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White House Tours: What to Expect when You Visit January 14, 2018

The most important thing to know about White House tours is that the require serious planning. Check out our post about how to request White House tickets from your member of congress.

The second most important thing to know is what you’re going to see and what you are not. White House tours are an unguided walk and does not include the West Wing. So, unless you are friends with someone in the current presidential administration, you will not get to see the oval office, situation room, or any of the other places in the West Wing.

You got White House tickets, now what?

Once you have your confirmed reservation, make sure to review your all the paperwork you get from the White House very carefully. This paperwork will tell you exactly what to bring and also exactly what is prohibited. On the day of your assigned tour, show up on 15th Street NW at least 15 minutes before your assigned time. Photos are allowed on White House tours. However, you are not allowed to take videos.

White House security – what to expect

Security at the White House is tight. There are multiple security checkpoints before you can enter the East Wing. The first checkpoint is the name check, where you will show your photo ID and Secret Service will check your name off the reservation list. Then, you will stand in line to have your photo taken. After that, you will stand in line for the second security check where they have the airport style metal detector. You should plan to spend 30 minutes to an hour in security lines depending on how early in the day your assigned time is.

A very crucial trip hack is to use the restroom before getting in line. The White House has no public restrooms. If there is a bathroom emergency, you will have to leave the White House grounds and go through the whole security process all over again. The closest public restroom is in the White House Visitor Center at 15th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

What you see during White House tours

Once you clear security, you will enter the East Wing. Once you enter, you will see a corridor of pictures of past presidents. You will also see some photos of first families and first pets.

After that, you will be able to peek into some of the ground floor rooms like the Library, the China Room, and Vermeil Room. Unfortunately, you will not be allowed to enter any of these rooms.

After that, you will go up a floor and you can walk through the rooms on the state floor. First, there is the East Room which is the biggest room in the East Wing. The East Room is used for ceremonies, receptions, and has hosted several weddings. The Green Room is next – it is a parlor often used to serve cocktails during the reception. Then, there is the Blue Room which is where the president and first lady often receives guests. The Blue Room is where the White House Christmas tree is located. The Red Room is a small parlor and a personal favorite of some former first ladies. Finally, you will then see the State Dining Room which can host up to 130 people. Then, you will exit through the north side of the building.

How long White House tours take

Since White House tours are unguided, you can take as much time as you need to see everything. However, the average person takes 30-45 minutes. There are no tour guides. But, the Secret Service are stationed in all of the rooms and people do ask them questions. They go through special training and do their best to answer everyone’s questions.

Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

How to Get Free Tickets to the National Museum of African American History & Culture November 26, 2017

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in September of 2016. It is an amazing museum that is worth a visit on on any trip to Washington, DC. That said, it’s still very new and very popular, so unlike other museums on the National Mall, you need a free ticket if you want to go. It’s not difficult to get one but you will have to wake up early.

When are these tickets available?

Same day online passes are released every morning on the museum website at approximately 6:30am. The good news is that they are fairly easy to get. The bad news is that you have to wake up early to do it. These tickets are in high demand and they go quickly. Log on at exactly at 6:30am to make sure you don’t miss out! This is the easiest and surest way that you can see the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Certain days don’t require tickets

The National Museum of African American museum has two seasons: peak and off-peak. Peak is from March-August. Off-peak is from September-February.

During off-peak dates, you can walk up after 10am Monday-Friday and head into the museum without tickets. On peak dates, you can walk up after 1pm Monday-Friday and head into the museum without tickets. Walk-up entry is not available on Saturdays or Sundays during either peak or off-peak dates due to the high demand.

How do you get NMAAHC tickets?

The easiest way for visitors to obtain free daily passes is with a smart phone, since almost everyone will have one when they are traveling. You can also use a computer if you have one. The process is exactly the same, but on a different screen.

When you reserve passes on your phone “print at home” will be the only delivery option. This is a little misleading, as you don’t actually have to print the tickets, you can show them on your phone when you arrive. After you check out, check your email and you’ll see the tickets. Just bring those with you on your phone at your assigned time and have fun!

Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

DC Airports: a Guide to Navigating DCA, IAD and BWI November 5, 2017

There are three Washington, DC Airports – which is the best? Well, it depends. Read on to learn more.

The three airports in the Washington DC area are: Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA), Washington Dulles International (IAD) , and Baltimore-Washington International (BWI). There are pros and cons to each of these airports. Reagan National is by far the closest, just across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial. Dulles is considerably farther, about 25 miles from the National Mall and BWI is the farthest, about 35 miles away.

Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA)

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is the preferred DC airport by most locals. We love it because of the sheer convenience. In fact, this is probably one of the most convenient airports in the entire country. The airport is so close to the city that you can actually see Washington DC landmarks from your seat on the plane.

DCA Transportation

The airport is so close that you could potentially get from your gate to your hotel downtown in less than 20 minutes. Since the distance is so short cabs are really cheap. A ride downtown should cost you less than $20, even with tip. You can use Uber and Lyft here, which will probably cost around the same as a cab. However, be warned that you can spend more time just waiting for your Uber driver to pull around than the actual ride into the city. This is also the only airport with a Metro station right at the terminal and a ride downtown will cost less than $3 per person, even during rush hour.

Cost to fly to DCA

Historically you paid for the convenience of DCA in the form of higher flight fares. A lot of locals used to brag that they would happily pay higher fares to fly out of DCA rather than make a long haul out to one of the other two airports.

However a few years ago something interesting happened. For most of the 2000s, U.S. Airways was the dominant carrier at DCA. Then in 2013, they merged with American Airlines. The Justice Department ruled that as part of the merger, they had to give up some of their slots at DCA. 3 airlines: Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America (now Alaska Air) picked up those slots. The routes that they chose to operate on them often competed directly with the new American Airlines.

In the airline industry, there is nothing better for fares than a little healthy competition. So today if you’re lucky enough to live in a city that has two or more airlines competing for your business to DCAl, it might actually be the least expensive of all of the airports! Bottom line is that if the price and the times work out, prefer flying here over the other airports.

Washington Dulles International (IAD)

The second of the DC Airports is Washington Dulles International. While many people love Reagan National for its convenience, those same people often hate Dulles for its inconvenience. Dulles isn’t just far away from the city, it’s also hard to get to. The trip here from the National Mall is about five times as far as from Reagan National!

IAD Transportation

A taxi downtown will cost you about $60 – $70 plus tip. You can use Uber and Lyft at Dulles but the prices fluctuate. So, you can’t really know for sure until you arrive.

You can also consider SuperShuttle which right now costs $30 for the first person in your group and then $10 for each additional person.  But make sure to do the math because if you’re a group of four you might not actually achieve any savings over a taxi.

Eventually, Metro’s Silver Line will have a direct connection to Dulles and that will be great, but unfortunately it’s still not ready.

You take the Silver Line Express bus, which connects between the airport terminal and the Wiehle–Reston East station, which is the current end of the Silver Line. That trip will take you about an hour and a half depending on how long you have to wait for your bus and for your train. It will cost between about $9 and $11 for the two fares depending on whether you ride during rush hour or not.

Another option is to take the 5A Metrobus which is a one-seat ride from the Dulles terminal to L’Enfant Plaza in downtown DC, and from there you can take the Metro to your final destination. For now the 5A runs at 40 minute intervals during weekdays and one-hour intervals on the weekend. The bus costs $7.50 to ride, plus the Metro fare to get to your final destination. And be careful because every year it seems like Metro proposes cutting this route, so make sure to double-check before your trip to make sure that it’s still running.

International Flights to IAD

United is the biggest domestic carrier at Dulles. There are also a handful of other domestic airlines and a good number of international airlines. The biggest benefit to Dulles is the number of international non-stop destinations. So if you are traveling internationally from Washington, DC you don’t have to make an extra stop before continuing on. If you do find a cheap flight to Dulles, double check and do the math. Make sure that with the ground transportation, it actually is a good deal.

Baltimore Washington International (BWI)

Baltimore Washington International or BWI is technically the airport for Baltimore. In 1973 they decided to rename it to Baltimore-Washington in order to attract people who live in or traveling to Washington, DC. It is the biggest of the three airports by passenger count, which makes sense since it is an airport that’s serving two major cities.

BWI Transportation

A cab ride from BWI will cost you about $90 plus tip. Uber and Lyft is available here as well. If you hire a ride, it will take you about 40 minutes to an hour to get downtown in ideal conditions. However, during rush hour it could take much longer because traffic on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway can be brutal. SuperShuttle is available here but to get to DC it costs $41 per person. So, it is really only economical if you’re a solo traveler.

One big benefit of BWI over Dulles is that even though they’re both far away, there’s a train station at BWI. There is a free shuttle to take you to the train. From the BWI train station, you can take the MARC commuter train into DC for about $8. You can also take an Amtrak train for about $16. There’s also a metro bus called The B30. This will take you to the Greenbelt station at the end of the Green Line. Then,you can ride Metro to get into the city. The B30 costs $7.50 plus your Metro fare, so the total cost will be somewhere between $11 and $13.

The B30 is more useful for airport employees than travelers. It winds up costing more than the MARC train. It is also slower and less convenient. However, if your final destination is somewhere on the Green Line then it could actually make more sense. Metro frequently proposes cutting this bus route. So, please double check before your trip to make sure that it’s still running.

Cost to fly to BWI

BWI historically had a reputation for being the cheapest airport in the area. That is because its primary carrier is Southwest. So there’s a lot of advice floating around on the internet that says to fly to BWI because you can get cheap Southwest flights. However, these days that advice might not hold anymore. Southwest has approximately 75% of the total domestic market share at BWI. That means that most of their routes are operating with zero competition.

Now, there are some routes like Boston, Atlanta, or Las Vegas where you can get some amazingly cheap fares. In other cases, it might actually be cheaper to fly on Southwest into DCA since they are competing directly with American Airlines. Bottom line is: always just check all three airports when you’re planning your trip. Make sure to confirm for yourself that you are getting the best deal. BWI might still be your best option, just don’t blindly assume that it is.

Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

How to use Capital Bikeshare in Washington DC September 24, 2017

Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC is a great way to get around the city. However, if you’ve never used the system before there is a bit of a learning curve. Don’t worry! You will be riding like a pro in no time.

How much does it cost?

Unfortunately, the pricing is not entirely straightforward if you never used a bike sharing system like this before. The cost to ride is the membership fee plus the usage fee.

Let’s talk about the membership fee first, which you can think of as the fee you pay to get access to the bikes. There are a few membership options. Right now you can pay $2 for a single ride, $8 for twenty four-hour membership, $17 for a three-day membership, or $85 for a one-year membership. For a typical visitor any of the first three will work just fine.  

Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC also has a usage fee, which is what you pay based on how long you keep the bike checked out. This is where it starts to get confusing for some people. If you check out a bike, ride it around, and return it to a dock within thirty minutes, then you pay no additional fee. However, if you ride your bike for longer than 30 minutes, you pay $2 for the first half hour, then an additional $4 for the next half hour, Then an additional $8 for each half hour that you keep the bike checked out. So if you take a bike, ride around for three hours and ten minutes, and then return it, you’ll pay $38 in usage fees, plus the membership fee that you already paid when you started.

To avoid getting up charged it is imperative that you keep each of your rides to 30 minutes or less. Use Capital Bikeshare to get from point A to point B. Use a regular rental bike for joyriding around Washington DC.

How to check-out a Capital Bikeshare bike at a kiosk

When you’re ready to ride, approach the kiosk at any station and press the “rent a bike” button. The first thing it will ask you to do is swipe your credit card. After that, it’s going to show you a warning about the usage fees. You can click yes to accept since you’re now well versed now about how that works.

Then you pick what kind of membership you want to buy. You can take either one or two bikes per credit card, but if you select two you will pay double. If you have a gift certificate, you can enter it on this screen, but most visitors probably won’t.

It’s going to give you a summary of the transaction and the initial price. Press OK when you’re ready. The next two screens are where you enter the phone number and billing zip code associated with your credit card. After that you’ll confirm that you’re 18 years or older. Finally, you’ll have to read the terms of service, click OK when you’re finished.

Next you’ll be given the choice to either view the bike code on the screen or print a receipt with the code on it. If you have a good memory you can view it. Otherwise you can print it. Take your code to any bike, enter it on the keypad and once you get the green light you’re ready to go. It is easiest to pull the bike out if you lift up under the seat and then pull back.

When you’re done with your bike bring it back to the dock and push it hard to return it. If the return was successful you’ll get the green light and a pleasant beep. If you get a red light and a loud buzz you need to try again.

Are helmets required for Capital Bikeshare?

No. If you are an adult you do not legally need a helmet to ride a bike in the District of Columbia. But, helmets are strongly recommended. Remember that if you want to use a helmet you do need to bring your own.

Tip: avoid being penalized for a late return

If you arrive at a dock and it’s completely full, you can go to the kiosk and press the “time credit” button then swipe your credit card. This will give you an additional 15 minutes to find another dock without charging you for the time.

Use common sense when using Capital Bikeshare

Treat the bikes like you would treat your own bike. Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do back home. For example, don’t ditch your Capital Bikeshare bike when you’re going to run into a store or a coffee shop or to go look at the Lincoln Memorial. You might not think that anyone would want to steal one of these bikes but if they do you’re going to be on the hook for $1,200. That is not worth the risk.  

Use the Capital Bikeshare App

The Capital Bikeshare app lets you control your entire Capital Bikeshare experience. You can use the app to buy a pass, check out a bike, and do everything else on Capital Bikeshare without ever having to visit a kiosk.

What happens when you use Capital Bikeshare app for the first time?

When you launch the Capital Bikeshare app for the first time, it pulls up a splash screen and gives you two options. These are “get a pass” or “login”. If this is your first time you’ll click “get a pass”. Then the app will give you a choice of which type of pass you want. You can do the single trip, 24-hour pass, three-day pass, 30 day or annual membership. After you decide it gives you some basic information about how the system works.  

Create a Capital Bikeshare Account

Once you’ve selected your pass options you will need to create your account and enter your phone number. Then you’ll have to create a password. Now you have to enter your name, birth date, and gender. After that it will give you a summary of your purchase. Then you will see the liability waiver. Make sure you read the entire thing and then click agree. Finally we get to the rental agreement, read it and agree.

You have to pay for your Capital Bikeshare rides so this is where you need to enter your credit card information.

Use the Capital Bikeshare app to unlock your bike

Once you start using the app you will never need to visit a Capital Bikeshare kiosk again. Use the map in the app the select the station where you are located, click the little pin, and then “unlock bike”. Just like the kiosk, the app will give you a numeric code that you can enter on the keypad to unlock a bike. When you’re ready to return the bike just push back into the dock. The app will actually give you a push notification to confirm that it worked.

Do we recommend Bikeshare?

For many visitors, the answer is yes. Biking is a great way to get around the city. That said, Capital Bikeshare isn’t always the best option. If you have kids in your group, Capital Bikeshare isn’t an option. If you want to keep the bike checked out for a long period of time, Capital Bikeshare would get very expensive. And if you need a lock, helmet or other accessories, you will have to bring your own, because Capital Bikeshare doesn’t provide them.

However, don’t worry. There are rental bike companies in DC that cater to families with kids, have daily pricing and rent helmets and all the other accessories. Don’t think you can’t ride a bike in DC just because Capital Bikeshare isn’t for you.

Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

How many days you need for a Washington, DC trip September 17, 2017

You are planning to visit Washington, DC. Awesome! How many days do you need to see everything in DC? Well, the truth is, it’s impossible to see everything. But don’t worry, you can still do a ton of fun stuff, whether you’re here for a week or a weekend.

Let’s get this out of the way first: a single day is not enough. One day is simply not enough time and likely you’ll leave exhausted and disappointed by all the things that you missed out on. Don’t try to see Washington, DC on a layover between flights, or because it’s you’re on the east coast visiting another city. Plan a proper trip here. It’s worth it!

How much time it takes to see the monuments and memorials

When you come here for the first time you will want to see the monuments: Lincoln, Jefferson, World War II, and all the others. The monuments tours that Trip Hacks DC offer covers all the major monuments the National Mall. It takes about three total hours. If you’re self guiding your own monuments tour, plan to spend between three and five hours.

How much time it takes to see Smithsonian and other museums

When it comes to museums, the thing that you have to understand is that Smithsonian museums are huge. They are massive. If you are a history buff or an art lover you could spend an entire day in just a single museum. The Smithsonian has said that the average “dwell time” is about two hours at each of their museums. If you spent two hours at each of our museums it would take literally days just to hit them all.

There are a bunch of other great free museums that are not part of the Smithsonian. A few examples are the National Gallery of Art, Botanic Garden, and the Holocaust Museum. Even if they are not officially museums, the National Archives, the Library of Congress and the Bureau of Printing and Engraving are great too. You’re looking at at least a couple hours of piece for each of those.

How much time it takes to see the federal sights

If it’s your first time in DC, you will want to see the Capitol and take a tour. Hopefully, you can get a gallery pass or a floor pass. The Capitol tour takes about an hour and then you can budget another hour on top of that for the other stuff. If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll probably want to take them up to the National Zoo. This can last between anywhere from a few hours to an entire day.

If you want to go to Arlington National Cemetery and do a proper tour you’re looking at another three hours at least. A lot of visitors also want to go to Georgetown, which could be another half a day.

How many days do you really need to see all of this stuff?

You need to consider whether this is going to be the only chance you’ll have in your lifetime to visit Washington, DC or if you might come back for a future trip. If you’re only going to visit here once, either because you’re from out of the country and don’t think you’ll ever be back, you should plan to spend five to seven days here. That amount of time will give you a chance to see and do most of what you really want and not feel like you missed out.

If you live nearby or you think that you might come back to DC again in the future then a weekend trip of three days long should be fine. That will let you see all of your top choices and it will let you save a few things for your next trip. 

Tip: Don’t overplan your trip

A good Washington, DC itinerary should leave some slack and should not be planned down to the minute. Sometimes, things take longer than you expect or you discover something really cool after you’ve gotten here. 

One of the biggest mistakes that tourists make is that they overplan their trip or try to pack too much into a really small amount of time. At some point it’s more exhausting than enjoyable. Of course overplanning is not a unique problem to DC. However, we have so many free things to do that people do try to plan in more things than they would if they had to pay. Spending more time here and planning less into your trip will give you a better experience.

Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

Washington DC with Kids: Five Tips for Visiting August 27, 2017

Washington, DC is a great family friendly travel destination! These are our five to tips and things to do in DC when you visit Washington, DC with kids.

 1. National Zoo 

The National Zoo is a fantastic place to bring a family. In addition to the pandas and the elephants, which are the fan favorites, there are some other really cool and often overlooked exhibits. The National Zoo has a farm just for kids, as well as the Amazon room which has some of the biggest fish you will ever see. The sea lions also often put on a great show for the children and there is also a splash pad where they can run around and have fun.

2. Take a duck tour or go out on a boat

DC Ducks is a tour of DC by both land and water. The tour uses an amphibious vehicle that drives around the National Mall and then it goes down to a marina. You get in the water and the tour shows you the sights from the river. Once you’re in the water, the captain will let the kids drive the boat and that’s a really fun feature.

For older kids, you can check out a kayak or canoe from the Georgetown or the Ballpark boathouses and see the sights from the water. There are no specific age rules about kids going out in a kayak or canoe, so if you think your kids can handle it and can fit into a life jacket, then go for it!

3. Take the kids to a museum

Washington, DC has a ton of museums and they’re almost all family-friendly. But some of them are definitely better for kids. One important thing to remember about these museums is that they are great educational opportunities. But They do require a lot of walking and a lot of reading. Kids tend to get worn out more quickly than the adults. A few of our favorites include:

National Postal Museum

Make sure to check out the underrated National Postal museum. It is rarely crowded and it’s off the National Mall – right next to Union Station They have one of the biggest and best stamp collections in the entire country. So, if your kid is a collector or you want to get them into a hobby, it is a great chance to show them what stamp collecting is like.

Museum of the American Indian

If you have small kids consider a museum that has a dedicated play space for children. Fortunately, there are a number of them in DC. The Museum of the American Indian has a great kids play area. Your kid can kayak, skateboard, and even build an igloo.

National Portrait Gallery

In the National Portrait Gallery, there is an exhibit now that’s hosted by a museum that is coming to DC student called Explore. Explore is going to be a dedicated Children’s Museum in DC when it opens. This little exhibit, for now, showcases what their museum will be about.

Kogod Courtyard

The Kogod Courtyard is great for kids as well. This is located between the Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum. This gallery has a little water feature and it has coffee to keep the parents energized. So, it is the perfect place to sit let your kids run around, relax and enjoy a beverage.

4. Spray parks and splash paths

These are particularly good in the summer months. When it gets really hot and you just want to go someplace cool down take your kids and let them run around in one of these. DC has so many spray parks. Although, there are some that are definitely better than others. For out-of-town guests and residents alike, we recommend the Yards Park. There is a shallow wading pool and a waterfall as well as small fountains for the younger kids.

5. Places to eat with kids

Washington, DC has such a huge diversity of restaurants that there is something for everybody. However, you don’t want to take your kids to expensive restaurants with white tablecloths. And you probably don’t want to be stuck eating pizza and hamburgers all week either. We have two recommendations for more unique foods that are great for kids.

Ethiopian Restaurants

DC has a huge Ethiopian population and as a result a ton of Ethiopian restaurants. The reason these restaurants are kid friendly is because you eat with your hands and everybody gets a little messy. Kids will find it fun and adults will also love that they are traveling to new culture without leaving the country. That is a great opportunity to introduce your kids to a new cuisine, especially if you don’t have Ethiopian food back home.

Ramen Places

Ramen is great as well. No, we are not talking about those cheap packets you may remember from college. A great ramen restaurant is called Bantam King. Ramen is great for kids because it’s noodles and kids love noodles! Ramen is also a big foody trend right now.

Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

Washington DC Metro Fares, Explained August 20, 2017

The Washington DC Metro may seem complicated to Washington, DC visitors. However, it is actually quite simple once you get the hang of it.

How do Washington DC metro fares work?

The Washington DC Metro seems like a really confusing fare system. What you pay depends on how far you travel and whether it’s peak time or not. The longer the distance, the higher the fare. Peak periods roughly coincides with rush hour. It’s from open to 9:30 in the morning and 3:00 to 7:00 in the afternoon every weekday. And it’s worth noting that this applies to when you tap into the system, not when you tap out. This is often why you’ll see people standing around at 6:55 in the afternoon.

For example, say you’re starting at Metro Center during an off-peak hour and riding the Silver Line towards Virginia. If you ride one stop to McPherson Square you’ll pay the minimum fare: $2.00. In fact you can ride as far as Rosslyn and still only pay the minimum fare. Then the fare starts increasing, $2.10 for Court House, $2.25 for Clarendon, and it keeps going up until you hit the maximum fare of $3.85 at McLean.  So, you can go all the way to the end of the line for $3.85.

But of course that’s only during off-peak hours. If you ride during peak hours then the price goes up across the board, as high as $6.00 if you ride all the way to Wiehle–Reston East. It’s a good idea to avoid peak hours if you can. However, it is understandable that they make up about 40% of a total weekday. So, it’s not always completely reasonable to avoid them entirely.

Should I buy a 1-day or 7-day Washington, DC Metro pass?

For a typical tourist using the Washington DC Metro, your options in 2018 are: a 1-day pass for $14.75, a 7-day unlimited pass for $60.00, and a seven-day short ride pass for $38.50. The short ride pass only covers you for rides of up to $3.85 each (which is basically all non-peak fares and short peak fares).

So unfortunately, there is no universal answer to this question and you need to evaluate your own situation, figure out how many days are going to spend in DC, and how often you’re going to be planning on riding Metro.

The 1-day pass is almost never a good deal for anybody. But the 7-day pass could be a good deal if you are going to spend a decent amount of time in town and you’re going to be riding the Metro at least twice every day. Otherwise, it’s just easier to pay per ride and top up your SmarTrip card as you need to.

Should I order my SmarTrip card online before my trip?

The answer to this one is “no” with a few exceptions. In the past, you could only buy SmarTrip cards at a limited number of Washington DC Metro stations, from a limited number of vending machines ,or you had to go to a place like CVS to get one. It was a real pain.

Now, you can get a SmarTrip card at any Metro station so the transnational pain is mostly gone. If you buy a SmarTrip card online, you have to order it far enough in advance to make sure that you receive it before you leave for your trip. However,if you buy it too far in advance and then forget that you have it and don’t pack it, then you basically just bought an expensive souvenir.

There are a few exceptions. The first is if you want a commemorative SmarTrip card. They have these, for example, for the inauguration every four years, when a new museum opens and for our sports teams.

The other exception is if you want to use it to ride the bus but don’t really think you’re going to be riding the Metro. So for example if you want to ride the MetroBus from Dulles airport or BWI, and you don’t want to mess around with cash, then, you could order your SmarTrip online and have it loaded up and ready to go.

Coming to Washington DC, and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

National Mall Tips and Travel Hacks August 13, 2017

The National Mall is a must-see for most Washington, DC visitors. These are six of our favorite National Mall tips and travel hacks.

1. Use the Circulator bus to cool down and recharge

Circulator bus is a great method of transportation. It will take you around to the museums, the monuments, and memorials. On a summer day it’s also a chance to get out of the hot sun and into the air conditioning. When the National Mall route launched in 2015, Circulator purchased some new buses and upgraded the fleet. Many new buses include USB ports to charge your devices. Make sure to look for the USB ports under the seat if your battery is low. Unfortunately some of the older buses do not have them.

2. Use the ‘back doors’ at the museums

Most museums on the National Mall have two sets of doors. One set that face the grassy National Mall and another that face either Constitution or Independence Avenues. Museum security can get hectic. Every Smithsonian museum on the Mall will have a metal detector or a person who searches through your bag. Charter buses only unload on the National Mall side of the museums, so when you’re behind a big group who’s just arrived it’s often quicker and easier to swing around to the other side of the museum. It’s not guaranteed that it’s going to be faster, but during peak school group tour season in the spring, this can save you valuable time.

3. See a Hollywood movie

The Smithsonian has a lot of amazing assets. But one that is often underrated is the IMAX theater at the Air and Space Museum. The Air and Space Museum has a program called ‘Sci-Fi Sundays’ where they pick a Sci-Fi movie and play it on the big IMAX. However, what really gets people excited is that when there’s a big Hollywood blockbuster made for IMAX. A few movies that have been shown in the IMAX theater include Interstellar, Arrival, and Star Wars: A Force Awakens. So if you’re going to be in DC and want to see a Sci-Fi film, check to see if Air and Space has it.

4. Use metro stations other than Smithsonian

There are a lot of Metro stations closer to attractions on the National Mall than the one called Smithsonian. In fact, the Smithsonian stop isn’t even the closest to all of the museums! The closest Metro station to the Lincoln Memorial is Foggy Bottom. The nearest station to the White House is McPherson Square. The closest station to the National Archives is Archives. The nearest station to the Air and Space Museum is L’Enfant Plaza. The closest station to the American Indian Museum is Federal Center Southwest. And the closest station of the Capitol is Capitol South.

5. Walk to Arlington National Cemetery

The Metro map is a useful tool but is not drawn to scale. In the case of Arlington National Cemetery, the map makes it look like it isn’t close to anything. The reality is that it’s actually a fairly short walk from the Lincoln Memorial. You don’t necessarily need to ride the blue line around to Arlington National Cemetery station.

The walk from the steps of Lincoln to the Smithsonian station is 1.2 miles. The walk from the steps of Lincoln to the gate of Arlington cemetery is only 1.0 miles. In fact if you swing around to the back of the Lincoln Memorial you will clearly see the cemetery in the distance. So if you want to go to Arlington and you’re already on the Mall, you don’t need Metro. You can walk.

6. See the monuments in the evening

The National Mall is busiest every day between about noon and 3:00 p.m. which is unfortunate because that is the hottest and most humid time of day; which is especially true in summer. Locals know that one of the best National Mall tips is to see the monuments and memorials in the evening. Not only is it cooler and less crowded, but the monuments take on a whole different feel once the sun goes down. For example people say that the soldiers at the Korean War Memorial Become like ghosts. Plus you can’t come to Washington DC and not see the World War II Memorial after dark lit up in all of its glory.

Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today!Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

National Zoo in DC: 6 tips for your visit August 6, 2017

These are six of our top tips for visiting the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC. One of the best things about visiting the National Zoo is that unlike other zoos in the United States this one is completely free. It might not be the biggest or grandest zoo in America, but this zoo definitely packs a punch!

1. Don’t drive or park at the National Zoo

Regular parking right now costs over $20 per visit. Not only is it expensive but spaces are extremely limited. Even if you are willing to pay, if you show up on a really busy day there might not be anywhere for you to go!

A much better option for getting to the National Zoo is to take the Metro‘s red line. A bonus hack for this is to always walk downhill. When traveling to the National Zoo, use the Cleveland Park station, you’ll walk downhill to get to the zoo entrance. When you leave the zoo, walk downhill to get to the Woodley Park station. This is especially handy if you are traveling with strollers. Nobody wants to push those up a big hill!

2. Use free shuttles to get around the National Zoo

Most visitors don’t realize until they arrive, but the National Zoo is actually built on a huge hill. So, when you are walking around in the zoo to get from exhibit to exhibit you’re actually walking up and down hill the entire time. Make sure to pack comfortable walking shoes!

The National Zoo runs a shuttle throughout the day. So if you’re at the bottom of the hill, and you’re tired, just wait at one of the shuttle bus stops and let a bus drive you back to the top of the hill. The zoo shuttle is completely free.

3. Know where to park your stroller

If you are visiting the National Zoo with kids you will probably have at least one stroller. A stroller makes things super easy because you can pack everything you need in it. There are exhibits that encourage you to leave your stroller outside. We recommend you have another small bag with all of your valuable items so, you just take with you as you leave your stroller at the designated stroller parking.

4. Skip the zoo food

Food at the National Zoo has improved tremendously over the past few years, but the best places to eat are outside the zoo. If you’re organized you can bring your own lunch and or eat at restaurants nearby like Nando’s or Duke’s Counter. Duke’s located right across the street on Connecticut Avenue from the front gate of the National Zoo and is a great place for lunch. There are about ten restaurants located on Connecticut Avenue near the zoo so there are plenty of options.

5. Visit the National Zoo early in the morning

Unlike Smithsonian museums that are located on the National Mall which open at 10:00 a.m., the National Zoo is actually opens early. The grounds open at 8 a.m. and the exhibits open at 9 a.m. One of the great things about getting there early is that it’s usually cooler in the morning and the animals are more active in the morning hours than they are in the afternoon.

If you want to see animals, we definitely recommend going at dawn or at dusk. Midday is hot and its when the animals take their naps. One good thing about visiting the National Zoo during the summer though is there are misters throughout the zoo that are super fun for kids. There is also a splash pad that’s easy to miss. Check it out near the sea lion exhibit.

6. Check out the special events

The National Zoo hosts special events throughout the year. The best known is ZooLights which takes place every year between about Thanksgiving and January 1st. ZooLights is great because it gives you a chance to see the zoo at night. It is all lit up, it’s beautiful, it’s also cold. So, bring hand warmers, and maybe a thermos of cocoa.

The Zoo also has events like Breakfast at the Zoo in September and have Boo at the Zoo in October. You can trick or treat at the National Zoo. This is definitely an experience you’re not going to want to miss if you’re around for it.

Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

DC Buses: Hop On Hop Off vs Public Transportation July 17, 2017

Are hop on hop off buses worth it? Are regular city buses better? We are going to compare hop on hop off buses to the public buses here in Washington, DC. The three factors that we are going to compare them on are: price, frequency of service, and the information that you get on the ride.

There are actually several public transit agencies in the Washington DC metro area. If you’re staying downtown you’ll probably notice just two buses: the Metrobus and Circulator.

Metro Bus

Metrobus is run by WMATA, the same people who run MetroRail. They have routes all over the Washington, DC metro area.  It’s probably the most similar to the Regional Transit Agency that your own city might have.

DC Circulator

Circulator is run by the DC Department of Transportation, and it has routes almost exclusively in DC. If you do use the public bus when you visit, it will probably be the Circulator. There are very convenient routes around the National Mall, Georgetown, Dupont Circle, and other popular tourist destinations.

Hop on,Hop Off Buses

Hop on hop off buses, on the other hand, are run by private bus operators. They are called hop on hop off buses to distinguish them from the more standard sightseeing buses, where you might drive around and see the sights from your seat.

Hop on hop off buses are priced in a way where you typically pay for a one-day or a two-day pass and then get unlimited rides during that time period. There are at least four different hop-on hop-off tour operators in Washington DC right now. They all have slightly different routes and slightly different pricing, but they more or less offer the same service.

Pricing

Each of the hop on hop off DC buses have their own pricing. The one-day pass options that hop on hop off buses offer usually is in the $30-$40 range, with the two-day pass usually in the $50-$60 range.

On the other hand, you can ride the Circulator right now for $1 per Ride. The Metrobus is for $2 per ride. You can pay for the public buses using your SmarTrip card, which also works on the Metro. It is really cheap transportation. So in the price category, we are going to say that the public buses are the clear winner.

Frequency of Service

The DC buses all run on different frequency of service.

Circulator advertises that all buses on all routes will run every 10 minutes. However, from experience, it doesn’t always work out that way.

The hop on hop off buses vary depending on the company and the route. They advertise frequencies of one bus every approximately 20 to 40 minutes. Another thing to keep in mind is the operating hours for these services. The hop on hop off buses end every day around 5 or 6 p.m. The Circulator’s National Mall route ends at 8 p.m. during the summer season. During the winter season at 7 p.m.

Another thing about the Circulator is that you can download the NextBus app on your phone or just navigate to nextbus.com from your mobile browser. It will show you an estimate for the amount of time you have to wait at the stop where you’re standing and you can look at a map of every bus on the route. So, that there is no guessing about where a bus is or how long you’re going to have to be standing there. With longer hours and more frequent service, the public bus is the winner in this category too.

Tourist Information

Information is where these two types DC buses really start to split apart. Public buses are transportation. There’s no tour guide and you can’t expect to get any information about where you’re going or what you’re seeing. If you’re not going to sign up for a walking tour or a bike tour or anything other guided experience, then you might actually find it valuable to pay extra for a hop-on hop-off to get this information.

Some of the hop-on hop-off bus routes have live narration, which is exactly what you want. Steer clear of any bus company that only uses a recording. The one exception to this is if you want the tour in another language, in that case a recording might be the better bet. In any case the winner in this category is obviously the hop on hop off bus.

Our Recommendation

If you just want transportation between the monuments, the memorials Georgetown, and some of the other very popular tourist destinations, check out the Circulator. If you want a narrated tour, but you don’t want to sign up for a walking tour or anything else on the ground, then a hop on hop off might be worth it.

The most important thing is to do your research in advance and make sure that the hop on hop off company that you pick has routes that go to the places that you want to go, and has a live tour guide and not a recording.

Coming to Washington DC, and want to book a tour?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips,  tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites.  Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today!Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

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