Washington, D.C., Insider Travel Planning Tips

Insider info from our local expert on where to go and what to see on your next trip to D.C.


For many tourists, a visit to Washington, D.C., is viewed as a kind of pilgrimage to pay homage to United States history and revel in the glory of our nation. It helps that the tourist area is nothing short of gorgeous with its grand monuments surrounded by wide stretches of green grass and its famous elegant cherry blossom trees. Embraced by the dramatic Potomac River, Washington is a city unlike any other.   

As a former New Yorker, my transformation into a Washingtonian is nothing short of miraculous. While I’ll admit it was D.C.’s beauty that initially wooed me, what helped me fall in love with this area is that it is truly an international mélange. People who live and visit Washington seem to come from every corner of the earth, and they thankfully retain their individuality. While this may be America’s capital, it is most importantly a world capital. Beyond the monuments is an area rich in diversity in both natural and cultural attractions. To focus on the major tourist attractions without exploring all the area has to offer is to miss out on a true American experience.

Washington Musts

A great trip to Washington, D.C., includes a combination of traditional tourist sites, a walk through some of Washington’s diverse neighborhoods and, if time permits, an excursion outside the city to enjoy the spectacular natural attractions in nearby Maryland and/or Virginia.

While doing your research, visit the Washington Convention and Tourism site ( for a comprehensive listing of upcoming events and to request a free visitor's guide.

The first step in exploring the area is to ditch the car and use Washington’s underground public transportation system, Metro ( For my two young kids, ages 3 and 5, the Metro ride is considered the best part of any excursion. The system is easy to understand with clean and quiet trains and stations that are clearly marked with signage and maps throughout. Folding maps are available in the stations. Purchase tickets at one of the self-service ticket kiosks. Up to two children, aged 4 and younger, ride free with each full-fare paying adult. Children 5 and older pay adult fares. Depending upon your plans for the day or the week, a Metro day or weekly pass can be a good deal.

For visitors with children, most popular Metro stations are stroller-friendly and offer elevators. If traveling with a stroller, use the handicap turnstile, and retrieve your ticket before you go through the turnstile. Also check the Metro Web site to make sure the elevators at your desired stops are working as they often are under repair. Older kids will delight in the towering escalators that make you feel as if you are descending to the earth’s core.

Metro tips: Don’t blow your cover as a native! Remember to retrieve your ticket after you go through the turnstile, and don’t lose it. You’ll also need the ticket to leave the station. And if you decide to stand still to enjoy the ride, please don’t be an “escalump”: Keep to the right to avoid nasty looks from otherwise patient Washingtonians.

Capitol Hill

If your plans include a visit to the U.S. Capitol, also get to know its surrounding neighborhood, which is rich with historic sites and museums, not to mention diverse shopping and dining opportunities. We often take the kids to visit “The Hill,” the stomping ground for Washington’s power crowd and a popular residential neighborhood for the gay community, as well as young families. Try to time your visit to this area so that you can enjoy lunch or end your day with a cocktail among Washington’s movers and shakers. Paradoxically, we also find the restaurants to be especially kid-friendly. However, venture any further than the well-trodden and well-lit streets surrounding the Capitol, and you will enter into sometimes dangerous territory. This is not an area to explore casually after dark.

  • Eastern Market,, tel. 202-543-7793, 225 7th St. SE between North Carolina and C Sts.; Metro: Eastern Market (blue and orange lines). As our young kids jump off the Metro escalator, they delight in the sights, smells and excitement of Eastern Market, a Washington institution and neighborhood Mecca for Washingtonians who flock to the outdoor farmers market and flea market stands. Unfortunately, the Market’s historic building housing the seafood, meat and bakery stands recently burned down, but the merchants are now outside and the area is still a terrific spot to people watch. On summer weekends, there is often live entertainment for all ages. Open Tues. through Sun., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Marine Barracks,, tel. 202-433-6060, 8th and I Sts. SE; Metro: Navy Yard (green line) to Metrobus N22 or Eastern Market (orange or blue line) to N92, N93. On Friday evenings May through August, the Barracks are open to the public for a 90-minute musical “tattoo,” which is marching performance by the famous Marine Corps Band, the official White House musical ensemble. If the pomp and circumstance of a rousing march doesn’t put you in the mood to celebrate U.S. history, nothing will. Call to make reservations. Tours also are available on Wednesdays at 10 a.m. or by appointment.
  • Sewall Belmont House,, tel. 202-546-1210, 144 Constitution Ave, NE; Metro: Union Station (red line). After days spent celebrating the work of our founding fathers, it might be a good time to visit the only museum in the nation’s capital dedicated to preserving and showcasing the fight for the American woman’s right to vote, housed in the former headquarters of the National Women’s Party. Guided tours are offered every hour on the hour. Walk through its rooms among the large collection of historic photos, artwork and suffrage memorabilia, including banners, and Susan B. Anthony’s desk. While the museum is best for ages 12 and up, there are programs throughout the year geared toward a younger audience, particularly during March, Women’s History Month. Check the Web site for details. Hours: Tues.-Fri. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (last tour at 2 p.m.); Sat. 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. (last tour at 3 p.m.)

U Street/Shaw

Explore African-American history in the city’s neighborhood known as the center of black history and culture. U Street was once referred to as Washington’s Black Broadway where great entertainers performed for elegantly dressed black Washingtonians. A well-marked, self-guided tour through the area provides a fascinating look at the neighborhood’s history. Visit the Cultural Tourism of D.C. Web site,, for information about all of the historic sites and neighborhoods in the city. You can also create your own itinerary according to your interests. One of the best self-guided tours is the organization’s African-American Heritage Trail and database with more than 200 African-American historic sites in the city. Either create your own tour online or visit the site to order a free walking tour booklet.

Dupont Circle

This enclave at the juncture of Massachusetts and Connecticut Avenues is a nice excursion to experience the city’s cultural diversity. Exit the Dupont Circle Metro station to encounter the sounds of an old tune from The Who played on an even older guitar and know that you’ve entered an eclectic neighborhood with a personality all its own. Shopping, dining and gallery hopping is a day well spent here.

  • Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café,, tel. 202-387-1400, 1517 Connecticut Avenue: This is a great place to meet diverse Dupont dwellers. Ask one of the aloof overeducated employees to help you navigate a refreshing selection of books. Its adjoining café offers a well-made latte and overpriced entrées, but we can always find something our kids will eat. Both the rushed atmosphere and elevated noise levels make us feel at home.
  • The National Geographic Society’s Explorers Hall,, 17th and M St., ages 8 and up: The society’s headquarters is popular with older kids both because of its interactive exhibits and its subject matter, which covers animals, space, and of course, geography. My 8-year-old nephew is a space nut and loved the Earth Station One amphitheatre, which simulates orbital flight 23,000 miles above earth. Visit the Web site to learn about special exhibits, film screenings and live events.
  • Phillips Collection,, tel. 202-387-2151, 1600 21st St., ages 6 and up. As I sit with my young kids enveloped by the saturated colors of Mark Rothko’s large canvases, I begin to realize the vision and genius not only of the artist but also of the person responsible for this museum gem. Based upon the collection of steel-magnate Duncan Phillips, the collection is housed partly in his former mansion, as well as in a newly completed addition. My kids are particularly comfortable in the intimate space and have become fans of this terrific collection best known for its impressionist and post-impressionist art. The works of Paul Klee, Alexander Calder and Jacob Lawrence seem to be more accessible to children. At the entrance desk, pick up the free family guide that lists activities for kids.

Pastoral Georgetown

Not accessible by Metro, Georgetown is definitely worth the trip, but we avoid it on the weekends as the crowds on the narrow sidewalks can be stifling. While the shopping on Wisconsin and M Sts can be rewarding, try to tear yourself away to enjoy the beautiful escapes Georgetown offers. Georgetown Metro Connection is a shuttle that connects you to the neighborhood from stops throughout the city. Fare is only $1 unless you remember to grab a receipt from the Metro stop, then it’s only 35 cents.

  • Dumbarton Oaks Garden, 1703 32nd St. NW in Georgetown. (202) 339-6401: The historic home was the site of the 1944 Peace Conference held by FDR that eventually led to the formation of the United Nations. Beyond the house is a spectacular formal garden. Let your imagination flow back in time to Georgetown’s glorious past as you wind along a brick path scented with flowering trees and roses. Kids will love the many fountains, reflecting pools and paths. Strollers are allowed but there are several areas with steps making it less than ideal. 
  • Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, Georgetown Vistors Center: 1057 Thomas Jefferson St., NW Washington, D.C. 202-653-5190: You’ll never believe it but make a turn off of M Street and in minutes you are removed from the Georgetown melée and emerge onto the C&O Canal and adjoining towpath, formed when mules pulled the barges along the canal. The towpath is now a Washingtonian favorite as a hike and bike trail.
    • C&O Barge Rides: The Park Service also offers guided tours along the canal in a boat pulled by a mule. Gliding along a small canal while we learn about life back in 1870s and listen to old river songs helps me picture Georgetown as it once was and can still be seen in its historic buildings buried underneath commercial success. Public boat rides are offered during the spring, summer, and fall months. The boat season usually lasts from early April through the end of October. Canal boat rides run five days a week, Wed.-Sun., $7 adults, $5 senior citizens & children, for one-hour ride.

Beyond the Capital

Boat Ride from Georgetown to Alexandria, Va.
Potomac Riverboat Company:, tel. 703-684-0580 or Toll Free 877-511-2628.

For me, the very mention of a boat ride in any other city screams “tourist trap” and sends me running for the nearest dicey neighborhood for a more “authentic experience.” However, chugging alongside the monuments from your view on the Potomac River can be the best way to travel from Georgetown to Alexandria, Va., another beautiful historic neighborhood with great shopping, restaurants and horrendous traffic. Spend the afternoon in Alexandria, enjoy an early dinner at one of the many bistros or pubs, then return along the Potomac to a spectacular view of the city at night.

Destinations: Washington

Themes: Family Travel, Historical Vacations

Activities: Museums, Sightseeing

© 2019     Terms of use and Privacy policy