It's a long way from Idaho to Washington, DC--more than 2,300 miles from the center of the state to the nation's capital. So, when you are prepared in every way, touring around Washington, DC, can be more comfortable and entertaining.
I asked my staff, many of whom are Idahoans, for their best advice on how to make the most of touring in Washington, DC.
Here are some of those tips, ranging from planning your visit to how best to get around when you are here:
Use the downloadable comprehensive list of all the attractions (PDF document) available on this website. If you download the Word document, you can delete the rows of attractions that don't interest you, editing it down to the attractions that you want to see.
This map of Washington, DC, will also be helpful in deciding what sights would be of interest. Select sites that are near each other to avoid backtracking on different days.
Some sites are only open if you have congressional reservations. My office is happy to help you with those arrangements through completion of the Tour Request Form.
Request a Welcome To Washington: A Guide To Our Nation's Capital brochure from my office; it is an invaluable resource for planning your trip.
Buy tickets for the Washington Monument and the Holocaust Museum online. While there is a small transaction fee, it's worth knowing that you have the tickets and don't have to stand in line or take a chance that you won't be there early enough to get tickets.
Review the sights you want to see on the Internet. That will give you an idea of what you will see, as well as any information about special exhibits or programs that may be going on during the time of your trip.
When making hotel arrangements, check to see if it is near a Metro stop.
Pick only a couple of sights to see each day--this will avoid arguments, fatigue, the crankies, etc.
Take your time. Allow your children to take in everything at each memorial, museum, etc. Don’t rush to see everything in a few days.
- It's called Capitol Hill because it is a hill. While that may sound simplistic, many people fail to take that into consideration when deciding whether to walk or ride to a destination. Even if it's moderately hot, consider taking Metro or a taxi cab for short distances because of the changes in elevation.
- The distances between monuments on the National Mall may seem deceptively close. The National Mall is nearly three miles long, running from Capitol Hill to West Potomac Park (where the Lincoln Memorial is located). Using public transportation, a tour bus or a taxi cab to get from one end to the other is advisable.
- Stand on the right-hand side of the escalator; walk on the left-hand side. If not, you will get ran over by busy people going to work! There is a passing lane on DC escalators. Stand to the right on Metro escalators, thereby allowing city folk to walk by on the left. The same concept applies on the moving walkways at airports as well.
- Location of bathrooms is important. For instance, there are no public restrooms on the Mall, although there are bathrooms in the museums located around the Mall and at the Lincoln Memorial. When walking down the Mall from the Capitol, there are no public restrooms on the Mall until you get to the Washington Monument grounds, unless you go through the regular security line to get in one of the museums along the way.
Don’t jaywalk. Please use the crosswalks and cross when the traffic lights indicate to do so.
Don’t stand in the middle of the streets running through the Mall. These are major avenues used by residents and those who work in the city.
If you are traveling with a large group or people, have one person carry a brightly-colored umbrella so that you can easily find your group after you have become distracted.
Don’t leave your dog in the car while you do the tourist thing; it is hot and humid in DC.
- Avoid the roads and Metro during rush hour, both morning (opening to 9:30 a.m.) and afternoon (3 to 7 p.m.). Metro charges more during rush hours, and the trains will be crowded with little room for strollers and other items that tourists may have.
- The museums are a lot less crowded on weekdays.
- Prepare for going through metal detectors as easily as possible (not just in airports). That means taking all the metal, including coins, out of your pockets; soda cans and cameras in your pocket will set them off and hold up lines.
- Pack light for touring as you’ll be likely to be lugging your stuff for a good part of the day.
- While the Metro is a great thing, it’s not Mall friendly. There is only one Metro stop at the National Mall, and simply walking around to the different Smithsonian Museums is faster and more efficient than trying to Metro around (unless you are just getting there or finished seeing the museums).
- Review the travel options offered by MetroRail, and fare information. MetroRail fares are now paid via SmarTrip card which can be purchased at MetroRail stations. A SmarTrip card is a permanent, rechargeable farecard that can be used on Metrorail, Metrobus and Metro parking facilities. Some of the options can be ordered online. Paper fare cards are not available.
- Wear headphones at your own risk. That will block out traffic sounds and other noises that may be important for your safety.
- When visiting the U.S. Capitol or the office buildings on Capitol Hill, please do not block the hallways. All the buildings are used for business, and those who work there need to be able to get around easily without encountering large groups of people blocking passage through the hallways. Stand off to the side or near the walls when waiting or conferring.
- Public transportation is much more accessible than in Idaho, and it's a more efficient way to get around Washington, DC. You may also consider
Clothing and shoes
Dress in light layers. Washington, DC is a humid city, making the hot hotter and the cold colder. Light layers provide you more opportunity to adjust to the outside temperature.
Crocs get stuck in escalators.
The Mall has stones/pebbles on it that will get stuck in sandals, flip flops, etc.
- Dress your children in the same color shirts; it makes them easy to find in a crowd.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes.
- People always worry that they are underdressed to visit the DC tourism sites. The best advice is to wear comfortable clothes and leave the large backpack at the hotel because of all the metal detectors and the fact they’ll pick up stuff along the way.
- Take a picnic lunch to eat on the lawn near the Washington Monument.
- Many of the museums have easy places for people to eat, but be prepared to pay a little more.
- Union Station has a food court with a lot of options in one location.
I am also interested in learning about your thoughts on the various sites you visited. Please send those to me through this e-mail link. Please put DC Tour Review in your subject line. Information that you send to me may be used on this website to advise others about what to expect, so please take that into consideration when submitting comments.