Washington DC

Washington DC

The Nations Capital is a beautiful city steeped in tradition and culture, although Washington is dominated by government institutions and imposing neoclassical monuments, the city still finds space to showcase its cultural attractions and historical landmarks, including world-class museums, art galleries, relaxing parks and gorgeous gardens.

The Capitol also has a long-standing reputation for its lively and thriving food, arts and nightlife scene, especially in and around fashionable Georgetown.

The city of Washington owes its original design to a Frenchman, who incorporated elegant tree-lined boulevards and grand gardens into the city's planning. You may notice that with minimal high rise buildings, the city has a surprisingly familiar European feel.

Washington DC Holidays & City Breaks: Washington is one of the most visited cities in the US, with over 22 million visitors per year. Powerhouse politics, amazing monuments and important institutions are the main draw, but there’s much more to Washington than history, museums and politics. So read on for tips and suggestions on which of Washington's main attractions we think you should visit.

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Visitor information

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Visiting Washington: Daily direct flights operate between London and Washington. Direct flights take just over 8 hours flying time, making Washington DC an ideal gateway for touring Eastern USA, or as part of a multi-centre itinerary or as a stylish city break or short stay adventure.

Washington DC

Introduction to Washington DC: There are lots of attractions to explore in Washington, discover world-class art, a long established foodie scene, amazing nightlife and wonderful parks, monuments and gardens. If it's your first visit to East Coast USA you'll need to plan your sightseeing itinerary carefully. For some of the best sightseeing tips and information on what to see and do, check out the Flight4 Washington attractions and transport guides below.

Top Tips: (1) The best place to start is America's most famous building the White House, home to every American President with the exception of George Washington. From here stroll down National Mall to admire the Washington Monument and the Lincoln, Jefferson and War Veterans Memorials. (2) The city of Washington has an extraordinarily large number of world-class museums and art galleries, and the National Gallery of Art is among the very best, and deserves to be at the top of your 'to see' list.

Top 10 Places to Visit in Washington DC:

(1). The National Mall: The National Mall is the core of downtown Washington, a long landscaped park of open green space that's home to important government buildings, including the White House and the Capitol Building, plus many iconic monuments, such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

You'll also find The Vietnam War Memorial which records the names of those who died during the conflict. Nearby stands the Tidal Basin, around which you'll find the Roosevelt Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the newest Mall addition, the Martin Luther King Memorial.

Other major attractions surrounding the Mall include renowned museums of the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Air and Space Museum.

washington-lincoln-memorial

(2). The Lincoln Memorial: Located on the western end of the National Mall, the 30-meter-tall Lincoln Memorial was built to honour America’s 16th president and is one of Washington's most visited monuments. Lincoln was responsible for leading the US through the American Civil War and for eventually abolishing slavery with the issue of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

The most famous part of the marble structure is that of Lincoln sitting on a chair, with a stern look depicting leadership qualities – one of Lincoln's hands is clenched the other open, to symbolize his strength and simultaneous compassion. To the side walls you'll find inscriptions of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address from March 1865.

Lincoln Memorial

Top Tip: The views along the Mall from the memorial make it a beautiful place to visit, and provides excellent photo opportunities. Visit the memorial after dark when the columns are all-lit-up and majestically reflected in the Mall's pool, early evening visits are less crowded and evening temps help make peak summer sightseeing more comfortable.

(3). The Capitol Building: The impressive looking and powerful standing Capitol Building is located on a raised plateau at the eastern end of the National Mall. The Capitol is where both chambers of the Senate and the House of Representatives meet to create national policy and law. The capitol is one of washington's most popular tourist attractions and is certainly worth a visit.

Please note: The Capitol may not be open for tours at this time, please check direct with the Capital Building website for updated information on tours and access. To gain further insight and understanding into the workings of the Capitol, join an official Virtual Capitol Tour. The live virtual tour of the Capitol includes access to the Crypt, Rotunda, National Statuary Hall, the Old Supreme Court Chamber and the Old Senate Chamber. The tour includes live video and audio with time for questions and answers.

Washington-capitol-building

Top Tips: (1) When visiting the Mall take a walk around The Capitol Building to appreciate it's stunning architecture and influential presence. (2) The Capitol's prime location to the east of the National Mall offers visitors excellent sweeping views of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, the area also presents a perfect location for holiday snaps.

(4). The Washington Monument: Standing tall to a height of 555 ft (169m) the Washington Monument is a marble obelisk and symbol of the free world, and is one of the best-known tourist sights in Washington DC. It was completed in 1888 to honor George Washington (the first President of the United States), and has been a focal point of the nation's capital for more than 150 years.

You can book a ride on the monument's glass-encased elevators, all the way up to the observation and museum deck near the top of the obelisk. From the top you can enjoy spectacular 360-degree views across the city. Behind the monument lies the reflecting pool and the memorials dedicated to President Abraham Lincoln and to those whose lives were lost in World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Korean conflict.

Tickets to enter the Washington Monument are limited due to space available and the number of visitors allowed into the observation areas. Same day timed entry tickets are available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the beginning of each day. Please note, tickets can run out quickly especially during peak times. Often long queues form early in the morning before the monuments ticket window opens. Please note, Washington Monument ticket reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance, but sell out quickly.

Top Tip: If you're planning a visit at short notice and don't fancy queuing for same day tickets, there's a 24-Hour Advance Ticket Reservations service. A limited number of additional tickets are made available at 10 a.m. each day for the next day's visits, both 30 Day Advance and 24 Hour Advance reservations can be made at the Recreation.gov website.

(5). The National Gallery of Art: The National Gallery of Art (NGA) is one of the most important, rewarding, relaxing and exciting art centres in the US. Centrally located on the National Mall, The National Gallery of Art houses one of the finest collections of paintings, drawings and sculptures in the world. On permanent display are works by Goya, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Raphael, Botticelli, Pablo Picasso, Monet, Manet, Degas, Van Gogh and many, many more.

The main gallery consists of two highly impressive but architecturally distinct buildings named the West and East Buildings. The neoclassical West Building is the older and more traditional of the two buildingsand houses the classical art collection, including paintings and sculptures by European masters from medieval times through the late 19th century. The East Building features a dramatic modern geometric design, and is dedicated to the gallery's modern and contemporary works, including works by Jackson Pollack and Andy Warhol. Both buildings are connected via an impressive underground concourse and moving walkway, the walkway incorporates the 'Multiverse Installation' a spectacular light-emitting diode display that lights-up your way along a 200-foot walk space, created by renowned artist Leo Villareal.

Adjacent to the West Building is the gallery's Sculpture Garden. The Sculpture Garden opened in 1999 and was designed by renowned landscape architect Laurie Olin. The garden features numerous walking paths and relaxing seating areas and features American species of canopy and flowering trees. The Garden also features sculptures from the Gallery’s collection, plus a cooling central fountain and reflecting pool. The pool serves as an ice rink from November – March and the The Pavilion Café offers year-round service with warm indoor seating.

Other attractions include: (1) An expansive gift shop. (2) Fabulous views of the Capitol from the rooftop terrace. (3) Enjoy a walk around the serene Sculpture Garden. (4) Treat yourself to a coffee, gelato or lunch at one of the gallery's five bars and cafes. (5) Catch a free classical concert in the East Building's auditorium and the West Building's Garden courts. (6) Enjoy a bit of early evening Jazz in the Sculpture Garden. (7) Join one of the gallery's many concerts, guided tours, audio guides and gallery talks.

(6). City Bus Tours: A bus tour around the city may appear 'touristy' at first, but organised tours are a great introduction to any city. They're also convenient especially if you're only in town for a few days and need to 'rush-in' as much sightseeing as possible.

Old Town Trolley Tours have over 30 years of service and they're one of DC’s most experienced sightseeing companies. Live commentary is provided by local well-researched guides and include humorous stories, colorful anecdotes, plus many interesting insights into the history and culture of the country’s capital.

Top Tips: Check out the the popular hop-on hop-off bus services, they loop around the city visiting and stopping at most of Washington's main attractions and famous landmarks. You simply hop-off at a place of interest for a visit, then hop-back-on the next bus that comes around to continue the journey, it's a great way to travel without having to plan your itinerary or coordinate transportation.

During summer months some tours are offered in open-top buses, also consider a night time or moonlight tour, they provide great opportunities to see the city's major landmarks lit-up against the night sky, with the Washington Monument, Capitol Building and the White House looking particularly impressive.

(7). The Kennedy Center: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is a vibrant cultural hub, connecting artists with audiences and visitors from around the globe, with daily shows starting from 6pm. JFK was the 35th President of the U.S. he was dedicated to promoting the performing arts and in 1971 this 'iconic landmark for arts in America' was opened as a memorial to the late President.

The Center houses the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington National Opera and also provides other theater and musical performances throughout the year. Please see The Kennedy Centre website for details of what'son, including news on an exciting 2022-2023 Theater Season.

Top Tips: (1) Join one of the building's free guided tours provided by theatre volunteers, some tours take you onto the Centres rooftop terrace for great views over the city and nearby Potomac River. (2) Look out for the impressive eight-foot bronze bust sculpture of JFK located inside the Centre.

(8). The Georgetown Neighborhood: Take a relaxing walk around laid-back Georgetown. Here you'll find charming Federal-style architecture and elegant colonial houses, cobblestone streets plus plenty of fashion & design shops to keep you busy, especially around Wisconsin & M streets, plus a good collection of boutiques and antique stores.

You'll find lots of lively bars, traditional taverns and live music lounges, plenty of local and upmarket restaurants and a few blues clubs including the famousBlues Alley Club founded in 1965, all of which offer a big city buzz with a refreshing difference. Georgetown was once a thriving Colonial port and there's a beautiful 'riverside walk' which provides a relaxing escape and pleasant contrast to the fast pace of the city.

(9). The Smithsonian Institution: The Smithsonian Institution consist of 20 museums and galleries as well as the National Zoological Park. Seventeen of the Smithsonian collections are located in Washington D.C. with the National Mall containing eleven of them. The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum complex, with approximately 155 million artifacts and specimens in its trust for the American people, some of these displays can bee seen at the following principal locations:

(1). The National Air and Space Museum, which is undergoing a monumental multi-year renovation that's due for completion by the end of 2023. The existing 23 exhibitions will be completely reimagined, with new presentation spaces and attractions. (2). The American Art Museum holds a significant collection of 19th and 20th–Century Art, including a significant contribution of both realist and abstract painters, plus American artifacts dating back to Colonial times. (3). The American History Museum has a collection of over 3 million objects dedicated to American History and includes, the original 15-star Star-Spangled Banner flag, plus Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, right through to more recent times with the original Kermit the Frog puppet. (4). National Museum of Natural History holds the secrets of early man, including many specimens and human artifacts including the remains of dinosaurs and tools used by early man.

(10). The Capital Ferris Wheel: The Capital Ferris Wheel is located at National Harbor, just 8 miles south of downtown Washington just across the Potomac River. The Wheel offers 42 climate-controlled passenger gondolas that reach a height of 55 meters, providing incomparable views over the Washington Monument, Georgetown and the DC-Maryland-Virginia region.

There’s also a VIP gondola service available that offers luxury leather bucket seats, a glass floor, photo package, and includes 'go straight to the front of the queue' access. There's also an open-air waterfront lounge called the 'Flight Deck' where you can relax with a cocktail either pre or post flight.

Washington's Transport:
By day Washingtonis a very walkable city especially if you're staying downtown, as most of Washington's main attractions are within walking distance of each other. Alternatively you can use the popular DC Circulator Bus service or the ultra-modern metro system.

You will find navigating Washington on foot relatively easy, the city's streets are designed on a rectangular grid system, cut by long diagonals radiating from important sites such as the Capitol and the White House.

Washington-metro-logo

Washington's Metrorail & Metrobus Services: Washington's Public Transport Services are administered by the 'Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority' (WMATA). Metrorail and Metrobus services provide safe, clean and reliable transit services for more than 600,000 customers a day throughout the Washington DC area.

Washington Metro: The Washington Metro is fast and convenient and is one of the busiest public transportation systems in the U.S. The Metro covers most of the city's main tourist sites, monuments and attractions. Since opening in 1976 the Metrorail network has grown to include six lines and 118 miles of track, serving local residents, commuters and visitors with 19 hours of operation per day, seven days per week.

To identify a Metro Station look for tall brown columns with a large "M" identifying the station entrances. Colored stripes around the column show which lines serve the station. The Metro system has six color-coded rail lines: Red, Orange, Silver, Blue, Yellow, and Green that service 91 of the city's Metro stations.

Once inside the Metro, station and platform signs will alert you to a train's arrival along with flashing lights along the platform's edge. The trains destination, line color and direction are displayed electronically above the side windows of the train. Top Tip: A great way to find your way using the Metro is to plan your journey using the online WMATA trip-planner tool.

Metro fares are calculated on the day and time a trip is taken, plus the distance traveled to complete your journey, fares will vary during peak and off-peak times. Paying for tickets: To ride the Metro you must purchase a SmarTrip card or use a SmarTrip app on your iPhone and Apple Watch or via mobile pay. The plastic SmarTrip card is a permanent, rechargeable farecard that you can buy online and in advance at wmata.com or at any Metro station or authorised outlet.

SmarTrip is a full service, touch-free payment system that can be used on WMATA Rail, Bus and Metro services. To use your SmarTrip card you simply tap the card on the circular reader on the Metro access gate or with Mobile Pay you hold your mobile device above the reader. Top Tips: (1) Remember to use the same farecard to exit the gate at the end of your journey, keep an eye on the small digital display next to the card reader as it will display the cash/credit remaining on your card. (2) WMATA metro passes are available for 1, 3, and 7-Day durations for unlimited metro access, there's also a 7 day short trip pass for traveling during off-peak times.

Washington's Bus Services:There are two main public bus options when travelling around the city, they are the DC Circulator and Metrobus.

Washington-circulator-logo

DC Circulator Bus Service: The DC Circulator is a public bus transportation service, the service provides a highly convenient and frequent bus schedule connecting the District’s main attractions and neighborhoods. Popular routes include stops around the National Mall, between Union Station and Georgetown and between the Convention Center and the National Mall.

The DC Circulator provides nearly 5 million trips each year with six distinct and easy to understand routes across Washington DC. The DC Circular operates a simple and affordable fare structure with the base fare for DC Circulator rides set at $1 per person, per trip. Discounts are available for seniors and students.

You can pay for you fare by using a SmarTrip rechargeable farecard, simply tap your card on the fare box when you enter the front door. Top Tips: (1) The DC Circular is a visitor friendly way to travel around the city, it connects you to DC's main attractions and popular neighborhoods for a cheap flat rate fare. (2) DC Circulator is the only public transit option that travels along the National Mall, the service has been designed for easy-on, easy-off access at points of interest.

The Metrobus: The third public transport option is the Metrobus. Use the Metrobus for areas not covered by the Metro, such as Georgetown, or if you simply want a journey with a view. The Metrobus system connects to all Metrorail stations and operates on a 24-hours-a-day, 7 days a week basis.

Metrobus has over 11,000 bus stops on 269 routes throughout the Washington Metropolitan Area, which includes all of the District of Columbia and parts of the states of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Fares can be paid using your SmarTrip farecard. Up to 2 children ride free under 5 years of age if accompanied by a full fare paying adult.

When is the best time of year to visit Washington DC:
Washington is a great city to visit anytime of year, as each season will surprise and delight with its own reward.

Spring (April - June): Is our favourite time of the year to visit Washington, the cherry blossoms start to bloom and city's parks and gardens spring into life. Spring is an ideal time for monument sightseeing, especially the major attractions on The National Mall. Daytime temperatures are not to hot, but take your umbrella early Spring can be wet.

Summer (July - September): Summertime in the city can be hot and sticky. Start monument sightseeing early morning to avoid the afternoon heat and humidity. In the afternoon visit one of many fantastic museums or art galleries to soak-up the air conditioning, such as the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. If you’re visiting on Independence Day you're in for a great party and an amazing fireworks display. The downside to visiting during the peak summer months is more crowds and higher prices for hotels. Temperatures can regularly hit 95°F (35°C) mid summer.

Autumn or Fall (October - November): During Fall the weather is cooling off and the crowds are thinning out which means hotel rates are usually cheaper. As November approaches the temperature really starts to drop off. Autumn is time for change and at Washington's many parks and open spaces we see a spectacular change of colours as the leaves change to a bright orange-yellow. Top Tip: Don't miss the Halloween parades and parties in October or the National christmas tree lighting-up ceremony that takes place in November.

Winter (December - March): Winter is possibly the least popular season to visit DC, however the often unpleasant weather can have advantages, such as much cheaper hotel rates, less queuing at popular attractions and being able too enjoy a quieter visitor experience. If the snow and ice start to bite simply slip in out of the cold and enjoy the city's many cafes, museums and national institutions with the comfort of artificial heating. Washington in winter is perfect for shopping and entertainment with first class dining, theatre and clubs to keep you entertained.

Washington Airport (IAD). Dulles International Airport (IAD) is situated 26 miles (41km) west of Washington DC.

Airport Transport and Shuttle Services: From Washington Dullas International the best and easiest way to travel into the city is by Taxi. The Washington Flyer Taxi company has exclusive rights to serve Washington Dulles International Airport with a 24-hour service to and from the Airport. No reservations are required, simply follow the signs for Ground Transportation or Taxi to the lower level of the Terminal. Travelling time by taxi without delays and travelling outside of commuter times is approximately 45 minutes.

The Silver Line Express: The Silver Line Express Bus provides a convenient 15 minute connection between Washington Dulles International Airport and the Wiehle-Reston East Metrorail Station, from here you take the Silver Line Metro service to downtown Washington.

Metro trains from Wiehle-Reston East to downtown Washington take 45 minutes. A new Metro line extension stretching all the way to Dulles Airport is expected to be fully completed in 2023.

Silverline Buses depart to and from the airport every 15-20 minutes and stop on the arrivals level.

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