Someone asked us recently: “What would you do in just one day in Washington D.C.?”
Now, we here at Feat Travel specialize in educational tours with large student groups. As a result, we normally take anywhere from 3-4 days to see everything there is to see around the nation’s capital. However, we know D.C. like middle school girls know Harry Styles’ birthday. So we relished the opportunity to imagine what one day in D.C. would be like for two tourists who have never been there before:
1) See every monument…by bicycle: In Washington D.C. you can rent adorable, red bikes from public stations strategically placed around the city. When you’re done, you can return your bike to any station for a nominal hourly fee. Its superb.
All the monuments in DC are close enough that driving, taking a cab or the subway do not make sense. However, they are far enough away that walking would make you want to blow your brains out. More importantly, it’d be a waste of time. Therefore, getting around by bicycle is the best way to see all of the monuments.
We recommend procuring some bikes by the Federal Reserve building on 21st and Constitution and immediately going across the street to see the:
– Vietnam Memorial
– Lincoln Memorial
– Korean War Memorial
Then cruise down the reflecting pool and visit the World War II memorial and wave “hi” to the Washington Monument. This is your chance to break north to see the south side of the White House. You won’t get very close and you can’t get inside, but you just have to see it.
Next, head toward the Tidal Basin and make your way to the water’s edge. Follow the sidewalk around and see the:
– Martin Luther King Memorial
– Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
– Thomas Jefferson Memorial
Make sure you go in that order! Going the other way will cause you to enter into the “back” of the FDR memorial. Once you walk through, you’ll see what we mean.
Finally, swing past the Bureau of Engraving and Printing toward the National Mall. Its time to start thinking about LUNCH!
2) Eat at food trucks or the Department of Agriculture: These are your most delicious options for an early afternoon snack.
First, the food trucks. Head toward L’Enfant Plaza. Behold the magnificence of 13 food trucks lining the street with some of D.C.’s most diverse and talented chef’s at the helm. Treat yourself to fresh grilled Mahi tacos, Korean BBQ, a slice of pizza, or maybe all three! All at extremely reasonable rates.
Next, the Department of Agriculture: Navigate to the Department of Agriculture next to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Use the very, very discreet public entrance on C street (seriously, it’s a very small, unmarked door) and pass through the security checkpoint. Head down the hall and into the best serve-yourself lunch buffet the federal government has ever subsidized. We’re talking hand-carved turkey, fresh rolled sushi, chilled pastas and succulent stir-fries. This place is the most unexpected food Mecca in all of the United States, and guess what? As a tax-paying, law-abiding citizen, it is your unalienable right to march into this cafeteria and buy some lunch!
The food here is held to ridiculously high standards. All of it is organic, fresh, and preservative free (because this is the Department of Agriculture). And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, when you go pay, its ridiculously reasonable. How could this great food be so cheap? Remember when we mentioned that it’s subsidized by the federal government? Well, yea.
3) Streamline the Smithsonians: For tourists with only 1 day in D.C., the Smithsonian museums are an unfortunate black hole for your time.
Our recommendation is to keep your time in the Smithsonians short and sweet. Hit the hot spots and move along. See the Natural History Museum and American History Museum because they contain the most visually interesting exhibits and they’re right next to each other. After buzzing by the popular exhibits and snapping your selfie with the Hope Diamond, its probably time to move on and not look back. Trust us. There are bigger fish to fry to D.C..
4) Capital Building + Library of Congress > White House: Next, make your way to the Capital Building. If you did swing by the White House earlier, try not to scream “the White House sucks compared to this!” when you see the Capital Building up close, people are sensitive about that stuff in D.C..
However, its true! The Capital Building was actually designed to appear larger-than-life and evoke a reaction of insurmountable awe. The White House was supposed to be just a house. Its meant to reinforce the idea that the President is not a king and the real rulers of democracy are the elected representatives of congress (who work in the Capital Building).
Enter in the lower level of the East side of the Capital Building; proceed through security and into the main foyer. Inquire at the desks about the free tour and stick around for the next one to begin.
After your tour concludes, follow the signs to the Library of Congress Tunnel. You’ll get to use an underground tunnel Nicholas Cage-style to walk past security and straight into the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. When you’re there, try not to have a seizure while looking at the mind-blowing architecture. Make your way upstairs to see the reading room and Thomas Jefferson’s personal collection of books.
When you exit the Library of Congress, you’ll be next to the Supreme Court Building. Follow this street north toward Union Station and await your next instructions!
5) Ride the Metro to the National Portrait Gallery: Now is your time to ride Washington D.C. subway system: the Metro. You’ll be in Union Station so purchase your rider cards and follow signs to the red line heading toward Shady Grove. Get off at the ‘Gallery Place/ China Town’ stop and bask in the loveliness of the more metro side of D.C..
You’ll see buildings, banks, offices, the Verizon Center (where the Washington Capitals and Wizards play), all the trappings of a normal city which contrast with the Romanesque government buildings and monuments you’ve been in all day. However, there is one last monument-looking building we advise you check out: the National Portrait Gallery.
Since its not on the National Mall like the other Smithsonian museums, its doesn’t get the cred that the rest of them do. However, we find the National Portrait Gallery to be the most underrated museum of them all. They always have a rotating contemporary exhibit that never fails to impress, and their timeless collection of classic paintings and sculptures will fulfill your need for fine art on this trip.
Finally, the National Portrait Gallery has an indoor atrium that is as relaxing as it is breath taking. Grab a cappuccino at the snack bar and take a moment to decompress from your whirlwind day of activities.
6) Eat at Nandos: The good advice doesn’t end there. In fact, we saved the best for last. Right around the corner from the National Portrait Gallery is a signature D.C. restaurant that will change your opinion of flame-grilled chicken forever. Nandos is an international South African restaurant chain that specializes in one thing: AMAZING CHICKEN. They only have a few locations in the world. Two of them are in Washington D.C. and the others are in England, South Africa and India.
The key here is that they marinate their chicken for 24 hours before grilling it over an open fire and serving it. At that point, its up to you to pair your divine breast of chicken with the sauce of your choice. They have an assortment of sauces that accentuate the already spellbinding flavor of your chicken. Our advice is don’t go too spicy with your sauce at first. Try the milder, garlic-infused sauces and ramp up to ones with spicy peppers. If you’re questioning if you should order a second breast of chicken, go ahead and do it. We won’t judge.