Visit Washington for Less with Maria
This week’s Cities for Less feature comes from Maria K. Haase, a travel, food and lifestyle writer sharing her love for the world and its different cultures on MariaAbroad. As a serial expat for the last ten years, she has called three continents her home, traveled to almost 30 countries and eaten too many sticks of mystery meats to count on the way.
She wants to encourage others to discover the world through traveling, trying exotic recipes, books and learning about other cultures. Besides her love for exploring and traveling the world, Maria earns a living as an Online Marketing Consultant, working with Universities and Travel companies to improve their online presence.
Today she is going to take us on a tour of Washington, DC with tons of tips for saving money on your travels. I am heading out to Washington in November to meet up with the Boarding Area gang (eek…so excited!) so this post comes at a perfect time for me to start my planning.
Washington DC – the capitol of the United States of America. Most people think of fancy bars and restaurants and five star hotels worthy of statesmen and world leaders so you may be surprised to discover that you can actually get quite a lot for your money in this city. I have visited Washington quite a few times in the past couple of years and discovered some great, fun stuff to do that won’t break the bank.
Washington DC has three airports and quite a few budget airlines fly in and out of these. From my experience, BWI in Baltimore although a bit further away, often offers the best flight deals for domestic flights and some great international deals to Europe. Domestic flights to Washington DC usually range from less than $100 (East Coast/MidWest/Central) to $250 (West Coast) one-way.
For cheap flights to Washington from Europe, you can get one-way flights from $100 on a budget airline to $500 round trip on an established airline. If you want to add another city to your trip, you could also fly into New York and take the train or bus down to Washington DC. It only takes about 4.5 hours and costs ~ $20 per person (Anne: blimey that is cheap. Don’t be expecting those kind of fares in the UK peeps – a fare from Sheffield to London which takes just over two hours will likely set you back over £100!)
From the Airport to the City
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is the closest airport to the city and very convenient. It is just across the river from Washington DC and you can take an Uber, Taxi or even the Metro to get to your final destination.
From Dulles International Airport by car it is a 45 minute drive, so taxis and Ubers are quite expensive, especially if you are traveling solo, in which case I recommend taking a Shuttle service, which will cost you around $30/per Person one way. Alternatively by public transportation, it will take you around 1.5 hours as you have to take a bus and two metro lines to get to the city, which is quite a hassle with luggage.
If there are 3-4 people, an Uber or Taxi might be cheaper but unless you get a super cheap flight deal to this airport, I would avoid it and try to find a flight to the other two airports.
From Baltimore Airport (BWI) it is over an hour by car to BWI and it is pretty convenient to use the train. To do so, you take the free shuttle from the Airport to the MARC Train Station, where you buy your ticket. It takes about 1 hour to get to Union Station, but it only costs $7 per person and from Union Station you can take the metro anywhere in the city (Anne: now this really is fantastic advice and if you have time to could have a quick tour of an extra city!)
Washington DC is a great city to visit by public transportation. I love hopping on and off the Metro and I have to say that even when I used the Metro late at night by myself, I never felt unsafe. Just keep your wits about and make sure you have an eye on your belongings.
Get a SmarTrip Card and depending on how long you stay, you can either load it up with a set amount or buy a 1 day pass ($ 14.50) or 7 day pass ($ 59.25) or a 7 day short trip pass ($ 36). You can benefit from various discounts with your SmarTrip card, such as 35% off a visit to Madame Tussauds and a $15 discount off select Comfort Inn Hotels.
I highly recommend using public transportation as parking is sparse and can cost an arm and a leg. If you are driving in from out of town, consider parking your car at a park and ride and take a shuttle to the city. Many hotels charge $50 (Anne: ouch, are you kidding me??!) and more per day for parking, so this could save you a big chunk of money.
Accommodation will most likely be your biggest expense besides the cost of getting here, so it makes sense to look for a good deal. I like to save some money on accommodation in Washington DC because I am rarely in the hotel anyway and just need a clean place that is close to public transportation. Here is some advice on how to snatch a good price and still find a decent place to rest after a long day in town.
- For cheap hotels in Washington visit DC on the weekend. A lot of hotel chains that usually cater to business travelers have huge discounts on the weekend.
- Stay out of DC proper, for example choose Arlington or Crystal City. You’ll be in DC in about 10-15 minutes with the Metro and even an Uber won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
- Don’t travel during “patriotic” holidays, as DC is a very popular travel destination during 4th of July, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day etc.
- Compare your prices. I once stayed at a Marriott for less than $25 a night, because I bought a flight and hotel bundle, so it is worth shopping around. Sometimes you can snatch a deal for a flight and stay at one of the luxury hotels for a major discount.
- Consider Couchsurfing or AirBnB for cheaper alternatives. You will usually have access to a kitchen and can save some money by cooking some meals at home and you can talk to a local who can give you tips on cheap or free things to do.
Things to do in DC
This is why I would consider DC a budget destination: The major attractions are all FREE. Want to do a tour of the White House or Congress? Free. Want to visit some of the best museums in the world? Free. Want to see the Monuments and Memorials? Free. You can easily fill two weeks in Washington DC and only do free stuff. Here are some ideas for free things to do in Washington DC:
- Monuments and Memorials
- Arlington National Cemetery
- The Supreme Court
- Washington DC museums:
- Natural History Museum
- National Air and Space Museum
- National Museum of American History
- National Museum of African American History
- National Museum of the American Indian
- National Postal Museum
- Holocaust Museum
- National Geographic Museum
- Art Museums and Galleries
- American Art Museum
- Renwick Gallery
- National Portrait Gallery
- National Museum of African Art
- Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
- Freer Gallery of Art
- National Design Museum
- Arthur M. Saeckler Gallery
- Phillips Collection
- National Gallery of Art
- Washington Zoo
- National Arboretum
- Rock Creek Park
- Library of Congress
- National Archives
- Trip To Georgetown
- Free tours at Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site
Anne: blimey you are not kidding, that definitely gives London a run for its money in the free attractions arena!
The price range for eating out in Washington DC ranges from $ 5-500 per person. Since it is such an international city, you can literally eat your way around the world. Ethnic restaurants in Washington DC tend to be cheaper than American restaurants, so here are some suggestions:
- Kabob Palace, 1000 N Randolph St, Arlington, VA 22201: Amazing Lamb chops and huge portions ~ $10 – $15/person
- Indigo, 243 K St NE Washington, DC: Great Indian food near MOMA Metro stop ~ $10 – $15/person
- Tabard Inn, 1739 N St NW, Washington, DC 20036: Great Brunch Spot near Dupont Circle with addictive donuts ~ $15 – $20/person
- Food Trucks for lunch: Around the parks and museums, you will find an abundance of food trucks offering plates from $5-$15 for delicious food and usually pretty decent portions.
Washington DC has some serious good eats and if you are a foodie, you’ll be in heaven. While there are some excellent fine dining options, there are also great options to fill your belly with equally delicious and yet affordable options.
Washington DC by Night
Of course you have an abundant choice of fancy night clubs and bars, performing arts and concerts. But there are also plenty of options that are either free or very cheap. Since clubbing isn’t really my kind of thing anyway, I loved doing some of those suggestions:
- Monuments by night – I loved it. They look so majestic and beautiful when they are lit up.
- Drink a beer at my favorite book shop, Kramer Books. Yup, you read that right, a craft beer bar in a book shop. How cool is that? (Anne: OMG, this is seriously my idea of heaven!)
- Wolly Mammoth Theatre Company “Pay what you can” performances. They offer donation based performances, usually on Mondays and Thursdays.
- Free performances at Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage.
- Author readings and book signings at Politics and Prose. I haven’t done this yet, but hope that it will work out next time.
Musings from Anne
So there you have it, Maria really has done us proud with those incredibly money saving tips.
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