Destination Guides


Washington DC

General   Weather   Airports   Attractions   Activities  

Introduction

US Capitol, Washington DC ©Matt H. Wade

Europeans first arrived along the Potomac River in the 16th century and the area quickly became prosperous; tobacco brought vast wealth to the gentlemen planters, and the abundance of slaves gave them ample time for leisure. After the revolutionary war, Congress had to decide on the location of a new 'Federal Town': the 10 square miles (26 sq km) between Maryland and Virginia, which is now the District of Columbia, was finally selected for its strategic location between North and South, and the area has since been of massive symbolic and administrative importance to the USA.


French architect, Pierre L'Enfant, was chosen to plan the town, and as he pegged out streets 150 feet (46m) wide, and one grand avenue 400 feet (122m) wide and a mile long, the local landowners thought he'd gone mad - he was throwing away valuable land that could be used for farming! It was to take 50 years before Washington, DC (District of Columbia) took on the air and appearance of a capital city.


Today, Washington DC, with its low-profile skyline, is a city of green parks and open spaces, grand buildings, historic landmarks, marbled monuments and impressive museums, with character-filled neighbourhoods that support a thriving cultural scene. This bustling, cosmopolitan city is an international hub of power and diplomacy, commanding the political centre stage for the world's most powerful nation, and representing all the democratic ideals that the country takes pride in. Washington DC was one of the targets of the terrorist attack on the US on 11 September 2001, when a hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon, the heart of national security. The city has bounced back from this tragedy, however, and if anything 9/11 has bolstered patriotism in the capital.


After politics, tourism is the capital's main industry. The city plays host to millions of people annually who come to explore famous sights such as the domed US Capitol, the stately White House, Lincoln Memorial and the soaring Washington Monument. The most well-known sights are located along the National Mall, a green park stretching from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial on the Potomac River, including several memorials to great US presidents of the past, as well as the outstanding museums of the Smithsonian Institute.


Climate Info

Washington DC has a humid subtropical climate, and the nation's capital experiences four distinct seasons. Summers are usually hot and humid, while winters are chilly and damp. The hottest months of the year are usually July and August, with average high temperatures of about 84°F to 88°F (29°C to 31°C). Thunderstorms are common in the summer due to the combined heat and humidity. Winters can be very cold, often with snowstorms, and temperatures in December to February average between 28°F and 43°F (-2°C and 6°C). Spring and autumn are the mildest times of year, with high temperatures in April and October averaging comfortably around 68°F (20°C). Spring is usually the best time to travel to Washington DC, when temperatures are mild, humidity is low and the cherry blossoms are in bloom.


Getting Around

Getting around Washington DC is relatively easy as most attractions are within walking distance of one another. The city is laid out in a circle around the White House, with 'spokes' radiating out from it. Washington DC has an excellent public transport system that includes buses and the Metrorail subway, which has stations at or near almost every tourist attraction. The system operates until midnight. The efficient Metrorail subway system provides services throughout the city, and to the Virginia and Maryland suburbs, and is used by means of a computerised fare card.


The extensive Metrobus network fills in the gaps, but is more complex to use and is slower due to heavy traffic; bus transfers are free and valid for two hours from boarding. Bus, train or combined one-day passes are available. Although most visitors to Washington DC arrive by car, it is often easier to use public transport as traffic is heavy, and parking in the city is difficult and expensive. Taxis are a good way of getting around for short distances and they are cheaper than most other major city in the US.


Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI)

LocationThe airport is situated 10 miles (16km) south of Baltimore and 30 miles (50km) north of Washington DC.
Time DifferenceGMT -5 (GMT -4 from March to November).
Contacts

Tel: +1 410 859 7111.

Getting to city

The airport train station has trains going to both central Baltimore and Washington DC; the BWI Marshal Station (Tel: 410-672-6169) is connected to the terminal by free shuttle buses from the airport. Both MARC (Tel: 866-RIDE-MTA) and Amtrak (Tel: 800-872-7245) run trains to Union Station in DC. A light rail service goes from the airport to Baltimore costing US$1.60 (Tel: 410-539-5000). Taxies are available outside of baggage claims and cost about $25 to Baltimore and $63 to Washington DC. Public buses include Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Bus Service which serves the greater Washington area. There are also various bus shuttle services to both cities, some dropping off at the central hotels.

Car Rental

A car rental facility is linked to the airport terminals by a free shuttle service, which leaves from the lower level terminal. Car rental companies include Avis, Budget, Hertz, National and others.

Airpor Taxis

Taxis are available from the lower level of the main terminal. The only taxi service that is authorised by the airport is Washington Flyer. Taxis charge upwards of $60 for the 30-60 minute drive into the city; credit cards are accepted.

Airport Facilities

There are ATMs, bureaux de change and postal services throughout the terminal. Facilities for the disabled are good. Other facilities include restaurants, bars, shops and duty-free, a business service centre and information help desk. Wireless Internet access is also available.

Car Parking

A short-term car park is in front of the terminal, and long-term parking is available that is connected to the terminal by shuttle buses.

Depature TaxNone.
Websitewww.bwiairport.com


Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)

LocationThe airport is situated 26 miles (42km) west of Washington DC.
Time DifferenceGMT -5 (GMT -4 from March to November).
Contacts

Tel: +1 703 572 2700.

Getting to city

The Washington Fly Silver Line Express Bus provides a direct link to the airport, operating every 20 minutes to the Metro Silver Line station, with a fare of around $5. The coach service tickets can be bought at arrivals door 4 in the main terminal. A public bus service is available at the station for transport to areas not serviced by Metrorail. Super Shuttle operates a door-to-door shared van service.

Car Rental

Car rental companies include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz and National.

Airpor Taxis

Taxis are also available all day and night from the lower level of the main terminal. The only taxi service authorised to serve the airport is Washington Flyer. Taxis charge around $68 for the 30 to 60 minute drive into the city; you may pay by credit card.

Airport Facilities

There are ATMs and foreign exchange services available. Other facilities include restaurants, bars, shops and duty-free shopping, business services, tourist information and hotel reservations.

Car Parking

Hourly parking at Washington Dulles International Airport is available in the parking garage adjacent to the terminal building and starts at $6 per hour, going up to $35 per day. Daily parking garages 1 and 2 are cheaper and are connected to the terminal by shuttle buses.

Websitewww.metwashairports.com


Ronald Reagan Washington Airport (DCA)

LocationThree miles (4.8 km) south of Washington DC
Time DifferenceGMT -5 (GMT -4 from March to November).
Contacts

Tel: +1 (703) 417-8000.

Getting to city

The airport has a Metrorail station connected to the councourse level of Terminals B and C which offers connecting service to downtown Washington DC. Metrobus provides service to Washington DC on weekend mornings when the Metro isn't operating. There are several shuttle companies that offer door-to-door service within the city.

Car Rental

There are several car hire companies with offices at Ronald Reagan Washington Airport, including Alamo, Avis, Budget, Hertz, Dollar, Thrifty and Enterprise.

Airpor Taxis

There are taxi stands located near the baggage claim exits of each terminal. The taxis are metred and charge additional fees per person and bag.

Airport Facilities

The airport has ATMs, charging stations for computers and cell phones, foreign exchange offices, a chapel, post office, and a number of shops and restaurants within the terminal. There is also a USO Lounge available for American military personnel. There is complimentary wireless internet access throughout the airport.

Car Parking

Parking at DCA ranges from hourly lots costing $2 per 30 minutes for the first two hours, to $4 per hour thereafter and $36 per day. Daily lots charge $5 per hour or $20 per day. The economy lot rates start at $ 3 per hour and go up to $12 per day.

Websitewww.metwashairports.com/reagan/reagan.htm


National Mall


Extending for more than two miles (3km), from the US Capitol to the Potomac River, the tree-lined grassy strip known as the National Mall is the central hub of tourist activity in Washington DC, containing many of the city's most famous attractions. It is home to the tapering Washington
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The Washington Mall ©Jorge Gobbi



US Capitol


The heart of US government is also Washington DC's most prominent landmark, the US Capitol, situated on the top of Capitol Hill, with its giant white dome visible from all over the city. It is one of the city's top tourist attractions, as well as one of the most recognised symbols of dem
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US Capitol, Washington DC ©Matt H. Wade



White House


The White House has been the private residence and administrative headquarters of every President of the United States since 1800. Today an American flag flies over the house whenever the president is in residence. Situated at the edge of the National Mall, the palatial building has unde
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White House ©Mark Skrobola



Washington Monument


In recognition of his leadership in the fight for American independence, George Washington earned the title 'Father of the Nation', and was the first president of the United States. The Washington Monument was built in memory of this great leader. As the tallest structure in the city, si
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Washington Monument ©Jeffrey



Lincoln Memorial


The grandiose Lincoln Memorial is a tribute to the 16th US president, who preserved the Union during the Civil War and ended slavery. It also serves as a Civil War memorial, symbolising the ideas of Freedom and American Democracy. The use of classical architecture, modelled on a Greek te
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Lincoln Memorial ©Jeff Kubina



Federal Bureau of Investigation


Officially named the J Edgar Hoover FBI Building, after its notorious long-time director, this rather ugly concrete structure is headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Public tours have been suspended indefinitely, but were once the most popular attraction in Washington DC.
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J. Edgar Hoover Building ©Aude



International Spy Museum


One of Washington's newest museums, the International Spy Museum is said to feature the largest collection of publicly displayed international espionage artefacts in the world. It is the result of years of planning and advice by former officials of the CIA, FBI and KGB, as well as some o
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The International Spy Museum, Washington DC ©David



Smithsonian Institution


One of the world's finest research centres, the Smithsonian Institution incorporates 19 excellent museums and galleries and a zoo spread over Washington DC, New York, Virginia and Panama. Most of the museums are located in Washington DC. The centre was the idea of British scientist James
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National Museum of American History ©lorax



National Gallery of Art


Two buildings, the West and East Wings, make up the visually stunning National Gallery of Art that is the most popular art museum in North America. Together they house one of the world's leading collections of Western paintings, graphics and sculptures from the Middle Ages to the 20th ce
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National Gallery of Art ©AgnosticPreachersKid



US Holocaust Memorial Museum


One of the city's best museums, but also the most disturbing, is the US Holocaust Memorial Museum that hauntingly commemorates the abuse and murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945. The permanent exhibition is divided into three floors, starting with the Nazi occupa
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Tower of Faces, Holocaust Memorial Museum ©Dsdugan



Ford’s Theatre


On April 14th, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated while watching a performance at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC. His killer, an actor named John Wilkes Booth who sympathised with the Confederates in the ongoing Civil War, then jumped to the stage and shouted 'Sic simper
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Ford Theatre, Washington DC ©Ingfbruno



National Archives


While looking at historical papers may sound dull compared to some of Washington DC's more 'fun' museums, the National Archives is one of the most popular attractions in the city, housing priceless documents from US history, including the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights,
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National Archives ©David Samuel



Washington National Cathedral


One of the largest cathedrals in the US, the Washington National Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, is a magnificent Neogothic structure standing 301 feet (91m) tall. The interior of the cathedral is just as grand, with the long, narrow sanctuary
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Washington National Cathedral ©Agnostic Preacher's Kid



Kennedy Center


One of the most prestigious performing arts centres in the US, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is also its busiest, hosting roughly 2,000 performances each year for an audience totalling nearly two million people in its eight separate performance halls. It is home to t
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Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts ©Steve



National Zoo


The Smithsonian National Zoological Park, commonly known as the National Zoo, is a great attraction for families on holiday in Washington DC. As part of the Smithsonian Institution, the zoo has no entry fee and offers visitors the chance to explore 163 acres of habitats containing more t
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National Zoo ©David



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