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The nation's capital cleans up well for the holiday season. The White House Christmas decorations and holiday lights rival the spectacular showing at Rockefeller Center. The wide avenues make for majestic evening drives and the paths along the Potomac River by gothic Georgetown University make for scenic winter walks. Add plenty of indoor shopping malls, access to the city via high-speed train, an efficient public transportation system, and some of the best museums in the world, and Washington, D.C. makes for an educational and entertaining winter vacation.

For train lovers looking to take land-route into Washington, D.C., Amtrak (tel. 800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com) has weekly specials into the city. Train travel, as you can imagine, gives travelers a moles-eye view of the cities, landscape, bridges, industrial towns, and waterways that make the United States such a unique country. Even if you're traveling to Washington from a thousand or so miles or away, prices are compatible and often much less expensive than air travel. A round-trip ticket from Atlanta to Washington costs around $106 for a midweek travel special. If you book early enough and study the promotions and weekly specials, you can often secure a 25 percent discount on travel reducing the price of the trip from the regular price of $113 each way. Total travel time comes to a little over 13 hours with the train departing Atlanta at 8pm in the evening arriving in the Washington's historical and recently renovated Union Station the following morning. Union Station, with its elegant and gigantic entrance hall, small shops and fine foods makes for a grand entrance into the city and an easy exit out of it. Centrally located in view of the Mall, the capital buildings and large government buildings, the station is near many hotels and sites. From Chicago, the 23-hour trip to Washington covering the same ground which marked America's industrial growth, costs only $42.60 for mid-week travel special. For east coasters traveling to Washington, D.C., the Amtrak's high speed Acela train is a great option. Luxurious and convenient, the train makes the trip from New York's Penn Station to Washington, D.C. in just over two hours and 40 minutes costing approximately $115 round-trip for a promotional price. Equipped with large seats, wireless high-speed Internet access and other business-related accoutrements, the Acela is the fastest train moving on U.S. territory.

Once in D.C., stay tuned to the www.washington.org (tel. 202/789-7000), the city's official tourism website with information on hotel deals, local events and information regarding public transportation. For a mid-week Thursday-night December stay, we found 137 lodging options ranging in price from $60 to $575 through the hotel search engine on the website. At the lower range, for $90 you can get a room at the Red Roof Inn in downtown Washington, D.C. The hotel is just 10 blocks from the Capital and one block from Washington's small but growing Chinatown. If you prefer to stay in nearby Chevy Chase, Maryland or Alexandria, Virginia, rooms can be had for slightly lower prices.

If you get to Washington before the New Year, tickets are still available for A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas (tel. 202/434-9545; www.fordstheatre.org/Pages/performance/performances_CC.htm) at the Ford Theatre. Playing now through December 31, 2005, the show is an affordable option with tickets costing only $25. Other city events taking place over the holidays and through the winter include the Washington, D.C. Auto Show from January 24-29, 2006 at the Convention Center, Restaurant Week in the Capital with specific dates for the January discount week at top city restaurants to be announced soon, and the famous Washington, D.C. Cherry Blossom Festival in late March and early April.

For independent-minded travelers, www.washington.org offers tips on city tours including a very comprehensive three-day introductory tour of the capital and its major sites including the Capital building, the U.S. Supreme Court, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian Institute with its plethora of museums and exhibits, the National Cathedral, the Library of Congress, the Holocaust Museum and nightlife regions such as Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle. For maps, directions, admission prices and tour schedules to the different events, visit the Washington Visitors Center (tel. 202/328-4748; www.itcdc.com) in the Ronald Reagan Building located at 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue. Some tours are even free, such as the 45-minute tour of the Capital building where tickets are distributed on a first-come first-serve basis throughout the day. Tours take place Monday through Saturday from 9am to 4:30pm.

For music lovers looking to experience Washington, D.C.'s international nightlife scene, the Black Cat (tel. 202/667-7960; www.blackcatdc.com) is one of the city's top dance and live music venues attracting a global clientele of all ages. With performance spaces, a full bar, and a large dance floor, the club is a bar, concert space and disco all in one. Upcoming shows include punk, rock, house music and international beats. See the club's website for tickets to major concerts. If you get hungry, the club offers a casual and quiet eating space serving vegan, vegetarian and non-vegetarian offerings. The club's New Year's bash costs just $20 for two bands, five or six sets of live music and tons of dancing with music spun by Washington's top DJs.

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