Being a recent D.C. transplant from the tiny and dazzling island of Manhattan, I couldn’t help but notice key and overwhelming differences between these two major Northeast cities. With only a 4 hours drive in between, these two cities are ones that East Coasters typically move to and from. And it makes sense: you have the artsy and chaotic side of New York and the nature-loving, active and political side of the nation’s capitol. Both cities being entirely different and unique in their own way.
Here’s my take of Washington D.C. from a ex-New Yorker’s perspective.
Bike the MV trail past the Jefferson Memorial
Grab a bike and ride past Ronald Regan airport and Gravely Point, you’ll find endless willow trees, green fields and grasses, and several Parisian-inspired bridges leading to the National Mall of Washington D.C. That’s how D.C. differentiates from New York: nature and open space. Biking is big in D.C. and a lot of locals take their bikes out on the weekends and glide along the plentiful and spacious trails overlooking the river.
Bike along the Mount Vernon trail heading towards Washington D.C., and you’ll find the majestic Jefferson Memorial to your left! I’ll often stop for a break here, as the 45 minute bike ride from Old Town Alexandria to here is a bit tiring. Luckily, a small refreshment stand is here, and you can ask for complimentary water refills! 🙂
Visit Old Town Alexandria
You can’t visit D.C. and miss out on the beautiful and historic Old Town Alexandria (also known as where I live!)
Take the Blue or Yellow line to King Street and hop on the free Old Town trolley for a ride down historic King Street. Colonial homes, mom & pop shops, delicious restaurants and a dazzling waterfront + boat dock can be discovered here. Also, be sure to check out the old Torpedo Art Factory where you’ll find tons of local D.C. artists painting, creating and displaying their beautiful shops. I take weekly photography and watercolor classes here, and the prices are so affordable compared to New York! On summer nights, I enjoy strolling along the dock and attending the free “Late-Night” events at the factory.
Ah Georgetown….my favorite neck of the woods! Although I am not a big shopper, I do love to meander the cobble stone streets of Georgetown and glance in all the fancy windows of my favorite shops. You can find all of your favorite stores and boutiques here (literally all of them), plus lots of cafes and small restaurants. I love the Georgetown Waterfront – a quiet park located along the river and directly across from Teddy Roosevelt Island and the Kennedy Center. An item to add to your bucket list? Watch the 4th of July fireworks along the waterfront in Georgetown – the sparkles above the Kennedy Center are incredible! Also, try to catch a performance of the Washington Ballet at the Kennedy Center if you’re in town when they are performing!
You can hop on the BLUE-SILVER-ORANGE metro line and get off at either Foggy Bottom GW University or Rosslyn. I, personally, love the walk over the bridge from the busy financial business center of Rosslyn into quaint Georgetown, as you can get a gorgeous view of Georgetown University from there! Bring some sneakers as the neighborhood does go up and down hills!
Take the metro to either Smithsonian or Metro Center and explore the area surrounding the National Mall and White House. Visiting the touristy National Mall in D.C. is cliche but a spot not to miss out on. Aside from the multitude of free Smithsonian Museums (my favorites being the National Gallery, U.S. Botanical Garden, and American History), you’ll want to check out the impressive Library of Congress and U.S. Capitol Building – all of which offer free entry and tours! If you plan to stay in D.C. for longer than a few days, I recommend obtaining a free reader registration card for the Library of Congress, so that you can actually enter the Main Reading Room and have a bit of fun reading and exploring the ancient book stacks more thoroughly. You can sign up for your reader registration card here!
Visit the Free Smithsonian Museums!
You heard right – all the museums are free! If you love modern art, you’ll dig the Hishhorn; if you love classical paintings and sculptures – the National Gallery; science will be found at the Natural History Museum.
Visit the Wharf
Watch the planes come in at Gravelly Point
Since moving to D.C., my boyfriend and I have taken an immediate love to biking. We bought our very own bikes ( sales and rentals can best be found at Big Wheel Bikes), found plentiful bike trails to Mount Vernon and the National Mall, and have since never missed a single day of bicycling our beloved city. Our favorite spot to rest is Gravely Point located directly underneath the arriving planes at Ronald Regan International Airport. It’s a local spot, and you’ll find tons of soccer players, families and outdoors-y bicyclists picnicking under the trees and at the picnic tables.
Take an evening stroll around the Reflecting Pool
An evening in D.C. is more intimate and romantic than an evening out in N.Y.C. The slower pace of life, the quiet river and the sound of the trees swaying in the summer breeze cannot be beat. End your evening walking along the lengthy Reflecting Pool. It’s less crowded at night and the weather is always perfect during the spring & summer months. The glittering reflection of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial are breathtakingly picturesque when it’s pitch dark, and you’ll surely want to take a few pictures!
Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin
Union Station: the gateway to United States travel. From this beautiful and golden station, you’ll find buses and major trains arriving and departing from this major transportation hub and it’s a magical experience: it’s always kept tidy and clean and the abundance of unique shops and food options will keep you wandering endlessly while you wait for your train! Unlike dirty and grimy Penn Station and Port Authority Bus Terminal in N.Y.C., this station is always shiny, spotless, and with no meandering homeless friends sleeping on the floor. I always feel safe, comfortable and content.
If you’re in the mood for comfort food….
This place is an experience in itself. Located in D.C., this European specialty will immediately transport you into an old Russian home adorned with trinkets, detailed paintings, decor, and plenty of romantic candlelight. Vintage decor, elaborate chandeliers, and gardens of flowers adorn the restaurants, and their traditional Russian food is delicious! This special spot is a must-do!
If you’re in the mood for good views of the White House…
POV Rooftop Bar + Club
You can stroll over to the White House and get some grand views front the front and back entrance, but if you want the best local view of the President’s villa, visit my favorite rooftop bar – POV! Facing directly above the magnificent mansion, you’ll see several Secret Service agents guarding the roof and a wide view of the verdant trees and grounds of the National Mall. I found the best time to experience this unique spot was at golden hour – just before sunset. The drink prices are just as ridiculously expensive as the rooftop bars in New York, but the views are much more pleasing to the eye.
Washington D.C. and New York are cities that, I find, many people flee to and from, in part because of how close they are in proximity to each other, but also because they offer something entirely unique from one another. If you love nature and open spaces, you’ll fall in love with D.C. but if urban concrete streets and glossy skyscrapers are more up your alley, you’ll love New York. Both are completely different in their energy, their environment, and their lifestyle. D.C. is outdoors-y and laid back. New York is culturally enticing and manic. I come to New York on the weekends when I need some culture and entertainment (and to eat some amazing foreign dishes!), but I live in D.C. because I love nature and the relaxed lifestyle that’s present here. Nature is something I can’t compromise on; entertainment is. After five wonderful and chaotic years on the tiny island of Manhattan, I moved on from my years of excitement and struggle to create a life I dreamed of: a life with leisurely bike rides, picnics in grassy fields, and quiet strolls in colonial neighborhoods.
A small-town life, but a pleasant and enjoyable life, nonetheless.
I’m grateful to this city, this present place I call “home”.
Images from my time living in D.C.