Washington DC on a Tight Budget
We Need a Plan
We had come to visit my daughter for Christmas and the New Year in Fredericksburg Virginia and being so close to Washington of course we wanted to visit the Nation’s capital and some of the most famous sights associated with it.
As always the first place that we looked at was the internet where there were many tours to choose from but when you multiplied the cost of even the cheapest of these tours by the seven of us in our family group the price was in the hundreds of dollars.
Now I don’t know about you but we are ordinary folk for who even one hundred dollars is a lot of money. So we needed to have a plan in order for our visit to Washington to be done as economically as possible for a group our size and below is our plan and the tour we made using this plan..
The White House
Our must see list
Using the itinerary of some of the organised tours we found on the internet as a guide we made a list of the sights that we most wanted to see as we figured that the most popular sights would all be included on the paid tours.
This is the list of our must sees that we came up with
- The Whitehouse
- The Lincoln Memorial
- The Washington Monument Reflection Pool
- The Washington Monument
As long as we could visit these places then we all felt we would be happy with our day in Washington and if we could see more than this then it would be a bonus.
Where are the sights that we want to see?
We looked on the maps on the internet to see where the sights that we wanted to see were located and we found that they were quite close to one another and they were also free to visit. This was a real surprise as many of the museums and interesting sights in the UK and Europe are often quite expensive to visit, especially if they are interesting sites like the museums.
How to get there
The next thing we looked at was how to get there, we looked at public transport and it was not too expensive however, if you multiplied it by seven people it soon became so.
So we decided that for our group of seven it would be much cheaper to go in by car and pay for parking somewhere near the sights that we wanted to see.
How to get around when there
As one of our aims was to get around as cheaply as possible and still see the sights we wanted to see we decided that in our case our tour would be one done on foot.
This was a decision that suited our family group as we are all relatively fit and mobile and the sights that we had chosen to see were relatively close together and we figured that we could walk from attraction to attraction fairly easily.
While seeing the sights we did come across a tour that was being conducted on that unusual looking mode of transport known as Segways.
They looked like they might be a lot of fun but with a family group like ours with youngish children and the mechanically inept like me this would not be a practical transport solution for us and also it would turn out to be quite expensive no doubt for seven people.
Where to park?
We needed a place to park that was close to the places we wanted to see our son-in-law knew just the place and took us to the Ronald Regan Building which was only a short walk from the Whitehouse. The cost of our parking for our sightseeing day was $22 which I thought was not too bad considering the convenience of being right on top of the places we wanted most to see.
One thing took me by surprise though, which was because this building is a federal building we had to show ID to park our car of course everyone in our party had theirs except me. It never occurred to me that I would need to have ID in order to get into a car park, and when we came to enter the building on our return we had to undergo a search and a pat down. It seems that since 911 that every time we visit the USA we have to go through the more and more such security checks.
I wonder if any terrorists have actually been caught using these security methods? While we were on holiday there was someone on a plane out from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, which is one of the most heavily secured air facilities in the world who had tried to set off an explosive device on a plane on Christmas day as it came into land in Detroit. The explosive device was strapped to this guy’s leg and it was similar in type to the one that the failed shoe bomber had used. It turns out that this guy’s father a Nigerian banker had reported his son’s "radicalization and associations" to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria but nothing had been done with this information.
Enough of this let’s get back to Washington and its delightful attractions
National Christmas tree
We exited the Ronald Regan building onto Pennsylvania Avenue and as we looked to the right we could see the Capitol Building in the distance.
With the Capitol Building to our backs we started our walk towards the Whitehouse.
On the way, passing by the most impressive Hotel frontage of the Willard Inter Continental hotel.
In only a few minutes we were by the President's Park where the National Christmas Tree with all its adornments stood.
Because we were visiting during the day the tree did not have any of its lights on so I am sure we did not see it at its best.
The tree was much smaller than I imagined it would be but I should imagine that it would look much more impressive in the dark and all lit up.
As you can see from these photographs we had a beautiful sunny day for our trip there was hardly a cloud in the sky all day.
Of course the top of our list was the Whitehouse you could not visit the capital and not see the Whitehouse.
The day we visited was extremely cold with sub zero temperatures and we were all wrapped up against the weather. Even though well wrapped up the wind stung what little flesh that was left uncovered.
You can tell how cold it was by the fact that I did not take off my hat when my photograph was taken.
The hat and the scarf I wore did not flatter me at all and normally I would remove such items before my photo was taken.
However, the cold was such that I would rather be photographed wearing these things than suffer the cold for the time it took to take a photo.
Just to satisfy your curiosity here is a photograph of me all wrapped up just so that you can see what I mean.
As I told you it makes for a far from flattering photograph, but it was far better than suffering from the icy blasts of wind that was whipping about that day.
The Washington monument
From the Whitehouse we made our way to the Washington monument. The Washington monument took thirty six years to complete stands 169 meters high (555ft 5inches) and was built to honour America’s first President George Washington.
It is not until you get up close that you get some idea just how big this monument is and what an enormous fete it was to build it. The monument was finally completed on December 6th 1884 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey.
The views from the top are supposed to be spectacular although admission is free tickets are required which are obtainable in a number of ways including online at
Though admission is free there is a handling charge for booking a ticket.
The Washington Monument
The World War II Memorial
Even though all these tourist sights are relatively close together there is still a lot of walking involved.
If you choose to follow our example and do the tour on foot then you need to be fairly fit and it would really pay you to have on a decent pair of shoes.
From here we made our way to The World War II Memorial which was built to honour the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the United States.
The Reflecting Pool
Next we made our way to the Reflecting Pool which had frozen over all save just a narrow strip of about 18 inches down the right hand side as you look towards the Lincoln Memorial.
The reflecting Pool is very impressive it is 2029 feet long by 167 feet wide and it is 18 inches deep at the edges and 30 inches deep in the center and it takes an astonishing 6,750,000 gallons of water to fill this pool
The Reflecting Pool
The Lincoln Memorial
From the reflecting pool we made our way to the Lincoln Memorial, this was my personal must see sight in Washington.
I have always wanted to see this particular statue of President Lincoln for myself, I have seen so many photographs of the Lincoln Memorial.
This Memorial has also featured many times in news articles as many famous rallies have been held in this area.
One rally that has stuck in my mind is the one that took place August 28, 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
It was during this rally that Martin Luther King Jr made his now famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech which he delivered standing on the steps of this memorial.
It is impossible to hear and see this speech being made without being moved and inspired and the images of that day are so strong that it made this place an absolute must see for me.
I took a photograph looking out from the top of the steps imagining what it must have been like to actually be there on that on that day in August 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr delivered this famous ‘I have a dream ‘speech.
Here is the photo that I took and one taken on the day of the 'I have a dream' speech.
Standing there taking this photograph I could almost hear Martin Luther King saying I have a dream and hear the crowd responding.
It must have been a tremendous experience to be there with thousands of other people as history was being made.
I wonder if those hearing that speech on that day had any idea how important and memorable that speech was.
Martin Luther King was a great man who I greatly admire and I think that this location was an ideal place for him to make that speech.
Martin Luther King's speech
Korean War Veterans Memorial
Our next stop was the Korean War Veterans Memorial this Memorial is dedicated to the American men and women who served in the Korean War.
It is a most impressive Memorial consisting of a group of 19 statues in a kind of V formation of a little larger than life size soldiers who are out on patrol facing an American flag.
As you gaze on this group of soldiers out on patrol it almost feels like they could quite easily suddenly come to life and finish their patrol.
To one side there is a large granite wall which has a mural etched into it of the faces of 2,400 unnamed soldiers with a reading that reminds the onlooker that “Freedom is not free” and the faces that are etched on to the wall brings home to you in a vivid way that it was real people with families who had paid the price.
Close by a Pool of Remembrance honours all soldiers who were killed, wounded or missing in action.
This was a sombre Memorial and the statues depicting the soldiers were amazingly life like captured in a very realistic way.
Korean War Memorial
What did this day out cost us?
Did our plan work out well? Did we have a great day out? The answer to both of these questions I am sure you will agree is a resounding yes!
By the time we had seen all of the above sights we were all very cold and tired from all the walking that we had done but very satisfied that it had cost us nothing save the cost of the car parking fee of $22 and a few dollars for a couple of hot dogs from a stall not far from the White House.
We made our way back to the Regan building in which there is a large food hall with food at a realistic price, so ended a day in which we saw all that we wanted to and more in bright sunshine and in the wonderful company of my family.
Washington has now become one of my most favourite cities which sometime in the future I intend to explore more deeply.