwick Galleries; National Geographic's Explorer's Hall; small museums like Hillwood House, the Kreeger Museum, and the Phillips Collection; religious landmarks like the Washington National Cathedral and the National Shrine; and a slew of foreign embassies.
Get Out of Town
There are numerous attractions and historic sites in easy driving range of the city. Consider day trips to Annapolis for small-town charm and rich maritime history, Gettysburg or Manassas for Civil War heritage, Harpers Ferry for its history and picturesque setting.
Visit Your Congressperson
An office visit is not only an excellent way to feel connected to your elected representative, but congressional offices can often offer special services to visitors, as well as practical and unique tips on seeing the city.
Not only are almost all of the city's museums and attractions free, there is also a great range of entertainment that won't cost you a dime. The Kennedy Center has a free performance every day on its Millennium Stage, the National Gallery of Art offers a free concert series, the Hirshhorn has its own movie auditorium, and you can always find a free lecture or book signing.
It's Not the Heat...
The weather forecast remains fairly constant throughout the summer hot, hazy and humid with a chance of afternoon thunderstorms. If you must come during that time, dress accordingly, move slowly and carry bottled water. Better still, if you have a choice, come in April-May or September-October and experience the best possible weather.
Pack a Picnic
Good for your budget -- saving yourself and your family from the mercy of museum cafeterias and vending carts -- a picnic can also offer an excellent respite to take in the city. Try one of these scenic spots: the steps of the Capitol, the Washington Monument reflecting pool, or the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington.
-- Ben Abramson