Key Takeaways and Tips
a. You can see a lot of DC in 24 hours. However, DC has enough to keep you covered for at least a week. The approach that works best for me is to get a flavor of the major sites and then devote majority of my time to one or two sites. Experience has taught me that if I rush between sites, I remember nothing about the trip a year later.
b. Parking is extremely costly in DC. However street parking is free whole day on Sunday and Saturday after 6:30PM. I found a lot of empty free parking near the Capitol and at the intersection of 22nd St and Constitution Ave. Public transport or biking is the best way to go. However, it can take up a lot of your time in a short 24 hour trip. On empty traffic days, driving can save you significant time. Parking is also free at the Basilica and Franciscan Monastery.
c. You must do a DC by night tour. There are paid tours with Old Town Trolley or you can drive yourself for free by following the map here: http://www.trolleytours.com/washington-dc/map-google-location.asp. The DC monuments look amazing at night.
d. Philips museum and National Museum of women in Arts has free entrance on the first weekend of the month if you have any Bank of America card. Further you can get cheap tickets to the Newseum and Madame Tussaud’s from goldstar.com.
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Must do
I reached the Basilica at ~12noon. Since the government shutdown had closed down the Smithsonians, I decided not to rush through the Basilica and I am glad I took this decision. It is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America and one of the ten largest in the World! I was amazed by the elaborate architecture in the church. The exterior looks magnificent; the dome of the Basilica reminded me of Sacre Coeur in Paris and the architecture looked pretty European. The interior had intricate designs and ~80 shrines The main church where the masses are held is a sight to behold. I could easily spend 5 hours photographing the church. It is probably the best Church I have seen till now in USA. Oh and did I mention they had free parking? The Basilica is #2 on the list of things to do in Washington DC and it should be on every travelers list.
Franciscan Monastery: Meh
The Monastery again transported me to Europe and looked different from anything I had seen earlier. We were lucky to join a free tour of the Monastery. Our guide explained that the various shrines in the Monastery were exact replicas of those found in the Holy Lands of Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem. They have replicas of everything: Jesus’s tomb, the cross, the supposed birthplace in Nazareth and so on. The advantage of joining the tour is that you can also visit their replica of the Catacombs. If you have not visited the original places, it is definitely a good place to visit. But, with one day in DC, I don’t think visiting the Monastery was a great idea. I would not have visited it if the Smithsonian were open.
The Willard: Great Value if you can get it cheap
The Willard is an attraction on its own: a heritage building with ornate interiors and a Parisian café on the sidewalk. It is a 3 minute walk to the White House and one mile to the Capitol. We were upgraded to a larger room owing to my platinum status with IHG. We also got comped internet (~$11 value). There was a view of the city and the room was pretty well decorated. Would I pay $1050+tax for it? Never!
White House: Meh
After a 2 hour rest, we set again at 5:30PM. We first visited the White house on foot. There were some demonstrations going on in front of the White House. Some people (probably Iranians) were shouting “ Free 7 hostages now now now”. I did not spend enough time to inquire what hostages they were talking about. But, I did get cool shots of the demonstrations in front of white house. If I was better informed, I would probably skipped it.
Self drive DC by night tour: Amazing
After a stroll around the area, we hopped into our car for a self-drive free twilight DC tour. We drove by Ford Theater, National Archives en-route to the Capitol. I was surprised to find plenty of free parking near the Capitol! The government shutdown must have been a blessing in disguise! The Capitol made me miss Kolkata. It bore close resemblance to the Victoria Memorial. There was also a pool in front of it, similar to Victoria Memorial! The Capitol looked stunning under lights. We walked up to the steps of the Capitol.
The reflection of the Washington Monument in the pool was spectacular, very reminiscent of Paris. We sat there for about an hour and then drove by National Museum of the American Indian and a bunch of other Smithsonian museums en-route to the Jefferson memorial. We reached there only to find that Ohio Dr, the access to FDR memorial and Jefferson memorial were cordoned off. We tried to find Lincoln Memorial. However, even the roads leading to Lincoln Memorial and Reflection Pool were closed. Government shutdown let us down. Nevertheless, I must say Jefferson Memorial was sensational at night.
Disappointed, we headed to Dupont circle. Nothing to write about. We visited the Washington National Cathedral. A very European architecture; but no lighting or illumination. However, the church did remind me of Notre Dame in Paris. We had planned to visit Georgetown at night. However, by this time were really disappointed and tired. We headed back to the hotel. We picked up food at Full kee Chinese restaurant in Chinatown which received pretty good reviews. We ordered the pan fried Noodles and the soyed chicken in noodle soup. Nothing spectacular; wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
Monuments by day: Must do
Since we were enamored by the Capitol, we visited it again on Sunday morning. It looked spectacular again under bright sunlight. We tried to visit the Lincoln memorial again. Luckily, there was free parking right opposite the Lincoln Memorial. There was a “This site is closed sign”. However, pedestrians were happily ignoring it. The stairs to climb to the Lincoln statue was barricaded. Nonetheless, it was a majestic sight. I wish we could have visited it at night. No pictures can justify the view of the memorial in front of the reflection pool with the Washington monument across it. As an added bonus, a little girl who could barely walk was picking flowers. I couldn’t click a picture of her but the scene looked straight out of a Majidi’s movie.
We were running short on time since I had drop my parents at Dulles airport and then head to Baltimore airport, We quickly stopped by the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, Albert Einstein Memorial and then hopped on the car. We attempted the FDR memorial again; the entry road and parking were still closed. I wish we had walked out directly from the Lincoln memorial to the FDR memorial. There was no parking to access the FDR memorial. We decided to visit the Arlington Cemetary instead. The cemetery was beautiful but we only had ~ 10 mins to see the cemetary. We saw almost nothing and were soon on our way to the Dulles airport.
Depart to Airport: Always sad; but a great short trip
I loved it how there is a separate road connecting DC to Dulles. Only airport traffic was allowed on that road. I wish other cities had the same. Chicago has something similar in the form of I-294 but it benefits very few travelers. In 30 mins we were at the Dulles airport and I had to bid goodbye to my parents who were traveling to Turkey. I would probably have cried if my tears hadn’t dried up years ago. However old you grow, it is always great to be pampered by your parents for 3 months. I can’t believe 3 months had passed so quickly.
On the whole it was a great trip. My parents were tired from the long red eye flights. Otherwise we could have definitely fitted in the Philips museum and the Newseum into the 24 hours. However, I do not like to cram things in; ruins the fun of traveling.
- 24 hours in Washington DC: Part 1: Planning (52weekendtravel.wordpress.com)