how to make the most of your trip to DC
hi guys! i don’t have a technical travel guide, but wanted to share some tips and advice from my recent trip to DC. we were there for my dad’s reunion, so our time was split up in the middle, but we ended up spending 4.5 days in DC, including a day in Mt. Vernon + Alexandria. we also spent two days in Gettysburg.
first and foremost.. no matter how long you plan to visit, you probably won’t be able to do everything! it really all depends on what you prioritize and how long you spend in each museum or at each monument. there is SO much to see! just a disclaimer, my family and i move pretty quickly through museums, which is why we were able to get so much done in a short amount of time. we didn’t have any children with us, and didn’t go to many art galleries.
planning a DC trip can be a little overwhelming since there is so much to see and do! my first suggestion is to sit down and create a list of everything you might want to do. look at Google Maps, read a few blog posts, and see what sounds interesting to you. include food places, museums, and shops - absolutely everything. then go and group things by location. that’s how we were able to determine how long we wanted to stay, and although it’s a rough plan, it ended up being fairy accurate.
also.. if you go by groupings, you are able to walk from place to place without having to retrace your tracks later or pay for transportation.
our groupings kind of looked like this:
(2) Newseum, National Archives, Portrait Gallery, monuments + memorials
(3) National Geographic Museum, Dupont Circle
(4) Mt. Vernon + Alexandria, VA
(5 - half day) Capitol Tour, Library of Congress
so many museums, so little time! here are the museums and official buildings we ended up visiting: National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, National Portrait Gallery, and Newseum
most museums are free to visit and have lots of interactive things to do. try to go to the museums during the day and save the memorials and monuments for after 5pm, when the museums close, since those are open 24/7 (more on that coming next week!).
one museum that costs money (i believe it was $17) but is SO worth it is the Newseum - my parents agree with me and absolutely loved it. i heard it may be closing soon, so definitely prioritize this if you are headed to DC anytime soon. the National Geographic museum also required purchased tickets, but was well worth it (not just saying that because of the titanic exhibit).
one factor that will determine how much time you spend in each museum is whether or not you do guided tours. the only time we did a guided tour was the Capitol, which lasted about an hour. everything else we explored on our own, and unless there is a topic you are dying to learn about, self-guided tours are great and provide you with tons of information.
we really wanted to see the Ford Theater (where Lincoln was shot) but ended up just not having enough time for it - they do organized tours that are about 2 hours long. definitely going to see that next time!
above is the Journalists’ Memorial at the Newseum - a wall of tributes to reporters, photographers, and journalists who died while documenting or reporting the news. especially moving following the news about Jamal Khashoggi. we were there a few weeks after his death was reported, and his name had yet to be added to the memorial.
you have the power, so use it:
i am 100% not a foodie and to be honest, we really didn’t have a big list of places that we wanted to eat at while we were in town because we were more focused on the historical content. most museums have places to eat within the buildings and they are catered to the content of the museum, but they also recognize that a lot of families will be dining there so if you are a picky eater, you won’t have a problem finding something to eat. one museum we ate at was the National Museum of African American History and Culture - that’s what is pictured to the right.
if you are going to Mt. Vernon, i recommend eating at the Mt. Vernon Inn - the prices aren’t bad, the food is way better than what is at the cafeteria (i’m guessing), and it’s overall a lot nicer.
we ordered pizza in one night from We the Pizza and let me tell you.. if you are going to order or eat pizza while you’re in DC, that is the place to go. when i went to pick up our order in the lobby, the delivery man said he had already delivered to our hotel three times so far and that there would be more deliveries throughout the night.. and our hotel was right next door to a different pizza place 🤷🏻♀️
if you are looking to visit the Capitol, i would highly suggest booking a morning tour, aiming for around 9:30. you will finish the tour right as the cafe opens and can grab your lunch before the rush starts (that’s what we did). then take the tunnel to the library of congress, which allows you to surpass a second security check. in total, this will take about a half day, nine to noon. and besides, you don’t want to miss the cute and festive desserts ha
other things to see + do:
there is SO much to see outside of the museums and monuments! i would recommend checking out Dupont Circle, which was overlooked in a lot of the guides that i read - you can walk along the embassy row and there were a lot of local shops to stop into, including Kramerbooks & Afterwords. love a good local bookstore!
CityCenterDC is located near the Portrait Gallery, the International Spy Museum, and the Ford Theater and has tons of amazing stores if you are looking to shop, including a brick and mortar Jo Malone! ahhh 😍
don’t forget to visit Alexandria, which is right across the river. the waterfront is gorgeous and was a nice place to walk around outside of all the touristy stuff. and the starbucks on union street made me the best chai latte i have ever had in my life so there’s that (the anti-tourist in me would’ve found a local coffee place, but i didn’t have time to find one!). you can plan to walk around Alexandria the same day you visit George Washington’s Mt. Vernon.
last thoughts + a few random things:
when it comes to hotels, keep in mind that DC has a great metro system so you don’t need to stay in the heart of the city if you are looking to save some money. just download CityMapper and it will help you navigate!
try to book your official tours (capitol, white house, etc.) as early as you can - i think the White House tours need two or three months notice. you have to do it through your congress person and they fill quickly.
i’ve said it before and i’ll say it again.. October is the best time to travel! if you are worried about your kids missing school, please know that they will learn WAY more on this trip than they will in a classroom.. and that’s coming from someone who loves school and did well in college-level history classes.
if you are traveling more than a few hours to get to DC, try to rent a car and drive up to Gettysburg. we did it in 2 days and it was so worth it! you can read more about it here.
i think that’s about it! i wanted to post my tips and tricks before the more detailed posts because i think it lays a better foundation of how the trip was organized for anyone who is wanting to visit.. and i also had a TON of photossss ha
oh, and don’t forget to watch the National Treasure movies before you go / while you are there - makes it so much more exciting haha