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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Visiting Washington, D.C. (Part 1)

This summer, I have a few friends and family members coming to visit me in Washington, D.C., so I’ve been excitedly thinking about the various “touristy” things that I think they should consider doing. I sometimes forget how much I love this city and all the cheap and free things there are to do. Now that the weather’s getting nice, I’m hoping to be able to get out more and spend more time at the various museums and exhibitions.

D.C. may not be the cheapest city to live in, but it can be a relatively inexpensive place to visit. The majority of the museums and exhibits are free, after all. Yes, you will have to pay for transportation, lodging, and food. But even that can be done on a budget.

If you’re planning a trip to D.C., my first suggestion would be to check out Washington.org, the Official Tourism Site of Washington, D.C. It’s a good way to get ideas and find out if there are any events or festivals going on while you’re here. In the summertime especially, it seems like there’s always something going on!

There is a lot to see in D.C. So much so that it would be hard to do it all in one trip. Therefore, I recommend really planning your trip and figuring out just want you want to see and what you absolutely don’t want to miss. To that end, I would recommend checking out a guide book. Yes, I realize those cost money. But a good guide book will not only have maps, but also detailed information on the various attractions, such as hours, hints and tips, and even the best way to get there. I personally like the Frommer’s Guide and for help packing the most into your trip, the Fodor’s Washington D.C.’s 25 Best. Both come with nice pull-out maps, which I think are almost a necessity if you want to make the most of your trip. Do you need to get the most recent guide? Probably not, and you'll be able to save money if you buy used. That said, while most things in D.C. don't change a whole lot, an older guidebook might have incorrect hours or might be missing information. Is that a huge problem? Probably not.

D.C. does try to make it easy for tourists, though. On a number of corners in the city, especially those around the tourist attractions, you will find blue signs pointing you to various sites, as well as to the closest metro stops. Even living here, I find those helpful when I’m wandering an area I’m not entirely familiar with.

If you are planning a trip to D.C., contact your Senators or Representative. They can get you on tours of the Capitol and if you’re lucky, a White House tour as well. The White House tour is a self-guided walk-through of certain rooms in the White House. It’s quick, and disappointing to some, but I think it’s a very cool experience, and worth trying to get tickets. The Capitol tour is definitely worth the trip, though. And again, all you have to do is ask for tickets. I’d recommend doing this as far in advance as you can, however. Capitol tours are pretty easy to get – the Senator or Representative usually has a staff member who is in charge of giving these tours. It’s very cool to get to stand at the spot where John Adams used to sit every day and to get to look down on the House or the Senate floor. Plus there’s a lot of beautiful architecture and statuary that you can’t see anywhere else.

In the coming weeks, I will continue this new series on great things to do in D.C. for the frugal traveler. Start planning your trips now!

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