If you're visiting Washington, coming from the big Northeastern cities, consider going by rail. Amtrak offers excellent service in this region. Washington's main station is Union Station. It's worth seeing just for itself. The building is beautiful, with a wide array of shops, restaurants, and services.
Completed in 1908, it is a fine example of the Beaux-Arts style, designed by Daniel Burnham. When it opened, it was the largest train station in the world. Unfortunately, it underwent some really bad times after World War II and the advent of cheap air travel. But then it was restored, and reopened in 1988. Today, it's one of the most attractive railroad stations anywhere.
In addition to its shopping, eating, and services, Union Station also has special events and exhibits. Check the website for more.
Baggage storage (better know in Europe as left luggage) is available in the train terminal at Union Station. The desk is on the right as you are headed out of door A toward the train platforms. I’d recommend calling ahead for details. I don’t know of any Americans airports that have lockers or baggage storage available and I was quite surprised to find this facility in a major American train station.
To the Memory of Christopher Columbus
Whose High Faith
And Indomitable Courage
Gave to Mankind
A New World
— the inscription on the Columbus Monument outside Washington, D.C.’s Union Station
OUR VACATION VOYAGE After leaving New York City from the bowels of Pennsylvania Station, we arrived above ground in the bright sunshine, at Washington D.C.’s Beaux-Arts marvel, Union Station, which was modeled on Ancient Rome’s Baths of Diocletian and the triumphal Arch of Constantine. The train ride was smooth and relaxed … what a civilized way to travel!
In the years following the 1892 quadricentennial celebration of Columbus’s voyage, the Knights of Columbus campaigned to establish a monument to their namesake in Washington, D.C. Daniel Burnham, architect of the station, also designed the fountain/monument in Georgian marble. Lorado Z. Taft designed the 15-foot sculpture of Columbus; the figurehead at the prow of the ship is Democracy.
“Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.”
— Daniel Burnham (1846-1912) architect of Washington DC’s Union Station
Union Station was opened on 27.October.1907 but not completed until 1908; it is ranked as one of the finest Beaux-Arts style buildings in the United States. Its architect, Daniel Burnham, meant that it should be monumental and to serve as a grand gateway to the Federal City.
In the early 20th century the Station covered more ground than any other building in the country and was the world’s largest train station. The total area occupied by the Station and the terminal zone was originally about 200 acres and included 75 miles of tracks. If the Washington Monument was put on its side, it could lay within the walls of the Station’s concourse!
It is recognized that with Union Station’s construction a monumental transformation got underway in Washington, D.C. The classic lines of the Station set the standard that would be followed for the next 40 years. Washington’s most recognizable monuments, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and the Supreme Court Building, reflected classic architectural lines. At a cost of $125 million, including 70 pounds of 22-karat gold leaf to decorate the 96-foot barrel-vaulted and coffered ceilings, the Station was one of the most expensive projects in the land.
Washington's Union Station was jointly built by Pennsylvania Railroad and the Baltimore & Ohio line on a wetland just north of the U.S. Capitol in 1907. A number of freight and passenger lines have used it since then. An expensive renovation project completed in 1988 transformed Union Station into not just a transportation centre, but a key shopping and dining area as well. I don't know whether to put Union Station under transportation, restaurants, or shopping. Besides being Washington, DC's passenger rail station, Union Station is a shopping mall and a place to dine. There are several sit-down restaurants such as Pizzeria Uno, but in the basement, there are kiosks representing the cuisine of many nationalities.
Well as always I recommend flying in. Washington can be reached by any of the three major airports around it. Dulles International and Reagan Airport are both in Washington and Baltimore International is only a 30 minute drive a way. Trains, cars and buses are great alternatives if you live within a few hours trip. Amtrak will take you to the Union Station picture to the right. Route 95 will take you in by bus or by car.
Getting around Washington is also easy. The streets can be a bit confusing but the subway system (Metro) is not. Try to utilize it as much as possible and do some walking. It's good for your heart!
Driving is probably your best option if you hope to see some of Maryland or Virginia beyond your stay in the capital. However, the area is well-serviced by airports should you choose to go that route. If you're coming from the East Coast, Amtrak is also a possibility.
Driving in Washington is a huge pain in the you-know-where. Avoid it if you can. You might be better off staying at a hotel in the suburbs and taking the subway in to the city. I can't imagine why anyone would choose to drive in Washington as it has a good subway system. Not only that, but many of the sites you might go to are close together, making this an excellent city for walking.
The Union Station is the focal point of all train systems in the Washington DC Area. It includes national railway Amtrack, MARC (Maryland), VRE (Virginia) and Metro trains. The architecture inside is beautiful!!! There are also tons of boutiques and a food court to keep you busy :)
The best way to travel to Washington is Amtrak. Union Station is a great introduction to the capital city and there's a Metro (subway) station on the lower concourse.
The Metro is the best way to get around. It's clean and safe and efficient. Note: If you're going to the Zoo get off at Cleveland Park as it's a long, uphill walk from the Woodley/Zoo station. Save Woodley/Zoo for your return trip. It's not a bad walk DOWN the hill. Unfortunately there are no Metro stops in Georgetown. Get a cab or walk from Foggy Bottom or Dupont Circle.
I've traveled into D.C. by plane and by train. When flying in from the west coast, see if your carrier uses 777's. United does and since those planes are then headed onto Europe, there are seat back video screens even in the coach section which is a nice treat.
Traveling by Amtrak from NYC to D.C. takes a bit over 3 hours with their Metroliner service. I found it to be a really nice ride and nice to go city center to city center instead of having to drive in from Dulles. I wrote an atricle about my train trip. It can be viewed at- http://www.johnnyjet.com/folder/reporters/archive/meredith4.html
In my personal opinion (and I'm speaking strictly from a tourist's point of view), I think the best mode of transportation to take from New York to Washington D.C., would undoubtedly be the high-speed super-efficient TRAIN (per ticket on business class costs just over US$100 which you can buy straight off from the vending machine! Cool!!).
That's me in the photo below at the historic Union Station... after a delightful train journey from New York and looking pretty well-rested (I hope!).
If you much prefer to take a plane, feel free to do so too....er, but my flight from Washington D.C. back to JFK Airport in NY was a veeeerrryy scary experience indeed! First of all, the planes used by American Airlines are much smaller (compared to Delta's) and as such, the flight is soooo bumpy (and not to mention, the many air pockets it hit along the way!!), I didn't dare to breathe until we had reached JFK Airport! Yes, I noticed some of the passengers onboard (and there weren't many) were deep in prayer too! Not kidding...
Moral of the story: I don't think I want to board an American Airlines plane ever again! And I called my travel agent in Singapore to ensure that she notes it down in my profile - pronto!
Cabs are really reasonable here in Washington D.C., especially if you're traveling within the same zone.
Alternatively, you may wish to take the efficient (and clean too - compared to NYC!) Metro/ subway. It's quite an experience, believe me. ;-) You'd also meet nice folks on these train journeys who are ever-willing to help make your trip here more stress-free....
Amtrak has its headquarters at Washington's Union Station, and there are many trains starting and transiting through. Destinations and through stations on the routes from Washington include: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Miami, Charlotte, New Orleans, Savannah and Atlanta. It's a big, busy station that's very central and perfect for tourists who want to stay near the National Mall - it drops you off right at the beginning of it near Capitol Hill.
Travel into DC from Northern VA in more comfort and from farther away than the metro, using the commuter train, which costs just a little more than the metro and is faster. Adult Price is normally around $8 each way, but if you buy a 10 trip pass, it is $7.60 each way.
There are good ways to get to DC, but there's also a best way: taking a train. There are quite a few options of trains into Washington DC (like Amtrak) but my personal favorite (the one I always take) is the Virginia Railway Express, which is designed for commuter purposes but is also good for getting from either Fredericksburg or Manassas to DC. VRE has two lines: the Fredericksburg Line, and the Manassas Line. They run Monday-Friday for all non-Federal holidays, and are for commuter use. There are six trains heading north from Fredericksburg between 5:00 and 8:00 in the morning, and six trains heading back south between 3:30 and 6:30 in the afternoon. The fare is relatively inexpensive ($8.80 one way from Fredericksburg, less if you start from Brooke, Quantico, Rippon, Woodbridge, Springfield, or Alexandria), or at least less expensive that Amtrak. What I like so much about VRE, though, are the views along the way. If you sit facing the east, you'll have views of the Piedmont's hilly forests, as well as wide open views of the Potomac River. Sit facing the west, and you'll have a postcard view of Fredericksburg over the Rappahannock, various inlets of the Potomac River, the Masonic Temple, and the Tidal Basin in Washington.
Inside and outside, Union Station is an amazing structure. Lots of shopping, eateries, and people watching.
Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave., NE, Washington, DC, 20002; Phone (202) 842-0540 Fax (202) 289-4223