Help me plan a very short itinerary in Washington, DC
November 30, 2012 10:54 AM   Subscribe

I'll be in Alexandria, VA for two days next week for work, and have until 1 pm on the Thursday (Dec 6) free. What might I comfortably see in Washington on a Thursday morning that would allow me to be back in Alexandria by 1 pm?

I especially like art galleries and museums, and given it's the capitol I think the Capitol buildings and Library of Congress and area might be really interesting, per this one-day tour. I have also heard there's a National Spy Museum but don't know if it's any good, or doable in half a day.

I will be travelling alone and don't want to be unsafe. I am also completely unfamiliar with the area (I've been to Washington once, and we went to the zoo and walked past the Senate building, and that's it) and especially with the subway system, but am game to try it if it's a good option for the neophyte tourist (who has navigated London and NYC subway systems with little trouble).

I really can't be late for my work meeting, so I'd like to plan to lunch in Alexandria itself.

Is this realistic? What should I do?
posted by joannemerriam to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Right in Alexandria is the George Washington Masonic Memorial, which is interesting and open to the public. If you take a tour you'll get to visit each room in the big tower and take in a pretty impressive view from the top.
posted by usonian at 11:04 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Easiest bit of sightseeing to do in DC if you're coming from Alexandria and you're on a time budget is to take the Yellow Line Metro (assuming you'll be in Old Town near the King Street station) straight up to the Archives/Navy Memorial stop. It's about 20 minutes on the train, although when you're coming back around 1PM the trains will be spaced further apart so you might have to wait 15-20 minutes for a train, so plan for that.

As soon as you come out of the Archives station, you can look straight down Pennsylvania Avenue for a nice view of the Capitol building. You'll also be standing right among some of the other key buildings of the government, including the FBI building and the Department of Justice (both neat to see but no option for going inside).

From the Archives station, there's the National Archives itself, which has exhibits of the Declaration of Independence and that sort of thing, or you can go one block south to the National Mall, where you will be particularly close to the Museum of Natural History and the National Gallery of Art, but you can also go to the other Smithsonian museums which mostly line the mall. Or if you prefer, the National Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum is a few blocks north, as is the Spy Museum.

The various national museums mostly open at 10 am, although the Portrait Gallery opens later. The Spy Museum is neat, and can easily be done in a couple hours, but it's the only one of the above which isn't free, if that's a concern. The nice thing about all of the above options given your time restriction is that they're fairly close to the Archives station, so if you suddenly decide you want to head back, you probably won't have wandered too far afield. Plus the free museums have the benefit of not leaving you with the feeling of not having gotten your money's worth if you have to leave before you see everything.
posted by Partial Law at 11:28 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Traffic can be heavy and unpredictable in this area. I would recommend you stay in Alexandria and see the GW Memorial (really nice view from the top), but if you really want to go into DC, I think you should stick to visiting the outdoor memorials on the Mall. Any museum trip is going to have to be pretty abbreviated, but good museums for a quick pop in visit are the National Gallery of Art and the Sackler/Freer (Asian art). The Smithsonian Castle is also a quick trip. I would avoid the other Smithsonians given your time frame.
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:31 AM on November 30, 2012

If you have to spend money on a DC museum, you get more bang for your buck at the Newseum than at the Spy Museum, but your mileage may vary.

The Hirshhorn currently has some spectacular exhibits (Ai Weiwei and Barbara Kruger), but since they open at 10 AM, you really only have a couple of hours.

Are you free in the evenings? If so, I'd look into visiting the monuments then, either DIY or with a tour guide/company.
posted by evoque at 12:27 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

You'd have time to metro in and do any one smithsonian museum, I think. I'd recommend the natural history museum.
posted by empath at 12:46 PM on November 30, 2012

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