WHEN TO GO
The best times to be in Washington—although they're also the most crowded—are spring (when the cherry blossoms begin to bloom; see www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org) and fall (when the summer heat fades, Congress goes back into session, and the city regains its sense of energy). Despite the summer heat and humidity, one memorable time to visit is the Fourth of July, when the celebration of independence lights up the sky and the monuments.
HOW TO GET THERE
Domestic flights land at Ronald Reagan National Airport just across the Potomac River in Virginia, about four miles from downtown. Both international and domestic flights land at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia, about 26 miles west of downtown Washington, and at Baltimore Washington International Airport in Maryland, about 30 miles northeast.
One of the best ways to come to Washington is by train, if only to be able to walk through Union Station, a magnificent example of Beaux Arts architecture that opened in 1908, fell into disrepair, and was almost demolished before being restored brilliantly in 1988. Today, with its soaring rounded ceiling and marble floors, the building is a magnet for those who come to admire its architecture and take advantage of its shops, cinema multiplex, and restaurants. The station is located at 50 Massachusetts Avenue N.E. in the center of Washington, near Capitol Hill. Amtrak provides service (800-872-7245; www.amtrak.com).
Washington has one of the cleanest and best-organized subway systems in the country—Metrorail, a color-coded system of five lines arranged in red, blue, orange, green, and yellow. Along with the Metrobus network, the subway links the district to its Maryland and Virginia suburbs. The Metro opens at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. on weekends, and runs until midnight Sunday through Thursday and until 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday (202-637-7000; www.metroopensdoors.com).
As good as public transportation is, there are some neighborhoods, such as Georgetown, that the Metro misses. That's the reason a new bus service called the DC Circulator began in July 2005, serving popular routes. One east-west circuit links Union Station to Georgetown; the other runs north-south from the southwest waterfront to the National Mall and Washington Convention Center (202-962-1423; www.dccirculator.com).
All major car-rental agencies operate out of the airports and various city locations. Washington is an easy city for driving due to its wide thoroughfares and grid system of lettered and numbered streets. Walking is also easy—the city is fairly compact, one neighborhood easily blends into the next, streets are clearly marked, and most sites tourists would want to visit are clustered in the same areas. The historic streets of Georgetown are particularly charming for strolling.
Taxis are also plentiful and operate on a zone system (with a standard charge in the city center), with added supplements for outlying areas.
Washington, D.C., Convention and Tourism Corporation
901 7th Street N.W. 20001
Tel: 800 422 8644 (toll-free)
Tel: 202 789 7000