WASHINGTON, D.C. – The mention of WashingtonD.C. usually conjures up images of the U.S. government – the White House, the Capitol and bureaucrats in suits racing back and forth.
However, Washington is much more than government. D.C. is a vibrant metropolis with historic monuments, museums, architecture, dining, nightlife and shopping rivaling that of any major U.S. city.
The best part is it’s never been easier to get to Washington from Costa Rica than right now, thanks to United Airlines’ daily non-stop flight from JuanSantamaríaInternationalAirport to D.C.’s DullesInternationalAirport (TT, Jan. 16, Feb. 20).
Washington, D.C., has served as the capital of the United States since it was founded along the banks of the Potomac River in 1790. The location was chosen for its centric position — half-way between the north and the south and close to the Atlantic coast.
GEORGE Washington, the first U.S. President, commissioned Pierre L’Enfant, a French architect, to design the city. Influenced by the grandeur of Paris, L’Enfant’s vision played a defining role in Washington’s development.
Today, approximately 572,000 people live in D.C. and 5.4 million in the entire metro area, which includes Baltimore, Maryland, various communities in Maryland and parts of Virginia. The D.C. metro area is the fourth-largest urban area in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Washington is best known for its aweinspiring monuments, most of which are located along the National Mall – a large green park area extending approximately two miles from the U.S. Capitol to the WashingtonMonument.
The World War II memorial will be inaugurated later this year. The monument honors the “greatest generation” and commemorates the allied victories in both theaters of operation – Atlantic and the Pacific.
DESPITE being visited by millions of tourists every year, the National Mall is calm and serene. It’s great to just wander about the green areas, admiring the monuments and enjoying the view of the Capitol.
Sports enthusiasts can to jog and ride their bikes along the Mall. For the less athletically inclined, the option of sitting under a 200-year-old American Elm tree to read a good book is a tempting possibility.
The city is home to a variety of museums, many of which can be visited for free. Visitors should not miss the Smithsonian Institution – the world’s largest museum complex and research organization.
Composed of 14 museums and the National Zoo, the Smithsonian’s enormous collection includes 142 million objects, ranging from rare Native American archeological findings to the Apollo Spacecraft and Space Shuttles.
The Smithsonian also includes the AnacostiaMuseum and the Center for African American History and Culture. Animal lovers should visit the NationalZoologicalPark, which has 3,600 animals from 475 species in a 163-acre biological park designed to simulate their natural environments.
Other museums include the National Geographic Society’s Museum, the BlackFashionMuseum and the new InternationalSpyMuseum.
From the offices of the federal government to the monuments, most of the city’s buildings are a real treat to observe. Fans of architecture and the faithful should not forget to visit D.C.’s National Cathedral – the world’s newest gothic cathedral.
VISITORS should take the time to get to know the city by foot. All you need is a map and a good sense of direction.
All of Washington’s main sites – the Capitol, Union Station, the White House, the National Mall and its monuments, most Smithsonian Institute museums, the State Department and various international institutions – are all within walking distance.
While the city may seem large and intimidating, if you wear comfortable shoes and begin your sightseeing early in the day, you’ll easily be able to see most of the important landmarks in just one day.
It’s also recommended that visitors take a walking tour of Georgetown – one of Washington’s oldest neighborhoods – and “Embassy Row” – a stretch of
along which many (but not all) of the foreign embassies are located.
For those not so thrilled with the idea of walking, D.C.’s MetroRail and MetroBus mass-transit service is the way to go. The mass-transit system is fast and efficient and surprisingly clean, considering how many people use it each day.
MetroRail opens 5:30 a.m. weekdays and 7 a.m. on weekends. It closes at midnight Sunday to Thursday. On Friday and Saturday nights, it stays open until 3 a.m., giving tourists, bar-goers and late-night partyers more time to enjoy the city’s restaurants, bars and clubs.
WASHINGTON is just teeming with nightlife. However, don’t overindulge. In addition to a 5.75% sales tax, D.C. charges a 10% food-and-beverage tax.
D.C. also serves as a g reat gateway destination to towns, cities and natural wonders along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States Virginia and Maryland are renowned for their beautiful forests and charming colonial towns.
It’s easy to take day trips out of Washington to rural Virginia. There, visitors can witness the wonder of the Blue Ridge Mountains – a mountain range that looks blue from afar. From there, it’s possible to hike along the famous Appalachian Trail. Tourists interested in fun and sun will be pleased to know D.C. is just a few hours away from Virginia Beach.
Virginia contains several historic sites. With its quaint cobblestone streets and oldfashioned shops, Alexandria is home to George Washington’s town house and Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s boyhood home. From there, Mount Vernon – President Washington’s plantation home – is just one short hop away.
Maryland, to the north, is also filled with wonder. It is home to the National Aquarium – one of the largest in the East Coast – and one of the best places to get fresh seafood. From there, it’s also possible to visit Annapolis – home of the U.S. National Naval Academy.
Those looking for excitement and Xtreme sports entertainment can travel to West Virginia and enjoy white-water rafting, canoeing and kayaking.
WASHINGTON, as a result of its central location, also serves as a gateway to the rest of the United States. It’s easy to catch a train from Union Station to any major city in the northeast and southeast. In that sense, in addition to being a great tourist destination, Washington is a great port of entry from where to begin a United States vacation.
In addition, DullesAirport is also one of United’s main hubs to Europe. From there it’s possible to get to London, Paris and other cities across the Atlantic.
For more information on getting to Washington, call United Airlines at 220-4844 or visit its Web site: www.united.com. For more travel ideas, visit Washington’s Official Tourism Site: www.washington.org.