Here you'll discover one of the world's safest, cleanest and most efficient transport systems. The Metrorail and Metrobus provide regular services to popular tourist destinations, while a new bus service, the Circulator, provides easy connections between the major neighbourhoods and offers a seasonal service around the National Mall. Purchase a set value Farecard, a rechargeable SmarTrip card or a daily pass.
With limited parking and congestion, hiring a car isn't recommended for regular city sightseeing, unless of course you plan to escape the city for some daytrips. All the major brands have locations throughout the city and most have offices at the airports. Rates are reasonable, but it's still best to try to book ahead. Just be sure to get a good map.
With wide sidewalks and flat roads, Washington DC was recently ranked the best US city to walk around in. Aside from wandering and exploring, be sure to check out Cultural Tourism DC's many self-guided neighbourhood heritage trails with their informative stories, historic photos and maps. DC By Foot also offers free walking tours six days a week from February to November.
In a city with one of the highest ratios of taxis per person, getting a cab is easy. Hail one on the street or pre-book via telephone – the three major companies are Diamond, Yellow and Capitol. All vehicles are fitted with a meter, with fares beginning at around US$3.50. Late night journeys incur extra costs – and don't forget to tip your driver.
At the heart of DC, and many would say the nation, lies the majestic National Mall, a vast public green potently dotted with symbolic American buildings, memorials and sculptures. Stretching two miles from the US Capitol Building, past the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, the park is also home to the Smithsonian, an enormous collection of the nation's best (and free) museums.
The White House, the Capitol and the Supreme Court are three important government buildings that provide insight into the nation and its history. Each impressive in its own right, the White House and the Capitol have a visitor centre open daily, but guided tours must be booked in advance. Visitors can self-tour around the Supreme Court, taking advantage of educational programs onsite.
With one of the largest concentrations of museums in the world, picking which ones to visit isn't easy. The National Museum of Natural History, National Air and Space Museum, International Spy Museum, National Museum of African Art and the National Portrait Gallery are just a few. While they're spread across the city, the National Mall is home to many.
The many generals, politicians, poets and statesmen who helped shaped the nation are remembered across the city in the form of monuments and memorials, with the most famous along the National Mall, including the Washington Monument. Standing 555ft tall, it's the most prominent structure in the city, built in honour of George Washington who led the nation to independence and became the first US President.
While you could easily spend a number of days exploring America's identity along the fresh green lawns of the National Mall, start with just one. Really take your time to absorb what you find. Start at the US Capitol Building, admiring from the outside and learning from the Visitors Center inside. Then amble up the mall, past the many museums, memorials and monuments, including the renowned Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. If you'd like to visit a museum, choose just one or you'll never make it to the end. Finish the day with dinner and maybe some drinks in Georgetown, with its beautiful cobblestone streets and Federal architecture.
With so many museums throughout the city, there's sure to be more than one that piques your interest. Whether you're intrigued by the International Spy Museum, the National Museum of Crime and Punishment, the Textile Museum or the U.S. Navy Museum, each is unique. The traditional standout choices include the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Portrait Gallery. Make sure you don't miss the Smithsonian, the world's largest museum and research complex. Boasting 19 museums and galleries, nine research facilities and the National Zoological Park, you could spend days here. When you can't stand the sight of another exhibit, head to Adams Morgan for a multicultural eat and some live music to follow.
Start the day at The White House and be sure to explore the visitor centre inside, then head to the Supreme Court to complete your introduction to America's political history. Self-tour around the Supreme Court, taking notice of the educational programs, exhibits and videos. Then stroll along Cultural Tourism DC's African American Heritage Trail to get an insight into the city's black history and visit completely different sites to the your typical Washington DC visit. Then go home and get ready for a stunning performance at the National Theatre (best to book ahead), or else take in a free performance at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, which shows every night at 6.00pm.
Forget sites – take in the feel of the city. Wander past the many lavish embassies of Dupont Circle just for the sake of looking then stop by a trendy gallery in the area, or head downtown for more theatres and galleries followed by lunch. Return to Georgetown or Adams Morgan by day if you wish, but don't miss a visit to U Street and Shaw. Once DC's version of Harlem, today it poses an interesting mix of cultures without loosing its roots. Full of history, this was the centre of the riots action that followed Martin Luther King Jr's assassination. Finish the day here with a drink at one of the local jazz venues, maybe some karaoke, and then down some delicious soul food.
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