After months of spending every evening and weekend locked away in our home office frantically studying and writing research papers, Sam and I finally graduated from our master’s programs and were ready for a long-overdue weekend getaway.
Despite living in America for the past 8 years, I had never visited the nation’s capital. So when I stumbled on a great flight deal to Washington, DC, I figured it would be the perfect way to celebrate graduation. Home to some of the top museums and monuments in the country, I couldn’t wait to soak up all the city had to offer.
Unfortunately, even the best-laid plans hit snags, which is something we were about to find out. But even with its ups and downs, travel is always worth the effort in my book.
Here is our weekend guide to Washington, DC:
What to Do
Washington, DC is home to so many incredible museums, monuments, and iconic sights it would take years to adequately conquer (Side note: yes we refer to visiting cities as “conquering” them because we are just that type A).
With roughly 48 hours in the city, we covered as much ground as possible.
After dropping our bags off at our hotel, we grabbed some delicious pizza at &pizza and headed to the National Mall.
We could have easily spent the entire weekend exploring the National Mall—a two-mile stretch in downtown Washington, DC, that contains many of the city’s monuments and museums.
The sun was already setting, so we were excited to experience nighttime views of the monuments.
One of the most iconic landmarks in Washington, DC, is the Washington Monument, a 555-foot marble obelisk built in honor of the first American president, George Washington.
Though I’d seen the monument in movies and pictures all my life, I couldn’t get over the sheer size of it in person (something that would become a theme of our trip).
World War II Memorial
Not far from the Washington Monument is the World War II Memorial—a memorial honoring the millions of Americans who fought and died in the name of freedom.
Fifty-six pillars, each representing an American state or territory, surround a plaza and fountain.
Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pools
These words are inscribed on the Lincoln Memorial: “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.”
Not only is this monument an incredible memorial to one of the most revered American presidents, but it is also the site where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963.
Also notable from our visit to the monument is that not one but TWO people fell into the reflecting pool within the twenty-minute time span we were there.
Of course, no visit to Washington, DC, would be complete without a visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
When we first visited we couldn’t get a close view, because there had been a shooting earlier in the day and the closest spectator areas were blocked off with police tape (which was quite troubling). There was also a “legalize marijuana” protest occurring directly in front of the White House.
However, we did manage to get a closer view later that evening on our way back to the hotel.
We woke up to cloudy skies and unseasonably cold weather, but excited for a full day of DC adventures.
After a quick but delicious pastry breakfast at Paul (a French bakery), we took the metro to Arlington National Cemetery.
Arlington National Cemetery
Established during the Civil War, Arlington is a United States Military Cemetery where more than 400,000 fallen servicemen and women are buried.
Be sure to witness the changing of the guard—which occurs every hour, on the hour—at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument to American service members who have died without being identified. The tomb has been guarded continuously since 1937.
Arlington is also the resting place for John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie Kennedy. Pay a visit to the eternal flame burning at their gravesite.
Nineteen museums and the National Zoo make up the world-class Smithsonian Institution. Best of all, admission to the museums is free. Visiting the museums was a perfect option for our rainy day. While we would have loved to explore all the museums, we only had time to visit our top three picks on this trip:
National Air and Space Museum – As people who love traveling, our first pick was the National Air and Space Museum, which hosts incredible exhibits on aviation.
Our favorite exhibit: Apollo to the Moon, which tells the story of American space travel. On display are many artifacts from early American space expeditions (such as astronauts’ suits and personal belongings) as well as a massive F-1 rocket engine.
Natural History Museum – Home to the iconic Elephant Exhibit, the Natural History Museum features some truly incredible exhibits highlighting everything from marine life to dinosaurs.
Our favorite exhibit: The Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals, a literally dazzling display. The pièce de résistance is the Hope Diamond.
National Museum of American History – What better place to learn about American history than in the nation’s capital? This museum houses a wide range of cultural and political American artifacts.
Our favorite exhibit: The American Presidency, which includes information and artifacts from American presidents dating back to George Washington. Don’t miss seeing the hat Abraham Lincoln wore to the Ford’s theatre the night he was shot.
Since the Smithsonian museums closed at 5:30, we had planned on visiting Georgetown that evening, a quaint neighborhood filled with great eateries and shops.
Unfortunately, that afternoon I came down with the stomach flu and ended up needing to return to the hotel for the rest of the night. So instead of visiting Georgetown, we spent the evening in bed watching Batman Begins on TV. A great movie, but not exactly the romantic evening I envisioned. At least we can laugh about it now!
Next time we’re in the city, Georgetown is the first place we’ll go!
I woke up the next morning to more rain and still feeling the effects of the stomach flu, but determined not to miss out on our last few hours in the city.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
I had been unsure about visiting the Holocaust museum, because I worried I would find it too emotionally overwhelming. But in the end, I’m extremely glad we visited.
The museum’s exhibits take you chronologically through the Holocaust, starting with Hitler’s rise to power, through WWII, and ending with the lasting effects of the Holocaust. The exhibits include video footage, photographs, and artifacts.
One of the most emotional parts of our visit was walking along an elevated ramp surrounded by mounds of shoes that had been left behind by murdered Holocaust victims.
Though the museum does require tickets from March-August, admission is free. Tickets can be picked up on-site or online.
Our last stop before heading to the train station was the Jefferson Memorial, a monument dedicated to the 3rd American president.
Though my feet got completely soaked trying to walk to it, the Jefferson Memorial was my favorite monument we visited.
We had to take a train out of Union Station to get to BWI airport for our departing flight.
We didn’t mind since it gave us the opportunity to visit Union Station, which is a destination in its own right. Union Station, which first opened in 1907, is the main transportation hub in Washington, DC.
While you’re in the area, you should visit Ebenezers, a nearby café serving coffee that is both delicious and fair trade.
How to Get Around
Though we walked most places, we used the Metro for longer distances since it is the most affordable transportation option.
We each purchased a SmarTrip Card (a reusable Metro pass available at any Metrorail station) and loaded them with $20, which ended up being the exact amount we needed.
Unlike subways in many other cities that charge a flat rate, the cost of riding the Washington Metro is based on distance traveled and time of day. Fares range from $1.75 to $5.90 per ride.
We also ended up taking a 30-minute Amtrak train out of Union Station to the BWI airport for our departing flight. The train was both comfortable and affordable.
Where to Stay
We learned from our mistake in New York and chose a more central location for this trip. We stayed at the Capital Hilton, which is located two blocks from the White House and within walking distance from the National Mall. We had a great experience at the Capital Hilton, and would definitely consider staying there again. The staff even held our backpacks for us the day we checked out so we didn’t have to lug them around all day.
Despite battling the stomach flu, and the fact that the weather was uncooperative, we had a fabulous experience visiting Washington, DC, and hope to return soon!
What is your favorite thing to do in Washington, DC?
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