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Washington DC Travel Guide | The American capital | Roadtrip USA (3)

After we had been able to enjoy a few wonderful days in the cozy, colonial town of Annapolis, we arrived in Washington DC. In this mini-travel guide about Washington DC I tell you about a piece of the history of the city and what there is to see and do.

Also read: Annapolis mini travel guide | The capital of Maryland USA
Also read: Free New York City Travel Guide | All must sees, travel tips, transport & budget


Plan your vacation to America here


Our journey through the United States and Canada

This article is part of a major one-year journey that we (Chris and Malou van Wereldreizigers.nl), are currently making by the United States en Canada† We started in New York City and are through Washington DC en Baltimore (where we shipped our RV), first traveled south (Florida) and then made a full round of the country.

Organizing this trip took a lot of time and energy. So we had to US B1/B2 visa of one year and we spent weeks working on it renovating our 4×4 camper† Then we got to work on the RV to America to ship and in hindsight it turned out to be a Dutch vehicle insurance in America to be one of the biggest challenges.

When that was all over, we could finally focus on the anticipation: figuring out and planning all the beautiful places we want to visit. I built the ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada of roughly 50.000 kilometers in Google maps and we are now making our dream come true! The interactive map can be viewed below.

More blogs from our trip through America and Canada

About Washington DC

Washington DC is the capital of the United States† America's political heart has a rich history and the city is named after its first president, George Washington.

This district does not belong to any state, because they did not want a state to exert influence over the capital. As a result, the residents of Washington DC do not participate in the elections of the US Congress, because after all, that represents the states. They do take part in the presidential elections.

To avoid confusion with the state of Washington, the Americans often do not speak of Washington, but of Washington DC, or simply D.C.

In The Netherlands we often see the city on the news. Important decisions are made that affect the entire United States and sometimes the entire world. This is one of the reasons why it is great to visit dezw city!

What to visit?

You really only need to remember one name: National Mall† Around this place you will find memorials, monuments, museums and parks. You can start on the east side at the Capitol and Supreme Court, pass numerous museums, to the Washington Monument and continue on to Lincoln Memorial and Tidel Basin. Or vice versa.

Top 5 Things to See in Washington DC

1. The Capitol

We started on the east side. The first thing we saw is the imposing and immense Capitol building. The Capitol is home to both the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives, collectively known as Congress. The building is so large that it is difficult to photograph it in its entirety.

The Capitol, Chris presents the building | Washington DC Travel Guide
The Capitol, Chris presents the building | Washington DC Travel Guide

You seem to be able to enter the building through the visitor center. The entrance was unfortunately closed on the day we were there and closed with crush barriers. We do not know whether this is a temporary closure, we could not find any further information about it.

The Capitol, only the middle part can be photographed | Washington DC Travel Guide
The Capitol, only the middle part can be photographed | Washington DC Travel Guide

Do you remember? † This is the building that made headlines when it was stormed on January 6, 2021. Thousands of Trump supporters flocked to it after an appeal from the former president. Some of the crowd broke through police blockades and stormed the building in an effort to prevent the formalization of President Joe Biden's election victory.

These rioters occupied, destroyed and looted parts of the building for several hours. The riots led to the eviction and lockdown of the Capitol and five people were killed. Now, more than a year later, Trump may be prosecuted for inciting / inciting this assault.

The Capitol dome photographed through the blossom | Washington DC Travel Guide
The Capitol dome photographed through the blossom | Washington DC Travel Guide

2. Supreme Court of the United States

The words “equal justice under law” are written on the building and nine judges are depicted on it. One Chief Justice and eight Ordinary Judges. The United States Supreme Court is the highest federal court in the country's legal system. On the left is Lady Justice and on the right, a male figure, the authority of the law. The building dates from 1935. Unfortunately, entering the building is not possible at the moment due to the Covid virus.

US Supreme Court with blossom and flag at half mast | Washington DC Travel Guide
US Supreme Court with blossom and flag at half mast | Washington DC Travel Guide

Footnote † When a flag is flown at half-mast, it is a sign of respect or memory. I wondered why the flag was flying at half-mast everywhere this day (March 25, 2022). I found the answer on the internet: “As a mark of respect for former Secretary of State Madeleine Korbel Albright and her life of service to our Nation.”

US Supreme Court and Malou on the stairs | Washington DC Travel Guide
US Supreme Court and Malou on the stairs | Washington DC Travel Guide

3. The Washington Monument

The Washington Monument was built to honor the first US President George Washington. It has been there since 1884 and you can enter the monument to look out over Washington DC. NB; for this you have to be on time (!) online tickets to buy. They are only $1 USD per ticket but they sell out fast. The day before your visit, at 10.00 a.m., they become available and usually sell out after a few minutes.

Washington Monument | Towering over DC
Washington Monument | Towering over DC

At least you don't have to go hungry around the so-called National Mall! There are a lot of food trucks. At any time you can get your lunch or snack and sit down on the grass or on one of the many benches in the park.

Washington Monument and the food trucks around it | Washington DC Travel Guide
Washington Monument and the food trucks around it | Washington DC Travel Guide

4. The White House

North of the Washington monument you will find the White House. At the moment living of course president Joe Biden and his wife here. When we visited Washington DC, the President was in Brussels for a crisis meeting at NATO due to the crisis in Ukraine.

The building has been there since 1800 and every American president, with the exception of George Washington, has lived in the White House. You can visit the White House, but it does require some preparation. You must then 6 months to 21 days in advance apply through the US embassy† The tour is free and without a guide, so no guided tour.

Although I was looking forward to seeing the White House from the outside, I honestly found it a bit disappointing. You can only take a picture from a distance and, compared to all the other imposing buildings in Washington DC, it is somewhat small in size. So a modest place…

The White House (zoomed in with the camera) | Washington DC Travel Guide
The White House (zoomed in with the camera) | Washington DC Travel Guide

5.Lincoln Memorial

On the other side of the National Mall, the west side, is the Lincoln Memorial. This temple houses the statue of President Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States. It is free to visit.

Lincoln served from 1861 until his death in 1865. He was the first President of the United States to serve during his term in office was murdered† Lincoln is considered one of the greatest American presidents and acclaimed for his leadership during the American Civil War. He is responsible for the abolition of slavery, the strengthening of the national government and the modernization of the economy.

Lincoln Memorial, the statue of the president in the Greek Temple | Washington DC Travel Guide
Lincoln Memorial, the statue of the president in the Greek Temple | Washington DC Travel Guide

I have a dream - speech

The world famous 'I have a dream' speech was also given by Martin Luther King in front of the memorial. The words are literally engraved in the marble here. Martin Luther King held it in front of an audience of more than 200.000 people on the occasion of the march on Washington. With the march, the American civil rights movement wanted to pave the way for more jobs, freedom and equality, especially for African Americans in the United States. The speech has recently been digitally polished and edited and can be seen in color below.

Lincoln Memorial | This is where Martin Luther King gave his speech
Lincoln Memorial | This is where Martin Luther King gave his speech
“US Government Photo”, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
“US Government Photo”, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Translation of the speech |“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and do justice to the true meaning of its creed: 'We take for granted the following truths: that all men are created equal.' I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. A dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state that smothers in the heat of injustice and smothers in the heat of oppression, will become an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a country where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. †

Other Things to See in Washington DC

1. Visit the Holocaust Museum

The Holocaust Museum is both beautiful and heartbreaking. It features a large permanent exhibition that tells the story of the Holocaust through films, photos and stories. Tickets are free but must be reserved online.

2. Visit the Espionage Museum

Opened in 2002, the International Spy Museum has exhibits on both historical and contemporary spy crafts. See false-bottomed shoes, photos of notorious spies, and interviews with former intelligence officers. There are over 7.000 items in the collection, with information dating back to ancient Egypt and Greece and how their spies worked. It's super interesting! Tickets start at $24,95 USD.

3. Visit West Potomac Park

Tidel Basin is the man-made lake in West Potomac Park near the National Mall. Around the lake you can visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. There are also numerous blossom trees.

West Potomac Park | Washington DC Travel Guide
West Potomac Park | Washington DC Travel Guide
Tidal Basin and the Washington Monument behind the Blossom | Washington DC Travel Guide
Tidal Basin and the Washington Monument behind the Blossom | Washington DC Travel Guide

In 1912 donated Japan 3.020 cherry blossom trees to the United States to celebrate the growing friendship of the nations. The gift was extended in 1965 by an additional 3.800 trees. In Washington DC, the cherry blossom trees remain a popular tourist attraction.

On March 21, '22 the blossom was at its peak. That means that 70% of the blossom is open. It depends on the weather how it will develop further. As far as I'm concerned, we were there at exactly the right time. The trees were in full bloom and that provides even more beautiful pictures of the sights!

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial beautifully visible between the blossom | Washington DC Travel Guide
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial beautifully visible between the blossom | Washington DC Travel Guide
Thomas Jefferson Memorial in the distance | Washington DC Travel Guide
Thomas Jefferson Memorial in the distance | Washington DC Travel Guide

4. Visit Alexandria's Old Town

Cross the river to Alexandria, Virginia, a small town of stone streets, colonial buildings and historic monuments. One of the best things to do here is the Pub/Ghost Crawl, which explores historic sites and haunted buildings while also visiting several pubs. Nightly Spirits organizes tours for $25 USD per person. While you're here, don't miss the old colonial mansions, the former torpedo factory, and the thinnest historic house in the US (it's only 2 feet wide!).

5. Explore the National Gallery of Art

This museum has two wings; the east wing, which houses the gallery's more modern works (Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko) and the west wing, which contains the collection's older works (Sandro Botticelli to Claude Monet). You will see many artists painting here and it is fascinating to watch them work to recreate these historical masterpieces. During the summer, live music is often played in the Sculpture Garden. Admission is free, but you must book online.

6. Visit the embassies during Passport DC

During this annual spring celebration, more than 70 embassies open their doors to visitors, with cultural demonstrations, tastings, and music and dance performances. It's a remarkable way to spend a few days learning about different cultures and eating delicious food! It takes place every year during the month of May. You can find more information on this website.

7. Visit the Library of Congress

It is the largest library in the world! There are over 16 million books here and over 120 million other items. It was founded in 1800 and more than 3.000 employees keep this place going. It is the main research center of the US Congress and home to the US Copyright Office. Check the website for special tours that take place during your visit (sometimes they open the Music Division's Whittall Pavilion for public viewing).

How long to stay in Washington DC?

If you don't have much time for Washington DC, that's no problem. You can visit the highlights in one day. If you're a museum lover, you'll need more time! There are many good museums and, moreover, the entrance is often free† It might help you to think in advance about which museums you would like to visit. The most visited museums are National Gallery of Art, National Air and Space Museum, United States Botanic Garden, National Museum of Natural History, and National Museum of American History.

We have visited the latter. Since we have just started our journey and will be staying in the United States for a year, we felt it was important to learn more about the history of the country. For example, we learned about the different wars and the different presidents.

When is the best time to travel to Washington DC?

The best time to travel or in other words, the most pleasant time to visit Washington DC is in the spring or autumn. It can be too cold in winter and too hot in summer. Not only because of the heat it is less pleasant in the summer, but then also the hotel prices are at their highest and it is (more crowded).

Washington DC has countless events and often (free) activities. View on the official tourism website from Washington DC for upcoming events. We met DC during the multi-day (how could it be otherwise?!) Cherry Blossom Festival. The Blossom Kite Festival on March 26 was also part of this. There were many kites in the sky. And children and adults fumbling on the floor…

Tidal Basin | The Blossom Festival
West Potomac Park | The Blossom Festival
Blossom Kite Festival | The Capitol in the background

Transportation in Washington DC

On foot and by bike – It is a long walk around the National Mall. It took us at least three hours. You can also choose to buy a bicycle from Capital Bikeshare or an electric scooter from Lime to rent. This way you are faster between the different sights.

Metro – If you want to move to or from other places in Washington DC, the metro is a great means of transport. Unlike New York, these are comfortable and new trains. You can buy a ticket in a machine in a metro station and put a balance on it. During the week, a ticket costs $2-3,85 USD during off-peak hours and $2,25-6 USD during peak hours. On weekends, regardless of the destination, you pay $2 USD per ride.

bus – If you cannot get to your destination by metro, the bus will take you there. Like the subway on weekends, the fare is $2,00 USD per ride in the city.

Taxis – Taxis are certainly not the cheapest option for getting around Washington DC. The minimum fare starts at $2,50 USD and quickly increases every minute depending on how fast you go and how far you drive (and you usually don't go very fast, so I'd skip them).

Ride sharing – Uber, Lyft and Via are theoretically cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don't want to take a bus or pay for a taxi. Via, Lyft and Uber sometimes offer 'ride sharing' as an option, where you share a ride with other people. This can save money, but will also take longer. Via is the cheapest option.

Car rental – Car rental is not super cheap here. Usually it costs about $55 USD per day for a multi-day rental. However, the cost of the car rental is not your main concern. Parking your car in Washington DC is. Expect just $30 USD per afternoon to park your car somewhere and for 24 hours it will quickly be $60 USD per night in many places. Unless you plan on doing a lot of miles from Washington DC, I would car rental to skip. If you really need a car in Washington DC, check out Sunny Cars.

Tips to save money

Free City Tours – Taking a free City Tour is the most fun and the best way to get to know the city. You get to see the main sights and ask all your questions to a local guide. It costs nothing in principle, but a somewhat substantial tip is expected! Give $10-15 USD per person and the guide will thank you. You really won't find it cheaper than that in Washington DC

eat cheap (and healthy) – It's very Dutch; we often just spread our own sandwiches for the afternoon. Complete packed lunches were in our bag when we hit the road again! Buy fruit, bread, cheese, chicken fillet, snack peppers and snack tomatoes at the Walgreens of whole foods and make your own ultimate healthy sandwich. Almost every hotel room in Washington DC is equipped with a refrigerator where you can keep your food and drinks cool.

It is not only a lot cheaper but also a lot healthier because what they say is true: almost everything you buy on the street or in a restaurant in America is fried, baked, salty, sweet and fatty.

Bring a water bottle – Tap water is safe to drink in Washington DC, so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. The water here has a slightly different taste than in the Netherlands with a slight hint of chlorine. If that bothers you, use a LifeStraw! Lifestraw is my favorite brand because their bottles have built-in filters to make sure your water is always clean and safe. They cost about 40 euros and are here  for sale.

couchsurf – Accommodation is expensive in Washington DC and with few hostels there aren't many options for a budget traveler. Use a hospitality website like Couchsurfing to stay with the locals for free. There is a huge network in the city with tons and tons of hosts. Apply as far in advance as possible to increase the chance of success!

Tip – One of the things that makes Washington DC and the US in general so expensive is the constant tip that is expected of you. In the USA is the minimum wage not what we are used to in The Netherlands† You simply cannot make ends meet in the hospitality industry or passenger transport and that is well known. Therefore you are expected to standard to give a 20% tip† It's kind of an unwritten rule in this country.

If you pay for something in a burger joint and you see the bill on the screen, it is standard in your image whether you want to tip 18, 20 or 23%. This is also the case with an uber or taxi. Tipping is not the first thing that comes to mind when budgeting for a trip… In the US you should definitely do that because 20% can be quite a bite out of your budget. You need food every day and transport almost every day.

Tax not included – Another silent killer for your wallet in Washington DC is the taxes or VAT. This is often not included in the price that you see. In the Netherlands we are accustomed that the price in the shop, in a diner or restaurant is inclusive of VAT. In the US it is often different. We once had to pay $30 USD for two wraps and two drinks, after the Tax fees and tip it was suddenly $45+ USD. That's a bit scary! After a few misses, we really started to pay more attention to whether or not this was included in the price.

Security in Washington DC

We found the city as a whole remarkably relaxed and safe! We actually never felt unsafe in Washington DC. This probably also has to do with the extreme security and police everywhere protecting the government buildings. However, we were not on the road at night and we were always back at the hotel before 23 p.m.

If something doesn't feel right or unsafe, leave. Trust your instincts. Washington DC is basically safe enough to just walk around without a plan.

Finally…

Thank you for reading. I sincerely hope that this Washington DC travel guide will help you in anticipation, preparation and/or during your trip. Suggestions and tips are always welcome! Then comment below.

Also read: Annapolis mini travel guide | The capital of Maryland USA
Also read: Free New York City Travel Guide | All must sees, travel tips, transport & budget


Plan your vacation to America here


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Malou

From an early age 👶 I have been fascinated by distant travels and other cultures. Seen many a country 🗺️, but certainly not ready yet! At this age (31) I often think about how to organize my life further. When I travel, I quickly let go of that and I can fully enjoy the here and now 🧘.
At home 🏠 I have a job in childcare, but at the moment I have a year off to go on an adventure with my husband Chris and the camper 🚐 in the US 🇺🇸 and Canada 🇨🇦

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