Washington DC, a city on worldwide news nearly every day: A city where the President of the United States resides in the infamous White House: A city that we had just a single day to explore!
We took the double-decker MARC train from Penn Station in Baltimore, arriving into Washington DC’s Union Station less than an hour later. After a quick breakfast in the ShakeShack, we boarded our hop-on/hop-off BigBus tour bus. Having collected a free waterproof poncho and ear buds for the continuous commentary, we decided to brave the hit-and-miss February weather, and sit in the open-air part of the top deck.
Now, we had planned our day before we set off that morning because we wanted to cram in as much as we possibly could. BigBus Washington DC offers three coloured routes – Blue, Red and Yellow. Each loop takes in different highlights, but there are shared bus stops along the way so you can easily switch from one coloured route to another. Had we had 48 hours in Washington DC, we would have seen everything, but this really was a whistle stop tour, so we had to be choosey.
We took the Red Loop first, from Union Station towards the Washington Monument, where we made our first quick photo stop (it was really cold!)
We then switched to the Blue Loop, passing the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, over the Potomac River via the George Mason Memorial Bridge, passing the Pentagon and arriving at the Pentagon City Mall; a coffee stop! As part of our BigBus ticket, we had a voucher each for a sample of gourmet popcorn from Garrett Popcorn. The sample was a generous one (times 5 of us!) and each bag was a mix of their Sweet CaramelCrisp and savoury CheeseCorn varieties. Sweet and savoury in a single bag was a strange combination … but it must have been good as it was all eaten! We also took this opportunity to introduce the children to TacoBel (!) and to peruse some touristy shops for souvenirs! But then it was back on the bus!
Still on the Blue Loop we journeyed to Arlington National Cemetery, to the United States Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial), and then across the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial, where we hopped off.
We then got on the wrong bus! You cannot go to Washington DC and not view The White House. We spoke to a driver who said he was stopping near to it, so we hopped on. However, he didn’t stop! So we ended up on the Yellow Loop heading way north! As soon as we realised what was happening we hopped off PDJ, and then walked all the way back towards The White House.
Now, a personal observation that I’m sure isn’t shared by the majority of people. Having spent the day, to that point, being shown incredible impressively large buildings and monuments where pure size signified stature … when I then saw The White House it came as somewhat of a disappointment. It was like viewing a small bungalow located between skyscrapers. Yes it is surrounded by lovely manicured gardens – so an oasis amongst the hustle and bustle of a city centre – and the House looked lovely. But it didn’t look impressive. I know that the city grew up around The White House, but I expected something big, brash, and imposing. It comes across as that on the TV but I now know the cameras must zoom in a lot!
Having taken some obligatory selfies in front of The White House, we then hopped across the road to the Visitor Center (the children wanted to visit the shop as again there was a discount voucher included with our tour ticket). The Visitor Center is well worth a visit anyway, especially for the short video they show on a loop. It’s a fascinating insight into previous Presidents and their families and what living in The White House meant to them. It was quite touching. The White House is definitely more of a home than a government building, in looks and emotions.
Time was fast running out for our whistle stop tour – The White House Visitor Center locked the doors behind us as we were the last to leave! We had just enough time to enjoy a much-needed coffee and cake in the nearby Corner Bakery Café (where our coffee was free because of the ticket!) We then hopped on to our final bus, back to Union Station.
There was a lot that we didn’t get the chance to do. With the tour tickets, we had free entry into Madame Tussauds – but we didn’t have time 🙁 Washington DC is home to SEVENTEEN Smithsonian Museums … including the National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, National Portrait Gallery, and the National Zoological Park. These are all FREE to visit … I’ve never heard of a free zoo before! So, in honesty, I’d go back to Washington DC purely to visit all the museums.
There is no way that we could have seen as much as we did if it wasn’t for the BigBus Washington DC. The three coloured loops take you to the doorstep of every key attraction, and their regularity meant that there was very little waiting around. We will definitely do the tour again on our next visit, and if you are planning to visit Washington DC, I suggest you take a look at the BigBus Washington DC website and book tickets in advance.
Disclaimer for City Highlights Courtesy of BigBus Washington DC
We received discounted tickets to ride the BigBus Washington DC tour, in return for an honest review. We highly recommend them, but wish the driver had stopped when he knew we wanted to get off at The White House!