Washington DC travel guide
Chosen by George Washington for its tactical location between the South and the North, and for its accessibility to the sea via the Potomac River, the capital of the United States is situated in a district specifically created to avoid the establishment of the capital city in any one state. Washington DC (District of Columbia), 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 with scores of top-notch restaurants, shops and night time entertainment.
This thriving, cosmopolitan city is an international hub of power and diplomacy, commanding the political centre stage for one of the most powerful nations in the world, and representing all the democratic ideals that the country takes pride in. 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, and include several memorials to great US presidents of the past, as well as the outstanding museums of the Smithsonian Institute. As an added bonus, almost all major attractions in the city are free.
Besides political and historic sights, Washington is a city of interesting neighbourhoods, each with its own character and culture. The most famous of these is historic Georgetown, with elegant colonial houses, boutiques, fancy restaurants, and a lively nightlife. One of the most colourful neighbourhoods is the bohemian district of Adams-Morgan with an assortment of funky shops and ethnic stores, while the arty suburb of Dupont Circle is an affluent business and residential area, with excellent restaurants, art galleries and shops that forms the centre of DC's gay community.
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 Monument; the Lincoln, Roosevelt
and Jefferson Memorials; the Capitol building; the White House; the
museums of the Smithsonian Institution; and the National Gallery of
The Mall is at the heart of the city's social life, the site for many celebrations and festivals throughout the year, and used by scores of joggers, picnickers, food vendors and strollers daily. It is also a popular site for rallies and protests ranging from a few dozen to a few million people. The Tidal Basin, a beautiful lake famous for its spring show of blossoming Japanese cherry trees, lies to the south.
Transport: Smithsonian metro station
Opening time: The park is open 24 hours daily.
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 democracy in the world, and contains the
Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as the Supreme
Court and the Library of Congress, the largest library in the
world. Under the magnificent dome, US governmental policy is shaped
and the law of the land is practiced.
The interior is richly embellished, with hundreds of statues filling Statuary Hall in honour of important people in the country's history, while paintings and murals decorate the hallways and walls of the Rotunda, depicting 400 years of American history. The enormous circular hall capped by the 180-foot (55m) high dome is the hub of the Capitol, with a symbolic fresco masterpiece at its centre. The Rotunda links the north and south wings, the two halves of the Capitol that contain the Senate and House of Representatives respectively, and flags flying over either wing indicate which part of Congress is in session.
Address: Capitol Hill
Transport: Union Station Metro, Federal Center NW or Capitol South stations are all within walking distance
Opening time: Access is by guided tour only, and tickets must be booked in advance online. Some tickets are usually available on a first-come, first-served basis.
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 undergone numerous alterations over
the years, which have included refurnishing and expansion, the
addition of the first toilets by Jefferson, and electricity added
during Harrison's presidency, as well as personal inclusions by
each of its presidential occupants. The White House was adapted to
the needs of Franklin D. Roosevelt who suffered polio and a
swimming pool was installed; Jacqueline Kennedy developed the
famous Rose Garden; Clinton added a jogging track, hot tub and
humidor; and the most recent addition is the vegetable garden
planted by Barack and Michelle Obama.
Tours visit several rooms on the Ground and State Floors, including the Oval Office, the State Dining Room with seating for 140 dinner or luncheon guests, and the Gold and White East Room that is the publicised scene of presidential receptions and other social events. The top two floors are private. The custom that allows free public tours of the president's private home is only stopped during wartime. The visitor centre provides interesting historical information about the residence and its occupants.
Security is understandably very tight and travellers wanting to visit will need to provide personal details in their application through the appropriate Washington DC embassy.
Address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave
Transport: McPherson Square, Federal Triangle or Metro Center metro stations
Opening time: Free guided tours are the only means of exploring the White House. American citizens can book these tours through their Member of Congress and foreigners must book through their embassy in Washington DC. Tours should be booked as far in advance as possible.
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, situated at the western end of
the Mall, the gleaming white obelisk offers 360-degree panoramic
vistas with some of the most familiar sights in the world in view,
including the White House, US Capitol, Smithsonian museums and the
Constructed out of loose granite blocks without the use of cement to hold them together, the monument is the tallest freestanding masonry structure in the world, a 555-foot (169m) marble obelisk that stood uncompleted for 37 years. A change in the colour of stone is visible about halfway up and marks the two building phases. In 1888 a steam elevator transported visitors to the top, a 20-minute ride that was restricted, for safety reasons, to men only. Women could walk up the 897 stairs. Today climbing the steps is prohibited, but a free elevator conveys visitors to the gallery that provides unparalleled views of Washington DC and across the Potomac River.
Address: 15th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW
Transport: Smithsonian metro station
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 temple, is to remind people of
the ancient Greeks who were the first modern culture to have a
democratic government. In the centre of the memorial, surrounded by
36 white columns representing the 36 states in Lincoln's Union, is
a huge marble statue of Abraham Lincoln who, seated, stares out
over the Reflecting Pool towards the Washington Monument and
Capitol Hill. Carved in the walls of the memorial chamber around
the statue are inscriptions of two of his most famous speeches, the
Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, and above each
is a painted symbolic mural.
The memorial is the site of numerous demonstrations committed to justice, most notably the Civil Rights March in 1963 when Martin Luther King delivered his classic 'I Have a Dream' speech. A bookshop and museum, detailing a photographic history of famous events that occurred on the steps, are nearby.
Address: 23rd Street
Transport: Foggy Bottom metro station
Opening time: Open daily 24 hours.
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. Guided tours took visitors through the Material Analysis Unit and crime laboratories where fingerprinting, DNA and ballistics testing takes place; past displays of thousands of confiscated weapons, and illegal items seized during narcotics operations; exhibits on crime fighting techniques and counterintelligence operations; as well as other presentations on terrorism, agent training, some famous cases, and photographs of the FBI's 'Ten Most Wanted List'. Those in search of espionage history, however, should go to the nearby International Spy Museum.
Address: 935 Pennsylvania Avenue
Transport: Federal Triangle metro station
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 of the nation's top experts in
intelligence. It aims to educate the public about espionage and its
vital role and impact on historic and current events.
Interactive exhibits cover the history of spying, famous spies, spying during the World Wars with an exhibit on unheeded intelligence that warned of the Pearl Harbour attack, sophisticated espionage techniques of the Cold War, and the latest spy trends and challenges of 21st century espionage. There is also a section dealing with high-tech gadgets such as bugs, tiny cameras and ingenious disguise techniques, with interactive stations exploring surveillance, disguises, code breaking, threat analysis and more.
Operation Spy is an interactive experience in which visitors get to be a spy; hands-on activities include safe-cracking and conducting polygraph tests, experiences which are combined with special effects and live action. The museum complex includes a restaurant, spy-theme cafe and shop.
Address: 800 F Street
Transport: Gallery Place/Chinatown or National Archives/Navy Memorial metro stations
Opening time: Open daily from 9am to 7pm.
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 Smithson who stipulated in his will
that lacking heirs his entire fortune would go the United States
'to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian
Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of
knowledge among men'. The Institute's original home was in the red
brick building known as The Castle that stands on the Mall. The
need to accommodate facilities for scientific research as well as
housing all the science and art collections amassed resulted in the
construction of more buildings along the Mall. Today the Castle
houses the Smithsonian Information Center, which provides an
overview of all the museums and the zoo.
The museums contain collections of historical importance on almost every subject. Museums include the National Air and Space Museum, packed with full-size space and aircraft, including the Wright brothers' plane; the Natural History Museum, with the Hope Diamond and the world's largest stuffed blue whale; and the American History Museum, displaying the original Kermit the Frog. Other museums include the Freer and Sackler Galleries of Asian Art, the African Art Museum, the American Indian Museum, the Arts and Industries Building hosting changing exhibitions, the Hirshborn collection of modern art, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Postal Museum.
The Smithsonian Museums are a fantastic attraction for families in Washington DC, and a wallet-friendly one as admission is free.
Address: Smithsonian Castle Visitor Center, 1000 Jefferson Drive
Transport: Smithsonian metro station. The DC Circulator bus provides transportation between the museums.
Opening time: Opening times vary depending on the museum - see the official website for details.
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 century, and walking from the West
Wing to the East provides a near chronological display of European
The West Wing, the original building, is a marble architectural work of art with a domed rotunda over a fountain that houses most of the permanent collection. More than 100 galleries display modern and contemporary art with masterpieces by famous artists arranged by nationality, including what is considered to be the finest Renaissance collection outside of Italy, as well as an outstanding Impressionist collection. The gallery's newer addition is the ultramodern East Wing, composed of two glass-walled triangles, and is devoted to 20th-century paintings and sculptures.
The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden is a large park outside the museum, which features a huge central fountain with some of the museum's permanent collection of sculptures on display.
Address: National Mall, Constitution Avenue
Transport: Smithsonian, Judiciary Square or National Archives/Navy Memorial metro stations
Opening time: Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sunday 11am to 6pm.
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 occupation of Poland, the Holocaust, and
finally the after-effects of the war and liberation of the camps,
with a moving film in which Holocaust survivors recount their
personal experiences. The Hall of Remembrance is a quiet,
meditative place with dozens of burning candles lit in memory of
Exhibits vividly convey the scale and nature of the horrors of the Holocaust using films, voice recordings, personal belongings of Jewish victims, photographs and Nazi propaganda. The permanent exhibition's graphic content is extremely disturbing and is not recommended for children under 11 years of age. A different section of the museum contains an exhibit designed for children, called 'Daniel's Story: Remember the Children'.
Address: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place
Transport: Smithsonian metro station
Opening time: Daily 10am to 5.20pm.
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 tyrannis' (Thus to all tyrants) before
fleeing the theatre. The US Government bought the theatre and
prohibited it from use as an amusement venue. It was used for
various storage and clerical purposes until it was restored and
reopened for performances in 1968. Today, Ford's Theatre is both an
active performance venue and historical site, and the Ford's
Theatre Museum contains artefacts related to the assassination,
including the Derringer pistol Booth used. Across from the theatre
is the Petersen House, which is where President Lincoln finally
died early the next morning.
Tours of the theatre are available, lasting about an hour and limited to groups of 20 people at a time. Tours should be booked in advance to avoid disappointment.
Address: 10th Street NW
Opening time: Opening times vary day to day - check the website for details.
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, the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, and even the 1297 version of the Magna Carta. All these documents are displayed to the public in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, along with other collections of photography and historical memorabilia. Apart from the historic documents, the grand building and aura of importance make a visit to the National Archives exciting.
Address: 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Transport: Metrorail Yellow or Green line to Archives/Navy Memorial station. Metrobuses 30, 32, 34, 36, 53, A42, A46, A48, P1, P2, P4, P17, P19, and W13 stop at the National Archives.
Opening time: Open daily 10am to 5.30pm (last admission at 5pm).
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 framed by buttresses, chancels, transepts and beautiful stained glass windows. The most famous of these is the Space Window, which contains a piece of moon rock brought back by Neil Armstrong from the Apollo 11 mission. The cathedral was finished in 1972, making it very young compared to most cathedrals of its stature. It is the final resting place of noted figures such as Helen Keller, President Woodrow Wilson and his wife, and Admiral George Dewey.
Address: 3101 Wisconsin Avenue NW
Opening time: Visiting hours vary depending on the day and the planned church services - check the official website for details. Guided tours are conducted at 10.15am Monday to Saturday and at 1pm on Sunday.
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 the National Symphony Orchestra,
and has commissioned hundreds of new works in various disciplines.
The centre was first conceived by Eleanor Roosevelt as a way to
employ actors during World War II, and opened in 1971 with the
premiere of Leonard Bernstein's Mass. Each year five artists or
groups are awarded the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime
contribution to American culture and the performing arts in a gala
ceremony televised nationally.
There are a number of interesting tour options for those who don't have the time or money to take in a performance.
Address: 2700 F Street NW
Transport: Metrorail Orange or Blue line to Foggy Bottom/George Washington University Station. Metro bus #80 stops at the Kennedy Center.
Opening time: Tours depart roughly every 10 minutes.
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 than 1,800 animals. The star attractions of the zoo are definitely the giant pandas. Other popular exhibits include the Great Ape House, Elephant Trails, Lion/Tiger Hill, Cheetah Conservation Station, and Seals and Sea Lions Exhibit. The National Zoo was the home of the original Smokey Bear, who was a symbol of forest fire prevention and lived at the zoo from 1950 to 1976.
Address: Rock Creek Park, 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW
Transport: Metrorail Red line to Cleveland Park station. Metrobus lines L1, L2, and L4 stop at the Zoos Connecticut Avenue entrance, and H4 stops at the Harvard Street entrance.
Opening time: 9am to 6pm (closes 4pm between October and mid-March).
National Cherry Blossom Festival
One of Washington DC's most famous events, the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the arrival of spring, and commemorates the original gift of 3,000 cherry trees to the city from the people of Tokyo in 1912 as a symbol of friendship between the two countries. Visitors flock to the city to admire the beautiful pink and white blossoms that surround the Tidal Basin and to join in the festivities that include a cultural blend of music, dance and art demonstrations and performances from Japan and Washington, a fireworks display and parade. The Parade is the festival's biggest event with spectacular floats, marching bands, costumed dance groups and giant helium balloons. A Japanese Street Festival after the parade exhibits the traditions, arts and food of Japan. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is claimed to be the best place outside of Japan to see cherry blossoms.
Venue: Tidal Basin; Date:20 March to 16 April 2017; Website: www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org
Smithsonian Folklife Festival
The Folklife Festival is a unique Washington DC tradition and is the largest annual cultural event in the city. It is a living cultural exhibition that celebrates the heritage of different states and regions as well as international communities, and includes music and dance performances, craft demonstrations, storytelling, exhibits, traditional food and cooking demonstrations, and workshops. Festival-goers should be prepared to spend plenty of time outdoors in the hottest part of the year, but visiting the air-conditioned Smithsonian Museums is a good way to cool off and further indulge all cultural impulses. Check out the official website listed below for more details.
Venue: National Mall; Date:29 June to 10 July 2016; Website: www.festival.si.edu
National Independence Day Celebration
One of the largest Fourth of July celebrations in the country, the capital puts on a grand show to celebrate the nation's birthday, with the city's biggest and most impressive annual parade, music concerts, arts and crafts, an evening performance by the National Symphony Orchestra on the steps of the Capitol building, and one of the country's largest fireworks displays. The official website listed below includes all necessary details for planning attendance to the festival. As one would expect, there is no better place in the US to indulge in an extravaganza of patriotism than Washington DC on the Fourth of July.
Venue: National Mall; Date:4 July annually; Website: www.july4thparade.com
The city's many politicians and their expense accounts ensure that Washington DC has some fantastic dining options to suit every budget and taste. From glamorous upmarket restaurants dripping with style, to roadside stalls and eateries, this city offers many kinds of cuisine for many different budgets.
Fresh seafood, crab, oysters and rock fish are among the most popular choices on restaurant menus, with special emphasis on dishes made with locally-caught crabs, such as crab cakes, blue crabs, crab legs, crab soup and even Crab Chips, a brand of potato chip unique to Washington DC. A popular spice is Old Bay, which is locally made and used to season just about everything from peaches to popcorn.
Most restaurants are centred around the Midtown, downtown and Penn Quarter areas with the very upmarket eateries close to Capitol Hill and frequented by businessmen and businesswomen. Dupont Circle and the West End are also great areas for restaurants. A tip of about 15 percent is expected in restaurants and it is customary to make reservations before dining out.
Located in an 18th-century federal townhouse, 1789 is divided into five themed dining rooms with fireplaces and period furniture, and the setting combines with the food to make this a premiere dining experience presided over by chef Nathan Beauchamp. His 'keep it simple' approach is enhanced by the best quality ingredients, and complemented by excellent wine pairings. Fish and meat dishes are followed by a list of decadent desserts. There is also a good-value pre-theatre menu available, as well as an 'after hours' menu catering to those who prefer a post-performance dinner. Reservations essential. Open for dinner nightly.
Address: 1226 36th Street NW; Website: www.1789restaurant.com
The sweet Vidalia onion is a speciality in season at this charming, lively restaurant below street level. The regional Southern cuisine features such specialities as crab cakes, shrimp on yellow grits and the renowned lemon chess pie; homemade corn bread is served with every meal. Reservations recommended. Open for lunch and dinner, but no lunch on weekends.
Address: 1990 M Street NW, Dupont Circle (Downtown); Website: www.vidaliadc.com
Zaytinya is one of Washington DC's top restaurants, Greek or otherwise. Travellers with adventurous palates can dig into mezze delicacies like goat flatbread, crispy veal sweetbreads and grilled octopus, while vegetarians will find plenty to choose from. There is a reduced-price lunch menu offering sandwiches, salads and shawarmas, and even a brunch menu available until 2.30pm.
Address: 701 Ninth Street NW, Edison Place; Website: www.zaytinya.com
Lotte mit Jenever, bacon-wrapped monkfish fillet with Jenever beurre blanc, yellow potatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli on a bed of red onion confit, is also excellent. Open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner. Saturday and Sunday brunch and dinner only.
Address: 514, 8th Street, SE; Website: www.belgacafe.com
By far the smartest Indian restaurant in town, the ambience created by the ceiling fans, wicker furniture and potted palms is straight from the British colonial era. Bombay Club is known for its setting, as well as for its gourmet regional Indian cuisine and personalised service, and was a favourite spot for the Clintons when occupying the White House across the road. Delicious naan flatbread complements dishes ranging from fiery green chilli chicken and tandoori dishes, to rogan josh, biryanis, dhals and lobster malabar. The Sunday champagne brunch is popular. Lunch Monday to Friday, dinner daily. Reservations essential.
Address: 815 Connecticut Avenue NW (Downtown); Website: www.bombayclubdc.com
If you're in the mood for a steak, there's no better place to go in Washington DC than the aptly-named Capital Grille. The elegant mahogany-panelled dining room creates the perfect backdrop for the restaurant's famous dry-aged steaks and fresh seafood, accompanied by an extensive wine list with thousands of choices.
Address: 601 Pennsylvania Ave NW; Website: www.thecapitalgrille.com
Fogo de Chao
Carnivores will be in heaven at Fogo de Chao, Washington DC's top Brazilian restaurant. Skewers of meat are paraded around as you eat all you can stand and the churrascarias beef is something special. Vegetarians will have to content themselves with the salad bar and vegetable sides.
Address: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave NW; Website: www.fogodechao.com.br
Birch and Barley
Serving the best American food in the most American city in the world, Birch and Barley is popular with locals and tourists alike for its delicious comfort food like pan-seared rainbow trout, honey-glazed duck breast, and their special bratwurst burger. The brunch menu is equally tasty with offerings that include waffles, French toast, sticky buns and even grits, but the real star of the menu is the draft beer list, which stretches to an amazing 555 varieties!
Address: 1337 14th Street NW; Website: www.birchandbarley.com
Most people tend to associate the capital city with politics - the White House and Capitol Hill - but the nightlife in Washington DC will satisfy even the most hard-core party animal.
Atlas District is arguably DC's trendiest bar and club scene. Other popular areas include the Adams-Morgan neighbourhood, Dupont Circle (along Connecticut Avenue), the Penn Quarter, and historic Georgetown. The city's hippest nightlife can be found in these areas, with just about everything on offer, including dance clubs, jazz bars, rock bars and pubs. The best place to go for gay clubs is Dupont Circle.
Arlington Row is a more laid-back area that attracts a crowd of all ages, where excellent live music is the order of the day. If a comedy show is what you're after, check out the Warner Theatre to see who's appearing. If you can't decide what you want, the Boomerang Bus stops at half a dozen venues, giving tourists a chance to sample some of the best of Washington DC's nightlife.
Washington DC also has a first-rate performing arts scene, presided over by the renowned Kennedy Center. On any given night there is a wide variety of performances, both local and international, ranging from Shakespeare, opera and ballet to jazz, rock bands, and Broadway shows. Ticketmaster and InstantSeats.com offer tickets to pretty much any event, while TICKETplace at 407 7th Street offers discounted last-minute tickets to anything that isn't sold out.
Shopping in Washington DC almost competes with politics for attention. The USA's capital offers everything from trendy boutiques and shopping malls to 24-hour bookshops and renowned farmer's markets. Visitors to Washington DC will walk (or fly) away with their bags full!
The nation's oldest neighbourhood, Georgetown boasts up-scale designer boutiques and The Shops at Georgetown Park, which is home to designer labels like Ann Taylor, Polo and Ralph Lauren. The Georgetown Flea Market is good for antiques, jewellery, books, rugs, toys and linens. Dupont Circle, also an attractive historic neighbourhood, has designer boutiques such as Betsy Fisher and vintage shops like Secondi, as well as a good farmer's market. The Adams Morgan area, previously somewhat dilapidated, now boasts a trendy reputation and a number of eclectic independent shops and boutiques. Penn Quarter is also a good shopping neighbourhood, particularly for antiques, art, home decor and collectibles.
On Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House Visitor Center and Political America sell authentic and reproduction campaign buttons, signed photos, letters and other American memorabilia which make wonderful patriotic souvenirs. The National Mall has great gift shops and museum stores, and is the best place to find popular Washington DC souvenirs like miniature replicas of the White House and various monuments. The National Archives Gift Shop also offers reproductions of the Declaration of Independence and other famous documents.
Shoppers should keep in mind that a non-refundable sales tax is charged, but not included on the sticker price of items. Tax is added at the register in Washington DC shops, so prices will be a bit higher than first expected.
Baltimore-Washington International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 10 miles (16km) south of Baltimore and 30 miles (50km) north of Washington DC.
Time: GMT -5 (GMT -4 from March to November).
Contacts: Tel: +1 410 859 7111.
Getting to the 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.
Airport 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.
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.
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.
Departure tax: None.
Washington-Dulles International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 26 miles (42km) west of Washington DC.
Time: GMT -5 (GMT -4 from March to November).
Contacts: Tel: +1 703 572 2700.
Getting to the city: The Washington Flyer Silver Line 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. SuperShuttle operates a door-to-door shared van service.
Car rental: Car rental companies include Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz and National.
Airport 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.
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.
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.
Departure tax: None.
Ronald Reagan Washington Airport
Location: Three miles (4.8 km) south of Washington DC
Time: GMT -5 (GMT -4 from March to November).
Contacts: Tel: +1 (703) 417-8000.
Getting to the 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.
Airport 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.
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.
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.
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 during the week, and Metrorail stations stay open until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays. 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.
While the city of Washington DC's humid subtropical climate has distinct seasons, with extreme variations between summer and winter, the weather is also known to be unpredictable. Summers (June to August) tend to be very hot and humid with average highs of 88°F (31°C); the conditions exacerbated in the heart of the city by all the concrete and steel. Autumn and spring are the best seasons to visit, when days are chilly but bright and clear; sudden rain or snowfalls are possible though. In winter (December to February) the city is subject to heavy snowfalls, averaging 17 inches (43cm) a year, and sudden arctic blasts or frozen rainstorms, with average low temperatures in winter around 27°F (-3°C).
World wide weather
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