What are the odds the week we were in Washington DC there would be a government shut down? Well obviously pretty high because we know what happened. Shut down for 35 days the longest in US history.
What was even more surprising was the Smithsonian was a part of that crazy mess and the reason we booked the trip in the first place.
So, what does one even do in DC if the Smithsonian is closed? Turns out there are plenty of things to do!
Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again–but if it does, or the Smithsonian is just not your thing, then we have some alternatives to keep you busy.
Keep in mind we are ‘slow traveler based’ so it’s not a long list. We don’t typically do more than one thing a day when we travel. We like to take our time and really focus on what we are seeing or doing.
And yes you can have an awesome time without the Smithsonian.
1. The Newseum
(*SPOILER ALERT: The Smithsonian reopened the last day of our trip)
The Newseum has to be our number one pick for a Smithsonian alternative. Actually, I thought it was even better than the Smithsonian because it was absolutely fascinating.
It is 7 levels of dynamic exhibits and considered one of the most interactive museums in the world, with 15 galleries and 15 theaters. Each one dedicated to the importance of free press and the First Amendment in history.
- Location: 555 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, DC, 20001
- Hours: Monday-Sunday 9am-5pm Sunday 10am-5pm
- Adults, 19 to 64: $24.95 + tax
- Seniors, 65 and older: $19.95 + tax
- Youth, 7 to 18: $14.95 + tax
- Children, 6 and younger: Free
- Food: Self Dining, Fine Dining, and Express Bar
2. Take A Walking Tour of Georgetown
Eating cupcakes and pizza is great, but learning about the history and sites of a city is so much more fulfilling in our opinion.
Georgetown was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1967 because of its large concentration of colonial and Federal Period architecture. The Old Stone House in Georgetown is the oldest structure in Washington,
It was also home to some very notable residents and celebrities; like John F. Kennedy, Francis Scott Key, Alexander Graham Bell, and Elizabeth Taylor
I won’t give it all away–but taking a walking tour, exploring the area, and yes grabbing a cupcake is a great way to spend the day in DC!
3. Library of Congress and Capitol Tour
The capital building and Library of Congress were not affected by the shutdown because they are funded separately.
These buildings are a huge part of American History and definitely worth visiting. If nothing else it puts that 8th-grade history to good use.
Of the two tours, we enjoyed the National Archives Museum the most because we got to see the Declaration of Independence!
- Location: 701 Constitution Avenue, NW [between 7th & 9th Streets]
- Hours: Daily 10am-5:30pm
- Admission: Free (if reserved online there is a $1.50 fee)
The Capitol Building is a headset guided tour with about 25 other people. It’s a short tour of selected areas of the building and very interesting. We had a very funny guide which made it even better.
- Location: Eastern end of the National Mall
- Hours: Monday-Saturday 8:30 am -4:30pm
- Admission: Free
TIP: Be sure to book both online ahead of time to avoid the lines.
Ironically, as we were standing in the Rotunda there was a press conference announcing the shutdown had ended. It still meant it would be another 4 days before the Smithsonian reopened.
4. Grab a Chili Dog at Ben’s Chili Bowl, then explore the U Street Corridor
First stop, The Original Ben’s Chili Bowl located at 1213 U Street NW in the heart of Washington since 1958.
The decor doesn’t look like its changed much, like a shake shop right out of Grease. But, the food is delicious, the place is clean and best of all they have vegetarian options! Something very unexpected in a chili dog/burger joint.
- Smokes (half beef/half pork) and Chili Dogs
- Burgers, Chili and Rice Bowl
- Fries, Potato Salad, Cole Slaw, Salad and Cake
- Milkshakes, and Fountain Drinks
I had a classic veggie chili dog that was so yummy! Embarrassingly, I ended up getting a second one. And I wonder why I gain weight when I travel?
Be prepared it’s a busy place, but they run it like a well-oiled machine. Also, make sure to check out the walls while you wait.
After you’ve filled your belly with some good grub go out and explore U Street! The U Street Corridor was once the heart of black culture. It’s been revitalized and today this culturally rich neighborhood is full of history, fun, and vibrant nightlife.
Besides Ben’s Chili Bowl, you can check out:
- The longest cascading fountain in North America at nearby Meridian Hill Park
- The colorful street murals
- Live music venues
- African American Civil War Memorial and Museum
- Vintage Shops
5. Take The DC Metrorail to Old Town Alexandria
About a 20-minute metro ride from DC is a pretty little city–Old Town Alexandria.
It’s a quaint little area, with cobblestone streets, brightly painted buildings and a free trolly that runs you up and down the main drag.
You can easily spend an entire day here, strolling the streets, exploring the area, taking photos, eating and just hanging out.
Including the Spite House the skinniest historic house in America. At 7 feet wide, it was built in 1830 to keep horse carriages hanging out in the alley.
So there you have it! Five days of cool activities in Washington DC!
Yes, the Smithsonian ended up opening our final day and we did the very anti-slow travel thing and rushed through them. But honestly, we could have easily enjoyed the trip either way.
Until next time everyone….
Happy Trails 👣,