City Break: How to Visit Washington DC

Greetings local friends!  Looking for a quick city break that is easy, relatively inexpensive, educational and cultural?  Then look no further tri-state area people–Washington DC is the place to go!  I’ve lived in the Lehigh Valley for my whole life–minus a couple summers and spring breaks that I spent living in Maryland and working in DC–so I’ve made this trip literally hundreds of times.  Here’s how to do it quickly, easily, and inexpensively.

Take the Metro

From the Lehigh Valley area, drive through Reading, Lancaster, and York on 222 and 30 and into Maryland on I-83 South.  Take the Baltimore beltway towards Towson, follow to 95 South, and remain on 95 South when it becomes the capitol beltway.  You’ll be on that beltway–495–for approximately 8 miles.  Get off at the New Carrollton Metro/Amtrak exit, which is 50 West.  Follow the signs to the station; you’ll get off of 50 West, drive straight to a stop light, make a left, and then turn right into a parking garage.

After parking, follow the pathway into the metro station.  The open doorway to the left is for the metro; the real doors to the right are for the Amtrak station which has restrooms and vending machines in case you are hungry or have to pee (I always have to pee–the restrooms are gross but they work).  Before you enter the turnstiles, purchase a Metro card.  I typically put $20 on one for a long weekend trip and have never had to add more; for my last trip I came home with $4 remaining.

Put your metro card in the turnstile panda-side-up, walk through and to the left up the escalators.  Don’t worry about which train to get on because New Carrolton is the end of the line; thus all trains go into the city.  You will be on the Orange Line train.  Look up your hotel and find the closest metro station on the Orange line–or, if there’s nothing near, transfer trains at L’Enfant Plaza or Metro Center, the two biggest metro stations in the city.  All stations are well marked and you will not get lost; just make sure to know which direction you are going.  If you have any questions about this, please ask in the comments below and I’d be happy to give you specific directions.

Arrive at your hotel, check in, and have a drink.  Smile.  You’re in one of our nation’s best cities.

Bid on a Hotel

I love Priceline.  No one is paying me to say this–I just really love it.  I’ve used it in New York and DC repeatedly (and, more recently, in Napa), and I’ve never had to stay anywhere gross.  In fact, my favorite DC hotel was ‘won’ via Priceline–a two night stay at Marriott Metro Center which I still maintain is the best-located hotel in the city.  But I digress.  Here are my bidding tips:

Never go below three stars; ideally never go below three and a half stars.  Personally, I try to stick with four stars.  Why?  Because the most important thing to me is location.  And they very rarely put four star properties in terrible locations.

I typically begin bidding a week to a week and a half before my trip.  In DC, you want to start with a four star hotel and bid between $75 and $100 per night–depending upon how badly you need the room.  A $75 bid may win–I’ve stayed in a 4-star property for $65 per night–and a $100 bid will win.  Bid only in the areas labeled ‘Convention Center/Capitol Hill’ and ‘Whitehouse/Downtown’*; the latter is a better choice than the former.   Enjoy your fluffy towels, room service, and granite bathrooms at rock bottom prices.

*NOTE:  Priceline is constantly changing its areas.  Thus, if you are reading this sometime after March of 2013–when I’m updating it–just know this: when you are looking at the areas, you want to be in the area NORTH of the National Mall.  You also want to be west of the Capitol and east of the Lincoln Memorial.  Of course, other areas are great too, depending upon your personal needs.  If you have any specific questions, please do not hesitate to message me–or leave a comment below. 

Don’t Pay to Play

DC is quite possibly the best city in the world to visit on a budget–as far as sightseeing goes, anyway (London is a close second, but it costs so much to get there and stay there that I can hardly consider it a cheap trip.  And the exchange rate stinks.)  Most museums, galleries, and attractions cost exactly zero dollars to visit.  One could spend a week just visiting the Smithsonian museums alone, not including the Smithsonian-run National Zoo–which is excellent–or the other free attractions you really need to visit, like the Capitol or the Library of Congress.

Additionally, most of these museums and attractions offer free guided tours.  How great is that?  You’ll learn something, be entertained, and pay nothing.  If you’d like tips on which places to check out based on your personal preferences, please do ask in the comments section below.  I’d love to help.

Go Out For Dinner

DC is a dining destination.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  DC is full of amazing restaurants.  If you doubt me, please click on this link, which will take you to a bunch of DC blog posts, most of which are dining reviews.  My personal favorites include Jaelo, Zatiyana, Rasika, and until it disappears in July, America Eats Tavern.  Fogo de Chao is great as well–if you like meat and haven’t ever been to one (it’s a chain, so there’s one in Philadelphia too.) I also really like the cafeteria at the Museum of the American Indian.  Yes, that’s right, I said cafeteria.  It’s really good–and educational to boot!  There are also tons of great bars, pubs, and microbreweries.  Sure, most of these restaurants are a bit pricey, but remember–you just saved money on parking, lodging, and entertainment by following my tips above.  So you can afford to splurge!

If you need a suggestion for somewhere fantastic to dine near your hotel, please ask in the comments section below.  I’d be happy to point you in the direction of a pint!

I could literally go on and on about all of the reasons to visit DC and all of the ways to make the most of your time.  But by this point you likely have questions, and I likely have answers.  So ask away!  




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