Nuts-and-bolts information to plan your trip, plus a checklist of essentials to include when you pack and a list of links to local media

Planning

Entry Requirements: U.S. citizens are required to present a valid passport when re-entering the U.S. Foreign visitors should consult a local embassy or the U.S. State Department website as visa and passport requirements vary. www.travel.state.gov/travel

Time: Washington is on U.S. eastern standard time.

Money: The currency of Washington is the U.S. dollar. For current conversion rates, go to OANDA currency converter. www.oanda.com

Phone Calls: Public telephones cost 50 cents per call. Contact directory information by dialing 411. The area code for Washington, D.C., is 202, Virginia 703, Maryland 301 or 240. Virginia requires dialing the area code with all local calls.

When to Go: Washington has a temperate climate, with summers averaging between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and winters averaging roughly 45°F (7°C). Summers tend toward high humidity, but long spring and fall seasons offer attractive alternatives to summer's heat.

Passport/Visa: Most foreign visitors will require a visa for entry to the United States. For visa and passport requirements, contact the appropriate embassy. It is advisable to carry a copy of your passport and any visas separate from the originals in case of loss or theft.

Proof of Immunization: Under the International Health Regulations adopted by the World Health Organization, you may be required to provide International Certificates of Vaccination against yellow fever if you are entering the United States from an infected area.

Getting There: Two suburban D.C. airports, Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport, and Baltimore's Baltimore/Washington International Airport offer multiple daily flights from all major national and international carriers.

Getting Around: Directions in Washington involve quadrants with the Capitol as the center: NW, SW, SE, NE. Many addresses are found repeated in more than one, so make note of the quadrant. Numbered streets run North-South; lettered streets run East-West; streets with state names run on a diagonal. The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority operates both an extensive underground metro train system, which also serves outlying suburbs, and a city bus system (www.wmata.com). Taxis are an alternative, but be advised: Within the District, taxis are on a set-fee zone system; in surrounding Virginia and Maryland, taxis are on a metered system. Adequate parking is a citywide problem, so those traveling by rental car should set aside extra time to find a place to leave the car and be willing to walk several blocks to popular attractions; most on-street parking within the downtown area has a two-hour time limit; parking garages are available but generally charge high fees (starting at $10). Train travel outside of the city's environs is limited other than to large cities along the eastern seaboard such as New York or Philadelphia; most visitors rent cars for longer trips.

Checklist

Security: Due to security concerns following the events of September 11, Washington follows a color-coded system to alert inhabitants of current security threat levels. Elevated levels can cause streets and buildings to close without notice; be flexible and call ahead when possible to make sure your destination is open. Allow extra time to pass through metal detectors at the doors of public buildings and prepare to have your bags searched. Don't carry items that might be construed as weapons, including pocket knives, pepper spray, even scissors: They may be confiscated, and you could be detained.

Comfortable Footwear: Pack for long walks on marble floors. D.C. is a small city, but it can feel much larger to your feet as much of the indoor mileage involves a lot of stone floors and lines at popular attractions can be long. Bring shoes with proper support.

Hydration: The National Mall is much longer than it appears. Summer heat can sneak up on even the healthiest individual, and heat exhaustion is a risk on long days touring the Mall's two-mile length of monuments separated by expanses of near-treeless green. Make sure to have on hand plenty of water and keep a close eye on the young and elderly; a sun hat is advisable.

Tips: Most areas of the National Mall are a dining wasteland, so pack snacks and plenty of water to carry with you across the food-desolate sections.

Protests and Demonstrations: Partisan groups frequently stage protests and demonstrations. They're a part of Washington life. Check with the visitor's bureau to see if there are any scheduled. Road closures can roil traffic and create detours.

Parking: Keep some coins (quarters work well) for the parking meters. Most meters are free on weekends.

Web Links

Washington.org

Official tourism site for the city that includes local events, neighborhood information, maps, and general city information. www.washington.org

D.C. Government

City government site that offers links to all city-sanctioned travel sites. www.dc.gov

D.C. Visitor Information Center

Chamber of Commerce site that offers dining, accommodation, tours, and shopping information. http://vrc.dc.gov

Cultural Tourism D.C.

Guide to D.C.'s arts and culture scene, including events, tours, and historic neighborhoods. www.culturaltourismdc.org

The Virtual Tour of Washington, D.C.

3-D map of the National Mall; clicking on buildings opens links to each building's official website. www.ahp.gatech.edu/dc_map.html

Metrorail

Metrorail system map. www.wmata.com/rail/maps/map.cfm

The District.com

Suggestions for kid-friendly stops in the nation's capital. http://thedistrict.com/sightseeing/take-the-kids/

WETA

See the smart side of the city through touring tips from WETA, the city's public broadcasting station. www.weta.org/local

National Parks Service

Visit the sites of the city with historic significance through suggestions by a coalition of the National Parks Service National Register of Historic Places and other historic preservation offices. www.cr.nps.gov/Nr/travel/wash

Local Media

Washington Post

National news, business, arts, and sports; online component includes blogs and podcasts. www.washingtonpost.com

Express

Free daily distributed at all metro stations and owned by the Washington Post that includes very brief articles on news, business, arts, sports, shopping, and celebrities. www.readexpress.com

The Washington Times

National news and business. www.washingtontimes.com

The Politico

Covers national politics and lobbying. Distributed free three times a week (concentrated in the Capitol Hill area) while Congress is in session; sporadically when Congress isn't in. www.thepolitico.com

City Paper

Alternative free weekly, covering local-interest articles from graffiti artists to urban decay to city ordinances. Includes extensive listings of local arts, theater, movies (including all showtimes), and concerts. www.washingtoncitypaper.com

Washington Blade

Local and national news of particular interest to the gay community.

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