The Do's and Don'ts of DC

02 April 2013

After my trip to Washington DC, I kept hearing a phrase echoing in my head when reflecting on certain attractions; "I wish I had known not to do that!"

For even though I had a week in the city, I was trying to be economical with my time and do the most that I could. I can only imagine how hard it would be for a tourist who only has two or three days in this city. What should one see? Eat? Shop? These are things that you can't afford to waste your time figuring out when the days are limited.

That's why I put together this simple list of do's and don'ts for traveling Washington DC so you can know what attractions are worth your time and which will leave you feeling unsatisfied.

Do got to all the museums on the Mall
This is a no brainer! The most well-known museums on the mall are popular for a reason so don't avoid them just because they seem touristy. The Natural History Museum and The National Air and Space museums are actually really fun (even as an adult) and can be done as quickly or slowly as you like. Plus it's all freeeeee!

Don't eat there!
Just don't! I tried my best to avoid eating in the Mall area but at one point I had free time in the afternoon and I thought, the prices can't be that bad, right? Big mistake! I ended up paying 7 (+tax) for a slice of crappy pizza at the Museum of American History just because I didn't bother to wander out into the city a bit to get food. Lesson learned!

Do go to the Old Post Office
In all honesty, DC doesn't have that impressive of a skyline but going up the tower of the Old Post Office is still pretty cool. It's a fun chance to see DC from above and look at the amazing grid work of the city. This tower is pretty much the only place in the city that you can see it from above.

Don't bother with the shops there
Nothing of interest is in the Post Office itself. If you have kids, this may be a good place to rest up while they play in the arcade and get food but other than that it's just gimmicky souvenir shops not worth your time.

Do research cherry blossom timing
Seeing as I went just a week before the Cherry Blossom Festival I assumed I would be able to see the little pink flowers but I was wrong. Nature had other things in mind and there was hardly a bud on any of the trees. Apparently they didn't even bloom for the festival. Cherry trees usually blossom in mid-March but it's best to do your research. Follow the bloom watch to see when they're actually opened!

Don't go to the actual festival on the Tidal Basin
If you want to shop the stalls of the festival, that's fine. But if you just want to enjoy the cherry blossoms without the crowds there are many other places in the city where you can see them.

Do dedicate a fare amount of time to the National Art Museum
When it comes to allocating time, this is one museum to which you will want to devote several hours. As I mentioned in my post about 'the best museums in DC that you skipped', the works in this museum are amazing and plentiful. When it comes to choosing which activity to do I would chose this over...

Don't go to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing
It's cool in theory to see money be printed but the tour itself was incredibly boring. Plus, you have to go earlier than you actually want to reserve a ticket and then return later in the day for the tour. It's really more effort than it's worth.

Do appreciate other cultures besides American
As a Midwest girl, I don't get a whole lot of chance to experience other cultures so the museums of DC were a great chance to "travel" while in America. The several museums of the Smithsonian cover every continent so why not give them a look? Just because you're in America, doesn't mean you won't find something of interest in the less frequented museums. For instance, I absolutely loved the Freer Gallery of Asian art!

Don't assume what you'll like 
Following that train of thought, don't assume you'll like something just because you're familiar with it. I thought I would like the National Museum of American History but ended up bored as hell (and I'm a museum lover!) Other than the awesome WWII propaganda posters, I could hardly find anything to hold my interest and walked through the exhibits rather quickly.

In all honesty, there's so much more I could share but I feel like there's a certain point when one goes from helpful friend to pompous know-it-all so I'll just leave it here for today. If you'd like more tips on what to see and do in DC, just let me know- I still have so much more to say!

What do you like to do in Washington DC? Let me know!

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