As we make our way through November and the festivities get ever closer a break away to escape the stress of Christmas lists or enjoy the twinkling lights and snow of another city is great this time of year. If your pushed for time make it a weekend or luxuriate with an extra day or two. Either way it’s a great time to wrap up, explore and maybe pick up a few quaint gifts along your way.
One of my favorite cities to visit in the winter- and the world- is Washington DC. It has a great mix of culture, shopping, Christmas activities and of course endless museums. Here’s my long weekend itinerary for the perfect getaway this season.
Having got a cheap flight in, take the metro into the city and drop your bags off. I would highly recommend the Hotel Lombardy, a glittering Christmas tree welcomes you as you walk through the dark wooden doors into the historic 1920’s building, a classic European style theme runs throughout and the bedrooms are beautiful making you feel like you’re in your own Christmas story.
Having bounce tested the gigantic bed put on those walking shoes and wrap up warm because some of the best sights in Washington DC are outside.
We started at the Lincoln Monument, the sheer size of this astonishes me every time and the view across DC is amazing from the top of the stairs. Marvel at the reflection pool- if it’s not empty or being worked on- then grab a coffee and enjoy strolling down the skeleton tree lined paths. Take in the fresh air and walk towards the Washington Monument. On your way you will pass a tribute to those who served in World War II, a beautiful fountain encircled by huge granite pillars with the individual States carved into them, the fallen are remembered by a wall of golden stars. A beautiful tribute and stunning design, I love to spend some time here. Continue along and you will reach the towering Washington Monument, also referred to as the Needle, if you queue early enough in the morning you can get tickets to climb to the top otherwise you’ll have to admire from the ground.
Take a break from walking and warm up over a spot of lunch. Here you can decide which of the 17 Smithsonian museums to explore. Now obviously you aren’t going to be able to see them all this trip but that just means you have an excuse to come back again!! The awesome thing about the Smithsonian museums are that they are all completely FREE!! Yep, they won’t cost you a penny.
My top afternoon Smithsonian museums would have to be;
- National Museum of Natural History- superb exhibits ranging from wildlife photography to extinct animals, the Hall of human origins or the 45.5 carat Hope diamond.
- National Air and Space Museum- split into two levels hop onto a command shuttle, watch a documentary on space in the awesome planetarium (this will blow your mind) or discover the history of aviation.
- American Art Museum- is a huge expanse of art that ranges from classic to contemporary. It’s a beautiful gallery that you can easily spend an afternoon wandering and has a lovely store.
- National Museum of American History- with a Julia Child’s kitchen, the First Lady’s gowns and fascinating exhibits on American stories, this is one of my favorite museums to visit.
If you’ve had your fill of culture for the day head north towards Penn Quarter and Chinatown for dinner, we had a fantastically Southern experience in a BBQ bar that had actual saloon doors to walk through!! The wonderful Christmas market up here spans approximately two blocks and is full of vendors with home made products that make perfect gifts. There was a great selection of unique stalls selling things I’d never come across before, which is impressive for the amount of craft shows and markets I attend! We bought some vintage magazine adverts for our kitchen that are not only entertaining but look great, alongside some great stocking stuffers.
You’re on vacation so have a relaxing morning and get some brunch. The Hotel Lombardy has a quaint little cafe on site that offers a lovely menu or we also sampled the goods and wares at Founding Farmers, which was full of long wooden tables and benches and delicious food. With a full stomach and rosy cheeks make your way to the Holocaust museum. This is going impact you profoundly. Being from Europe we spend a lot of time being educated on the Holocaust and go on many trips to educational facilities, historic sites and museums but this was the best collection of artifacts, history, film and brutally honest displays I have ever visited. As you walk in you are given a passport of a holocaust victim and you follow their story throughout your visit. This is a spine tingling experience, you get an opportunity to listen to the actual voices and stories of survivors, watch films of the victims departing the trains and entering the chambers, walk through a hallway of shoes taken from those that had been gassed and learn a lot about Hitler, the war and the stark reality of the Holocaust. Absolutely superb but be warned, the visit will leave you feeling very thoughtful and a little subdued.
Take your time to get your thoughts together over lunch or coffee and cake in Capitol Hill. This small area has so much to offer and you will easily fill an afternoon.
Standing at the top of Capitol Hill the stunning domed Capitol building is one of my favorite pieces of architecture in the world. It’s size demands respect, the winding stairs look so regal and the unusual shape differentiates this building from so many others. If you plan far enough ahead you can book a visit to tour the inside, if you’re a little more last minute you can still pop into the visitor center and catch a glimpse of the goings on.
Just next door is the botanical gardens (disclosure I have visited every botanical garden in every city I have ever been). You may think thats a little obsessive but I just love the tropical flowers, landscaping and cultural plants. Anyway, this one is worth a stop, admission is completely free and showcases a good range of tropical flowers including the stinky corpse flower. It’s a great place to wander around and warm up in such a superb location.
The Eastern market is definitely worthwhile your time. A combination of fresh produce and arts and crafts means there is something for everyone. Sample the blueberry pancakes or cheeses whilst you deliberate how many books, vases and frames you can fit in your hand luggage. There’s a great atmosphere here so take your time and pick up a bargain memento.
Whilst you are in the area make time to stop in the world’s largest library, also known as the Library of Congress. A majestic building that houses decades of important documents, it is mainly used as a research hub but go in and have a look at this piece of history.
At this time of year, naturally, there is a huge tree and festive lights on the front lawn of the Capitol building. If you check the times beforehand you can be stood in front overlooking the mall as the lights twinkle of in the evening. It’s a lot of fun and a little romantic, just make sure you wrap up!
We used our final day to look at some of the other museums that DC has to offer, they usually do have a fee but after having enjoyed free admission for the last two days I think that’s money spent well. With Rich being a keen photographer and both of us passionate about travel we stopped by the National Geographic Museum which just so happened to have an exhibition on Indiana Jones- the movies, locations, props and process, and in the adjacent room was a photography display on animals around the world. It was a fun and interesting visit but I would recommend you check the exhibits beforehand to make sure they are something you enjoy as they only ever have two available at one time.
Now you have an entire afternoon to revel in the joys of Georgetown. This wonderful neighborhood is quaint, enchanting and oozes charm, especially at this time of year. Assuming you are getting a little peckish head to Dean & DeLuca for a great selection and variety of food from their counters. Pick something traditional or go for something a little spicy, with pies, sandwiches, cakes and curries there has to be something you like here. One your stomach is satisfied did I mention this selection is located in a beautiful indoor market. Delight in the array of products on offer whilst munching on your lunch selection. They have a wine section, counters of cheese, meats and chocolates, a coffee bar, wooden kitchen utensils and gift baskets. With a very European feel this place is a great start to discovering Georgetown. Just don’t spend all your money in here!!
With plenty of stores to stroll around you can pick up a few final gifts for family and friends along with some little treats for yourself! There are treasure troves located on every street so take your time and sample the handmade olive oils and balsamics, enjoy a hot chocolate whilst perusing the Italian store filled with food and beautiful kitchen accessories, find yourself a new ear warmer or discover your inner child with hand carved kaleidoscopes. There is a great mix of individually owned and chain stores that will keep you entertained for hours. With twinkling lights and wreaths adorning doors and balconies you can’t help but get the Christmas spirit.
Alongside the stores Georgetown boasts some of the best restaurants around. You can dine anywhere in the world for reasonable prices so whatever is taking your fancy give it a go. We decided on an atmospheric Italian but had our eye on the Tapas bar, Whiskey lounge and basically every other Italian we passed! Being near the University this area stays awake until the early hours so if you want to sample a few drinks or see a band play this is your place.
Georgetown is a great way to finish your trip to DC, it’s magical, festive feel lifts your Christmas spirit and gives you another view of the political capital.
Something to note about a visit to Washington DC is that some of the museums or sights do require a bit of forward planning. As I mentioned, if you want to visit the Capitol Building you will need to make reservations in advance, likewise with the The White House. Here are a few other institutions that need a little pre planning;
- U.S Bureau of Engraving and Printing– I am obsessed with money and finance and was so upset we couldn’t go and see all the printing here, next time!
- The Pentagon
- The Capitol Building
- The National Archives, self guided tour- another place that is on my next time list!
- The Washington Monument- tickets can be booked up to three months prior or line up on the day, it is currently closed for construction
For a perfect winter getaway I think Washington DC is a great option. It’s a budget friendly destination that has a festive feel, lots to do and plenty of present buying options.