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Washington, D.C. is America's capital city, and in addition to being the center of the country's politics, it is also home to a large number of significant cultural institutions, memorials and historic monuments. The city lies on the banks of the Potomac River, between Virginia and Maryland, on the east coast of the US. The city was built in the 18th century to serve as the national capital and lies within its own federal district, the District of Columbia (D.C.).
For travellers, Washington, D.C. can be divided into 4 main areas:
One of the oldest neighbourhoods in Washington, the Foggy Bottom neighbourhood encompasses the areas roughly in between 17th Street/White House (east) and Rock Creek Park (west), and Pennsylvania Avenue (north) and Constitution Avenue (south). The George Washington University main campus, the DAR Constitution Hall, numerous embassies, the American Red Cross National Headquarters, the Watergate complex, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the Federal Government (including the Old and New Executive Office Buildings and Department of the Interior) are some of the notable occupants of Foggy Bottom. The George Washington University in particular has grown in the last decade, and has come to dominate much of the neighborhood, although numerous old and historic townhouses and residences still remain. The neighbourhood is served by several bus routes, and a Metro stop on the Blue and Orange lines (called Foggy Bottom-GWU).
The building on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the residence of every American president since John Adams. While the White House was completed in 1800, it was already expanded a year later. In 1814 the White House burned down during the War of 1812, when it was burned by the British Army. Reconstruction began almost immediately, and President James Monroe could move into a partially reconstructed house in October 1817.
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The Washington D.C. Mall is one of the most amazing sights in city. In this wonderful park located in the heart of Washington, D.C. is home to several amazing sights. Some of these sights are the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Memorial, the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial and several of the of Washington D.C.'s finest museums are located around the edge of the mall. If anything the mall is just nice green space in the heart of the city.
The first plans for the memorial date back to 1867 when a commission was formed to work out plans for a memorail in honour of Abraham Lincoln, but the build was not commissioned until 1911, as a suitable piece of land couldn't be found before 1902. The first stone of the memorial was layed on February 12, 1914, the birthday of the President. While Henry Bacon worked on the memorial, Daniel Chester. French designed the statue of Lincoln, which would become the center piece of the memorial. The statue is made from white marble, that was carved by the Piccirilli Brothers in New York, and looks towards the relecting pool and the Washington monument in the distance.
The Lincoln Memorial is just one of many memorials in Washington, D.C. and most are located at the western half of The Mall and around the Tidal Basin, south of The Mall. The biggest and nicest are the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, The Vietnam War Veterans Memorial, The Korean War Veterans Memorial, The World War II Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. Other smaller ones are about the relationship with Japan (in the form of a pagoda) and the Albert Einstein monument/statue.
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Do something different in Washington, D.C. Visit historical and contemporary gardens, farmers markets and even wineries are within driving distance of the city. Have a look at the Mycapitalgardens USA website for more information.
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Washington is in the humid subtropical climate zone and exhibits four distinct seasons. Its climate is typical of Mid-Atlantic U.S. areas removed from bodies of water. Spring and fall are warm, while winter is cool with annual snowfall averaging 39 cm. Winter temperatures average around 3.3 °C from mid-December to mid-February. Summers are hot and humid with a July daily average of 26.6 °C and average daily relative humidity around 66%, which can cause moderate personal discomfort. The combination of heat and humidity in the summer brings very frequent thunderstorms, some of which occasionally produce tornadoes in the area.
Blizzards affect Washington on average once every four to six years. The most violent storms are called "nor'easters", which often affect large sections of the U.S. East Coast. Hurricanes (or their remnants) occasionally track through the area in late summer and early fall, but are often weak by the time they reach Washington, partly due to the city's inland location. Flooding of the Potomac River, however, caused by a combination of high tide, storm surge, and runoff, has been known to cause extensive property damage in Georgetown.
The highest recorded temperature was 41 °C on July 20, 1930, and August 6, 1918,] while the lowest recorded temperature was -26 °C on February 11, 1899, during the Great Blizzard of 1899. During a typical year, the city averages about 37 days at or above 32 °C and 64 nights at or below freezing.
|Avg Max||5.7 °C||7.7 °C||13.6 °C||19.3 °C||24.6 °C||29.3 °C||31.4 °C||30.5 °C||26.7 °C||20.6 °C||14.6 °C||8.3 °C|
|Avg Min||-2.9 °C||-1.6 °C||3.2 °C||8 °C||13.7 °C||19.2 °C||21.9 °C||21.1 °C||16.9 °C||10.2 °C||5.1 °C||-0.2 °C|
|Rainfall||69.1 mm||68.8 mm||80.5 mm||68.8 mm||93 mm||85.9 mm||96.5 mm||99.3 mm||84.1 mm||76.7 mm||79.2 mm||79.2 mm|
There are three major airports that serve the Baltimore-Washington Area. Getting from each of these airports into town is a mixed bag. They all have the standard taxi, shuttle services and rental cars. Public transportation on the other hand is lacking.
1. Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) - This airport is located 25 miles (40 kilometres) west of Washington, D.C., in Dulles, Virginia. United Airlines, JetBlue Airways and American Airlines are the main airlines in this airport.
To/from Dulles Airport
2. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) - This airport is located three miles (5 kilometres) south of Washington, D.C. in Arlington County, Virginia. US Airways is the carrier with the most flights across the country.
To/from Ronald Reagan Airport
3. Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) - Located 10 miles (16 kilometres) south of Baltimore and 30 miles (48 kilometres) north of Washington, D.C., this airport's main carriers are Southwest Airlines and US Airways.
To/from Baltimore-Washington Airport
Amtrak runs many regularly scheduled trains from Washington, DC to Boston, Chicago and many other cities. The trains are:
Washington, D.C. is primarily served by the coastal superhighway, I-95 from Baltimore or Greyhound runs regular bus between all the major cities. Many other bus companies offer services throughout the Northeast of the USA, including Peter Pan Buses, Megabus, BoltBus, DC2NY, Tripper Bus and Vamoose Bus. There exist on the East Coast a system commonly referred to as the 'Chinatown Bus'. These buses are run by several companies, some use old retired buses, other brand new ones. Tickets go from $10 to $20 roundtrip between Washington, D.C. Chinatown to New York, with an optional stop in Baltimore.
There are no official public connections, though there are some boats plying the Potomac River south towards Mount Vernon, and also between the waterfront and Georgetown to the northwest.
Driving and parking in Washington, D.C. can be hectic and difficult. Street parking downtown is limited to two hours only (even at meters), so be prepared to park in a private lot or garage, which cost anywhere from $10-25 per day. Avoid driving and parking during rush hour (weekdays, 6:00-10:00am and 4:00-8:00pm), since this is when the majority of the city's traffic congestion, street direction changes, and parking restrictions are in effect. If you do park on the street, pay close attention to traffic signs. Most streets downtown restrict parking during rush hour and visitors often return to the spot where they parked only to find that their vehicle has been ticketed and towed!
Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.
For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.
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The public transportation system in the District consists of the Metrorail and Metrobus (see the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority), and the DC Circulator. These, along with several regional transit systems, such as MARC, VRE, ART, CUE, DASH, and Fairfax Connector, serve Washington, D.C. and the surrounding areas of Virginia and Maryland. While the Metrorail and Metrobus serve stations both inside and outside of the District, most of the regional systems listed above do not serve the District itself. Rather, they connect to the Metro system at various points in Virginia and Maryland.
Much of Washington, D.C. can easily be navigate on foot, with the occassional metroride for slightly longer distances or across the river into Virginia. The city is split into four quadrants of unequal size, which radiate out from the Capitol Building: Northwest (NW), Northeast (NE), Southeast (SE), and Southwest (SW). The NW quadrant is by far the largest and SW the smallest. Addresses in the city always include the quadrant abbreviation, e.g., 1000 H Street NE. Take note of the quadrant, otherwise you may find yourself on the exact opposite side of town from your destination! City streets are generally laid out in a grid, with east-west streets primarily named with letters (A–W) and north-south streets named with numbers. Complicating the grid are the numerous diagonal avenues, many named after states, that serve as the city's principal arteries. The street numbers and letters increase with distance from the Capitol.
Cycling is an increasingly popular form of transportation among Washington, D.C. residents. Bicycling has become a great way for tourists to visit Washington, D.C.'s neighbourhoods as well. Washington, D.C. also became the first city in North America to start a bike-sharing service. That pilot program was replaced in 2010 by the new Capital Bikeshare network, which has over 1,100 bicycles available at more than 100 stations across the entire city and in neighboring Arlington, Virginia. Visitors may use the service for $7/day or $15 for 3 days, payable by using a credit card at the automated kiosks attached to every Capital Bikeshare station.
Most of the high end cuisine is available in the West End, the East End, Georgetown, and Dupont Circle - offering dining experiences ranging from steakhouses packed with powerful suits to Minibar by Jose Andres, a 12-seat restaurant offering a 30-course meal for $250.
D.C.'s international might draws representatives from all corners of the globe, and they all need ex-pat cafes and restaurants to haunt. Notable "ethnic" enclaves include wonderful Ethiopian food in Shaw and decent Chinese food in what remains of D.C.'s disappearing Chinatown.
Salvadoran cuisine such as the pupusa is common in Columbia Heights. Pupusas are thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, optionally fried pork, refried beans, or all sorts of other things, then topped with a tart cabbage salad and an Italianesque red sauce.
Ethiopian food is a D.C. staple due to the city's large Ethiopian community, and this is one of the best places in the world to try the cuisine. Ethiopian food is a wild ride of spicy stewed and sautéed meats and vegetables served atop a plate covered with a spongy bread called injera. You eat the dishes with your hands, using an extra plate of injera (similar to bread) as your sole "utensil"—rip off a piece of the injera and use it to pick up your food. It's proper in Ethiopia to use only the tips of your fingers in this exercise, and with good reason: you'll have a messy meal otherwise. It's also perfectly proper to feed your date, making this a fun cuisine if you know your date well. The best places to try Ethiopian food are in Shaw, which includes D.C.'s own Little Ethiopia.
Despite featuring cuisines from all over the world, D.C. seems to lack a cuisine of its own. The city, realizing this, went through a brief period of soul-searching, wondering why it lacked any unique regional culinary traditions, and realized that it indeed has one: the D.C. hot dog stand. They are common around the National Mall, and they sell the unique-to-D.C. smoked half-beef, half-pork sausages appropriately named half-smokes. They have a firm "snap" when you bite into one, are served on a hot dog bun, and are often topped with chili. Most hot dog vendors are mere shells of the half-smoke greatness served out of WWII-era aluminum shacks. If you want a true, quality half-smoke, you should visit Ben's Chili Bowl in Shaw.
Cupcake fever has hit D.C., fueled by tourists lured by TV shows such as Cupcake Wars and DC Cupcakes. The subject of the latter show, Georgetown Cupcakes, sometimes has lines running around the block. Other cupcakeries that do not have their own TV shows, however, easily give Georgetown Cupcakes a run for their money in terms of quality. If you're in Georgetown and not up to the lines, try the delicious Baked & Wired, Red Velvet Cupcakery, or LA transplant Sprinkles instead.
The legal drinking/purchasing age is 21 and it is strictly enforced in D.C. Be prepared to have your identification checked, even if you appear to be well over 21.
The downtown nightlife is lacking - many bars in the East End are tourist traps and the West End is generally quiet at night despite the student population.
Bars and dance clubs, many of which have live music, are plentiful along 18th St in Adams Morgan, along 14th St and along U St in nearby Shaw, and in Near Northeast, which are the 3 main areas of the city for going on a pub crawl.
|Capitol City Hostel||2411 Benning Road NE||Hostel||81|
|District Hotel||1440 Rhode Island Ave NW||Hotel||77|
|Embassy Inn||1627 16th Street NW Washington||Hotel||81|
|Gallery Inn Hotel||1905 19th Street. N.W. 1850 Florida Ave. N.W.||Hotel||-|
|Hilltop Hostel||300 Carroll St, 20012 NW||Hostel||80|
|Laura's House||1922 9th St NW Washington, DC||HOSTEL||-|
|The Allen Lee Hotel||2224 F Street N.W.||Hotel||-|
|Washington DC Guesthouse||2413 Benning Road, NE Washington DC||Hostel||-|
|Washington International Student Center||2451 18th Street NW DC 20009||Hostel||78|
|William Penn House||515 East Capitol St SE||Hostel||-|
|Windsor Inn Hotel||1842 16th street NW Washington||Hotel||82|
|International House of Washington (United Tel)||1110 6th st. nw Washington, DC||HOSTEL||-|
|Aunt Beas Little White House||3619 12TH. ST. NE.||Guesthouse||-|
|DC Trekker||1422 Harvard St.||Hostel||-|
|DC Hostel||4115 8th Street NW||HOSTEL||-|
|Comfort Inn - Arlington Blvd/DC Gateway||6111 Arlington Blvd.||Hotel||-|
|Comfort Inn - Alexandria/Washington DC||5716 S. Van Dorn Street||Hotel||-|
|Comfort Inn and Suites||1600 New York Avenue NE||HOTEL||81|
|The Guest House||6025 Arlington Blvd.||Hostel||-|
|Quality Inn - Andrews Air Force Base||4783 Allentown Road Camp Springs||Hotel||-|
|Comfort Inn||1587 Springhill Road||Hotel||-|
|Comfort Inn & Suites College Park||9020 Baltimore Ave.||Hotel||-|
|Red Roof Inn - Rockville||16001 Shady Grove Road||Hotel||-|
|Quality Inn - Mount Vernon/Washington||7212 Richmond Hwy||Hotel||-|
|Motel 6 Washington DC SW-Springfield||6868 Springfield Boulevard Springfield||Hotel||-|
|Capital View||301 i street NW||Hostel||80|
|Duo Housing DC||1223 11th st 11th St NW||HOSTEL||86|
|Holiday Inn Express Washington DC/BW Parkway||6205 Annapolis Road||Hotel||-|
|Downtown Washington Hostel||506 H Street NE||Hostel||84|
|Quality Inn Alexandria||8849 Richmond Hwy||Hotel||-|
|Motel 6 Washington, DC SE - Camp Springs #682||5701 Allentown Road||Hotel||-|
|Hotel Baron||1523 22nd street NW||Hotel||81|
|Red Roof Inn VA||5975 Richmond Highway Alexandra||Hotel||-|
|Red Roof Inn DC||827 Elkridge landing Road Linthicum Heights MD||Hotel||-|
|Capital Comfort Hostel||1610 7th street NW||HOSTEL||-|
|Dupont Circle Suites||1500 Massachusetts avenue Apartment 736||Hostel||-|
|Hostelling International - Washington DC||1009 11th Street NW Washington||HOSTEL||86|
|DC Lofty - Convention Center||1333 11th st NW Washington DC||HOSTEL||79|
|Canal Inn Georgetown||1061 31st Street NW||HOTEL||-|
|Diplomatic Stay||4907 14th St NW||HOSTEL||-|
|Serenity Bay Homestay||5551 Exeter Street||GUESTHOUSE||-|
|Metro Points Hotel||8500 Annapolis Road||Hotel||-|
Certain career fields find a natural home in D.C. While everyone knows that this is where politicians go, you can also find a fair share of diplomats, lawyers, lobbyists, journalists, defense contractors, and civil servants. Good fields for international visitors to pursue include the various NGOs, national lobbying groups, and for the select few, embassies and consulates. Many ambitious young people come to Washington for internships, and the huge student-aged population peaks in the summer.
With so many high-powered career types out to change the world, the need for child care is obvious. Nannies and au pairs, mostly placed through agencies, provide child care to many of Washington's elite; the city has the highest proportion of in-home childcare in the country. U.S. citizen nannies are especially sought after as government types carefully follow employment law to avoid problems with security clearances or negative publicity. Wages for legal U.S. residents with experience can top $800 per week, room and board included.
There is a very small internet bar/cafe culture in the USA. Even then most of the internet bars/cafes tend be located in major urban centers. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, but also restaurants and hotels more and more have a network to connect on. Some of them might require you to buy something and you might need a password too, especially in hotels.
See also International Telephone Calls
The general emergency phone number is 911. The USA has a great landline phone system that is easy to use. The country code for the U.S. is +1. The rest of the telephone number consists of 10 digits: a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. Any small grocery store or pharmacy has pre paid domestic or international phone cards. These phone cards are very cheap and offer good rates. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, and near bus stops. The cellphone network in the states is slowly getting better but is still not as good when compared to other western countries. Cell phones tend to operate using different frequencies (850 MHz and 1900 MHz) from those used elsewhere in the world (2100 MHz). This used to prevent most foreign phones from working in America. Phones must be tri- or quad-band to work in the U.S. Fortunately, technology has meant that most phones should now be able to pick up one of the U.S. networks. Prepaid phones and top-up cards can be purchased at mobile phone boutiques and at many discount, electronics, office supply and convenience stores. A very basic handset with some credit can be had for under $40.
The US Postal Service is a very good and well priced mail system. There are post offices in every small and large town for sending packages internationally or domestically. Although some might keep longer hours, most are open at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. If wanting to send a letter or postcard it is best just to leave it in a blue mail box with the proper postage. First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up 28.5 grams) cost $1.10. There are also private postal services like FedEx, UPS, TNT and DHL, which might be better value sometimes and are generally very quick and reliable too.
We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Washington, D.C. searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Washington, D.C. and areas nearby.
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