After my trip to Philadelphia there was no time to rest, it was straight on the road to Baltimore, Washington DC and Virginia. We would be travelling by Amtrak (quite the experience, let me tell you!) and spending less than 24 hours in each location. So buckle yourself in and get ready for a roller coaster ride from Baltimore to DC and beyond. America’s capital region has a lot to see and do and I managed to cover a surprising amount of it. Here’s what I got up to.
The Capital Region – Baltimore, DC and Virginia
Good Morning Baltimore!
The minute I arrived in Baltimore all I could think of was Hairspray, the John Travolta/Amanda Bynes/ Zac Efron version to be specific. Though I do appreciate a bit of Ricki Lake. But, of course, there’s a lot more to Baltimore than a fabulous musical. With less than 24 hours in the city I only got a quick glimpse of the city, but what I saw I liked! Instead of city bikes, you’ll see locals flying around on scooters, or scooters abandoned haphazardly for the next person to pick up. I’d never seen anything like it before!
We stayed at the Days Inn Baltimore which is a 3* hotel within easy walking distance of the Inner Harbour area. The rooms are spacious, the beds are comfortable and they are partially self catering with a microwave and fridge.
Our first stop in Baltimore was a stroll around one side of the Inner Harbour. It’s a great place for a ramble with plenty of restaurants, bars and green spaces. Then it was on to the American Visionary Art Museum which is possibly the most interesting art museum I’ve ever been to. Everything inside was created by non-traditional artists. They were not classically trained. Most of them had extremely rough lives. Their mediums and subjects are out of the ordinary. This little museum is full of colour and life lessons. I could have spent hours there. Even the gift shop was awe-inspiring. My favourite piece was a giant mosaic Icarus sculpture that ascends and descends the height of the building. The American Visionary Art Museum is a must visit. Tickets cost $15.95 per adult.
From the AVAM we went to catch a water taxi across the harbour to Harbour East. Harbour East in a modern, bustling area with great views across the water and new restaurants and retailers opening all the time. It’s the kind of area where you’ll find Lululemon and Whole Foods. You might even spot a celebrity out for dinner. We had dinner in Tagliata, an Italian chophouse with a homey Tuscan vibe where they had roll their own pasta and have the most extensive wine list in Baltimore.
The food was to die for but beware of the portions. DEFINITELY get the half portion of pasta unless you plan on sharing with someone else. I got the rigatoni alla vodka and it was divine. Potentially one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve been to Italy! The crispy brussel sprouts and the broccoli rabe are delicious sides too. Highly recommend this place for a tasty dinner.
For drinks afterwards we slipped next door to The Elk Room, a dark and atmospheric cocktail bar where they serve beautiful alcoholic creations with showmanship to match. It was named one of the top bars in America by Esquire. They also serve snacks like fondue and oysters. It’s the perfect place for a date or a relaxed night out with friends. We definitely could have been tempted to stay longer but we knew we had to be up early for the train from Baltimore to DC, so it was an early night for us.
Baltimore to DC
Up bright and early the next day to hop on a train from Baltimore to DC. We were getting the Amtrak. If I’m being completely honest I was not looking forward to it. The Amtrak from Philly to Baltimore had been an absolute disaster. It was absolutely packed, they don’t let you book your seats and the luggage storage situation is verging on non-existent. However, I could have forgiven all that had I not been sat next to the most horrendous woman who spent the entire train ride verbally abusing me. I ended up having to move because I couldn’t deal with her anymore.
SO, you can see why I wasn’t looking forward to my next Amtrak experience. On this occasion we were only travelling from Baltimore Penn station to Union Station in DC so the journey would be a lot shorter (40-55 mins). I could handle that. Well, that was until my group accidentally alighted the train at the quiet car and dared to speak to each other. SEVERAL, not just one, aggressively rude fellow passengers decided to scold us like children. So, I can only conclude that Amtrak reserve at least 70% of their tickets for horrendously rude human beings.
Of course, I might have just been unlucky and you could have a perfectly pleasant journey. I must say that the train stations were lovely. Union Station in DC is particularly beautiful with high gilded ceilings and plenty of shops and places to grab a coffee. Penn station was pretty too, though much smaller, but it still have a Dunkin’ Donuts, which is the important thing.
Personally, I’d choose driving over the Amtrak any time, but if you do have to catch a train in America, pack light so that the luggage space doesn’t matter, be VERY quiet, be even more careful who you sit next to and enjoy your trip! Ha.
Whirling Through Washington DC
We arrived in Washington DC into the expansive halls of Union Station. First stop was an open top sightseeing bus tour around USA’s capital. Since we had less than 24 hours in the city we needed to see as much as we could in a short time frame. We hopped off at the White House so we could tick that off first.
It was funny though, we genuinely couldn’t find it for a good 15 minutes. We were at the North Lawn, which I think is probably the less televised side, so we barely recognised it. Once we went around the back to the South Lawn we had that A-HA moment where we recognised it from countless movies. It did seem a lot smaller in real life, but we took our photos and ticked it off our list.
We decided to walk to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The building itself is stunning and you can see the national monument in the distance as you approach. We had lunch in the museum restaurant, Home Sweet Home Café, where they serves classic African American dishes from around the states. There’s Creole, Southern specialties, Western food and more. They only seemed to have one vegetarian option, which they’d run out of, but the sides were so good that I just made a meal out of them. I had sweet corn pudding, mac and cheese, pickled okra and more. I was so full and it was worth every bite. Absolutely delicious.
The museum itself is full of interesting exhibits. The Oprah exhibit was on during my stay and it was fantastic. The museum has collections about everything from segregation to music. It can be confronting, but it is important and very worth a visit.
After that we headed to our hotel, the Kimpton Carlyle Hotel at Dupont Circle. This neighbourhood is SO beautiful. There are old sorority and fraternity house dotted around the place. It’s a great area to stroll around, sipping a coffee and looking at all the stunning Victorian townhouses. The hotel itself is a chic, boutique city hotel. The rooms are large and the bed is soft. Every room has a kitchenette which I LOVE because I don’t always want to eat out. I would have liked to spend more time in this hotel but we were on a tight schedule. The hotel has a wine and nibbles event in the evening which my group and I were all over before heading out to dinner.
Dinner was in Georgetown, the quaint university area of DC, at a place called Pinstripes. Pinstripes is a funky restaurant/bar with bowling lanes and other games. They serve all sorts but we had their pizza and flatbreads along with some delicious brownies. I’m absolutely terrible at bowling, but it was fun to try (kind of, hahah). Georgetown itself is a young, vibrant area full of cute shops and places to eat. It’s probably most famous for the cupcake shop, Georgetown Cupcake. So pop in there to grab a sweet treat if you get the chance.
Then it was back to our hotel for a final drink in the bar before bedtime! Next up, VIRGINIA.
Discovering Loudoun Virginia
If I’m being honest, I’d never heard of Loudoun before. I certainly didn’t know it was so close to DC. Our first stop in Loudoun was the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center or the National Air and Space Museum. It’s right next door to Dulles Airport, so it’s perfect for a visit during a layover or before a flight. This museum is fantastic. Inside you can see the real life Space Shuttle Discovery which has completed 39 missions (more than any other spacecraft) and spent over a year in space. The size of it is mind boggling!
You can also see a CONCORDE and many other historically significant plane models. The best way to see the museum is to take advantage of one of the free tours with the volunteer guides. Some of the volunteer guides used to work in NASA or fly the planes that are on display, so they have great insight into the collection. The museum is also home to an IMAX and a planetarium. Admission is completely free which is incredible.
Next up, we headed to Mount Defiance Cider Barn for a spot of cider tasting and some packed lunch made by Market Salamander. The cider barn itself is a quaint, high ceilinged wooden barn on a hill that looks like something out of a seasonal Hallmark movie. We tasted a flight of cider as well as a cider cocktail. The Cider Kir is a mix of cider and cassis and was extremely moreish.
Unfortunately, that was all we got to see of Loudoun, but it seemed like a lovely area full of rolling hills and quaint villages. It was time to say goodbye to America’s Capital Region and catch our flight back to Dublin from Dulles airport.
*I was hosted by Visit USA Ireland on this trip. However, as always, all opinions are my own.*
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