Half Day Activities

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Harper’s Ferry

A popular day trip from Washington DC is a trip to Harper’s Ferry. Located in West Virginia, Harpers Ferry is the historic site of John Brown’s attempt to incite a slave riot. Although the attempt was unsuccessful, the town remains a memorable site for this reason and many others. The Gettysburg National Park and Antietam National Battlefield are both located nearby and are favorites for touring, as well. Mother Seton’s Shrine and the Rose Hill Manor are also popular attractions in Harpers Ferry. Take day trips by car to Harper’s Ferry, Manassas, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg battlefields; Monticello/Charlottesville, Williamsburg. Two to three hours in transit time for these locations. Grayline tours offers trips in season, late March-mid October.


Washington DC day trips for travelers interested in checking out the famous Smithsonian Museum can center on the enormous museum and all of the thousands upon thousands of artifacts housed in its archives. Although this may take much of a day, travelers can also visit the nearby Hirshhorn Museum Sculpture Garden, the National Air and Space Museum, and National Archives on their Washington DC day tours. Washington DC day tours can also continue along to the International Spy Museum, if you still have energy left from the busy day.

Explore the famous sights in our nation's capital

Washington, D.C. is infuriating! No, not the politics ... well, that too ... but the vast scope of the place. Truth be told, it would take several weeks of devoted gawking to take in all of the famous monuments, museums, and governmental institutions here. And you’d still miss a couple. And a new monument or two would be erected while you were checking off your list, forcing you to start again at the beginning. But isn’t that just the way it always goes in D.C.? There’s so much to be accomplished here in too little time, with the ground shifting every minute. Resign yourself to the fact that you won’t be able to see it all, and simply enjoy the following history - (and politics)-rich itinerary:

7 am - 8 am:  Though it may seem odd to have breakfast in a Tavern, Tunnicliff’s is where Capitol Hill insiders go for their power breakfasts. Keep your ears open and you may hear discussions about the latest lobbying scandals, the fate of important bills or juicy gossip about the foibles of your congressperson. You’ll want to keep your mouth open too, the better to inhale the hearty, simple but well-prepared breakfast standards that the friendly folks here dish out daily.

8 am - noon: As early in the day as possible, head to the Capitol to snag a coveted (and often scarce) ticket for a tour. Beyond its law-making function, the capital has transformed into a museum of sorts over the years, and on the tour you’ll see the grandly patriotic murals that adorn its walls; the statues of great Americans (perhaps put here in the hopes that gazing upon Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Ethan Allen and others every day will help keep our legislators minds on patriotism and off pork); and the historic rooms of the building itself, including the Old Supreme Court Chamber. That latter space has been returned to the look it had in the 19th century when John Marshall, John Jay and others held the gavel. What the tour doesn’t cover are the galleries of the House and Senate, so you’ll want to scurry over to the office of your Representative once you get your tour ticket (it’ll be closer to the ticket kiosk than the Senate office buildings) to get gallery passes allowing you to hear the debate in both the House and Senate (you’ll need one pass for each). Flags will be flying over the Senate Wing and the House Wing when those two bodies are in session; glance up to see if you’re in luck, or pick up a copy of the Washington Post which lists session dates and times. If Congress is not in session, combine your tour of the Capitol with a visit to the nearby Supreme Court. Again, it’s much more interesting to visit when arguments are being heard, but displays on the court’s history and importance should keep you occupied even if the court is not in session.

Morning Alternative: Soar above all the politicking with a visit to the National Air and Space Museum. Exhilarating is the word that best describes this Smithsonian Institution dedicated to the history of flight, both inside and outside of our ozone layer. Overwhelming might be another good word for it, as you could literally spend a week touring this densely packed museum and not see all its wonders. So choose carefully: are you more interested in space exploration? Then make your way to the Skylab Orbital Station, the Albert Einstein Planetarium and the Explore the Universe gallery. If engineering’s more your thing, take a gander at the How Things Fly Exhibit which explores wind tunnels, issues of propulsion and aerodynamics.

Noon - 1 pm: It’s hard to swallow (sometimes literally), but true: there are no great or even very good restaurants in the Mall. Since you’ll be sightseeing here and have a limited amount of time to get everything in, bite the bullet, er the hot dog, and simply head to either the nearest cafeteria in the building you’re visiting (ask a guard for directions), or out into the Mall to buy your lunch from one of the food vendors there.

1 pm - 5 pm: Stroll the Mall, the nation’s extremely formal and impressive “back yard”. A logical route might start at the relatively new Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, (which is not on the mall property but nearby), after which you’ll hit the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, Maya Lin’s celebrated Vietnam War Veterans Memorial and the controversial World War II Memorial (many critics think this new memorial is old-fashioned and just plain ugly; decide for yourself). Next will be the Washington Monument, but don’t spend the time to ascend to the top (you get a better Mall view from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial). If you’re not too pooped—this will be a long walk, finish your hike at the Jefferson Memorial. Rangers are on duty at each, and give periodic talks; if you miss the formal tours, you can usually coral one of these friendly, extremely knowledgeable fellows to toss a few facts your way.

Afternoon Alternative: Pay your respects at Arlington National Cemetery, the nation’s most important cemetery and a quick half-day trip from Washington, D.C. John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame is here, as is the Tomb of the Unknown soldier which is patrolled by an honor guard (a ceremonial changing of the guard takes place every hour from October to March and every half hour from April to September). In addition, you’ll find the graves of a number of famous generals, presidents, Supreme Court justices, and others. Notable sights include Arlington House, the Greek Revival Mansion that Confederate General Robert E. Lee called home until the Civil War; and the fairly new (1997) Women in Military Service for America Memorial.

6 pm - 7:45 pm: Make a reservation (far in advance) at CityZen, D.C.’s premiere see and be seen scene. Helmed by Eric Ziebold, formerly Chef de Cuisine at the famed French Laundry (considered the best restaurant in America), it’s a bold, adventurous, ultra-gourmet eating experience where you’re likely to be challenged by such dishes as liver “sashimi” and olive oil “custard”. Don’t worry, it’s all delicious, including the more standard fare on the tasting menu.

8 pm - 10:00 / 11:00 pm: Hightail it to the theater. Washington, D.C. has had a love affair with live performances since, well, long before Lincoln’s death made the Ford’s Theater a landmark of infamy. Quirky, off-beat and often highly intellectual, the smaller theaters of Washington in particular are setting a national standard. When you arrive, find out what’s on at either Wooly Mammoth Theater Company, Arena Stage or the Studio Theater.

11 pm - on: Washington no longer rolls up the sidewalks when the clock strikes midnight. You can bar hop or dance the night away in dozens of joints across town. Hottest right now is an aviation-themed club called the Fly Lounge (the cocktail waitresses dress like stewardesses), which gets a beautiful people crowd who come for the first-rate DJ’s and ... well, each other. Dress up: the bouncers here take their jobs seriously and the place is quite small. 

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