Need help planning a Washington DC trip, sites to see?

I am planning a trip to Washington DC, first time there.
Will be there for two full days as a tourist. No kids, just
two adults. I plan to go in mid October of 2010.


  1. What would you classify as Must See sites? Obviously the White House is
    one of them. What are others? Is there a certain order they should be
    seen due to proximity to each other?
  2. What are the Must See museums to visit?
  3. Do any of the tourist sites/museums/etc not allow picture taking?
  4. What is the best way to get around the city? Is there a subway?
  5. How is the airport getting in and out, is it very crowded?
  6. Are there any restaurants that I should definitely not miss going to?
  7. How is the weather there in mid October? I assume mild?

Thank you very much.

I haven’t been sightseeing in DC for a number of years, but I can answer a few of the questions:

Yes, the DC metro. Oppressive station architecture and crowded at rush hours, but really rather easy to use.

Which one? There are two airports near DC proper (Dulles and Reagan National), and the Baltimore airport (Baltimore-Washington International) can also be used to get there in a pinch. Reagan National is the closest to the center of the city, and is smaller and less busy than Dulles. However, flights to it tend to be more expensive, and there are additional security procedures that you have to go through because of its proximity to, um, “high-value targets”. To get from BWI to the DC city center requires either a shuttle ride ($$), a taxi ($$$$), or a commuter train ride (pretty cheap, but check the schedules to make sure that the trains are running when you need them.

ETA: Oh, and of these three the Metro only runs to Reagan National.

Dulles has the same problem as BWI. Its also almost thirty miles from the city so it ain’t all that close.

When I fly out of Dulles, I take Super Shuttle. Its a lot cheaper than taking a cab either to or from the airport.

I would visit the Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum and American History Museum, but those are my interests. You may want to visit the Congress as well.

Take the Metro to get around DC. It will go everywhere you want to go most likely. There is very little parking near the museums and monuments, and driving in DC can be a pain.

Where are you coming from?

1) What would you classify as Must See sites? Obviously the White House is
one of them. What are others? Is there a certain order they should be
seen due to proximity to each other?

If you want to visit the White House (inside) you must schedule it through your Congressman. No walk-ins. Hopefully you still have enough time but the lead time is normally weeks to months. I have done both the White House and the Capitol and found the Capitol tour infinitely more interesting. In the White House tour you visit a handful of inconsequential rooms.

2) What are the Must See museums to visit?

Check out the Smithsonianmuseums (there are lots). Depends on what you like, but the Air & Space Museum is probably the most popular. National Galleryis not part of the Smithsonian but also free and worthwhile.

3) Do any of the tourist sites/museums/etc not allow picture taking?

I am not aware of any sites that prohibit photography though some private art galleries/museums probably do. Photography is freely allowed in the Smithsonian museums. You should check with each site before you go. There may be restrictions on photography in government buildings (I think it’s prohibited on the White House tour; I went a couple of years ago).

Also see this article.

4) What is the best way to get around the city? Is there a subway?

Subway yes. To ride the subway you must buy a FareCard, one per passenger. Fares are variable depending on time of day and distance traveled. If you want to park at a Metro lot, most stations require you have a SmartCard, which requires a one-time $5 fee. If you stay in the suburbs be aware that lots will fill up early , though in many there are Reserved Spaces that are free to anyone after 10 AM.

5) How is the airport getting in and out, is it very crowded?

Not any more than any other metro area airport. Reagan National is in Arlington, just over the river, and has a Metro stop. Dulles is in suburban Virginia, maybe 25 miles outside of DC, but has no public transportation. BWI is closer to Baltimore but is served by Southwest Airlines so may be a good choice for some.

6) Are there any restaurants that I should definitely not miss going to?

DC has many good restuarants but is not particularly known for it. One of DC’s best restaurants is 70 miles from the White House. :slight_smile: Lots of expense account places downtown frequented by lobbyists and lawyers. Check out theWashingtonian’s list of 100 Best and the Post Dining Guide to see what we’ve got. I do recommend the Minibar at Cafe Atlantico if you want an intimate, hi-tech cuisine experience at around $150 per person or so. Requires reservations weeks in advance.

7) How is the weather there in mid October? I assume mild?

Mild but changeable and unpredictable this far in advance. In October we are transitioning from the last warm breezes of summer to full-on fall. Be prepared for highs anywhere from 65-85F and it could drop as far as 40F at night.

Oh, also, if you go for this sort of thing, there is also a hop-on/hop-off double-decker bus tour which hits a lot of highlights, as well as the Duck Tour (which is fun but if you’re only here for two days may not want to bother with).

Don’t forget Arlington National Cemetery if you are so inclined.

Reagen National is in Arlington, Virginia, along with the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Iwo Jima Memorial. I’d list all of those as “must see.” In Washington, I’d add Saint John’s Episcopal Church (“the church of the Presidents”) for both its historical value (and, for me, personal historical value as I was an acolyte there) and proximity to the White House. I’d also include the Capitol, the Smithsonian, and the memorials/monuments for Presidents Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson. If you like ice skating, go in the winter and you can skate on the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. Also, if you have time, try to make it to both Mount Vernon and Monticello.

i just visited DC for the first time in May. CWG saved me alot of typing. I did see the Capitol and White house. The Capitol had a guided tour and I found it very interesting. The White House? Well, I’m glad I can say I’ve been there but it was quite alot of hassle and waiting for the very short and limited tour. We stayed in National Harbor, so it was a bus and metro ride into DC. 60-90 mins each way depending on the time of day.

Our tour was delayed a little over an hour, but between the bus, metro, and waiting, we probably spent 4 hours to go on a 15 min White House tour. While I have no desire to do it again, I am glad I went.

The National Zoo is pretty impressive and free. The National Aquarium is $9/ person and (IMHO) wouldn’t be worth seeing for free.

I think it’s called the National Mall? It’s where the Washington Monument, WWII monument, Lincoln memorial, Vietnam wall, and several other monuments reside. I loved walking through that. If you’re into that kinda thing, allot a whole day for it.

Here’s a thread in MPSIMS from last month that asked this same question. Lots of good suggestions to look through:

The other posts have covered most of the great spots to see. I’d add the National Archives to the list. For restaurants, if you’ve never had Maryland style crabs, go the Dancing Crab. And no trip to D.C. is complete without visiting Childrens National Medical Center where I was born (or do only I do that?).

The National Cathedral is pretty impressive. Just up the road from the Zoo. There’s a lot of good restaurants around there too.

The White House: The tour is pretty boring. You just see a few garishly decorated ceremonial rooms. And, as mentioned before, you need to contact your representative in advance to get a pass.

The Capitol: Much, much more interesting, and you don’t have to schedule it in advance.

Other must-sees:

  • Pandas at the zoo
  • National Cathedral
  • National Archives
  • Holocaust museum
  • Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Vietnam War, Korean War memorials (the WWII memorial is just awful, in my opinion)
  • Theodore Roosevelt Island - beautiful little nature preserve. Plus a huge statue of T.R.

Food - There are some really, really good restaurants in D.C. But there are a handful of ethnic cuisines that are extra special in the area, namely - Ethiopian, Korean, Vietnamese, and Central American.

And every trip to Washington should include a stop at Ben’s Chili Bowl for a chili half-smoke.

Moved from GQ to IMHO

If you want to go up the Washington Monument you have to get a ticket early in the day. They usually run out pretty quickly and are only good on the day issued. The Library of Congress and Supreme court are very pretty. The American Indian museum has the best cafeteria, but it is expensive for what you get. Mount Vernon is a nice visit and less than a half hour away. The Museum of American Art is nice. The national gallery, american history, natural history, air and space and holocaust museums are the only worthwhile museums on the mall.

I would completely disagree with this. The American History, Natural History, and Air and Space museums are for people who don’t like museums and have no interest in art. There’s actually hardly any real history at the history museum. The art museums have some fantastic stuff, especially the Freer/Sackler galleries, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

I agree that the National Cathedral is cool, but it’s not really walking distance from any Metro station (or the Zoo): you’d have to take a bus.

I’m not sure why you say that they are for people who don’t like museums. These are awesome museums. As for them being for people who have no interest in art, well, they aren’t art museums.

I have lived in the DC area for about 27 years and although I don’t completely agree with acsenray I do understand the sentiment. puddleglum made an indefensible statement that these three are the only museums on the Mall worth visiting, and that’s the context of acsenray’s response. I’ve been to all of them and they are all worth visiting, but of course, like anything else, it depends on your interests.

The American History, Natural History, and Air and Space museums are wonderful for what they are, but being popular, culture snobs might look down on them. I have to admit that seeing Archie Bunker’s chair or a set from MAS*H don’t excite me. The National Gallery, OTOH, has a da Vinci. How can anyone think that’s not worthwhile?

It’s not that much farther from the Cleveland Park or Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Metro stations than the Zoo is.

It may be the context of acsenray’s response – and I don’t agree with puddleglum, either – but it’s not what I was responding to. I don’t see why there has to be an either/or here: aren’t people allowed to appreciate art and astronaut ice cream (which, as we all know, is the only reason to visit Air & Space)?

The zoo is only three blocks from Woodley Park; the cathedral is 1.1 miles. Not what I consider “walking distance” for the average tourist (or myself, for that matter).

I haven’t been to the American History museum since it re-opened, but if it’s anything like it used to be, it’s pretty much the worst museum in the world. Mister Rogers’s cardigan, Dorothy’s slippers, Julia Child’s kitchen a whole freaking room on the first ladies’ dresses? It’s frankly embarrassing. Genuine historical artifacts are outnumbered by pop culture trivia on a scale of about 4-to-1.

The Natural History museum recently had a huge exhibit on baseball. How is that natural history, exactly?

The Air and Space museum is primarily notable for its wide, empty spaces and paucity of actual historical air and spacecraft. The majority of the museum is taken up by informational displays and recreations. And its ginormous gift shop. Check out the U.S. Air Force Museum. That’s a real museum on this subject. It’s packed to the gills with actual historical aircraft.

I stand by my statement: They’re “museums” for people who don’t like museums.

It’s not “only three blocks” it’s half a mile. And most tourists can walk the length of the Mall, or at least from the Capitol to the Washington Monument, which is 1.2 miles.