*Alternatively known as melting whilst trying to squeeze in every feasible monument/museum/insert attraction as applicable into three short days.
A few months beforehand, our meticulous planning led us to believe that a red-eye flight would be the ideal way to save some money and maximise our time in the nation’s capital. When we arrived, we realised exactly how these flights got their nickname: try arriving in D.C. at 6 am D.C. time (which is 3 am San Francisco time) and you’ll soon discover why too. Add this sleep-deprived state to the ridiculous heat wave, and it was a miracle how we managed to see as much as we did that first day.
We flew with Virgin America (as, after all, due to time constraints flying really is the only option for going cross-country) from San Francisco International Airport; the highlight of the flight was the flight safety video, which I found ridiculously entertaining. From Washington Dulles Airport it was a simple journey into town; a short ride on the Washington Flyer Bus, then a metro ride into downtown. We stayed at the Downtown D.C. Hostel, which was a twenty minute walk from the Capitol and a ten minute walk from Union Station.
Here’s what we packed into our three days in the city that is every culture-vulture’s dream destination (at least, if they’re into American culture . . .):
Several of them; repeat visits made just to escape from the heat into a lovely air conditioned building. Most of the museums are free, which means you can see a lot of Washington D.C.’s finest monuments for nothing. As a big Night at the Museum fan, exploring just a few of the Smithsonians was a must for me. My favourite Smithsonian museum was Air and Space; seeing the Wright brothers’ first plane, Amelia Earhart’s plane and countless others was great fun – and there was so much to see! We also went in the Natural History Museum, which I wasn’t so keen on, saw the Sculpture Garden (which is linked to the Hirshhorn Museum) and visited the National Gallery of Art where we saw this strange-smelling sculpture . . .
In the heart of the National Mall lies the Washington Monument, a tribute to the first president of the United States. Uninitiated, we turned up mid-afternoon on our first day, enquiring about how to obtain tickets. It turned out that getting tickets required getting up super-early, and being in a queue around 7 am. Wow. So, of course, we did exactly this the following day and were one of the first in the queue. The ticket office opened at 8.30 am, and not long after our mission was accomplished and we had tickets for both an afternoon and sunset trip up the monument! It was a shame that there were some construction works going on at the time, but it was still a fantastic view from the top. In true D.C. style, this was yet another free activity, provided you’re able to haul yourself out of bed and make it to the queue in time.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
After our exceptionally early get-up to obtain tickets for the Washington Monument, we then went to join the queue to get tickets for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Tickets for this museum are also free, and are issued on a first-come first-serve basis; ticket office opens at 10 am, but the queue starts long before then. This was, without a doubt, one of the best museums we went in during our time in America; the harrowing events really came to life, and the museum was really well organised enabling us to get the most out of our visit.
The White House
Who doesn’t want a picture in front of Obama’s house? I have to admit, despite the fact that it’s kind of obvious from the word ‘house’, the building did look a little smaller than I had imagined. Nevertheless, it was cool to see it even if we ran out of time to visit the information centre. If you want to take a tour, you’ll need to book several months in advance and there is a long list of prohibited items.
It’s fairly safe to say we went into memorial-visiting overdrive; not content with our aerial view from the Washington Monument, we went and visited every memorial on the National Mall and the three surrounding the Tidal Basin. First up, was the Lincoln Memorial (right in front of it is a plaque, denoting the place where Martin Luther King made his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech), where a lovely Asian woman excitedly offered to take our photo and we entertained ourselves taking silly photos of us holding the Washington Monument. We also saw the National WW2 Memorial (I loved the pillars denoting each state which surrounded the fountains), the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King Memorial and, my favourite, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Memorial. This one was my favourite as I felt it really gave me an impression of the things he had achieved as president, and its layout narrated a story as you walked through it.
It’s no big state secret: I love zoos. And there was no chance that I was going to miss the opportunity to visit Washington D.C.’s National Zoo (which is free to visit) – especially as it had giant pandas, one of my all-time favourite animals. This was one of the best zoos I’ve ever visited – and the misters throughout the zoo were so good for cooling off when the heat got too much. It’s only a short ride on the metro out of the city centre; alight at Woodley Park and it’s only a short walk to the zoo.