Monday, October 17, 2011

Top Museums in Washington D.C.

Within its well laid out city plan, Washington DC has some excellent museums. If you’re here on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday check out some of the best.

Smithsonian – The Smithsonian is the largest museum and research centre in the world, so when you pay a visit here, you need to plan ahead. Founded in 1846, the museum is in fact, museums. Nineteen altogether, plus nine research facilities, and the National Zoological Park . Most of the museums are open from 10am until 5:30pm seven days a week, except Christmas day, and admission is free. Here are some of the most popular, but if you have a specific area of interest visit the link below where you can find out more.

History Museums: American, African American, American Indian, National History.

Art Museums: American, African, Arts and Industries, Freer Gallery, Portrait gallery

Smithsonian Castle
Photo by Noclip, Wikimedia Commons

A minor issue, which affects visitors in on a motorhome rental or campervan holiday, is parking. The simple answer is don’t bring your vehicle into the city centre. Locals know their way around, but to find parking for something larger than a small car can be a nightmare. The easiest way to get to the museums around the National Mall is to use the metro rail and bus system. If you’re just in Washington for the day, the bus/coach station is at 1005 1st Street, NE at the corner of L Street, is probably the best for parking anything bigger than a ‘normal car’.

Part of the Smithsonian museum is the Air and Space Museum. Situated close to the National Mall, the museum has twenty-three galleries packed with spacecraft, rockets, missiles, and aircraft. See exhibits such as the Wright Brothers original 1903 Wright Flyer, photographs, and the original stopwatch used to time the first ever powered flight.

If space travel is more your thing, there are exhibits on the Space shuttle and the International Space Station, the Space Race, the Apollo mission, and the Starship Enterprise for Star Treck fans. Some of the educational exhibits also include information on the solar system and planets, but there’s a lot more besides. This is a museum that you can spend all day enjoying.


A short distance from the White House, the Newseum is the museum of the future. If you’re put off by the word museum, the Newseum is quite different. It’s all interactive, sharp, and straight to the point; there’s a lot to learn. Here, you can see the news headlines from the past and from recent history, and that includes events like 9/11, where the twisted radio antenna is on display, along with the headlines from papers, TV, and radio broadcasts. Try your hand at being a news presenter, or see some of the outstanding pictures taken to accompany the headlines. This is not an old-fashioned dull museum; this is a very modern and engaging take on history, something that everyone can enjoy.

Here are some of the top things to see at the Newseum.

Berlin Wall Gallery. This is the largest, unaltered, display of the Berlin wall outside Germany. The 12-foot high wall comes in eight pieces, which you can walk around, unlike its previous location.

The Watergate door, the taped door, as it was, which led to President Nixon’s fall from power.

I-Witness, a 4D special effects film, recreates some of the most dramatic events from news reporting history.

All in all, the Newseum has 14 major galleries and 15 theatres where you can see the most momentous news stories from history, and the good news is that why you buy your entry ticket, it’s valid for 2 consecutive days. The museum is situated intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street, N.W., adjacent to the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily expect Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

Click here to watch a video about the Newseum

Mount Vernon

Somewhere with plenty of room for motorhome rental or campervan hire vehicles is Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. The most popular, historic estate in the US.

Sixteen miles south of the capital visitors can explore the mansion where George and his wife Martha lived for 40 years, as well as Washington’s Tomb, the Plantation, a working blacksmith shop, and a demonstration farm with slave cabin and 16-sided treading barn.

Mount Vernon Estate
Photo by David Samuel,Wikimedia Commons

Run just as it would be if it were a plantation today, each season brings something different, from harvest to planting. In addition, just three miles up the road is the George Washington Distillery and Gristmill, with its sixteen-foot waterwheel and shop where you can purchase both cornmeal and whiskey produced at the site. The estate is open 365 days of the year between 9am and 4pm, and until 5pm from March and October.

Crime Museum

If you’re into murder mystery, TV crime series, and anything justice related, a must do on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in Washington is the Crime Museum.

Explore historic crimes and more recent cases, have a go in driving and shooting simulators, and learn some of the actual techniques used by the professionals. Exhibits include the history of crime which goes back as far as knights and pirates, and comes right up to date with white-collar crime. This is also where you can try your hand a cracking a safe, hacking into a computer and take part in a proper old fashioned shot out.

Not many of us want to end up in jail whilst on holiday, but at the museum you can, just for fun. The full-scale model of a police station includes a cell, lie detector, and even an electric chair. Finally, take part in real life forensic science with a fresh crime scene where you can take fingerprints and samples for DNA testing.

The Crime and Punishment Museum is situated at 575 7th St. NW between E and F Streets in downtown D.C. opposite the Verizon Centre. Its opening hours are 10am and 7pm every day, expect Christmas and Thanksgiving, there are also shorter hours on Christmas and New Years Eve.

If you’re into history, then Washington D.C has many more museums to enjoy on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in the area. What’s so nice about them is that they offer something for everyone, even those who don’t think museums are for them.

Popular Drives around Washington DC

You’re on a campervan hire or motorhome rental in Washington D.C, which probably means you don’t want to stay in one place for too long. The city is magnificent, with lots of things to keep you busy and entertained, but you long for the open road and a chance to explore just that little bit further, so here are a few short trips that you might like to try.

From Washington to Washington via the Virginia countryside.

You’ve spent time in the city, and now its time to head out to your first destination, Leesburg. Take Route 7 to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains; with optional singing from the Laurel and Hardy film. Leesburg hasn’t changed that much since the Civil War, apart from the guns and the factory outlets that is. The town has some excellent restaurants, so stop here for lunch, and then head off to Harpers Ferry, where the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers meet. The town is in the National Park of the same name, with views over Maryland and Virginia, and if you enjoy outdoor activities there are hiking and biking trails, kayaking and other water sports.

Day two is spent driving through the picturesque Shenandoah Valley. Your first stop should be Luray Caverns, where you can explore one of the largest cave systems in the eastern US. The next part of your journey takes you along the Skyline Drive, no prizes for guessing why it’s called that! This twisty, turny road has some stunning views, and the National Park has some excellent places to stop along the way for a picnic. Once you reach the end of the Skyline Drive you’ll be in Charlottesville, the home of the University of Virginia, designed by Thomas Jefferson. This place is famous for its bookshops, and you could easily spend all afternoon exploring this charming town.

The Shenandoah Valley in Autumn
Photo by Karen Nutini, Wikimedia Commons

Day three follows on the Thomas Jefferson theme with a visit to his home at Monticello. The Italian style villa and grounds are beautiful and full of history, take a tour to get the very best out of the day; a tour will also provide an insight into the man who loved gadgets. Who do you know who has a revolving bookstand which allows you to read four books at once? Jefferson did! There are lots of other exciting inventions and gadgets on display at the villa, but when you’re done its time to head back to Washington via Route 29. The route has some excellent restaurants to try if you’re hungry; there are also major civil war sites to explore, which tell the story of how the capital was won.

DC to Baltimore Day trip

Commuting between Washington and Baltimore is now something experienced daily by busy executives, and at just over an hours drive, it’s not too far for a day trip if you’re on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in D.C.

There are three options, but the I-95 has a couple of places where you might like to stop off. At West Laurel there’s a chance to stretch your legs at the Rocky Gorge Reservoir, where there are chances for hiking, fishing, boating, and even horse riding. The fishing here is popular with locals in search of Pike and Bass.

If mountain biking, rather than fishing, is your thing drive on a little further to Elkridge and the Rockburn Branch Park with its 4-mile bike trail. The trail is suitable for beginners with some steep hills and a few challenging parts.

Your final destination is Baltimore, the largest city in Maryland. The port city has 72 historic neighbourhoods to explore, but the inner harbour; Fells Point (made famous by Sleepless in Seattle) and Little Italy are probably the three districts are where you’ll end up exploring on a day trip.

DC to Charlottesville

If you haven’t got time to complete the Washington to Washington via the Virginia countryside trip, why not just complete part of it on a day trip to Charlottesville. The whole journey should last around two and a half hours, which will take you past the Prince William Forest Park and the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial‎, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The Prince William Forest Park is where you will find more walking and biking trials, and as the name suggests, there are plenty of trees as well as evidence of human habitation dating back to 8,000BC.

The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial is the site where 85,000 soldiers were wounded, and 15,000 killed; the location where one of the battles for freedom was fought during the American Civil War in 1862. Stop at the visitor centre with its suggestions of activities and walks, as well as a short film about the battle.

At Monticello, get to know about the life of Thomas Jefferson, and find out about the declaration if Independence. Visit the presidents villa and gardens, and find out about what the family’s private life was like on a behind the scenes on a tour. Tours are an excellent way to learn facts about the life of America’s third President, and there are a number to choose from, which also includes the estate. The estate was not just a home to Jefferson; it was also home to plantation workers, both slaves and free people.

Next stop, the University of Virginia. Founded by Thomas Jefferson, you can visit the museum and experience all kinds of events from marching band rehearsals to art and drama, and from athletics to major pop concerts.

This last trip is ideally covered in two days, but if you’re tight on time, it can all be covered in a day out from a DC motorhome rental or campervan hire day trip from the capital.

Parks in Washington D.C

During the month of February, if you were so inclined, you could visit a different park in Washington every day, with two days off for good behaviour. To residents of the city, parks are a place to relax, work out, play with the kids, and appreciate a green space. So if you’re on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in the city, why not try a few, there are enough here to fill a week.

Parks for the family

The National Mall is at the centre of the city, and probably the most loved of all the parks. There’s lots of space to let off steam and picnic under the shady trees. This is the home of the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building; it’s also where concerts and events are held, there’s also an excellent old-fashioned carousel.

The Rock Creek Park extends for 12 miles along the Potomac River and is also home to the National Zoo. There are special children’s activities such as junior ranger programs, planetarium shows, talks on animals, and hikes, as well as places to picnic, roller blade and enjoy a bike ride. The park also caters for music lovers with regular concerts.

The Friendship ‘Turtle’ Park at 4500 Van Ness Street is a real adventure playground. Tunnels and climbing frames, swings and slides, are favourites with smaller children. The sports courts and the recreation centre are where the older members of the family like to hang out. You may think that Turtle Park is rather a strange name for a park in the city, but that’s because the park is also home to turtles!

Recreational Parks of all different kinds

A man-made inlet adjacent to the Potomac River, the Tidal Basin, is best in spring when the beautiful cherry trees are in bloom. The park is also home to the Jefferson Memorial and is a very pleasant place to rent a boat and enjoy a picnic with a view.

View of West Potomac Park (left)
Author is Carol M. Highsmith, Wikimedia Commons

West of the Tidal Basin and the Washington Monument is West Potomac Park. The park is where you can enjoy the Constitution Gardens; with over 50 acres of landscaped grounds and over 5,000 trees, its also home to the Reflecting Pool and many of the city’s monuments dedicated to war veterans and presidents.

Lafayette or Presidents Park is located across from the White House. This park is used as a site for many protests, as well as ranger programs; it also contains the statues of famous French war heroes. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to see the President on an early morning run.

Finally, the Theodore Roosevelt Island Park, 91-acres of wilderness built in tribute to President Roosevelt. The president was a nature lover, and helped protect land for forests and national parks where local animal and plant life could survive, enjoy some of the parks many walking trails, as well as seeing a bronze statue of the leader himself.

These are just a handful of the parks in Washington D.C, take timeout on a motorhome rental or campervan hire road trip to relax and explore the beautiful parks of the city.

Kayaking and Boating in Washington D.C

Maybe Washington is not a place you’d considered taking to the water on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday in the U.S, but in fact, it is an extremely popular pastime here.

There are lots of opportunities for sailing, kayaking, and exploring by motorboat, but if that doesn’t appeal, there are also cruises along the Potomac River which are extremely picturesque.

We’ll start off small, nothing too strenuous with the Tidal Basin Paddle Boats, near the National Mall. Rent a paddle boat, and float about for a while whilst getting a very different perspective of the Jefferson Monument and the beautiful Japanese Cherry trees. This has become so popular that you can even book online!

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, viewed from the Wisconsin Avenue bridge
Photo by AgnosticPreachersKid, WIkimedia Commons

A little more adventurous are the calm waters of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The canal passes by some beautiful scenery, and if you want to go just that little bit further, the white water opportunities on the Potomac River offer quite a challenge for kayakers and canoes; if you seriously want a thrill, check out the Great Falls and the Chain Bridge. You can hire both kayaks and canoes from a number of boatyards along the river; some will also offer guided tours and lessons if you are a beginner.

If you’d like to take to the water, but a small vessel means you’re just too close to the water, why not try a Capitol River Cruise. These 45 minute cruises include a commentary on the history of the city, with some lovely views as you move slowly along the water. Boats depart from the Washington Harbour in Georgetown, just across the road from the Riverside Grille.

The South Branch Potomac River viewed from Frenches Station Road
Photo by Caponer, Wikimedia Commons

If its romance you’re looking for, a traditional sailboat on Chesapeake Bay is where you can hoist the mainsail and head into the wind for an adventure on the high seas. Half and full day tours are available, as well as shorter trips; although, where you’ll end up is anyone’s guess, remember this is wind power!

Finally, something very different, why not try a Mule drawn canal boat. A service offered by the National Park Service, these canal boat rides offer visitors on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday the opportunity to step back in time. Rangers dress in historical clothing and whisk you back to the 1870’s, when these types of canal barges were used to transport goods along the Chesapeake Canal. The trip lasts around an hour, depending on how much hay the mule has eaten, and takes place from April until October from two locations, the Georgetown Visitor Centre, and the Great Falls at Potomac. Remember to check in advance as to when the boats will be leaving from, as they do not necessarily run every day from both locations.

The Zoo in Washington D.C.

Part of the Smithsonian Museum, the National Zoological Park in Washington D.C is a popular spot with visitors on a motorhome rental or campervan hire holiday with the kids. The zoo is open every day, except Christmas day, so whatever time of year you visit, there will always be something to see for free.

The animals live outside most of the time, but when its gets just a little bit too chilly they can retreat inside. Whilst many animals live outside, some, such as the reptiles and invertebrates, live in air-conditioned comfort, as the weather in D.C isn’t like the tropics or the Amazon!

Two oragutans crossing over visitors via the "O Line."
Photo by 350z33, Wikimedia Commons

The zoo is home to around 2,000 animals covering 400 species; a fifth of those are considered to be endangered. Elephants, primates, panda’s, and big cats live alongside smaller mammals and birds; the zoo also has areas to explore such as the Amazon, the Africa savannah, and the rest of North America. As well as all this the zoo also offers a think tank, a place to think about thinking. The think tank is where you can see primates such as orangutans, macaques, they are studied by scientists who look at behaviour and try and determine what they are thinking. There are lots of exhibits to explain how we and other animals think; it certainly makes you think!

As well as animals on land, the zoo also has an Ocean Living theme. This isn’t a place to see dolphins and whales, they’re just too big, but there are seals and sea lions, underwater creatures such as giant clams, as well as crabs and lobsters.

Land and sea both have their individual areas, and so do the birds. Some of the birds live in their very own ‘bird house’; others live in other parts of the zoo. They can enjoy free flight both indoors and outdoors, there’s even a wetlands boardwalk, where you can see waterfowl in their natural habitat.

As well as all the animals, birds, and reptiles, the zoo also has a special programme of events and celebrations throughout the year. Halloween sees Boo at the zoo, Christmastime is made extra memorable with twinkly zoo lights, and of course when there’s a new arrival, there are celebrations and fun activities to take part in. For the budding adventurer, the zoo also runs a 'Snore and Roar' programme where you can spend the night at the zoo! You get to explore the zoo after hours with a keeper by flashlight, and sleep in a tent where you can hear the sounds of the jungle outside.

The zoo is at 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC, and is open from 10am until 6pm (4.30 between November and March). The good news for visitors with a motorhome rental or campervan hire vehicle is that there’s parking. The cost is $16 for the first three hours, and $22 for more than three hours, but a word of warning; it can get extremely busy so if you can, its always best reserve a Parking Spot by calling Guest Services.