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Washington, DC Travel Guide
Fast Facts
Historic Interest
Wildlife Park
Music & Theatre
Family Travel Tips

Jefferson Memorial, DC


Photo by Alfredo De Simone

Washington D.C. may not look like much on the map, yet this 68-square-mile area formally called the District of Columbia is the capital of United States, headquarters of the federal government, and home of the American President. It’s also the site of numerous national landmarks, more museums than one can see in a lifetime, and scores of things that can’t be seen or done elsewhere in the world.

See how bills are passed. Tour the President’s house. Witness the Supreme Court at work. Watch money being made. Inspect the Declaration of Independence. Glimpse the gun that killed Abraham Lincoln. Spot a real dinosaur egg. Touch a piece of moon rock. Discover real-life spying devices. Visit the village of Georgetown. Smell the roses in the National Arboretum. Meet the capital’s famous four-legged residents. Ogle at the airplane that flew the Wright brothers into history. And that’s just the beginning!
Getting There
While most leisure travelers arrive by car, Washington, D.C. can also be reached by plane, train and bus. AIR TRAVEL: Three airports serve the American capital: Washington Reagan National Airport, Dulles International Airport and Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). Shuttles, limos and taxis are available at all. National Airport, the closest and most convenient to downtown DC, is also accessible by metro. Dulles Airport doesn’t yet have a direct rail connection but a shuttle service operates between the airport and the West Falls Church Metro station. Both Amtrak and MARC trains (weekdays only) provide service between Washington’s Union Station and a rail terminal near BWI Airport. TRAIN TRAVEL: Amtrak connects the District with various points along America's East Coast as well as Chicago, New Orleans and cities in between. Those who arrive by train will find themselves in the heart of the city. Union Station is located just two blocks from the U.S. Capitol and is within walking distance of many Smithsonian museums. LONG DISTANCE BUSES: Bus travel is a great budget option and an increasingly popular mode of transit. Buses connect Washington with cities all over the United States and bus lines offering a variety of services and amenities make the trip between DC and NYC several times a day. CAR TRAVEL: Driving to the District? Avoid rush hour, 6:30 – 9:30 and again from 15:30 – 19:00. Expect congestion at all times. Arm yourself with a good map and plot your route in advance as the grid of streets and roundabouts can be confusing to the first time visitor. Street parking is scarce and parking lots charge exorbitant rates thus it's best to understand your parking options before your depart.
Getting Around
Washington is pedestrian friendly and ranks as one of America’s top ten most walkable cities. The subway system, called Metrorail, is safe, clean and efficient. The D.C. Circulator connects attractions and neighborhoods that aren’t well served by the metro. Metrobus makes convoluted trips and, like taxis, get stuck in gridlock. Parking is impossible and traffic is horrendous. Cycling is a great way to explore the District but traveling by bike on D.C. streets is a harrowing experience for young children. So the best way to get around is a combination of walking, underground and Circulator bus. ON FOOT: The District is divided into four quadrants of unequal size – NW, NE, SW, SE – with the Capital at the center. Of note, most attractions are located in the Northwest quadrant, the largest of the four. Numbered streets run north-south. Lettered streets run east-west. Avenues run diagonally. The same address can be found in all four quadrants hence the importance of the directional marking. METRORAIL: The metro has five colored lines – red, blue, orange, green and yellow. Station entrances are clearly marked with brown pylons capped with the letter M. Route maps are available online and are posted at each station and on every train. Each train displays the name of its farthest destination. Farecards can be purchased at subway station vending machines. The fare, based on the time of day and distance traveled, is deducted from the rider's card upon exit, so hang onto your farecard. Two children aged four and under ride free with each paying adult. Children five and older pay adult fares. Note that the value of the one and seven days passes depends on how often you ride. CITY BUSES: Washington has two bus systems, Metrobus and tourist-friendly D.C. Circulator. Metrobus may not be geared to visitors but covers every corner of the District. The Circulator’s six color coded routes connect attractions and neighborhoods that aren’t served by Metrorail. All D.C. Circulator routes run every ten minutes and cost $1. Exact change is required on both bus systems.
When to Travel
There are two things to keep in mind when planning a trip to Washington, DC: weather and crowds. The District has four distinct seasons. Winter is unpredictable; it can range from rather mild to very cold. Spring is long, cool, and moist. Summer is hot, humid and sticky, oftentimes unbearably so. Fall is crisp and cool. The crowds are thickest mid-March to June and mid-September to early November. The peak season coincides with cherry blossoms and sessions of Congress. Family Travel Tips: The best time to visit DC is weekends from October to March. It's best avoided on summer days and major school holidays. Hotels are cheapest Thanksgiving to mid-January. July 4th (Independence Day) celebrations are spectacular. Summer is also the season for outdoor events, such as concerts, festivals, and parades.
Travel Trivia
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Books for Kids about Washington, D.C.
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