Your Washington, D.C., sightseeing itinerary most likely already includes visiting The White House and the Smithsonian Museums. To get the most out of your vacation, consider these 11 sightseeing tips from four Les Clefs d'Or concierges who pride themselves on really knowing their city. Why should you trust their expert advice? If you see a pin of crossed gold keys (les clefs d'or) on a concierge's lapel, that means you're getting help from a seasoned professional.
How to Get Around D.C.
Expert: Azi Miri, Head Concierge, Marriott Mayflower Renaissance (1127 Connecticut Ave. NW; tel. 202/347-3000; www.marriott.com). Opened in 1925, this four-diamond luxury hotel near Dupont Circle is one of the Historic Hotels of America. President Harry Truman called it "the second best address" in D.C.
Most Affordable Way to Get Around Downtown: DC Circulator (www.dccirculator.com)
DC Circulator buses stop at numerous cultural and entertainment landmarks in the city center -- for $1.00. The buses run frequently and with five downtown routes, the Circulator has more stops than the Hop-On-Hop-Off buses. Get a DC Circulator pass for unlimited rides or buy a SmarTrip (www.wmata.com) card that can be used on the Metro, Metrobus, and the DC Circulator.
Best Sightseeing on Wheels: Bike Tours (Bike and Roll; tel. 202/842-2453; www.bikethesites.com)
Learn some history and get a workout on these informative bike tours of Washington, D.C., and Alexandria, VA. You can also just rent a bike and explore the sights on your own.
D.C.'s Best Gardens, Bookstores, and Historical Homes
Expert: Luis Colmenares, Concierge, Hotel Monaco (700 F St. NW; tel. 202/628-7177; www.monaco-dc.com). This luxury hotel (and part of the Kimpton Hotels boutique chain) is in the original U.S. General Post Office building, a registered National Landmark.
Best Books & Beer: Kramerbooks & Afterwards (1517 Connecticut Ave. NW; tel. 202/387-1400; www.kramers.com). Open 7:30am-1am Sundays-Thursdays; open 24 hours Fridays and Saturdays
Pick up the latest bestseller or a beer at this independent bookstore and bar.
Most Beautiful Garden: The Bishop's Garden (National Cathedral, 3101 Wisconsin Ave. NW; www.nationalcathedral.org)
Most people tour the Washington National Cathedral without stopping to admire The Bishop's Garden. Planned by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., this medieval-style garden has fruit trees, roses, herbs, and perennial flowering plants. Winding stone paths, a gazebo, a 9th-century baptismal font and other statuary add to its charm.
Best Historical Home: The Old Stone House (3051 M St. NW; tel. 202/426-6851; www.nps.gov/olst). Open 12pm-5pm Wednesdays-Sundays
Built by cabinetmaker Christopher Layman in 1765, this house in Georgetown is considered the oldest building in Washington, D.C. Take a trip back to the 18th century by touring the period rooms. Be sure to admire the English garden out back.
D.C.: Where to Eat, Pray, and Play
Expert: Robert Watson, Les Clefs d'Or International President and Head Concierge, The Willard (1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; tel. 202/628-9100; washington.intercontinental.com). On the National Register of Historic Places, this magnificent hotel has been at the center of D.C.'s social and political scene since 1818. A favorite of President Ulysses S. Grant, the hotel continues to draw some of D.C.'s political elite.
Best Recreation: Fletcher's Boathouse (4940 Canal Rd NW; tel. 202/244-0461; www.fletcherscove.com). Open March-Nov.
Located in Georgetown on a cove along the Potomac River, Fletcher's Boathouse has provided a bit of nature and recreation for D.C. residents (including several presidents) since the 1850s. Open seasonally, the boathouse is the best place to rent boats, canoes, or kayaks.
Best Hail Mary: Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart (Georgetown University Campus; 37th & O St. NW, Healy 113; tel. 202/687-4300; www.campusministry.georgetown.edu)
Of the seven chapels on the Georgetown campus, the beautiful Dahlgren Chapel, built in 1893, is the primary house of worship for the campus' Catholic community. After Mass, head over to The Tombs restaurant for more libations.
Best Bloody Mary: The Tombs (1226 36th St. NW; tel. 202/ 337-6668; www.tombs.com)
After you've repented, enjoy the best Sunday brunch and Bloody Mary in town at this popular Georgetown hangout, in the basement of the 1789 Restaurant (www.1789restaurant.com).
The Best Outdoor Adventures in Washington, D.C.
Expert: Jim Roberts, Concierge, The Ritz-Carlton (1150 22nd St. NW; tel. 202/835-0500; www.ritzcarlton.com). Relax in sophisticated elegance in the heart of downtown D.C. before heading out to explore the city's best parks, canals, and historical cemeteries.
Best Boat Ride: C&O Canal (Georgetown Visitor Center, 1057 Thomas Jefferson St. NW; tel. 202/653-5190; www.nps.gov/choh)
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was built between 1828 and 1850 to transport agricultural goods to market. Today, it's a National Historical Park that starts in Georgetown and runs about 185 miles. Though you can walk or bike along the towpath, consider Canal Boat Rides (www.nps.gov/choh; Mid-April to November; $5). As mules pull the boat, park rangers dressed in period costume describe mid-19th-century life on the canal.
Best Historical Cemeteries: Oak Hill Cemetery (3001 R St. NW; tel. 202/ 337-2835; www.oakhillcemeterydc.org). & Rock Creek Cemetery (Rock Creek Church Rd. NW & Webster St. NW; tel. 202/726-2080; www.rockcreekparish.org)
After you've visited the museums, check out the extraordinary sculptures and statuary in these two cemeteries. In the center of Georgetown, Oak Hill is a 19th-century cemetery with a famed Tiffany Studios sculpture. The cemetery at Rock Creek Parish, around since 1712, is also a lovely public park. On the National Register of Historic Places, people come from all over the world to visit the renowned Adams Memorial by Augustus St. Gaudens and to view the remarkable monuments and sculptures.
Best Nature Conservatory: Theodore Roosevelt Island (www.nps.gov/this). Open year-round, 6am-10pm
The 26th U.S. president was a nature lover, and this island -- now a nature conservatory with hiking trails -- is a fitting memorial. Download a trail map or join a park ranger for a guided walk. The island is accessible by a footbridge from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway (cars and bikes are not permitted; take the Metro to Rossalyn). In the spring, rent a canoe from Thompson Boat Center (www.thompsonboatcenter.com), pack a picnic and explore the river and the island.
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