The recession’s effects are hitting virtually every non-essential aspect of our lives and money expenditures. One thing that is being cut too frequently is vacations. While being locked in a car with your family for hours on end isn’t exactly heaven, the escape from the drone of daily routine makes it worthwhile. However, many parents are tightening their belt and leaving you stuck at home watching another MTV rerun. There is a remedy to be found in Washington DC.
DC is a cheap city to visit when done right. Almost all attractions are free, but the savings are in planning. We contacted our congressman six months in advance. His staff set up free tours of the White House, the Pentagon, the Capitol building, and Library of Congress. If you aren’t sure who your congressmen are check http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml. We started our first day with the White House. The security takes long enough as is, so don’t hinder yourself with electronics. The tour is self-guided so be sure to ask the attendants plenty of questions. Also, take your time, visiting the White House is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After the White house we had an hour to get to the Pentagon, which had its own metro station. My family bought weekly unlimited passes for $39 a person. http://www.wmata.comI was looking forward to the Pentagon, but the Pentagon is essentially an office building. The highlight of the tour was a small chapel where the plane hit on 9-11. To save time, I’d suggest visiting the outdoor memorial instead of spending an hour going through security. After a long day, we headed to our less expensive hotel in Chantilly, Virginia. The next morning we woke up early for the Library of Congress. The building and the murals adorning its walls make the visit worthwhile, but Thomas Jefferson’s personal library was a highlight. I also got to see the documents crucial in the framing of our Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights as well as the Bob Hope and American Variety exhibit. After reluctantly leaving the Library, we crossed the street to the Cannon office building where our Capitol building tour began. As soon as our entire tour group was there, we were off. The office building for representatives is connected underground with the Capitol so I felt almost like I was heading to work myself. We saw the House of Representatives in session and squabbling. It put government into perspective.
On days with no tours the cheapest attraction is museum hopping. The Smithsonian museums are well known and deserve a good chunk of time but they aren’t the only museums in DC. The National Museum of the United States Navy is a truly hidden gem. It’s a good idea to give yourself time to get lost because no one really gives good directions to get there on foot (hint, look for a big intimidating gate onto the military installation). The building has way fewer visitors than the Smithsonian but is still great for naval history buffs.
Finally, the one thing you can’t leave DC without doing is taking long walk from Arlington cemetery to the Washington Monument, hitting everything interesting along the way. Start early in the morning and see the cemetery before moving on. Take your time on the way back, you’ll find lots of neat things if you look. We stumbled upon a forgotten monument honoring DC locals in the trees to the right of a soccer field, making the perfect end to a great vacation.
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