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Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

Old Jul 4th 2013, 3:00 pm
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Default Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

I put up a post last year about a road trip we were doing up to Washington, and got some great advice on places to stop in on the way. Unfortunately there were so many great places that we never actually made it past the Great Smokey Mountains!

So this year we are taking advantage of some really cheap flights on Frontier Airlines new route to somewhere up there (I'm 'ideas' - the boss is 'details'!) and going to have a couple of weeks in the Washington/Baltimore area.

Our first visit to that part of the country, and probably won't be back any time soon, so we want to focus mainly on what Washington has to offer, then get out and about a bit for whatever time remains (Annapolis noted from previous thread).

So, in Washington DC with 8 10 and 12 year olds, what should definitely be on our list, and what is worth skipping?

Any recs on where to stay, getting around, areas to avoid?

Any food we shouldn't miss?

Thanks.
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Old Jul 4th 2013, 3:24 pm
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Default Re: Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

Pick some bits of the Smithsonian. With 17 divisions you could fill two weeks there alone if you visited them all, so choose ones that your children are interested in, but the natural history museum is great, we spent most of a day there early last month. I only discovered the "CSI wing" late in the day, but I could have spent two or more hours there alone, looking at various "recovered" skeletons and how the damage and injuries had been analysed. There is even a small laboratory at the far end where you can "do some real forensic pathology" yourself.

Personally I'd skip the zoo; for many it is a "must see", but as zoos go, IMHO, it's not that great, unless you really want to see the pandas. One of them actually moved when we were there!

If you're going to use the DC metro much, and it is a great way to get around, buy a pass, not single journey tickets, because they surcharge single trip tickets by $1, which is almost a 50% mark-up on @$2.20 fare!

Last edited by Pulaski; Jul 4th 2013 at 3:27 pm.
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Old Jul 4th 2013, 3:27 pm
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Default Re: Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

If you have a car, Mount Vernon, George Washington's house is worth a visit. Theres the house plus a large exhibit and a film theatre, and a farm. It's probably reachable by public transport too. After that you could wander round Alexandria, a very pretty old fashioned city with a huge Dan Brown like Masonic temple, trolley bus and lots of nice shops and eateries, including Seamus's, a fish and chip shop. In the summer you can take a ferry up the Potomac from Alexandria to Mount Vernon and get a commentary.

Otherwise, there's lots to do in Washington. All the Smithsonian museums are free, and fantastic at this time of year. Some have IMAX cinemas for when your feet wear out. The monuments, Jefferson memorial, Roosevelt, the war memorials, Lincoln memorial etc.
You can also tour the Capitol but I think you have to book.

Georgetown is worth a wander, mostly shops, but very picturesque. The National Cathedral with a piece of moon rock embedded in a window. Great Zoo! That would keep the kids happy!
A good neighbourhood for restaurants is around Clarendon on the Orange Line of the Metro. I lived out that way until a year ago and we did a lot of eating out round here. It's just got a bit more of a "villagey" feel than central Washington. Feel free to ask if you want to know more!
PS. Yorkie, I am typing this in Yorkshire!

Last edited by jemima55; Jul 4th 2013 at 3:30 pm.
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Old Jul 4th 2013, 3:32 pm
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Default Re: Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

Originally Posted by jemima55 View Post
...... Great Zoo! That would keep the kids happy!
.....
Have you been to the zoo in DC recently?
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Old Jul 4th 2013, 3:41 pm
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Default Re: Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

It had all the usual stuff you'd expect, such as animals.
Honestly, I don't remember anything bad about the experience. It may have been about three years ago now. My mind boggles about what can have happened to it in the meantime but I bow to your superior knowledge and if I could work out how to do a smiley I'd end with one, Pulaski!

PPS. Seamus's is actually Eamonn's. It was established by an Irish chef, Cathal Armstrong, who owns
several restaurants in Alexandria. They also sell British chocolate bars if you want to compound the damage!

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Old Jul 4th 2013, 4:04 pm
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Default Re: Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

We're off there too next May, and along with signs the airplane night in the family (me ) is looking forward to driving out to the Steven F. Udvar Annex near Dulles to visit the Air and Space annex.

Looking forward to seeing Discovery
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Old Jul 5th 2013, 12:17 am
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Default Re: Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

Smithsonian is an organization that runs about 10+ museums, of which the Air and Space, Natural History and American History are the most popular. As mentioned Air and Space has an 'annex' (i.e. big fricking hangar) that houses some of the larger aircraft they couldn't get down to the Mall area (a Space Shuttle, the Enola Gay A-bomb plane, an SR-71, etc). There is also the National Gallery of Art, which has a modern wing and a more traditional wing. Any of these museums could be a half-day in their own right if you wanted, but you'll be with kids and running around here and there.

There is also the White House, which is a rather boring tour, and all the monuments all over the place. Lincoln and Jefferson are quite nice, but recommend seeing them at day and at night. Very pretty at night time if you can get over there. You can also visit the Capitol building if you want a history tour. Printing and Engraving has tours where you can go see the money printed.

A few other spots:
Georgetown is nice and quaint and a bit of shopping. You can see the house where JFK lived before becoming President, along with the 'Exorcist' house and steps where they filmed the movie.

Annapolis is worth a day trip. Visit the downtown area and walk around the grounds of the Naval Academy. They have a visitor center and a tour, but also visit the Museum on the grounds and the Model Ship exhibit which is second in size only to the collection at Greenwich.

Zoo is ok, but my biggest note is that it is on a hill. You start out and walk down through the animals and whatnot and then when it is time to turn around it's all uphill from there. Plan accordingly.

If you get to Baltimore, check out the B&O Railroad Museum and the National Aquarium / Inner Harbor. If you liked the TV show "Homicide" head over to Fells Point area where that was filmed (along with a few scenes of the "Wire").

Few places to eat:

Two Amys pizza. Very good for families. Up across from the National Cathedral.
The Tombs. In Georgetown across from the Exorcist house. Good pub food (better than average pub fare).
Eastern Market / Market Cafe. Get lunch here, especially the crabcake sandwich or even just a burger. Place is a dive but written up in the NY Times / Conde Nast as a must see.
Nandos! Yes, they have a Nando's in DC if you want African-flavored / UK-inspired rotisserie.

General notes:
DC is deceptively large. You are at a monument and say "hey, let's just walk over there and see that". The reality is that other thing is a mile away and it's humid as heck and you're eventually drenched. Consider the Metro or buses or even the tourist 'hop on/hop off' system. Driving is not recommended given the parking hassles, especially 'no rush hour' red lanes that pop up.

DC isn't Kansas. The vast majority of your trip in the touristy parts will be quite safe--very safe indeed, but if you get lost and too far afield into the other bits, especially further out in the SE/NE quadrants you can run into some urban decay.

Last edited by penguinsix; Jul 5th 2013 at 12:19 am.
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Old Jul 5th 2013, 1:15 pm
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Default Re: Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

Air and Space museums.
Both the one downtown and the one out by Dulles which has the Space shuttle Discovery in it.

So many planes!!! I could have spent all day in each one.
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Old Jul 5th 2013, 2:12 pm
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Default Re: Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

The sequester (furlough) has stopped the Whitehouse tours.

There is a very nice, large and modern cafeteria in the capitol basement, to the left of the ticket desks and a statute of an astronaut-congressman, and it's even open for breakfast. Of course it's not cheap, but then nowhere is in DC!
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Old Jul 5th 2013, 3:11 pm
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Default Re: Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

Originally Posted by Pulaski View Post
The sequester (furlough) has stopped the Whitehouse tours.

There is a very nice, large and modern cafeteria in the capitol basement, to the left of the ticket desks and a statute of an astronaut-congressman, and it's even open for breakfast. Of course it's not cheap, but then nowhere is in DC!
I thought the food was less than adequate and the staff acted like they were doing me a huge one.
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Old Jul 5th 2013, 3:14 pm
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Default Re: Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

Thanks for all the tips and suggestions guys. Appreciate it.

White house tours - yes, we'd seen that the tours had stopped earlier this year - shame, as that was one of the things the kids had wanted to do...We have requests in for tours of the Capitol/House/Senate via our Congressman - unfortunately they were delayed because my wife sent it to the wrong congressman (oops) so we're waiting to hear back.

Has anyone been to the public access of any of the sessions of either the House or Senate? My son needs to attend and report on a public meeting/debate as part of one of his Eagle Scout required merit badges, and thought it would be pretty cool to do that (most of the boys seem to go to the School District or PTA meetings)

Smithsonian - definitely on the list - just a question of how many days we can allow it.

A few other folk have mentioned Annapolis, Mount Vernon and Georgetown, so they are working their way onto the itinerary.

Zoo - probably be a back up as we've done a lot of zoo's (sorry Jemima, although you did get extra points for where you sent it from)

I think we'll be ditching the car for the time we're in DC, and using public transport which from the sounds of things is quite doable (and a novelty!). I fancied renting bikes, but for a family of 5 it looks like going to be pushing $200 a day, which is kinda rich! The bikeshare program looks like a decent alternative, but I haven't found anyone who has actually used it! - Anyone?

Finally, wife is looking at 2 hotels - one along New Hampshire between Dupont Circle and Washington Circle, and one on New York NE out near the arboretum. First one seems to be in a reasonable area, and between 2 metros, but the other one looks to me as if it may be getting borderline...does anyone know that area out beyond Union Station?

Thanks again for the comments!
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Old Jul 5th 2013, 3:54 pm
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Default Re: Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

I don't remember if I participated in your previous thread but here's my photos:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

I loved Mount Vernon and the Botanic Gardens --- both which I think would be great for kids.

My favorite was probably the tour of the Capitol (get the red coat tour --- trust me, it makes a difference). We got to go into the Senate Chamber but they were in recess so didn't get to see any proceedings.
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Old Jul 5th 2013, 4:06 pm
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My thread ... there might be something in there of help.

http://britishexpats.com/forum/showthread.php?t=779452
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Old Jul 5th 2013, 4:33 pm
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We went in April this year with three kids age 7, 9 and 11. We stayed in Georgetown in a friend's house. Georgetown is nice but the main street gets really crowded and it's very expensive. The canal is nice to walk along.

Don't plan on eating in the Air and Space Museum - the restaurant is like a zoo. Most of the other museums we went to along the Mall had reasonable to excellent food.

We did many of the museums on the Mall and loved them. Also the kids did the Spy Museum which was incredibly overpriced but they enjoyed it. I spent the day at the National Gallery of Art instead, which would actually be fun to do with kids.

The garden next to the National Gallery is a really nice place to hang out if it's hot - get some food/drinks in the Pavilion cafe and just sit by the fountain to cool off.

The National Building Museum was fun - a good break from the Mall.

We took taxis most places as it was almost comparable in price to 5 metro tickets and so much more convenient.

We did a tour of the Capitol organised through our Senator - it was pretty interesting but the place was mobbed as it was spring break. My kids liked the underground train most of all.

No great recommendations for places to eat - we just ate anywhere that looked good that we happened to be near at the time.

It really was a fantastic holiday with kids that age. You'll love it.
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Old Jul 5th 2013, 4:44 pm
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Default Re: Tips on Visting Washington DC (and Baltimore/Philadelphia area)

Originally Posted by Yorkieabroad View Post

Has anyone been to the public access of any of the sessions of either the House or Senate? My son needs to attend and report on a public meeting/debate as part of one of his Eagle Scout required merit badges, and thought it would be pretty cool to do that (most of the boys seem to go to the School District or PTA meetings)



Finally, wife is looking at 2 hotels - one along New Hampshire between Dupont Circle and Washington Circle, and one on New York NE out near the arboretum. First one seems to be in a reasonable area, and between 2 metros, but the other one looks to me as if it may be getting borderline...does anyone know that area out beyond Union Station?

Thanks again for the comments!
My son & I went to a senate session when we visited a few years ago - that was during spring break and they were in session. My son was 13 at the time and thoroughly enjoyed it. As non citizens it was the senate not the congress session that we were able to watch. We were pleased at how many of the speakers we recognised We had also seen Nancy Pelosi sweeping through one of the rooms as our tour passed through...

As Leslie mentioned, the tours of the capitol building are well worth doing, although I think they may vary depending on the quality of the tour guide - the first one we did was excellent - the guide was very charismatic. However the second time we did a tour (when we visited April this year) was not really as good - quite perfunctory. Nothing you can do about that, but still worth doing.

We missed out on visiting the senate this time as we did not have our passports or any ID on us at the time we did the tour.

We also visited the Library of Congress - again the tours are worth doing, very interesting. Goodness knows why but my son had got it into his head that he would be able to get at the books and look at them so he was a tad disappointed ...

Has anyone mentioned the federal archives? That was the only place we found that was really busy and is worth getting there as early as possible in the morning.

In terms of where to stay, we stayed very centrally which was easy for the metro (super easy and clean) but found that the downside was that we ended up in quite a business type area which didn't really have a lot of diners/cafes etc so breakfast was always a bit of a trial to get sorted.
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