How to get there
Washington is a pretty sprawling area with three major airports. Which one you choose to fly into will probably depend on which part of town you need to be in. If you are headed downtown, then try to fly into Reagan National Airport (DCA) and take the Metro into the District. It’s a short walk from the terminal.
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However, Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) is much better connected to D.C. than in the past. The Metro’s Silver Line opened in 2014 and while it doesn’t get all the way to Dulles, it does get within seven miles, with express bus service supplying the rest. And Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) continues to improve and is connected to the Metro system via Amtrak.
But in all honesty, you should choose your airport based on what you’re planning to do in the area. Are you spending a lot of time in the District? Fly into Reagan National. Visiting a tech firm in Fairfax or Loudoun County in Virginia? Fly into Dulles. Spending any time in Baltimore or in the second-ring Maryland suburbs? Consider BWI.
Amtrak is also a good option for reaching the heart of D.C. if you are coming from anywhere in the Northeast Corridor.
Places to visit
I’m going to assume I don’t need to tell you about the museums everyone knows about. The best thing is that admission to the Smithsonian museums is free, and so is the National Zoo. The monuments are fairly obvious as well. So let’s talk about some less well-known areas.
My favorite spot in the city is the Albert Einstein Memorial, which sits outside the National Academy of Sciences near 22nd and Constitution Ave NW. It’s a larger-than-life bronze sculpture for a larger-than-life individual, and kids (and adults) are encouraged to climb up and sit in Einstein’s lap. It can be difficult to park in that area, which is why I always go at night, but if you’re already monument hopping, it’s just a skip and a jump from the Lincoln Memorial.
You can take an interesting peek at the history of the District of Columbia by seeking out some of the D.C. boundary stones. These are survey markers placed in 1791 and 1792 around the original 10-mile by 10-mile square border of D.C. Of the original 40, 36 are still intact, although if you know your U.S. history, you should also know that many of them are now completely within the state of Virginia. There’s a detailed history at boundarystones.org but you can find more information elsewhere as well.
Another favorite of mine is closed for a while, but check back in 2016 to see if the Old Post Office Tower at 12th and Pennsylvania is once again open to the public. It features an observation deck which stands 270 feet above street level, offering views comparable to those from the Washington Monument with far less wait time.
Where to eat
Ben’s Chili Bowl is a Washington landmark. There are now multiple locations, but the original location is at 1213 U Street. The site, built in 1909, was formerly a silent movie theater. Menu includes hot dogs, sausages, burgers, chili, fries, slaw, potato salad … the works. Although, I would recommend not eating them all in one meal.
Adams Morgan: This isn’t a restaurant, but an entire neighborhood in Northwest D.C., on the other side of Rock Creek from the National Zoo metro stop. There are plenty of options, so rather than detail them all here, I’ll just reference the Adams Morgan neighborhood guide from The Washington Post.
Georgetown: Similarly, not a specific restaurant, but a neighborhood with lots of options. What the neighborhood lacks is metro access – expect to take a significant hike from Foggy Bottom or Rosslyn on the Orange and Blue lines – but it does not lack for great eating options. There are dozens of cuisines within a five-block radius of the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street.
Washington has so many options, so let me throw out a couple more. If you are a runner, there are many places with awe-inspiring vistas to choose, but my friend Bill Nolan may have said it best on a recent trip: “If anyone ever tells you that an early-morning run on the National Mall is an experience beyond words, they are speaking the truth.” If you prefer to bike, consider biking the Mount Vernon Trail, which is 18 miles from end to end, starting in Arlington, Va., and ending at its namesake, the home of George Washington. More ambitious bikers should look at the Washington & Old Dominion trail, which follows an old railroad bed 45 miles to the northwest, into Virginia.