Washington, D.C. is a hub for political, nonprofit organization and business activity; it’s also well-loved destination for tourists, not to mention the visitors who come to see friends and family. As a D.C. resident, I know the experience of visiting Washington can be expensive, confusing and exhausting. So, to out-of-town TransparencyCamp 2013 visitors next month, let me give you some of the tips I share with friends and family to make your visit as enjoyable and productive as possible. But double-check the decisions you make; we offer these suggestions without warranty and with the understanding that there are many good ways to visit Washington.
Assuming you don’t already have a place to crash, your first decision – after registering for TransparencyCamp and making transportation plans – is finding a place to stay.
TCamp will take place at the Marvin Center on the campus of the George Washington University at 21st and H streets NW.
There are quite a number of nearby hotels, including the Best Western Georgetown and the Melrose Georgetown. Check out Washington.org for more hotel recommendations, often with special rates, from the District’s convention and visitors bureau.
You can look across the Potomac in Virginia for additional (and sometimes less expensive) hotel options that are just a short Metro ride away from the Foggy Bottom-GWU station, on the Orange and Blue lines. The Dupont Circle-Rosslyn Circulator bus ($1) is also a good way to reach Rosslyn, via Georgetown. So scout out:
- Rosslyn (home of the Key Bridge Marriott and the Holiday Inn Rosslyn at Key Bridge), or
- Crystal City (see hotels for the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) for hotels.
Looking for alternatives? AirBnB and other hosting services are one option. Hostels (one listing service) are another; the HI Downtown hostel probably being the most convenient for participants, using the Union Station-Georgetown Circulator bus.
Getting from the airport, train or bus station
Metro Washington is served by three airports, a major rail station and a variety of intercity bus (coach) lines.
The nearest airport, with mostly short- and medium-distance flight, is Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). It has its own subway station, and the Blue line runs directly to the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metrorail station, for TransparencyCamp. The area around the airport and adjacent Crystal City (Yellow and Blue lines) have good hotel options.
Long-distance, overseas and discounted flights are more likely to arrive at Dulles International Airport (IAD) or Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).
Options for getting from IAD are outlined here, but when I go there myself, I choose the cheapest option: the $6 5A Metrobus to Rosslyn. If you have much more than a carry-on bag, or arrive during the morning rush hour, you might try the Washington Flyer Coach Service which costs $10 but only goes as far as the West Falls Church Metrorail station, for connection into town.
Options from BWI are a bit more complex. On weekdays, one way is to take the Penn Line MARC commuter train to Washington Union Station, and connect to Metrorail, bus or cab.
BWI provides a connecting, free shuttle bus to the train station. Buy a ticket ($6) from a machine in the station and cross the overhead bridge to the far platform for D.C.-bound trains. See the inbound timetable here. (Excel spreadsheet) And return. For weekends and other times, many mainline Amtrak trains call at the BWI Rail Station, but ticket prices are higher, particularly for the high-speed Acela service. Be warned: there is no overnight service.
Cabs from IAD and BWI airports are available, but expensive. Expect to pay at least $60 from IAD and $80 from BWI.
Intercity rail (Amtrak) and some intercity buses disembark at Union Station with easy connections to Metrorail and the Circulator Bus.
TCamp is just three blocks from the Foggy Bottom Metro station (Blue / Orange lines), is serviced by two Circulator bus routes (a.k.a. the red bus) and multiple Metrobus lines.
Recent changes to Metro system means that (except for the 5A and B30 airport buses) cash fares cost more than using a rechargeable SmarTrip card. They cost $10 ($5 for the card, plus $5 fare) but since there is a $1 surcharge each time you ride Metrorail without one, it can pay for itself quickly. Consider this, too: you can also use it for the Circulator buses; it may be filled with a credit or debit card in subway stations and some stores; and there’s a value to not having to fiddle with change or small bills. You can buy SmartTrip cards at any Metrorail station, as well as area stores such as CVS.
Washington’s bike-sharing service Capital Bikeshare is a good option for short-term biking, and serves the area around TransparencyCamp well. It has 24-hour and 3-day memberships, but you will need a credit or debit card to use it.
Identifying special needs for food
Washington and vicinity has a rich array of dining options at different price points. Kosher dining, however, is particularly hard to come by, with Eli’s being the closest option for Sunday dinner. Halal food is somewhat easier to find, with Mehran Restaurant the closest option; it also serves vegetarian dishes.
Vegetarian and vegan diners will have a comparatively easier time. We will also provide a vegan option for lunch each day at TransparencyCamp. For dinner, consider Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants: a staple of the Washington restaurant scene that almost always have well-developed vegan options. For a list of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, see VegDC.org.
Finding other services
Foreign visitors can find a list of Washington embassies here.
Unfortunately, the call shops known for cheap international telephone service, commonly found in other cities, are unknown in Washington.
Photo Credit: the SmarTrip card photo, Flickr user dipdewdog (John Dewar)