Ever have a long airport layover and wonder if it's worth leaving the airport?
My answer: almost always.
My rule: more than 6 hours, I'm leaving.
Here's how I made my Dulles airport layover worthwhile.
But first - What is it called?
I grew up on the other side of the country in Seattle, Washington, so Washington, DC is just DC to me and I never think of it as Washington. But it really confuses the world when I say I'm from Washington...
...on the West coast
...no, not the capital
...Washington State not DC
...yes, by Canada.
What did you grow up calling it? (Tell me in the comments below!)
I had been fortunate to travel all regions of the USA and visit 37 out of the 50 states before I eventually made it to our own capital. It had been a long time coming. I would have loved to spend more than just 1 day in DC and hopefully I will return for a longer time next trip. But when I booked my flights from Zambia to the USA and the cheapest flight had a 14 hour layover in DC I thought, "Why not!?...Let's finally make this trip happen!"
I googled and read travel blogs a bit and then showed up in the airport. I had a bus and time in mind but wanted to confirm everything so I also went to one of the information desks at the airport upon arrival. (Maybe I was also just so happy to be back in the USA where there are multiple information desks so I just wanted to experience one...) The woman I spoke with was so helpful. She confirmed that the bus I planned to take was the most direct and efficient route along with showing me more details and handing me enough maps to last the week. So here's how I saw DC in a day for $20!
Airport & Transportation into the city
5A bus directly from airport to L’enfant at D St & 7th St
The same place it drops off is the exact same place it picks up. It takes about an hour in all, bus ride is 48min according to good maps and only has 4 stops so it’s pretty direct!
I made sure to have the exact change in cash before touching down in the USA because I heard that they do not give change nor take card on the bus and did not want to deal with going to the atm and then getting exact change or buying a bus pass all at the airport in a limited window of time.
The bus ride was not crowded at all and I had plenty of space with the seats open next to me both ways. It was somewhat long but pretty comfortable. After almost an hour on the bus and finishing some leftover airplane snacks of fruit, cheese and a muffin for breakfast, I stepped into the chilled windy drizzle weather; with my bag (luggage was checked to my final destination), walking shoes and a big scarf to keep me warm and dry. An umbrella could have been useful but only for about 2 hours of drizzle out of the day in my experience.
L’enfant at D St & 7th St
From this stop, the closest monument is the US capitol. This was also my first moment touching US soil in almost 2 years, it felt amazing. I was looking forward to finding a local coffee shop to try out but the first one I found of course was Starbucks and after 2 years of missing the option of Starbucks combined with the need to warm up and get my bearings by using wifi on google maps, I went straight in.
Experiencing the national mall and monuments
Before going to DC, from Ndola, I had flagged all the places I wanted to make sure to see on my walking tour of DC. I knew the places that I would absolutely not miss and a few I hoped to see. I didn't plan my exact route but I had an idea of how to go about it all by using google maps. This made the short amount of time extremely efficient and successful. I saw everything I planned to, plus a few more!
Amount of Time I Spent in DC
Considering the travel time between the airport and the city as well as getting to my next flight with plenty of time, the actual number of hours touring DC was about 6-7 hours. I did not rush but instead just walked around, soaking up every moment. The places I had read about and watched on TV for 27 years, plus to top it off with being back to my homeland after 2 years away, I really basked in it and took my time. But it was just enough to get a good feel for all the monuments and experience the vibe of a weekend in DC at Christmas time.
Recommended time of year to go
Weekends, Christmas and Spring.
December is an ideal time to go to DC! The weather was not too cold, drizzles and cool temperatures but fine to walk around comfortably, it felt a lot like Seattle in December. The city was so quiet being a weekend as well as close to Christmas which made it really relaxing to walk around and experience. The decorations for Christmas and incredible National Christmas Tree display are unmatched. If you can't go at Christmas, I've heard spring is the next best time to experience it with the Cherry trees in bloom and warmer weather. Weekends are great because the city is not as busy compared to during the week when everyone is in for work.
My favorite building inside was the library of congress.
I loved the national christmas tree display.
The weather most of the time with some autumn trees leaves still changing.
Walking between monuments, in solitude admiring and reflecting on the history and the different aspects of significance behind each one (or a few, anyway).
$15 bus ($7.50 each way)
$3 hot dog
Free monuments & museums
Complimentary breakfast and dinner from the international flights
And there you have it - my full one day DC trip for only $20!