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Learn about Washington, DC, by reading A Capital Idea For a Trip by Charlie Spence, Travel Writer and WTA Member. It features a mini, but thorough tour of the destination, plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip including getting there, objective information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy!

A Capital Idea For a Trip!

Whether or not you have visited the Nation’s Capital in the past, there are at least two new reasons for taking a trip to Washington, DC soon: the new World War II memorial on the National Mall, which finally honors those who have been called “the greatest generation,” and the Smithsonian Air And Space Museum Stephen Udvar Hazy Center annex at Dulles Airport.

The WWII memorial was officially dedicated on Memorial Day 2004, which launched a long awaited salute to the heroism of this generation. Visitors may tour the memorial and participate in walking tours, see special exhibitions and enjoy different events, all geared to honoring the World War II participants. Some hotels offer special “Greatest Generation” packages and many restaurants also are offering specials.

The memorial is located on the Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. With its fountains, granite pillars and a wall with 4,000 gold stars to signify the 400,000 Americans who lost their lives, it is both a reverent structure and a proud remembrance of the heroic actions and sacrifices made by this generation. It honors the 16 million Americans who served in uniform and the millions more who sacrificed on the home front. Two 43-foot pavilions and two 70-foot flagpoles, framing the entrance, mark the memorial’s north and south entrances. Operated by the National Park Service, the Memorial is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Try to visit it at night as well as during the day for a particularly impressive sight.

Photo from Washington Convention and Tourist Corporation
The new World War II memorial recognizes what has been called “the greatest generation.”

The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum has always been one of the most popular destinations for residents as well as visitors and the addition of the Udvar Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport makes this even more of a top attraction. The center is named for the person who made the major financial contribution for the facility. The Center is providing space for many of the aviation treasures that heretofore were stored in the Smithsonian’s Silver Hills restoration shop. Here you will see many and varied aircraft including the Enola Gay, the plane used to drop the first atomic bomb on Japan that brought the end to the conflict, and the recently retired Supersonic Transport. Shuttle buses can take you from the downtown Air and Space Museum to the Dulles facility.

These two new attractions in Washington are enough to consume much of your trip time but there is a myriad of other structures, statues, museums and centers of power to fill your days as long as you might be able to stay.

The National Mall, in addition to now holding the WW II memorial, has other must-see symbols of American history. The Mall stretches from 3rd Street N.W. to 14th Street between Independence and Constitution Avenues. That site was laid out in the city planning for the purposes of rallies and demonstrations. Although this is the official designation of the Mall, locals widely use the term to refer to the expanse of monuments and statues from the grounds of the Capitol Building on the east to the Lincoln Memorial on the west. The Washington Monument towers 555 feet above the Mall at 15th Street. (Its interior will be closed until January 2005 for installation of new security barriers.) Farther west at Constitution Avenue and Henry Bacon Drive is what is often referred to as the “Wall,” where the names of those killed, were prisoners, or missing in action in the Vietnam war are listed chronologically on the black granite forming a V-shaped memorial. Not far away is the Vietnam Women’s Memorial honoring, the service women and nurses who served in the conflict.

Other memorials you might want to visit include the Jefferson on the Tidal Basin, the Marine Corps Monument of the flag raising on Iwo Jima, which is adjacent to the Arlington National Cemetery, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial consisting of four “rooms” to signify the unprecedented four terms of this president.

Photos from Washington Convention and Tourist Corporation

Not all the monuments and statues in Washington honor government dignitaries. In this city of monuments you will find many like this tribute to Albert Einstein. Walk along the path between quaint houses and the C&O Canal in the Georgetown section of Washington, the original town in Maryland around which the District of Columbia was formed.

The Holocaust Memorial traces the story of Jewish persecution under the Nazi regime. The Spy Museum reveals some of the secret ways intelligence is gathered. Almost every government building has tours. You can watch money being printed in the morning and in the afternoon see the FBI exhibit of John Dillinger bank heists.

There are at least 40 additional memorials scattered throughout the area ranging from the Journalists Memorial and the Robert E. Lee House to the USS Maine Memorial and the Woman’s Titanic Memorial. But Washington is much more than memorials. There’s everything from watching government in action (or inaction depending on your point of view) to plays and musicals, and dining at restaurants where the persons at the next table might be foreign ambassadors, power brokers, agency heads or member of Congress.

Trying to decide what to take in and what to delay until a future trip can be overwhelming. Your best bet is to determine whether you want a sightseeing journey, a history tour, or close-up look at your government. Either way, a tour might be your best bet. Your first stop could be the Visitors Center in the Ronald Reagan Building for guidebooks, maps, and any other help you might want.

A one-day tour covers the U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court, and Library of Congress in the morning. At all of these sights, be ready for delays and security searches.  Security is very tight but once inside the buildings you will find the experience worth the wait. Guided tours of the Capitol Building take about 45 minutes, and like all government facilities, are free.

Lunch would be normally at the Union Station, a beautifully restored railroad station only about two blocks from the Capitol Building and the Senate office buildings. Afternoon will cover the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Museums. There are 14 Smithsonian Museums and it would be impossible to visit them all in one afternoon, particularly if you select the Air and Space Museum, which can entrance flight enthusiasts for hours.

For night life head for Georgetown, Adams Morgan, or Dupont Circle areas, all trendy neighborhoods known for their taverns, restaurants, shopping and clubs.

The Metro rail subway or taxis are the best ways to get around the city. Taxis have the zone system of fares, meaning that the fare is the same within a zone but adds the second zone fare if you cross the zone line. You’ll pay more going two or three blocks crossing a zone line than you might when traveling much farther within a zone. Check your cab driver about fares.

Washington has many fine hotels and so do the suburbs. Rates for good hotels outside the District generally are less but you also have the added cost and some time constraints getting to the places you want to visit.

Visiting Washington isn’t quite as easy as it was prior to the 9-ll terrorist attacks. Before that day changed our lives you could freely enter most government buildings with little surveillance, drive around the White House and Capitol Building, or drop in freely to visit your member of Congress. You can still do these things but security is visible all over the city and this sometimes makes for slower going. Don’t leave backpacks, brief cases, or other possibly suspicious items unattended. Be ready to go through security stations to enter government buildings and some other structures. But if terrorism concerns you, remember that Washington D.C. is probably the most well protected community in the nation.

Tourism, along with politics and government, is a vital part of the Nation’s Capital so the city officially and businesses in general are geared to provide a welcome atmosphere for the visitor. Before starting your trip, visit the tourism web site,, and get the answers to many questions and find suggestions for scheduling tours, finding lodging, and getting around.


Where to Stay:

You have a wide, wide variety of facilities in the area, including fine hotels in suburban Maryland and Virginia. Here are just a few in the District of Columbia by location:

Foggy Bottom Area

  • Best Western, rates from $119
  • Doubletree Suites, rates from $159
  • Marriott Washington, rates from $109
  • Washington Suites, rates from $149

Dupont Circle Area

  • Courtyard by Marriott, rates from $89
  • Hilton Washington, rates from $165
  • Radison Barcelo, rates from $239


  • Capital Hilton, rates from $99
  • Hay Adams, rates from $259
  • Holiday Inn, rates from $80

WTA’s Travel Access Discount Program serves up deeper discounts on hotels, car rentals, flights, and activities all over the world. Most of our travel deals are not available to the public, which means rates are much lower than what the average consumer can find online. Click here to start accessing for free today.

Places to Eat:


  • District Chop House- entrees $16-25.
  • Occidental Grill - walls practically papered with pictures of Washington bigwigs.
  • Old Ebbitt Grill - here since 1846.

Capitol Hill Area

  • The Monicle - American classic food but the people you see might be even more interesting.
  • Cafe Berlin - among the few German restaurants in town, Classics like Wiener Schnitzel.

Adams Morgan Area

  • Felix - elegant nightspot. Try the sauteed shrimp with angel hair pasta.