The Nation's Capitol on a Budget

My girlfriend and I decided to take in the sights of Washington D.C., all on the cheap.

The Nation's Capitol on a Budget

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by RBT331 on January 8, 2007

The last time we were in Washington, D.C. was when we were in eighth grade, about 10 years ago.

We decided to take a road trip to our nation's capitol. However, as with most of our trips, we want to do it on the cheap.

Therefore, we decided to drive and stay outside of the city. The trip was cheap, and yet, very fulfilling. Just shows that you don't have to spend a ton of money to have fun.
${QuickSuggestions} 1) To save money, drive to Washington, if it's an available option for you. It was about a 6-7 hour drive from Boston. Not the worst drive in the world; however, it was just long enough to get stir crazy. You certainly need to get out every couple of hours and stretch.

2) If driving, don't forget money for tolls.

3) Bring a good pair of walking shoes. A lot of the sights and monuments are within walking distance, so it is possible to get off at one metro stop or parking lot, and walk to most of the things you would want to see.

4) Take your time, enjoy yourself, and take in all of the free sights and museums out there.${BestWay} The best way to get around is perhaps by car and mass transportation.

The METRO system is the subway and bus authority that services Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area, including portions of Virginia and Maryland. We used the subway portion during our trip. It takes a train ride or two to figure it out, but once you get things figured out, it's a breeze. It is not too dissimilar from other mass transit systems, like New York and Boston.

You could fly down to Dulles or Reagan. However, you could then need a rental car to get around. If you want to splurge, then by all means. Flying is certainly faster than driving.

Sleep Inn

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by RBT331 on January 8, 2007

This is the second Sleep Inn we have stayed in. Sleep Inn is under the Choice Hotel family of hotels. We had good luck in Amish Country and figured we would try them again.

This hotel is conveniently located right outside the Beltway, in an industrial area of town. It is also nearby to a metro mass-transit station. This makes it perfect for tourists. A five minute drive later, you can be parked, on a train, and on your way in to one of the most beautiful metropolitan areas in the country.

The rooms were clean and roomy, as expected. They had a nice continental breakfast downstairs, with a Belgian waffle maker. The hotel also has a pool and laundry facility. While I did not use either, I am sure they were nice as well.

Also, as with our previous experience, the staff were very nice and welcoming, throughout the vacation. Check-in and check-out were a breeze.

The one disadvantage I could find was that it was along side an expressway. If you have one of the rooms on that side of the building, then it may be an issue. I had a room rear-facing, halfway down the building, and heard minimal road noise.

Having stayed now in a Sleep Inn, Comfort Suites, and Quality Inn, I would certainly continue staying at any of the Choice Hotels again.
Sleep Inn Inn And Suites
Washington, Missouri, 63090

Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by RBT331 on January 9, 2007

Another FREE thing: The National Zoo. Yes, even the zoo is free.

It can be easily driven to (located on Connecticut Ave), or it is a 20-minute walk from the nearest METRO station. It was a nice March day, so we walked.

Lions... and tigers... and bears... oh my! They have those and then some. Animals are sprawling all over their expansive 163 acre facility.

The National Zoo has everything you could imagine: birds, tigers, cheetahs, pandas, aquatic life, elephants. You name it, they have it. A lot of the animals are close to people, and still yet a safe barrier protects you from any possible erratic behavior. All of the animals have small displays that discuss the history of the animal, where it can be found, and describes some of the characteristics of them.

Wear your walking shoes. There is a lot of pavement to cover. Parents... if your children can still tolerate strollers, use them. After a short while, you could end up dragging them around because they are tired (we all know what that scene looks like).

We were there on a crisp March day, so weather was not an issue. However, given that most of the area is outdoors, I personally would pay close attention to the forecasts and bring an umbrella. You don't want to be admiring the pandas when it all of a sudden rains.

This national treasure is one of the many Smithsonian properties in the District. It is fantastic that because of support from various contributors, the Zoo is able to be free to everyone. This can be simply one part of a very educational vacation for any family, and again, best of all, it's FREE.
Smithsonian National Zoological Park (The National Zoo)
3001 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, D.C., 20008
(202) 673-4800

National Museum of American History

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by RBT331 on January 9, 2007

NOTE: This museum is closed for massive renovations until the summer of 2008. However, some artifacts are on display in the interim at the National Museum of Air and Space.

Savings alert: This stop is also FREE.

The National Museum of American History is another of the Smithsonian's institutions, like the National Zoo. However, like its museum counterparts, the NAMH is located on the National Mall, right in the heart of Washington.

This museum is full of history and culture, all under one roof. They have such artifacts as Larry Bird's jersey, one of the first Kermit the Frog's, Judy Garland's red ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz", and the flag that draped over the exterior of the Pentagon immediately after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

One hightlight for my girlfriend was the exhibit of the inaugural gowns of first ladies of the U.S. It allows one to see the elegance and intricacies of a ball gown, and at the same time, become an ounce closer to experience an small bit of presidential glamor.

Conveniently located along the beautiful National Mall, it is also a short walk to the Washington Monument and a slightly longer walk to the U.S. Capitol building. It is also close to many of the other Smithsonian Institute museums.

This museum has a little bit of everything for everyone. Kids will get a kick out of Oscar the Grouch and Kermit, while adults will be intrigued by some of the more historical pieces in the collection.

Best of all, this place is FREE. Yes, another free stop in the D.C. area.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History
14th Street And Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC
(202) 357-1300

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by RBT331 on January 9, 2007

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or commonly referred to as the Vietnam Memorial Wall, is a moving tribute to those who served and died in combat in the Vietnam War, or those who have been listed with the Department of Defense as Prisoners of War (POW) or Missing in Action (MIA). It also stands in commemoration of all those who served in the Vietnam War.

The Wall, constructed in the 1980s, features 70 black granite panels bearing the names of over 50,000 Vietnam Veterans. This memorial sits in the shadows of the Washington Memorial, in a quiet location among the urban jungle of a city. All of the hustle and bustle seems to go away upon seeing this simple, yet moving, memorial.

A sense of silence comes over everyone there. No yelling, no commotion, a silent reverence comes over the place. People have the opportunity to "rub" the names of loved one or friends with a pencil and a piece of paper. You can't help but stop and pursue the names, even if you don't have any connection or knowledge of who these people are.

This $9 million dollar memorial is a truly memorable and educational experience. Everyone should take it in, at least once.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Bacon Drive and Constitution Avenue
Washington, D.C., United States
(202) 426-6841

Abraham Lincoln Memorial

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by RBT331 on January 9, 2007

Savings alert: This stop is free.

The Lincoln Memorial is one of the many monuments that are part of the National Park Service.

This monument pays tribute to the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Construction on this massive marble structure was completed in 1922, complete with a 19ft by 19ft solid marble statue of the President seated. If you recognize it from the back of a $5 bill, and thought it was impressive, then you should see it in person.

Make sure you have comfortable walking shoes. There are a lot of stairs to climb.

From the top of the stairs, you can have a great view across the reflecting pool back towards the Washington Monument and the WWII memorial.

With the plethora of history in Washington, if one a trip, you MUST stop by and say hello to President Lincoln. He, like many of our presidents, have a very important part in our history.
Lincoln Memorial
West Potomac Park
Washington, DC, 20037
(202) 426-6895

Arlington National Cemetery

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by RBT331 on January 9, 2007

Savings alert: Visiting the cemetery is free. However, if you drive, you do have to pay a few dollars to park. Just on the other side of Washington, D.C. stands Arlington, VA, and more importantly, Arlington National Cemetery.

Here lay men and women, of all ages and generations, who unfortunately have lost their lives in their service in the military. Many were killed during a conflict, all the way from WWI to the present. Over 300,000 people are interred at the Cemetery across their 200 acres. They have funerals almost every weekday on-site.

One of the most popular sights there is the resting place for President John F. Kennedy, his wife Jackie Kennedy Onasis, and two of their children. President Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963. He is buried with an "eternal flame" burning in his honor. This gas-powered flame never goes out. People often feel compelled to visit his gravesite partially because of his age (he was the United States' youngest President) and the manner in which he died. Also, many of our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and professors, remember his death and where they were when they heard that he had died. (If you doubt, just ask them. They can probably tell you every detail.)

Another of the more popular sites at the cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknowns, or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There lays an unidentified soldier from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. There as a unidentified soldier from the Vietnam War. However, in 1998, his remains were exhumed and positively identified. He was reinterred near his family. The tomb of the Unknown Vietnam remains empty. Every hour, dozens of people turn out for a changing of the guard ceremony. That Tomb is under constant watch by this honor guard. The changing of the guard ceremony is a very intriguing, precise, and moving experience. There is a level of silence where you could literally hear a pin drop.

As I noted above, you can visit the cemetery for free. However, if you do drive, it does cost a nominal fee to park there. Also, like most other places, bring some good walking shoes. You will not have to go to the gym after a trip here, trust me. There is no transportation provided at the cemetery, so by foot will be your mode of transportation.

This sacred ground can move anyone to think, contemplate, reflect, cry, et al. Even if you don't know anyone there personally, you see all the white headstones and realize that many, many, many people sacrificed their lives so that we may be free today. For that, we all should be greatful, regardless of how we feel about any of the conflicts we are or were a part of.

If you have a few hours, head over the Potomac River, and take a leisurely stroll. This beautiful parcel of land needs to be witnessed by all.
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington, Virginia
Arlington, Virginia, 22211
(703) 607-8000

National World War II Memorial

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by RBT331 on January 9, 2007

Savings alert: This stop is FREE.

The National World War II Memorial is one of the newest war memorials in Washington. Construction began in September 2001 and was completed in the Spring of 2004. It is dedicated in the memory of all those, alive and deceased, who fought in the war.

One of the focal points at the memorial is the sea of gold stars. There are 4,000 stars, that each represent 400,000 Americans that sacrificed themselves in World War II. Thereby, each star represents 100 lives lost.

There is reflecting pool in the middle of the monument. When we were there, however, it was not operating. Therefore, I can't speak to its beauty, but I would bet it is a wonderful looking fountain.

Encircling the memorial are pillars representing the states and US territories where WWII veterans came from, as well as pillars noting "Atlantic" and "Pacific" which signify that the war was fought from both sides of the country.

This memorial can touch almost everyone, as many of our grandparents, or parents, may have been involved in World War II. Even if they didn't pass away due to the conflict, they were still a part of it, and in many respects this monument recognizes their effort.

The memorial is conveniently located along 17th Street, at the other end of the reflecting pool, opposite the Lincoln Memorial.

This new addition to the monument landscape is a great one, and you could easily make a historic loop around the area, and hit the Lincoln Memorial, the WWII memorial, the Vietnam Wall, and the Washington Monument (which is across the street from the WWII).
National World War II Memorial
Constitution Avenue And 15th Street, Nw
Washington, DC, 20024
(202) 426-6841

Metro Subway System

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by RBT331 on January 8, 2007

The Metro is a fantastic way to get around. Instead of driving through and maneuvering the streets of Washington, you can take the train from place to place.

By getting around this way, you can save some serious cash by staying outside of the city, and still be close to the action. Parking is affordable (a couple of dollars for the day), train fare is affordable.

Make sure to pick up one of the pocket sized maps of the system. It will help you greatly in getting around, especially if you are new to the system.

The trains were clean. They are like most mass transportation systems. When you get out though, be warned that the escalators are fairly steep. If you are a bit skiddish of heights don't look behind you, just straight up. They are indeed safe, but the incline is a bit steep.

Overall, a great way to get around the Beltway without driving, and to see the sights.

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