Many people use their first trip to the East Coast to visit two cities. The first, of course, is New York, America's financial and cultural capital. The second is Washington, D.C., the actual capital. Because of its status as the seat of the government, D.C. boasts more landmarks than any city in the country save New York. Most of them sit along the two-mile-long rectangle known as the National Mall, bookended by the Lincoln Memorial on one end and the Capitol building on the other. The monuments and memorials, named for America's greatest heroes (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln) and some of its bloodiest wars (WWII, Korea, Vietnam), are most tourists' starting points. Also high up on the list: the incomparable Smithsonian museums. Nowhere else in the country can you visit so many world-class institutions without dropping a dime. It makes museum-going something it too rarely is: guilt free. Simply walk in and check out a few exhibits, and if you get bored or tired or hungry, you can leave without worrying about whether you got your money's worth.
It's also worth spending some time outside the Mall. Strolling through Foggy Bottom or downtown, it seems as though every other building you pass on the street is the national headquarters for one thing or another. On your left, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. On your right, the Labor Department and FBI Building. Toss in several colorful neighborhoods, an up-and-coming food scene, and a dense, easily navigable geography, and the result is a city that should also be known as one of America's tourism capitals.
In general, you don't get as much hotel for the dollar in Washington as you do in most other major American cities. We also found relatively few budget options or independently operated hotels (one manager we interviewed referred to D.C. as "Marriott Town"). The good news, though, is that if you're not visiting on business, prices drop dramatically on weekends (except during the summer), so good deals can be had.
The vast majority of D.C.'s hotels are bunched in the southwest part of the district, in about a half-dozen neighborhoods, four of which -- Foggy Bottom, downtown, Penn Quarter, and Capitol Hill -- essentially border the Mall. (Georgetown and Dupont Circle are farther out but still within walking distance, at least if you're a hearty walker and it's a nice day.) You'll find a disproportionately high percentage of the city's iconic luxury hotels downtown, within blocks of the White House: the Jefferson, Hay-Adams, St. Regis, W, and Intercontinental Willard are all superb choices if you can spare the cash. Georgetown is best if you want to get away from things a bit, but that also means not having access to the superb Metro system. Dupont Circle offers a nice compromise: a "real" neighborhood with locals, fine dining, and great nightlife, with the convenience of the Metro.
|Airports:||Dulles International Airport (IAD)|
|Reagan National Airport (DCA)|
|Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI)|
|Peak:||March 15 - June 30|
|Electricity:||120 V, 60 Hz|
|Tipping:||15-20% at restaurants|
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