Washington DC can be overwhelming in its options for first-time visitors. There is so much history it boggles the mind. If we center on the 10 USD and under attractions, it narrows the choices a bit. To make the most out of your trip, it is best to have at least two days to see the sites. The DC Circulator Bus will get you to, or close to most places worth seeing. I recommend it over the Metro for two reasons. One is that it’s cheaper and two is it’s above ground giving a better perspective of the area. At 1 USD for adults and 0.50 USD for seniors (aged 60 and above), it’s a good deal.
There are seven routes but the three main DC Circulator routes you will most likely use all converge around the Columbus Circle area. The red line is the most useful line for visiting free or under 10 USD attractions. The red line goes all the way around the National Mall, think Smithsonian Museums, to the Lincoln Memorial and back. Other main attractions include: The Jefferson Memorial, The World War ll Memorial, The Washington Monument, and several Smithsonian Museums. All of the above mentioned attractions are worth seeing if you haven’t seen them previously.
So many museums to visit!
All nineteen of the Smithsonian Museums are free! It would take days to properly see them all, so choose carefully ahead of time to make the most of your trip. The Air and Space Museum is very popular and on busy days, you might have to wait in line a short while to get in. Once inside, there are aircraft of almost all types on display in one form or another. Planes hang from the ceiling, and are strewn about in an aviation lovers dreamscape. With hands on exhibits, and even an IMAX Theater there is something for the whole family. The IMAX Theater is closed 11th January until March 2016 for the installation of a new laser projection and sound system. Admission costs 9 USD for adults (13-59 years), 8 USD senior (60+) and 7.50 USD for youth aged 2 to 12 years.
Be sure to visit the Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals in the National Museum of Natural History. This is where items such as the exquisite 128.54 carat Tiffany Diamond and the 112 carat Hope Diamond are on display. Both have fascinating stories to tell. The Hope Diamond is said to be cursed due to the unexpected deaths many of its owners befell. Please be advised the Hope Diamond will not be on display from 3rd January, 2016 until 16th March, 2016. Also, it will be off display on certain days and you can check on its status on the museum’s website. The Tiffany Diamond features a gilded platinum and gold bird on a large yellow diamond, definitely one of the prize possessions of the museum. Other highlights in this museum are the Sant Ocean Hall, and dinosaurs.
Walking on the Moon
Depending on your interests, you may want to go to the American History Museum, The American Indian Museum or one of four art museums. It’s just astounding how much there is to see in the National Mall and it would take weeks to see every nook and cranny. For a break outdoors, walk the grounds around the Smithsonian Castle and visit the well-planned gardens around back. Use their 3-D planning map inside the Smithsonian Castle visitor center to chart your course, or stop in the café for a quick bite. Out back is The Moon Gate Garden fashioned after a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) landscape in Beijing. Walk through the gleaming, massive cut-quartz stones into the peaceful sanctuary of a pond with four walkways to its center. The weeping cherry tree near the garden is one of the most beautiful in DC and explodes in pink blossoms around early April. If it’s cherry blossom season, you will want to catch the Red Line Circulator bus to the Tidal Basin and see hundreds of cherry trees in bloom that were gifts from Japan’s mayor back in 1912.
Rediscover American history old and recent
Georgetown is well known for trendy shops and great restaurants. Martin’s Tavern is one of the best for American comfort foods like meatloaf, oyster stew, pot roast and shepherd’s pie. Most items are over 10 USD but several soups as well as late breakfast items are under 10 USD. You could also split one of their sizeable entrees like meatloaf, served with mashed potatoes and broccoli. If you are lucky, they might seat you in ‘the Proposal Booth’ where a young J.F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie Bouvier. They say every president from Eisenhower to George W. Bush has passed through these doors as well as several other famous people. After your meal, stroll the charming streets of Georgetown in the shadows of classic Victorian townhomes and buildings, making you feel as though you are walking in the past greatness of this country. The DC Circulator yellow line will get you there.
Have a beer at a famous meeting place
On the DC Circulator Red Line, you can see the Jefferson Memorial and read an informative timeline of our third president’s life and accomplishments. Next up could be the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. If the weather is good, it’s delightful to walk some or all of this route on the safe walking trails connecting many of the attractions. The Red Line also takes you to the Ellipse, a circular park near the White House. This is a good area for taking a picture of the president’s residence before moving on.
Near the National Mall is the historic Willard Intercontinental Hotel. You may not want to pay for a room here but consider having a beer (6.75 USD) in their Round Robin Bar where DC’s political and social elite have met since the time of President Lincoln. Famous people like Mark Twain, Walt Whitman and Ulysses S. Grant tipped a glass here. Currently a hotbed of DC movers and shakers it’s a memorable spot for a cold one. If you have had enough of the Mall area it’s time to venture to Georgetown.
Intercontinental The Willard Washington D.C. Hotel
Address: 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue North West
Exploring in and near the circle
Dupont Circle is also a fun place to explore. For lunch in this part of DC check out Beefsteak, 1528 Connecticut Avenue, by famous chef Josè Andrès. Here you will find a fun ‘build your own bowl’ of mostly vegies in a sleek, modern restaurant. The food is delicious and you should try the juice dispenser where three healthy juice blends, (lavender lemonade, apple-beet-ginger, and cucumber-apple-kale). The best part is you can mix and match juices with unlimited refills! The bowls and sandwiches are under 10 USD and if you don’t want to build your own, they have several favorites to order where you don’t have to become a food architect. They also have a location at the corner of 22nd and I Street near George Washington University. The yellow line takes you from Columbus Circle to connect with the blue line to get within three blocks of Dupont Circle.
Near Dupont Circle is one of DC’s best kept secrets - The Anderson House. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 pm. and it’s free! This exquisite home was owned by Larz Anderson-a US diplomat. Built in 1905, it made a statement right from the start with its walled gardens, tennis courts, tapestries of Diana the Huntress, and more than fifteen types of imported Italian marble highlights! It is stunning. The Anderson House is home to the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization founded in 1783. The Society of the Cincinnati included George Washington amongst its members and is the oldest patriotic organization in the U.S. It holds one of the world’s great collections of books and manuscripts about the War for Independence as well as a substantial collection of arts and artifacts illustrating the war. Plan on spending an hour or so to get the most out of this hidden treasure.
When to go
With so many excellent free attractions Washington, DC has got to be one of the best cities to visit without spending a lot of money on attractions. Best time to go is in the spring for cherry blossom season, or in the fall when the weather is cooler and the air drier. While there are three airports claiming to be in the DC area, it is best to fly into DC Reagan if possible, due to its close proximity to the central DC area. Most visitors will need three days or more to properly see the sites. Whatever amount of time you have, this historical city will leave you wanting more.