Your Guide to Planning Migraine-Free Washington D.C. Day Trips
Planning a sightseeing trip to Washington, DC? Navigate the nation's capital like a pro using a few strategies to help you avoid headaches caused by construction delays, crowds, traffic and confusion.
Fighting crowds at DC's monuments, memorials and museums isn't at the top of anyone's bucket list, so find out ahead of time what concerts, festivals and marches are scheduled on the days you plan to visit. If you're not a fan of special events, you may wish to avoid DC altogether from May through August.
Don't expect to see everything DC has to offer in a one-day trip. To thoroughly submerse yourself in the culture of the city without blistering the soles of your feet in sweltering heat, consider planning a three-day trip in the fall. Many visitors find late September and October optimal months for sightseeing as temperatures and crowds begin tapering off.
The best transit choice for avoiding traffic and construction delays is DC's Metro system. The Metro is fast, affordable and easy to navigate. Download one of several mobile apps for real-time Metro schedules, service advisories, walking directions and trip planners. Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m., parking at Metro-operated lots is free on weekends and federal holidays with weekday rates averaging a mere $5.00.
The Metro and Metro-operated parking lots accept SmarTrip® card payments.SmarTrip® cards can be purchased at any Metro station using the blue fare card vending machines or online with a credit or debit card.Reduced fares are offered to senior citizens and people with disabilities.
Tour the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) to see U.S. currency in production.
Tours are free and available on weekdays only. The BEP ticket booth opens daily at 8:00 a.m. and closes when all tickets for the day have been distributed.Plan to arrive at the booth early if the BEP is a must-see during your visit.
Touring the White House, Capitol and the Galleries of the Senate and House of Representatives will require a bit more planning. Excluding Capitol tours which may be booked on the Capitol's website, White House and Galleries of the Senate and House of Representative tour tickets are available only through your state's Member of Congress and should be requested up to six months in advance. Plan to arrive 45 minutes before your scheduled tour noting tour schedules are subject to change. To confirm tours are running on schedule, call (202) 456‑7041 for White House tours and (202) 226-8000 for Capitol tours.
Personal items should be stored before scheduled tours. Common items including handbags, backpacks, strollers, book bags, lotions and more are prohibited on tours of the White House, Capitol and Galleries. While the White House has no storage options, the Galleries offer checkstands with the Natural History and American History museums renting small storage lockers for twenty-five cents. For larger items, Gate A at Union Station offers small baggage storage for $3.00 per hour, medium baggage storage for $4.00 per hour and large baggage storage for $6.00 per hour.
There are nearly 154 million objects and works of art in 17 galleries, gardens and museums that form the Smithsonian Museums, all of which offer free admission. Whatever your fascination, the museums are sure to house must-see-collections that appeal to your interests. From dinosaur bones to Chuck Berry's Cadillac, Native American featherwork to Charles Lindbergh's airplane and vintage airmail planes to outdoor sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Yoko Ono, there are hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. Research the museums ahead of time to locate collections that align with your specific interests.
Take a 3D journey to the stars and back at DC's Albert Einstein Planetarium at the National Space Museum or visit the Lockheed Martin or Samuel C. Johnson IMAX® theaters to view blockbuster hits like Spider-Man's Homecoming and documentaries like the history of flight in 3D.The planetarium and theaters are reasonably priced at $7.50 to $9.00 per person with the theater at Lockheed Martin offering small concessions, beer and wine.
If a nostalgic picnic in the park is in order, pack your own basket or purchase culinary treats along the way as you head to the peaceful Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Art, the iconic Dupont Circle Fountain in the historic district or the secluded Spanish Steps and terraces in the Kalorama neighborhood. Glen's Garden Market is a must-try grocery and deli near Dupont Circle offering baguettes, smoked meats and cheeses from local artisans while the Pavilion Café in the National Gallery of Art offers sandwiches, salads and desserts.
When inclement weather sends you scurrying for indoor dining options, climb to the top floor of the Madison Building to take in a view of Capitol Hill while dining at the Madison Café. Alternatively, enjoy regional cuisine, salad, burgers, pizza, Panini, gelato and much more from one of the Smithsonian cafés or visit the U.S. Capitol Café to enjoy a breakfast or salad bar, scones, bagels, muffins, yogurt, grill items, pizza, pasta, soups and desserts. Each café is reasonably priced with entrees in the $10.00 and under range.
Savor an evening at one of DC's historic mansions and gardens while enjoying a garden party, wine tasting, outdoor art lessons, a game of croquet in the garden, an American history food festival, prohibition-era jazz band or free outdoor concert. Check for special events at the Woodrow Wilson House, Anderson House, Tudor Place or Woodlawn and Frank Lloyd Wright's Pope-Leighey House.
No trip is complete without souvenirs. Make sure you visit one of the Smithsonian Museum gift shops stocked with unusual gifts unique to that museum and, before leaving DC, snap a picture at the district's largest postcard at Mama Ayesha's restaurant. The Presidential Mural with White House backdrop includes 11 presidents with Mama Ayesha featured between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. The mural took three years to complete, measures 24 feet by 60 feet and was painted in 2009 by artist Kalisima (Karla) Rodas.
Since Washington, DC has so much to offer its visitors, it's difficult to highlight every point of interest in a single synopsis. Knowing a few tricks for getting around DC while spotlighting areas of specific interest will help you plan a well-rounded, pleasant, educational journey. Enjoy!