The capital of the USA
and as such the power centre of the world's most powerful nation. It's all here: the White House, the Capitol, the Washington Monument, etc. all immediately recognizable icons of the US.
For the dark tourist that may already constitute a certain darkish attraction, but there are also quite a few specific sites that one shouldn't miss in D.C.
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
What there is to see: As befits the capital city of such a powerful nation, there's not only a huge amount in general for the visitor to do in D.C., but this also includes a range of sights of particular interest for the dark tourist. The prime ones listed below are all given their own separate entries:
(- the Newseum
- now sadly closed down)
You might argue that the sites of American power, such as the White House or the Capitol also have a certain dark appeal. Whether or not you agree, it is of course only natural that you have to go and see them when you're in downtown Washington in any case. The Capitol and the Washington Monument are pretty unavoidable anyway, as you can see them from almost anywhere where there is a clear view.
One place which may be of special interest to some dark tourists, but which isn't covered in detail on these pages (as I haven't been to it yet), is the International Spy Museum at 800 F street NW, between 8th and 9th Street, opening hours: daily 9 a.m. to between 6 and 8 p.m. – regular admission fee to the permanent collection: 19.95 USD. There are also all sorts of extra programmes for additional fees, such as: "interactive", part "re-enacted", part tutored mock recruiting "experiences"; or guided city tours of sites related to the topic of espionage. For those who are into such things there's certainly plenty on offer here.
near the north-eastern coast of the USA
(near the Chesapeake Bay) on the Potomac River, wedged in between Virginia to the west and Maryland to the east, ca. 230 miles (370 km) south of New York
and 140 miles (225 km) south of Philadelphia
Access and costs: easily reached, varying costs-wise between free and fairly pricey.
getting to Washington D.C. could hardly be easier – as the capital city of the USA
access is naturally excellent by all manner of transport links, not just roads but also including good rail connections (going to/departing from Union Station – check amtrak.com for connections).
The city is served by as many as three airports: Dulles International Airport brings in most overseas visitors, the (Ronald Reagan) National Airport is the domestic hub, some airlines, esp. budget ones also use Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI) to the north of D.C. – getting to downtown from the National Airport is quick and easy by Metrorail (yellow and blue lines). Dulles is further out and trickier to transfer from/to: there's a Metrobus (line 5A) to Rosslyn and L'Enfant Plaza, which provides the cheapest option (ca. 3 USD), but takes a long time (ca. one hour – and it doesn't provide much luggage space). Alternatively there are various shuttle services (Washington Flyer coach to West Falls Metro station; or SuperShuttle for point-to-point transfers in vans for up to seven people) – and of course taxis as the most expensive option (ca. 60 USD). There are special Metrobus shuttle buses between Greenbelt Metrorail station (northern terminus of the green line) and BWI.
To get around within the city, the Metrorail network offers the best connections and fares are fair (for several days it's best to get a rechargeable electronic farecard). Lines cover most areas of the city (except Georgetown) and are colour-coded for easy orientation. The yellow and blue lines will be the most useful for tourists. There are also buses, but these will rarely be necessary for the average tourist. Much of the downtown area is also perfectly walkable. Driving within the city is not recommended.
Accommodation options are plentiful – and need not be quite as pricey as in New York
. Subsistence costs in general depend on your level of demand – you can get by quite affordably but there are also many pricier temptations in the city's varied restaurant scene.
What sets Washington apart from most other places in the US is the fact that so many of its huge range of excellent museums and sights are free.
Time required: To see all the places described in detail here you'll need at least three (very) full days, longer if you'd rather do things at a more leisurely pace. If you also want to see the non-dark sights of Washington, of which there are overwhelmingly many, you can easily add another week or even longer.
For dark sites requiring longer travel times see under USA
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Washington D.C. is chock-full of other attractions that can keep visitors busy for days (if not weeks). And the good news is: much of it is totally free, including many of the city's world-famous museums under the Smithsonian umbrella. Out of these, the Air & Space Museum on the National Mall is the most popular (allegedly even the most popular museum in the world!) – so expect long queues. Also noteworthy are: the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of American History, the National Gallery of Arts and the National Museum of the American Indian. In addition there are countless further smaller museums and art galleries.
Also part of the Smithsonian is Washington's National Zoo (hence also free – very unusual for a zoo!), which, however, cannot quite compete with some of the USA's larger zoos, such as the Bronx Zoo in New York
or the world-famous San Diego Zoo.
And there are all those monuments that Washington is famous for: apart from the ones described in the entry for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
, there are the monuments dedicated to various past presidents, most notably, apart from the Washington Monument that dominates the skyline, the huge Lincoln Memorial at the western end of the National Mall, the Jefferson Memorial to the south and the more unconventional FD Roosevelt Memorial between the Potomac and the Tidal Basin.
Especially thanks to the dominant strip of the National Mall, Washington is also a very open and green city. In spring, part of this turns pink – when it's the season for Washington's famous cherry blossom, second in importance only to Japan
's, especially Tokyo
's craze about cherry blossoms.
The Washington cityscape and its skyline are quite different from most other bigger cities in the US also due to the fact that there are no skyscrapers – so that the Capitol and the Washington Monument can continue to dominate the city's appearance. Some of the residential areas, in particular to the north-west of the centre, have an almost European feel to them.
Finally, the culinary scene of Washington is nothing short of exhilarating, especially if you, like me, are into trying various more or less exotic ethnic cuisines. On my visit in March 2010 I was able to sample as many as eight different national cuisines in just four days. And out of these, Ethiopian (for which Washington is renowned), Ghanaian
and Burmese stood out the most. For fans of culinary variation, the food court of the National Museum of the American Indian is a special treat, as it offers native American snacks from all corners of the US and beyond (stretching into South America too). Not cheap but what a fantastically varied choice!
- Washington DC - 01 - The White House
- Washington DC - 02 - The Capitol
- Washington DC - 03 - government helicopter
- Washington DC - 04 - Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument
- Washington DC - 05 - Watergate complex and JFK center
- Washington DC - 06 - Spy Museum
- Washington DC - 07 - so many museums
- Washington DC - 08 - they love cherry blossoms almost as much as in Japan
- Washington DC - 09 -you wonder what happened to the contents of this buggy
- Washington DC - 10 - residential street
- Washington DC - 11 - Civil War to Civil Rights heritage walk
- Washington DC