American cities may be easy to navigate on foot, but not every American city caters to the walking tourist. For a lot of cities tourists count on buses, cars, and Segways to see the sights. In Washington, DC, though, even Segways have a hard time getting up close and personal with all the memorials and monuments in the area. This capital city, then, is a walker’s dream. Not only is it easy to achieve 10,000 steps simply by eating, drinking, and shopping, it is a city that can truly only be experienced on foot.
The guide below illustrates how Hubby and I strategized our time as tourists with the goal of achieving at least 10,000 steps a day. Our starting point for step calculation was the Hotel Rouge. Distance and step calculations are taken from the front door of the hotel to the meeting point of each activity. The Hotel Rouge is located at 1315 16th Street, NW in Washington, DC.
Things to do
Washington Walks Tours
Thankfully for the walking tourist there are at least a couple of tour companies devoted to seeing our nation’s capital á pied. My favorite is Washington Walks. In fact, we enjoyed their tours so much that we took four of them. Their guides are knowledgeable and friendly. The tours themselves are intimate and in-depth, filled with sights and information you can’t get from riding a bus all day. If we had been in town longer, we would have taken the other tours they offer.
Memorials by Moonlight, around the Tidal Basin
It doesn’t matter how often I go to DC, there is always something new to see or, more likely, something that changes because I have changed. As a high school student and a young adult I visited DC as a tourist. Plus, when I first graduated from college, I lived just outside of the city in Maryland for nearly a year. Many weekends were spent strolling around Georgetown, the National Mall and the National Gallery of Art. In all those trips and during all that time I had never been to the Jefferson Memorial. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, as well as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial were installed since the last time I visited (which had been a long time).
One thing hadn’t changed, though–the power of these memorials and monuments to move something deep within me, inspiring that longing for their kind of greatness, their kind of far-seeing wisdom, even as they were set in completely human bodies, with strengths and weaknesses just like the rest of us.
All of these sights, along with the George Mason Memorial, are included in the Memorials by Moonlight tour around the Tidal Basin with Washington Walks. With an exuberance of one who loves what she does, our guide Phoebe introduced us to the stories of these men who had such an impact on American history.
Washington Walks tours are $15 per person and no reservations are needed. Children under the age of 3 have free admittance.
Walking calculations: For this tour, we took the Metro on the Orange/Blue Lines from the McPherson Square station to the Smithsonian station. Walking from the hotel to McPherson Square is .7 miles or 1400 steps, one way. The tour itself was 2 hours long and we walked approximately 1 mile, or 2000 steps around the Tidal Basin from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, where the tour began, to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, where the tour ended.
Memorials by Moonlight, along the Reflecting Pool
The Reflecting Pool located in the National Mall may be getting a face lift just now, but that did not stop us from feeling the power of the memorials which sit around it. There’s the newest member, the World War II Memorial, the controversial but deeply powerful Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the equally moving Korean War Veterans Memorial. Seth, our tour guide, took us around all of these memorials, as well as the Constitution Gardens, the Vietnam Veterans Women’s Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial for this tour.
As with the other Washington Walks tours, ticket prices are $15 per person and no reservations are needed. Children under the age of 3 are admitted free of charge.
Walking calculations: For this tour, we walked to meet Seth in front of the Queen Isabella I statue on Constitution Avenue and 17th Street, NW. That walk was 1.2 miles from our hotel, which is approximately 2400 steps. The tour itself was two hours and included approximately 1 mile of walking (or 2000 steps), from one end of the Constitution Gardens and Reflecting Pool to the other. Walking back to the hotel, we walked from the Lincoln Memorial up 15th Street NW, which was about 2.5 miles, or 5000 steps.
Starting at the Metro station for Dupont Circle, we were introduced to the spirit of this neighborhood by reading the quote from a poem by Walt Whitman, which is inscribed in the surrounding wall of the Metro station:
Thus in silence in dreams’ projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night – some are so young;
Some suffer so much – I recall the experience sweet and sad…
Dupont Circle may have started out as a playground for the nouveau riche in the early twentieth century, but it became the birthplace of the gay community in our capital city. The quote above was written by Whitman after the Civil War, when he served as a nurse to dress the wounds of soldiers and provide comfort to them. The poem became symbolic, then, for those serving the men and women dying of AIDS, and how that brought together the community.
Our guide, Carolyn, took us all around this beautiful neighborhood, telling us stories of a famous architect and his murderous, crazy brother; of rich socialites whose parties outshone those of the president’s; of an 80-year-old church which was burned by arsonists and reinvented itself to serve the changing community; and of a man who single-handedly cultivated the art collection that would become the beginnings for the National Gallery of Art.
There was far more on this tour than I can share here in this one article. Some of the photos below highlight things mentioned above, as well as some of the other rich pieces of history we encountered along our tour.
As with the other Washington Walks tours, ticket prices are $15 per person, except for children under age 3, who are admitted free of charge. No reservations are needed.
Walking calculations: We met just outside the Dupont Metro station, which is located at Q Street NW and Connecticut Avenue NW. The distance from the hotel is approximately .6 miles, which is 1200 steps. The tour was two hours long and we walked all over the neighborhood, about a mile and a half, which gave us 3000 steps.
This section of town is encompassed by Dupont Circle, so part of this tour overlaps with the other tour. Still, what we learned in each was surprisingly unique. It is incredible how much could happen in one 2-mile radius!
As you can imagine, Embassy Row houses a number of embassies from all over the world. Sandwiched among them are historical homes–some of which have since become embassies and private clubs, but all of which have fascinating tales to tell, especially when told by our theatrical guide, Victoria, who happens to be an actress when she is not leading tours.
We took fewer pictures on this tour because so much of it is wrapped up in the stories which took place in the homes we encountered: Rich socialites wreaking havoc on the sanity (and pocketbooks!) of their political and entrepreneurial fathers; Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s marital quandaries; and the curse of the Hope Diamond, to name a few!
As with the other Washington Walks tours, ticket prices are $15 per person and no reservations are needed. Children under 3 years of age are admitted free of charge.
Walking calculations: We met near Dupont Circle, close to the Panera Bread restaurant, which is located on 19th Street NW. The distance from the hotel is approximately .4 miles, or 800 steps. The tour was two hours long and we walked about a mile and a half, which gave us 3000 steps.
Other Activities and Things to Do
Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is a stunning building and definitely worth exploring. We thought it would be a good idea to take a public tour provided by volunteer docents, but for us it was not a good experience. At least thirty individuals were crammed into one tour and a woman who seemed to struggle to get from one place to the next had an equally difficult time projecting her voice over the chaos of the public hallways. We ended up leaving before the tour was over with the promise to one another that we would return and, next time, take a private guide with us or explore using the Passport to Knowledge guides or the iPhone app.
Walking calculations: We walked to the McPherson Square Metro Station, which was .7 miles (or 1400 steps) from the hotel. We then took the Orange/Blue lines to the Capitol South station. From there, we walked to the Library of Congress, which was .3 miles (or 600 steps) and walked through the Library long enough to discover it was too loud and crowded to enjoy the tour. By then, we had run out of time to start a new tour, so we headed back to the hotel the way we came. Overall, I estimate we walked about 500 steps around and in the Library of Congress.
As mentioned above, Dupont Circle is the birthplace for gay activism in Washington, DC. As a result, they have a smashing Capital Pride Festival every year. We were fortunate enough to be there the last weekend of the event, but sadly, we got there too late to participate in most of the activities. Since we were staying in the Dupont Circle area, though, we were happy to share in the spirited atmosphere. We even received our own Pride beads, which we wore proudly until the festival ended the next day.
For those interested in attending the Capital Pride festivities, they occur every June, which is LGBTQ Pride month across the United States.
Walking calculations are not included here since we did not get to participate in the actual festivities.
When I go back
After reading about Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, on Traveling Chicha’s blog, it became a place I want to go to, but I ran out of time before I could do it. It seems a great way to capture the spirit of the man and the era which helped shape this country. There is a fee for entering the Mount Vernon Estate: $15 for people over 12 years old, $14 for seniors over the age of 62; and $7 for children between 6 and 11. Children under 5 years old are free. Most organized bus tours include the price of admission.
A friend of mine who spends more than half the year in Washington, DC told me this market is a Must-Do for anyone visiting the city. Not only does she shop there for fresh produce, she goes there for unique gifts and to enjoy the craftsmanship of hand-made artwork, jewelry, and crafts.
Now that you’ve seen how Hubby and I did things, share your own ways for Walking Washington, DC. Do you know of other excellent walking tours? Do you take advantage of the free entries to places like the National Gallery of Art or the Smithsonian? How do you avoid the crowds and lines? Add your favorite hints and tips in the comments section below to help others plan their future walking adventures in Washington, DC.