Overview: American Civil War battlefields and museums, excellent exhibits at Washington DC’s museums, galleries and parks, quirky towns, amazing Virginian scenery, beautiful scenic drives, antiques, – you could say this fly-drive USA road trip, starting and ending in Washington DC has it all! If you like this blog, please follow me, and consider sharing this via the social media links below.
Travelling to the USA from the UK
Before You Go: USA operates a visa waiver system known as Esta – cost is $14 per adult and once approved lasts for 2 years: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/ You don’t especially need this with you when you travel as it is on the US authority’s computer system but I always take it just in case it is requested. It will be supplied to you electronically.
Know: Ensure your travel insurance covers the USA, as is well-known, medical bills can be extremely pricey here. We normally purchase world-wide annual cover and depending on your requirements you can often pick this up for about £140 for 2 adults.
Get there: Washington DC is popular with UK visitors as a city break option, this means that there is a wide variety of operators and flight options. Travelling from Newcastle Upon Tyne, connecting at London Heathrow with British Airways (arriving in the mid afternoon local time) is a fairly good option, depending on dates etc expect to pay about £500 a person.
Itinerary: the following 14 day suggested itinerary begins and ends with a City break in Washington DC, involving roughly 700 miles without excursions.
Days 1 – 3 – Arrival in Washington DC
Stay: Omni Shorham Hotel, CL2500 Calvert Street, 20008 Washington DC – https://www.omnihotels.com/hotels/washington-dc-shoreham This is a well-located hotel situated on Calvert Street in a relatively quiet area, close to Rock Creek Parkway and the Zoo at Woodley Park (see below). The nearest Metro station to the hotel is Calvert Street, less than a block away. This means that travelling independently from the airport on arrival is a relatively inexpensive and straightforward option – costing less than $10 a person on average, using a mixture of airport bus and then metro to Calvert street.
Pay: around $240 a night room only. Parking is not included in the room rate – as is the case for many Washington DC hotels, so if you are touring the City for a few days before moving on, best use the Metro system to get around and rent your vehicle the day you leave for your tour.
Haunted: The Hotel is reputedly haunted by a former maid and her child, noises have been heard coming from one of the bedrooms although it was unoccupied. The Hotel remodeled the room a few years ago and it is now known as the Ghost Suite.
Eat: A block full of restaurants is situated on both sides of Calvert road near to the hotel making dining options easy and relatively inexpensive. The Rajaji Curry House, very closeby is a fair option http://www.therajaji.com roughly around $30 a person.
See: I don’t think I have ever visited a major city and had access to so many free museums and attractions – this inclusive approach would be very welcome at other cities across the world, encouraging access for all to learning opportunities. The following are a few suggestions, depending on how many days you stay in Washington DC:
Smithsonian’s National Zoo: With free admission and open daily, the zoo welcomes all visitors. https://nationalzoo.si.edu/ My personal favourites are the giant pandas, we saw Tai Shan way back in 2005 who had just been born. He was so tiny we could only view him through the excellent webcams – we followed his progress for many years through the Zoo’s website. Tai Shan was sent to China in 2009 as part of the agreement with the Chinese Conservation Centre.
National Air and Space Museum: Established just after WW2 and open daily, and located on Independence Avenue, this is well-worth a visit for air and space travel enthusiasts alike – it houses more historic aircraft than any other aviation museum – and the many interactive exhibits will engage even the most discerning visitors.
Doing the Monument Walk: Every guidebook will give you directions for completing the 3 kilometer walk covering iconic monuments including The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the Abraham Lincoln Memorial (massive), which overlooks the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. This is well worth doing, and you will have earned your post-walk refreshments.
Historic Union Station: located on 50 Massachusetts Ave NE is well worth a visit for a relaxed drink with the locals after a day’s sight-seeing. We really enjoyed chilling there, passing the time of day with the locals and resting up a little before heading off for dinner.
National Museum of Natural History: https://naturalhistory.si.edu/ located on the National Mall is also worth a visit and open daily. Includes many interactive displays and fascinating exhibits.
The White House: Visits to the President’s Park, from where visitors can get a good view of the White House, are also free of charge. If you want to tour the interior, you must book this in advance, see https://www.nps.gov/whho/planyourvisit/the-white-house-tour.htm for more details.
Car Hire: the nearest provider to the Omni hotel is Enterprise Car Hire, Woodley Park-National Zoo, 2601 Calvert Street, Nw Washington, DC 20008-4106 Tel: (202) 232-4443 for pick-up if required, although it is only a few steps away from the Omni. Know: It might seem like stating the obvious but do remember to take your Driving License as the car cannot be released to you otherwise.
Days 4 & 5 Frederick, Maryland
Drive: 50 miles (around an hour ) to Frederick via the I-270 North.
Stay: Hill House B&B, 12 West Third Street, Frederick, Maryland 21705 Tel 301 682 4111 Fax 301 695 7802 http://www.hillhousefrederick.com This charming bed and breakfast, dating to 1870 and privately owned, costs from $145 a night depending on the room chosen including breakfast. It is well-located in the historic district for browsing the many antique shops, laden with American Civil War memorabilia amongst other items.
American Civil War The National Museum of Civil War Medicine located on 48 E Patrick St in Frederick is well worth a visit – it focuses on the methods used to treat the wounded in the field, sometimes in impossible conditions: http://www.civilwarmed.org, open daily, currently costs $9.50 per adult admission.
Gettysburg (Pennyslavania) – One of the most famous American Civil War battles took place in 1863 where more lives were lost than in any other of the many conflicts. The Museum, open daily costs from $9 an adult admission depending upon the type of ticket purchased. The Museum also organises coach tours around the battle fields for a further cost. See https://www.gettysburgfoundation.org/ for further information.
Driving Directions from Frederick: Drive approx 47 minutes, around 35 miles, via Old Frederick Road and the US-15 North. A shorter journey if desired is possible by following the US-15 North but is perhaps less scenic.
Day 6 Charlottesville, Virginia
Drive: 131 miles (roughly 3 hours) via US-15 South and US-29
Stay: Comfort Inn Monticello 2097 Inn Drive, Charlottesville, Virginia https://www.choicehotels.com/virginia/charlottesville/comfort-inn-hotels. The hotel, a good budget option at around $86 a night, has free parking, breakfast and weekday newspapers and is well situated for a visit to Thomas Jefferson’s Plantation – see below.
Thomas Jefferson’s Plantation at Monticello https://home.monticello.org/ This poignant museum, which once housed Thomas Jefferson, the very author of the Declaration of Independence, who nevertheless hosted many slaves who worked in the house or on the plantation – which grew tobacco and wheat. Daily pass tickets are available giving access to the house and gardens as well as organised tours, costs roughly $27 per adult depending on ticket purchased. Enjoy a moment or two or perhaps a picnic in the beautiful gardens as you reflect on the history of this place.
Days 7 & 8 Roanoke, Virginia
Drive: 121 miles (roughly 2 hours) via I-64 West and I-81 South
Stay: We stayed at the Best Western Plus Inn, 5050 Valley View Boulevard North West in Roanoke: https://www.bestwestern.co.uk/hotels/best-western-plus-inn-at-valley-view-47094 Costs from $135 a night including free parking, Wi-Fi and breakfast.
Do: Roanoke is home to the Virginia Museum of Transportation: http://www.vmt.org/. Exhibits include vintage cars, aeroplanes and trains – frequent visits by major historic steam trains too. Open daily, Admission $10 per adult.
Roanoke is a good gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains, we couldn’t resist buying the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia piano music for the song immortalised by Laurel and Hardy. The Roanoke Star, located in Mill Mountain Park in Roanoke: https://www.playroanoke.com/parks-facilities/mill-mountain-park/ is an iconic star shaped steel structure. Enjoy hikes and picnics in the amazing Blue Ridge mountains.
Drive to Appomatix on the 460, and visit the museum where Robert E Lee surrendered his Northern Virginia army to Ulysses Grant in 1865, effectively marking the beginning of the end of the American Civil War.
Days 9 & 10 Richmond, Virginia
Drive: 189 miles (roughly 3 hours) via I-81 North and I-64 East
Stay: for a treat, splash out at the historic Jefferson Hotel on 101 West Franklin Street. https://www.jeffersonhotel.com/
Dating to 1895, from $245 a night. There are plenty of more cost effective options including all the typical chains.
Edgar Allan Poe: do visit the museum dedicated to this somewhat dark author on 1914-1916 East Main Street in the historic district of Richmond, http://www.poemuseum.org the recital of The Raven is all the more memorable through hearing it in the author’s home town. Open daily, admission $7.
American Civil War museum, located across 3 sites – 1 in Appomattox where the Confederates surrendered, and 2 in Richmond is also well worth a visit. https://acwm.org see in particular the White House of the Confederacy which housed Jefferson Davis, where tragically his 2 year old met his accidental death.
Eat – plenty of choices here, we enjoyed relaxing happy hour drinks followed by dinner at the Legend microbrewery pub on 321 West 7th Street http://www.legendbrewing.com look out for their special edition ales. Thankfully the increase in microbreweries in the USA has led to more competition and generally better quality beer in this connoisseur ‘s opinion!
Days 11 & 12 Williamsburg, Virginia
Drive: 52 miles (roughly an hour) via I-64 East
Bears: driving to Williamsburg on a dark and rainy afternoon high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, we saw a fully grown black bear in the woods close to the road. This is to date the only time we’ve seen a bear in the wild. Locals told us seeing a bear is very rare in this area, such a shame we couldn’t have taken the photo of this handsome chap, or perhaps it was a lady bear!
Stay: Black Badger Inn B&B, 720 College Terrace, Williamsburg 23185 Williamsburg, Virginia, Phone: 877 334 0641 Fax: 757 253 9044
Visit historic Jamestown, https://www.historyisfun.org/jamestown-settlement this is a huge living history museum telling the story of the first English settlement in North America. There’s heaps of exhibitions and re-enactments to watch so do try to allow a couple of days here.
Open daily, a ticket valid for 7 consecutive days costs $20 per adult, also giving access to the Yorktown battlefield, with concessions for certain National Park pass holders, see the link above for more information.
Drive: the Colonial Parkway Drive nearby is excellent from views, hiking and picnics, and beware if you see a deer on the road as it’s very rare for his or her friends not to be close by, see https://www.nps.gov/colo/parkway.htm for more details.
Drive: 103 miles (roughly 1 hour 50 mins) via I-64 West and I-95 North
Day 13 Fredericksburg, Virginia
Stay: The Richard Johnston Inn, 711 Caroline Street, Old Town Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401 costs about $175 a night, including breakfast, close to the downtown area so plenty of choices for dinner.
Do: Fredericksburg is also known for its connections with the American Civil War – and there is much to be learnt here from the African American perspective see: http://gis.spotsylvania.va.us/tour_AAHT/# for details of a historic walking tour.
See: the Fredericksburgh Battlefield – visitor centre at 1013 Lafayette Boulevard, open daily from sunrise to sunset and has free admission – see:
http://www.nps.gov/frsp . You can also visit the Confederacy Cemetary on Washington Street.
Shop: There are several antique shops on Main Street that are worth a browse; particularly if you are interested in Civil War memorabilia. There is a farmers market open 7am – 2pm Monday to Saturday https://www.thefarmersmarket.co/.
Dine: If you are visiting in the Autumn, Fredericksburg’s German heritage means it hosts its own Oktober Fest (this year its set to take place 4th – 6th October 2019). Expect music, great beer, food and fun.
Day 14 Washington DC
Drive: 54 miles (roughly 1.5 hours) via the I-95 North
Stay: Omni Shorham Hotel, CL2500 Calvert Street, 20008 – you could of course choose to stay in another district on your last night – we just thought this made things easier. If you have time left there is always plenty to see, shop in one of the many malls or simply chill at one of the parks before the flight back to the UK.