As an American living abroad in the UK, the irony has never passed me by that I’d been to London many times and yet never visited my own capital. In a recent trip to America, I decided to rectify this and visit Washington DC.
The city is teeming with history and culture, as well as friendly locals, and well worth a visit during a trip to the US. Here’s what I recommend as the things to do in Washington DC if you’re thinking of adding it as a stop on your next trip.
Self-labelled as “DC’s first micro-hotel,” Hotel Hive sits centrally, a mere 20-minute walk from the White House and the National Mall, and about 5-10-minute walk to the nearest metro station. Hotel Hive, as the name suggests, is bee-themed and has a lovely feel and buzz to it (pun intended).
If you decide to stay here, use the lift! There’s a beautifully painted mural that changes as you get to your floor, which is a nice touch. The hotel is also home to ‘&pizza’, one of DC’s best pizzerias and very nifty for a quick bite to eat.
While the hotel room is micro by American standards, it is on a par, if not bigger, than some of the rooms I’ve stayed in around other European cities. And similarly to London, DC has capital prices, so opting for a smaller room meant there was more in the kitty for exploring.
If you are going to DC, the White House is a must-see. When walking around the edge of the White House estate at different times of the day, I found sometimes you could get closer than at other times. If you can’t get very close for that mandatory snapshot, come back in a few hours or the next day and security may have opened up some of the nearby roads and you’ll see more.
It’s possible to do a tour of the White House (as well as Capitol Hill and the Pentagon), but it is very much dependent on their schedule for the day, and tours are issued on a first-come, first-served basis. If you are a UK citizen, the White House tour application must be done via your Embassy in DC. I applied too late, but it’s worth attempting as close to 6-weeks before your arrival if you can.
Washington DC’s National Mall is very long and covering it in its entirety by foot is probably a bit much. To ensure you see everything, I recommend you take a guided tour which we can book for you.
Doing a tour with Urban Adventures gave me better bearings of where everything was and why it was there. Our tour guide, Cortland, was super knowledgeable. He drove us around in a buggy and explained the history of all the different monuments and buildings, stopping at key vantage points so that we could take pictures.
Cortland showed us Capitol Hill, the Washington Monument, The Smithsonian Museums, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, WW2 Memorial, The Treasury, The National Archives (where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are stored; worth a visit on its own), Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin, and the Lincoln Memorial, just to name a few! At the end of the tour, he dropped us back near the White House so we could continue exploring on our own.
On our final day in DC, we had seen all the political sites and wanted to explore a bit more around history and culture. Luckily for us, 17 of the 20 Smithsonian museums are in DC (11 alone are in the National Mall).
Started in 1848, the founding of the Smithsonian Institution is quite an amusing story. When British scientist James Smithson passed away, he had such a fascination with America that he bequeathed his wealth to America to start the institution, even though he had never visited the US himself.
All the Smithsonian museums are free to enter and perfect for exploring with kids. My favourites were the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which had fantastic modern art, and the National Air and Space Museum, which had the original Wright Brothers’ flyer on display. As a bit of an aerospace geek, I was awestruck seeing the very first aeroplane.
Georgetown is DC’s oldest neighbourhood, and with its Victorian-aged brick houses and cobblestone streets, it’s full of charm. The district is about a 30-minute scenic stroll from Hotel Hive along the Potomac River, and is home to design stores and boutique shopping, which was right up my street.
As a bit of a foodie, I found Georgetown to have food and drink options galore. My wife particularly enjoyed the stop at cupcakery ‘Baked & Wired’, which included a banana & bacon cupcake, satisfying her banana obsession. My favourite stop was at Corridor Coffee, a tucked-away coffee shop, just south of Book Hill Park, serving delicious artisanal coffee. For food, drink and shopping in DC, Georgetown is a must-visit district.
April/May is probably the best time to visit DC. In the summer months, the city is very humid and gets quite busy due to the school holidays. We visited in late April, and the temperature was perfect mid-20s. We were told by locals that the weather during that part of the year could be quite variable, so if you decided to go at that time of the year too, I’d suggest you pack a raincoat to be safe.
If you’re hoping to catch the cherry blossoms, be aware that their blossoming season is in March/April, but the exact date varies quite a bit every year. They blossomed quite late in 2019, and we missed them by about a week. Finally, bring your best trainers! We’re very happy to walk and ended up walking 10-15 miles daily, which wouldn’t have been possible without proper footwear.
Washington DC is very well connected, with Ronald Regan Airport only a few stops away from the city centre by metro. For those who are carbon and budget-conscious, Amtrak also offers a comfortable and straightforward service (a dream in comparison to our ageing Victorian railways in the UK) between New York and Washington DC. Spending a few days (3-5 days) in DC should be more than enough time to visit the sites and explore what the nation’s capital has to offer.
I loved my trip to DC and would recommend that anyone going to the USA adds as a stop on their next trip. So if you’re tempted by all those things to do in Washington DC, contact Travel Nation to start planning your trip.
We can arrange every aspect of your trip, including flights, airport transfers, trains and hotels. Washington DC can easily be added as a side trip from New York or a bigger tailor-made US East coast trip. Simply give us a call on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.