Constantly reinventing itself through centuries of presidents, senators and political hopefuls, Washington DC prizes her refineries, not her extremes. Capture a slice of America from the White House and US Capitol to the Washington Monument and the Library of Congress. See the star-spangled streets during Fourth of July, and stroll through the Smithsonian's metropolis of museums. Walk along the National Mall where Martin Luther King Jr shared his dream, and kayak through Georgetown. Bring the kids to the Bald Eagle Refuge where they'll learn about the country's symbol.
Whatever you elect on your Washington DC vacation, let Orbitz cast a ballot on your itinerary. Our D.C. insiders dish the best time to go and top 10 attractions, plus reveal a declassified dossier of to-dos.
In a vibrant city like Washington DC, vacations are ideal any time of year. The city is abuzz during Cherry Blossom Festival (spring), 4th of July, and when Congress is in session (mid-September through Thanksgiving, and mid-January to June).For fewer crowds and lower hotel rates, travel between late August and early September, or after Thanksgiving into mid-January.
Weather-wise, winters can be erratic (flurries, ice storms), while falls are warm, crisp and colorful. Summers are hot and humid, but hotel rates are low from early July (after the 4th) through August. Spring showers are common, but come May D.C. comes alive with sunshine and greenery.
Put a little muscle into your sightseeing. Pedal past the monuments, rent tandem bikes, or a take a Segway tour. Kayak through Georgetown under bridges and around Roosevelt Island – better yet, book an evening paddle on the 4th of July.
The unassuming front door is easily missed, but this high-end consignment shop shouldn’t be. Climb the stairs to get to two rooms full of Manolo Blahnik, Prada, Chanel and more
Learn about the history of crime and what happens to the bad guys at this police station exhibit. Get fingerprinted, stand in a police lineup and try to pass the lie detector test. Participate in the simulated shooting range and high-speed police-chase.
Shop for farm-fresh goodies on Sundays, rain or shine. Farmers and producers sell everything from the usual suspects (fruit, veggies, breads, flowers) to fish, fruit pies, soaps and herbal products.
Drink seasonal beers and snack of pretzels with Capitol Hill staffers. The crowd is lively and the American dishes are delish.
A menagerie of cultural icons, you'll see the flag memorialized in "The Star-Spangled Banner," a Model-T Ford, Dorothy's ruby red slippers from the Wizard of Oz, Dizzy Gillespie's trumpet and a baseball autographed by Babe Ruth. Allow time for the Hands-On Science Center, where families perform their own experiments.
Discover Native American culture from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego. Nations tell their stories through dazzling gold shields, feathered regalia and pottery. Cultural interpreters present discovery carts with arrowheads, moccasins and more. Free tickets are available for timed entry -- a great way to avoid the long lines.
This massive shrine honors US heroes and veterans, buried on green hills overlooking the capital. Witness a 24-hour honor guard watch over the Tomb of the Unknowns. Walk uphill to the Arlington House, built by George Washington's grandson, near the graves of John F. Kennedy and Pierre Charles L'Enfant.
Experience the evolution of flight, chronicled through exhibits and interactive displays. See the original 1903 Wright Flyer, and let space suits, lunar vehicles and the 1,650-pound back-up mirror to the Hubble Space telescope explain the challenges and triumphs of technology. Don't miss the moon rock or the IMAX films, including "To Fly" where you'll feel like you're cruising over the planet.
View the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Search for documents recounting the Titanic and Challenger disasters, even the Watergate burglary. Read angry letters from college students protesting the Vietnam War, view declassified war plans, and create your own Oval Office seal.
Learn about bugs, bones, blue whales, jewels and more. Ogle the bling in the Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals, home of the 45.5-carat Hope diamond. The freeze-action dioramas in the renovated Behring Family Hall of Mammals depict how animals adapt and evolve. African Voices uses personal accounts, proverbs, folk tales and hundreds of objects to convey African culture. Top off your visit at the O. Orkin Insect Zoo where your kids can feed the tarantula her meal of crickets.
Snap pics of the Court's pediment and media frenzy on the southwest corner of the plaza. Arrive early to get in line -- you can hear high court debates Monday to Wednesday (April to October) and bench sittings (Mondays, mid-May to June).
Learn about the leaders that shaped the Congress, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress. View hundreds of artworks and sculptures inside the Rotunda and National Statuary Hall. Visit the Crypt, or the Senate and House Galleries when either body is in session.
Real life whodunits are the subject of this espionage museum. Learn about fictional cloak-and-dagger characters and unlikely American spy heroes like cooks who parlayed fame into fact-finding for the government. Test your mettle by discovering audio bugs as discreet as a strand of hair. Check the schedule for KidSpy Overnights, suited for kids 9 to 15 accompanied by an adult.
Queue up for a public tour to see the where the president entertains (Gold-and-White East Room), Jefferson's dining room (the Green Room), the setting of the White House Christmas tree (the Blue Room), the State Dining Room and more. Contact your Congressperson one to six months in advance for a special group tour.