Summertime is fast approaching here in the northern hemisphere, and Washington, DC will be swarming with visitors. What can you do to get ahead? Here are some helpful hints:
1. Take the Metro.
No, seriously, take the Metro. Although it is costly (up to $5.75 one way, if you’re coming from one of the farthest stations), you’re saving time and energy. DC is not an easy city to drive in (especially during rush hour), and walking, especially with kids, isn’t always feasible. And parking is not plentiful here.
2. When you take the Metro, make sure you have enough money on your farecard/SmarTrip.
I have seen so many people get stuck in the Metro because they don’t have enough money on their cards. Add up the cost each way for your trip (there are signs above the ticketing kiosks), and then add at least $2 to that. You can’t exit the station with under $1 on a SmartTrip anymore, and you have to add $1 to a farecard from the listed price. I basically go by the rule of thumb of having $20 on my card at the beginning of my trip, but that is with a regular commute (I pay $11-$16 a day). As a visitor, you probably won’t be going at peak fares, but it still helps to have extra in the long run. When you’re done, you can give your farecards to friends or relatives traveling to DC, so you know that they’re being used.
3. Use a map to find the closest stops.
Seriously, do that. I used a stop that was very far out of the way for my relatives once, and I have regretted it ever since. Plan your trip around the museums that are closest to the stop.
1. Visiting a museum "on the mall"? Don’t enter through the Mall-side doors
Did you know that many of the Smithsonian museums have multiple entrances? Natural History and American History have entrances on Constitution Ave. Exit the metro from Federal Triangle or park off of Constitution to cut security line times.
2. You cannot do the Smithsonian in a day.
The Smithsonian is a large system of museums, and its on-the-Mall museums are huge. Rushing to see everything in every museum only hurts you.
3. Go early or go late.
First thing in the morning, there are no lines for popular exhibits, security, and food. A number of the Smithsonian museums also have evening extended hours. They’re really great, and much quieter.
4. Plan out your visit before you get there.
The popular exhibits get very crowded very easily. Make sure you hit those before the crowds hit. Map out what exhibits you want to see, and when.
5. Go off the Mall.
Like art? Head to the Portrait Gallery/American Art building at the Gallery Place Metro station. Like history? The Postal Museum is another Smithsonian museum that is never crowded and is a sweet little museum. It’s also right next to Union Station, which has food, shopping, and transportation.
6. Go to the zoo (but be prepared for crowds).
The zoo is extremely busy during the summer. So busy, in fact, that all of the above hints apply to the zoo, too. Go early to catch the outdoor animals as they come out of their indoor enclosures, hit houses like the Panda House, Small Mammal House, and Reptile house early, and visit the Think Tank, Invertebrates. and Amazonia, the quietest exhibits, at the peak hours.
Off the Mall
1. Museums off the Mall aren’t always free, but are sometimes quieter.
There are a few well-known non-Smithsonian museums off the mall (the Newseum and the International Spy Museum), and a few lesser-known but good ones (National Geographic). Adult admission costs anywhere from $11-$30 (I wish I was joking) for the museums, so be prepared for admission prices. National Geographic and the International Spy Museum are small, with a limited number of galleries. I’ve been to National Geographic, which has two ticketed exhibits under a general admission price, and a free exhibit in its M St building. I have been to the original iteration of the Newseum, and enjoyed it.
1. Do your research!
I know, I know, you don’t want to have to do research for your trip, but it helps so much to have that information in your back pocket.
2. Make sure your guidebook is up to date.
Guidebooks are notorious at my museum for passing on wrong information. Make sure you use both the guidebook and the internet for the most up to date information.
3. Pack your lunch.
Eating out is fun, but expensive museum food plus a crowded cafeteria is stressful! You can spend the money you saved in the gift shop or at a ticketed museum or for your Metro fare.
4. If you can’t, eat at the National Gallery of Art or the National Museum of the American Indian.
They have the best food. Seriously. The best food. I’ve eaten at most of the Smithsonians, and I can tell you that it’s the best food. And NMAI has gluten free options.
5. Ask the staff.
We’re here to help, and we want to help you. 🙂
Anything else you want to know about DC? Ask in the comments below! I’m also hoping to turn this into a page up above, so keep your eyes open for that.