Planning Your Washington D.C. Vacation Itinerary

Washington D.C. attractionsGetting ready to explore the Nation's Capital on a Washington D.C. vacation? You'll want to put in some advance planning. While there is certainly more than enough to keep one occupied, a pre-trip plan of attack is necessary, particularly because many of the best experiences are available on a limited basis.

Traveling to Washington D.C.

Depending on where you'll be coming from to begin your Washington D.C. vacation, you'll find that there are a sea of variables and options available to make your trip more convenient and less expensive. If you reside on the east coast, consider traveling by train if you can't find cheap Washington D.C. flights to get you into the D.C. metro area. Traveling by train still brings with it a sense of romanticism that has nearly been forgotten in mainstream America. Arrival to Union Station allows for easy access to the city via Metro, bus or cab. If you plan to fly, there are three Washington D.C. area airports to consider - BWI, Reagan National (DCA) and Dulles (IAD). Only DCA is accessible via Metro transportation, but BWI and IAD may offer cheaper flight options due to a heavy volume of flights from low-cost carriers like Southwest and AirTran.

When you're willing to become your own travel agent, you'll have no problem finding discounted airfare available through many Internet travel sites.

Once you've arrived in Washington D.C., it will be much easier to enjoy your vacation if your hotel accommodations are sufficient. Unless you literally plan exploring the city at all hours, a nice bed in a nice, clean, contemporary room will be the icing on your Washington D.C. vacation cake. We've reviewed a number of the best Washington D.C. hotels and luxury properties for your booking convenience.

What to Do in Washington D.C.

Vacations to D.C. are all about the sightseeing, but don't try to fit it all in one day. Space out visits to monuments, museums and memorials, or you'll end up with both sore feet and sensation overload. Budget two hours per museum, and be sure to plan early if you plan on visiting the Washington Monument -- tickets go fast each morning. You may also want to consider visiting the monuments at night for a unique and scenic experience.

Most museums are free, but Washington D.C. attractions like the Holocaust Museum require tickets for timed entry, and museums like the Spy Museum, Museum of Crime and Punishment and the Newseum charge a fee for entry.
Be sure to plan your visits to places like the Capitol Building well in advance -- contact your state representative to schedule a tour.

How to get around in Washington D.C.

The Metro system is the easiest way to access the city and surrounding towns in Maryland and Virginia on your Washington D.C. vacation. Lines are designated by color (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green and Blue) and require a paper fare card to enter and exit the station. If you plan on visiting for several days and / or plan to park at the Metro station, consider purchasing a SmarTrip® card, a credit-card like device that holds funds and allows for swipe-and-go access. Trains travel primarily underground and offer electronic signs designating the minutes to arrival, making it one of the most technologically advanced transportation systems in the nation, as well as the second busiest, behind New York City. Eating and drinking is not permitted on the metro. To avoid annoying the locals, please follow the cardinal rule of the DC Metro system – when on an escalator, walk on the left and stand on the right. Bus transportation is also available, and the WMATA's online trip planner feature will illustrate the routes most easily accessible via bus. To access areas like Georgetown, consider taking the Circulator bus.

More to Do in Washington D.C.

Once you've gotten your fill of the Congressional area on your Washington D.C. vacation, you'll definitely want to travel to the other side of the Potomac River; Virginia will present you with even more vacation opportunities. If you have an appreciation for American history, then you'll definitely want to schedule time to visit the Arlington National Cemetery and the home of George Washington, Mount Vernon. You can also enjoy a day-trip to the plantation of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, which is an approximate 2.5 hour drive from The District.

On the other hand, if you're more into the contemporary American lifestyle, you'll have no problem finding "your scene" in areas such as Georgetown. Great Washington D.C. restaurants, great shopping and a contemporary mix of American people can be found strolling the city streets of an area that seems to link the American past to the American present.
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