With careful advance planning and some determination, an awful lot can be fitted into a little over a day. And when the experiences are largely new, perception of time can feel stretched such that a single day of elapsed time can feel like many days of “normal” life in duration. For this whirlwind tour of DC I have a number of concrete things in the itinerary, with the option of some extra activities, time permitting.
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Thanks to our prompt arrival into Dulles International Airport, it’s possible to immediately exercise the option to visit the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located fifteen minutes by free shuttle bus from the airport. This is one of 19 museums in the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum, education and research complex. It’s the second site for the National Air and Space Museum, containing a number of superb exhibits which simply cannot be housed in the primary centre on the Mall in Downtown DC. With all three of us interested in aerospace, it’s a perfect place to start our sight-seeing.
Amongst the exhibits is the Discovery Space Shuttle, taking pride of place in the large rear hangar. Having completed 39 launches over its 27 years of service, it’s had more operational cycles and spent more time in space than any other space craft. It’s also famous for having carried the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit.
Around the centre of the main hangar is the Enola Gay, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, which dropped “Little Boy”, the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.
Even other prize exhibits such as an Air France Concorde and Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird pale in comparison to these two, and the museum is full of many many more exhibits.
We spend a good couple of hours exploring the exhibits before calling up an Uber for the 60 minute ride into Downtown DC, where we check-in to our hotel, the Phoenix Park. I’ve deliberately chosen this hotel as it’s located a few minutes walk from Union Station, convenient for both the evening’s trolley bus tour and also our Amtrak to New York City tomorrow.
Monuments by Moonlight
Washington is famous for its numerous monuments, celebrating former US presidents, the US military, and other figures who’ve helped shape the history of this great country. For the evening of our first day I’ve booked a “Monuments by Moonlight” tour, on an old town trolley. I’ve done this before, and know it’s excellent. The monuments are all evocatively lit at night, and the tour allows a large number of them to be seen within a relatively short amount of time. It takes around two hours, begins and ends at Union Station close to the US Capitol, and has numerous stop off points allowing you to hop off and see the monuments at close quarters.
The US Capitol Building
Day two in DC, and aided by the GMT-5 time one, we’re all awake for an early start. I’ve booked a tour of the US Capitol Building for 08:55. Like many of the other sights in the city, this tour is free.
The tour includes visiting the famous dome and several of the other chambers in the building, as well as hearing a detailed description of the building’s history. Unfortunately it’s not possible to visit the Senate Chamber today, but for any US Citizens wishing to see their Congressmen in action, the House is in session.
Each state in the union is permitted to send two statues for display in the Capitol. Typically these are of noteworthy individuals from that state. They can change over time – states are free to replace their statues – but we learn that typically takes a decade or more of deliberation and fund raising.
Library of Congress
After our tour of the Capitol we walk through a tunnel that runs a quarter mile or so to the Library of Congress. This is one of several tunnels in the area connecting the various offices of the US Legislative – there’s an underground train that members of the house and senate can take from their offices across from the Capitol.
The Library of Congress claims to be the largest library in the world, but its primary purpose is as a research library to conduct research requests from the various members and committees of the US Congress. Over 600 staff are employed to service these requests.
Museum of American History
The Museum of American History is one of eleven Smithsonian Museums on the Mall, and another one of the sights I was hoping to fit in, time permitting. Checking the time after a relaxed lunch (curry!), and we’re doing well against our schedule, so we grab an Uber to the museum. It has a number of different zones, covering themes such as cultural and political history and transportation.
It contains the original Star Spangled Banner, an exhibit of which they’re extremely protective as I get told off trying to take a photograph of it.
National Air & Space Museum
The main museum we’re planning to see is the National Air and Space Museum, also on the Mall, but it’s a mile away and the weather is so hot that we jump into another Uber. The exhibits here span several decades of aviation history, all the way back to the original Wright Brothers aircraft right through to the Apollo Space Programme and missiles from the Cold War.
On the second floor we find the Spirit of St Louis, the plane that Charles Lindbergh used to make the first non-stop Trans-Atlantic flight.
Amtrak to New York City
Our train to New York City leaves at 19:00 and is scheduled to take just under four hours for the journey of around 220 miles. We arrive back at our hotel at about 17:00 to collect bags, and eat at the Dubliner, a convenient pub adjoining the Phoenix Park.
Union Station, opened in 1907 is a very ornate affair. Fortunately our train is on time, so we don’t have to spend too long admiring the architecture.
We arrive on time, just before 23:00 and walk the five blocks north from Penn Station to the Hampton Inn, Times Square South.