Fun fact- Washington D.C. has the second busiest subway system! (Beat out by New York city of course). I had a couple of hiccups at the very beginning of my trip (more on that later), so I ended up arriving in D.C. later than I wanted. But nonetheless, I was able to spend three awesome days in the capitol and enjoyed my trip. Since this was just a quick trip, I packed a carry-on suitcase and my tote bag which was more than enough space. If you don’t know what to pack in your personal item for a flight, check out my post, what to pack in your personal item. I’m the type of traveler that likes to hit the big tourist spots and try local staples, but I don’t want to jam-pack activities every second of every day. I want my trips to be leisurely and enjoyable. Just like in every city, you can’t see it all in one trip, but here’s my 3-day itinerary for the big things in Washington D.C.
Day 1. Union Station, the Supreme Court, (library of congress), (the Capital)
I got into BWI really late at night because my flight was delayed, so I had a late start to Day one. I decided that I wanted to go see Union [train] Station first. Washington Union Station is a transportation hub for millions of people and a major leisure destination. Once inside the station, I was amazed at the size! It was so open and beautifully constructed. It’s truly incredible to see in person. It’s a huge leisure destination now which is my favorite part. There are over 90 food joints and retail shops WITHIN the train station! I love that both of these uses operate so well together. (The urban planner in me was really giddy) This is also a great place to pick up lunch or do a little shopping.
Next, I walked over to the Supreme Court of the United States, where I was most excited to visit on this trip. There usually is a line to enter the building (to maintain a limited number of people in the building at all times), but isn’t crowded once you’re inside. In addition to the courtroom, there is a gift shop, cafeteria, theater, and exhibits all open to the public. There are offices in the building, so they ask that everyone keep their voices down. You aren’t allowed to take pictures in the courtroom (or any courtroom in the country), but you can definitely have your photo taken right outside of it. And don’t forget to take pictures of the exterior of the building, capturing the iconic steps of justice. The Supreme Court is right next to the Library of Congress and the U. S. Capitol, which are additional things that you can do on your first day in D.C.
After that, I went to The Wharf which is a really cool, new and developing neighborhood located just south of the National Mall. (The National Mall is a long grassy national park surrounded by the U.S. Capitol, White House, Lincoln and Washington memorials, numerous museums, and several war memorials- think like NY Central Park). I hung out at Recreation Pier and supported local businesses by enjoying an amazing seafood dinner. There’s nothing like being right by the water and eating fresh seafood!
Day 2. Arlington National Cemetery, National Mall, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall
I spent most of my second day of the trip at Arlington National Cemetery. I took an Uber from my Airbnb to the cemetery which was about a 20-minute drive. Note: there is only one visitor entrance to the cemetery, but multiple entrances for security personnel. Arlington National Cemetery honors those who have served our country during times of war, on a beautiful and peaceful 624-acre site in Arlington, Virginia. One particular area of the cemetery that I was interested in visiting was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the Changing of the Guards.
On a hill overlooking Washington D.C., a white marble sarcophagus sits atop the grave of the Unknown Soldier from World War I (There are also three marble slabs flush with the plaza, placed west of the sarcophagus, that represent the crypts of unknowns from World War II, The Korean War, and the Vietnam War.) Volunteer sentinels from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, 24 hours per day, 365 days a year. Guards are rotated every 30 minutes on the hour during the summer, and every hour on the hour the rest of the year. During this shift rotation, an elaborate ritual takes place known as the ‘Changing of the Guards.’
When I left the cemetery, I took a $4 cab to the Lincoln Memorial. Did I mention that this trip to D.C. took place in July and it was 107 degrees Fahrenheit with the humidity?! I walked when I could, and used the dockless electric scooters, but sometimes it was necessary to grab a cab or an Uber to get out of the heat. Walking to the top of the steps and looking out at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument was beautiful!
Near the Lincoln Memorial is the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I walked over to the wall next to pay my respect.
Day 3. The White House, The Smithsonian Museum of American History, Museum of Natural History, the Holocaust Memorial Museum
My last day I wanted to spend time in the museums (which are all free! One of the huge perks of traveling to Washington D.C.) After breakfast, I headed to the White house. With all politics aside, I was really excited to see it! I never took that middle school trip to D.C. where everyone got to take their picture in front of the house and tour the building. (Note: If you want to take a tour of the inside of The White House, make sure you plan ahead. You are required to submit your personal information online for a background check before you can book a tour.)
Next on my itinerary, I visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum. The museum was MUCH larger than I was anticipating, with several different exhibits. I would say that I know a decent amount about the holocaust from school, reading, and movies, but I actually learned a lot more at the museum. There are several exhibits to explore such as: Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story; Americans and the Holocaust; and The Permanent Exhibit: The Holocaust. The museum guide recommends allotting 2 hours or more for the permanent exhibit as it is a three-floor chronology of the Holocaust. In my opinion, this is the “main attraction.” It is definitely a very emotional experience, but I would highly recommend going and learning more through the video footage and eyewitness testimony.
The last two places I went to before I headed back to the airport was the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I thought these two museums would be great places to take kids because there are a lot of interactive exhibits to explore.
When I was booking my trip, I decided to go with a cheaper airline, despite their negative reputation and my negative personal experiences with them. I was trying to save a little money. In hindsight, this was not the right decision.
I booked an early morning flight from Chicago to Washington D.C. that I ended up missing (by about 5 minutes). This was my first time ever missing a plane so I was freaking out a little. I was told to go to the guest services desk for that airline and see what they could do. There was another flight from Chicago to D.C. later that night with 1 layover in Boston. The layover in Boston was for about 4 or 5 hours so I decided to explore a little since I had never been there. (I definitely will be planning a trip back to Boston for the full experience). When I got back to the Boston airport, I found out that the plane was delayed for 1 hour. Long story short- the flight kept getting delayed until about 1 A.M. so I didn’t land in D.C. until 3 A.M. (!!!) and then had to get an Uber to my Airbnb! You could say that I was a little exhausted by the time I finally went to sleep.
All in all, I really enjoyed my trip to Washington D.C., even with the flight mishaps and the 100+ degree weather.
In general some traveling advice I have:
- Cut costs where you can, but recognize where it’s worth it to pay a little more for something.
- If you miss a flight, it might not be the end of the world. Regroup, and work with the airline to see if your trip is still salvageable. Luckily, the night flight with the layover wasn’t an additional charge for me to switch to.
- Always, always, always check the weather when you’re packing. Since it was 100+ degrees and really humid, I’m glad I packed summer dresses so I was able to stay as cool as possible. I can’t imagine if I would have had to wear pants or tight materials on this trip.
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Have you ever traveled to Washington D.C.? What were your favorite things to see and do?