Shoes On: A Weekend in Washington, D.C. by Train

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With any trip I take, I aim to be as climate-friendly as possible. While I can’t avoid travel (my loved ones are spread far and wide), I can do my absolute best to avoid planes, cars, and other forms of high-emissions travel. In cities I like to try local foods, walk, and bike as much as possible. Not only is walking and biking better for the climate, but I find that I end up seeing a lot more of the city that way.

Timeline

Friday

  • 3:00 pm, I got on a subway to Moynihan Hall.
  • 4:05 pm, I caught the 127 Northeast Regional to Washington, D.C.
  • 7:34 pm, I arrived in DC .
  • 8:00 pm, I took a Lyft and arrived at my accommodation.

Saturday

  • Enjoyed the sights 😎

Sunday

  • 12:15 pm I took a Lyft back to Union Station.
  • 1:25 pm I caught the 96 Northeast Regional.
  • 4:48 pm I arrived back at New York Penn Station/Moynihan Hall.
  • 6:00 pm I took the subway and got back home just in time for dinner. 

Going to Washington, D.C. I decided to go through Moynihan Hall for the first time. While it has everything you’d expect in a train station (except seating), the bright open skylight was a beautiful sight. Train timetables for Amtrak are listed clearly, as are the gates. However, if you are taking a train from Moynihan Hall, I would recommend getting there early. I took the Northeast Regional which has first-come-first-serve seats, and the line to get those seats was long. I got there only a few minutes before departure and ended up at the back of the line. While I had a perfectly comfortable seat, it would have been difficult to sit with a friend.

The train to D.C. was gorgeous. A good hour (or so it felt) was spent just passing over various parts of the Chesapeake Bay. I could have easily spent the whole time just watching the scenery pass by. Because the Chesapeake is so flat, I got a fantastic view of the sunset over the water.

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A sunset over the Chesapeake Bay from the Amtrak train window. Photo: Michaela Keil/Bluedot Living Brooklyn

If Moynihan Train Hall was nice, Washington, D.C.’s Union Station was gorgeous. Once out of the train bays, the station opens up into a cavernous stone building with statues and ceiling decorations the likes of which I can’t remember seeing anywhere else except Europe. That ended up being a theme for most of this trip. 

Public transit exists in D.C., but my AirBnb wasn’t near a station so I took a Lyft from Union Station to where I was staying in Bloomingdale. I dropped my bags at the AirBnB, then left to meet some friends at a local brewpub called Dacha (I highly recommend). 

Saturday I wanted to see the National Mall and all of the monuments in D.C. I’d never been to D.C. and was honestly surprised by the city. The downtown is quiet on the weekends, all the big business buildings are closed and the people milling about are mostly people like me making their way to the National Mall. 

Union Station in Washington, D.C. Photo: Michaela Keil/Bluedot Living Brooklyn

I walked first to Logan Circle where I got some breakfast at Commissary, a restaurant. From there I did the whole mall on foot. Thankfully I had a good breakfast because I needed it.

Washington, D.C., is a somewhat walkable city. By that, I mean take a bike. The streets and especially the sights are accessible by bike, with bicycle parking available in front of most of the major sights. Rentable bikes from Lime and Capital BikeShare are everywhere, as are e-scooters from Lime. I could unlock all of them from my Lyft app (and I probably should have).

I boldly decided to walk (thinking, as a friend told me, that D.C. was a “walkable city”) and put about 8 miles on my legs in one day. Don’t do that, get a bike. Or stay closer to a metro station.

My Strava stats from just the walk around the mall (didn't record earlier walking). Screenshot: Michaela Keil/Strava

The National Mall and everything in and around it was impressive. The White House was underwhelming when you see the Eisenhower Executive Office building right next door. Most of the buildings were made of stone, even the American Red Cross building looked closer to an ancient Grecian temple than what I expected an American government building to look like. 

As part of the National Mall, you can see the Lincoln Memorial (way bigger in real life), the Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin (where the cherry blossoms are), the Washington Monument (also huge), many more statues plus every single one of the Smithsonian Museums including the Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian Castle, the Museum of African American History, the Museum of the American Indian, and the National Gallery. It all ends at the United States Capitol Building which is somehow the most grand of them all. 

One suggestion while at the National Mall: Bring lunch, or buy a sandwich ahead of time, because there are relatively few food options in or near the park. 

By the end of my big walk, I hoped to take a break and see one of the museums (they’re all free!) but they are timed-ticket entry only, meaning I’d have to reserve the day before. So instead I sat down for a few minutes to rest up then hopped on a bike back to my AirBnb. 

After a good nap and a shower, I rented a bike again and went to visit another friend in Adams-Morgan, a cute neighborhood in D.C. that was jam-packed with restaurants, bars, lights, and people. I went to bed early that evening, biking back shortly after dinner.

Sunday morning I awoke to a beautiful blue sky and decided to find a coffee shop to hang out in for an hour before I had to go back to the train station. I found myself wandering through Bloomingale, a charming neighborhood in the daylight, and stumbled upon Big Bear Cafe. I sat and people watched for a while, noting that there were few cars passing by. Many of the patrons were young people, or young families. I hung out in the sun and enjoyed my coffee before walking back. 

From my AirBnb I caught a Lyft one more time to Union Station. On the train back I learned that the United States capital was once set as New York City, but was moved to D.C. shortly after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Once back in New York I noted the lack of giant stone monuments. I think we deserve one.  

The Jefferson Memorial, as seen from the walk along the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. Photo: Michaela Keil/Bluedot Living Brooklyn

Other cool sights to catch:

  • The Smithsonian
  • United States National Botanic Garden
  • Tours of any of the government buildings
  • Catch a Washington Nationals baseball game
  • See Union Market

If you have a little more time: 

  • Spend a day in Georgetown 
  • See the United States National Arboretum
  • Take a boat tour of the Potomac River or rent some kayaks

The calculations (cost and carbon) 

Cost: $118.28 (not including accommodations or food)

  • Subways to/from Penn station/Moynihan, NY: $5.50
  • Train to/from New York Penn to Union Station: $93
  • Lyft to/from Union Station: $24.19
  • Bike rentals: $19.78
  • Sights: free

Carbon: These calculations are approximations using several different calculators. The figure is meant to represent how travel can be clean compared to air travel. While it’s important to consider our personal carbon footprint, it’s more important to show governments and businesses what we care about — if more people chose to walk, bike, take public transportation, and use the train, then more infrastructure will be put into place to make those options easier. Plus, it ends up being pretty cost-effective to eschew planes and cars.

  • For about 460 miles of travel with Amtrak, I used 18kg of CO2. 
  • For about 10 miles of car travel, I used 3kg of CO2.
  • For a 2 nights stay in a different home, I used about 20 kg of CO2. 
  • Total carbon emissions: 51kg of CO2. That’s the same amount of emissions as driving most of the way from NYC to D.C. 

This article is part of our new series, “Shoes On,” all about travel from NYC using trains and other forms of clean transportation. Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest destinations, right to your inbox.


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Michaela Keil
Michaela Keil
Michaela Keil is the Editor of Bluedot Living Brooklyn, and the Managing Editor, Special Projects, for the Brooklyn Eagle. When she's not writing, you can either find her outside — in the rain, shine, snow, or cold — or inside baking bread. Find her on twitter @mkeil16.
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