Walk it, use the bus or take a trolley tour - whichever you choose, Washington DC is small enough to cover in a short visit, and there's plenty of culture to take in along the way
As famous as anywhere, yet strangely overlooked as a tourist destination – it didn’t even make my ‘Places To Go’ list when I first planned to tour America – Washington is somewhere everyone should visit at least once. A city oozing history and culture, it has beautiful buildings, wide boulevards, and landmarks packed so closely together it’s as if the tourist committee planned for this moment back in 1776.
Whenever you visit somewhere new, it’s always a pretty good idea to take some kind of a tour to acquaint yourself with the area. No matter how simple it looks on a map, without local advice you invariably realise you were only round the corner from some key point of interest just as you leave the city for the last time.
Old Town Trolley Tours' hop-on, hop-off service (www.trolleytours.com/Washington-DC/) is perfect for this. I was staying at the Hilton on Connecticut Avenue – they had the best deals in town when I was there – and had wandered south towards the White House when I spied the trolley waiting at a stop and hopped on board.
The driver was friendly and informative and gave a running commentary as we circled the area clocking up landmarks. There are three routes, all of which are included in your ticket price. I decided to do a complete circuit of the Orange route initially to get my bearings, after which I headed off on foot to the sights I was interested in seeing closer. Having already made stops and had photo opportunities along the bus route, I knew I didn’t need to bother the memorials of Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt again, and probably not the Capitol either, but there were plenty of other places for me to concentrate on.
So after a stroll around the outside of the White House (carefully avoiding the Guantanamo protestors) and back along Pennsylvania Avenue, I veered slightly north to the Ford Theater, where Lincoln was assassinated. Then around the corner to the American Art Museum for a breather and then back southwards across Pennsylvania, past the Hoover (FBI) Building and over to the National Archives. Apparently the queues for this can run right round the block, but I arrived at around 4.30pm and walked straight in. This is where you’ll find the original Declaration of Independence and also one of the few original copies of the Magna Carta (I know it should be in England; don’t ask).
After all this walking and sightseeing, it was worth taking a rest so I jumped aboard the trolley again and did a circuit on the Green route, getting the driver to deposit me in Georgetown, a very elegant neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city. This area is packed with shops, bars and restaurants and is a perfect place to unwind at the end of a hectic day.
With most of the touring done, I decided to concentrate on getting a few museums in on the second day. Almost all of the museums in Washington (including the Smithsonians) are free to enter, so I sauntered up and down the National Mall and spent time in the National Gallery, the Smithsonian Castle, the Air and Space Museum and the American Indian Museum. With those barely touched and still a few more to see, I can hardly see the point in going to the other museums where you have to pay, such as the Newseum or the Spy Museum, unless you’re staying for a longer period or have a specific yearning to see their exhibits.
A fitting end to the trip for me was my departure by train from Union Station. Even if you aren’t travelling that way, it’s still worth visiting (it’s on all the tour routes) since you can eat in the food court, shop in the array of boutiques and shops or simply stand back and gape at the architecture. It's a fine building in a beautiful city. I’d like to think I’ll be back soon.