Visiting D.C.? How to escape the crowds

Only you, the birds, the gargoyles and Darth Vader can get this view of D.C. 
Only you, the birds, the gargoyles and Darth Vader can get this view of D.C. 

Whether you're coming for business, sightseeing or politics, Washington, D.C., can feel choked with crowds, as middle school trips and tour buses flood the city's tourist sites.

The weekend of the Presidential Inauguration, when hundreds of thousands of visitors are anticipated, will certainly be no exception.

If you've already seen the monuments and museums near the National Mall and would prefer a quieter -- but equally stunning -- experience, head to the city's glorious Washington National Cathedral in northwest D.C.

The cavernous sanctuary and its many chapels provide a space of momentary peace and solitude that you don't have to be religious to appreciate. The towering Cathedral appears ancient, with Gothic-style architecture and an army of gargoyles and grotesques lining the exterior, but it was actually completed in 1990.

washington national cathedral interior

Escape isn't all the place offers: The Cathedral staff offer an exhilarating behind-the-scenes "Tower Climb" tour that will take you up the dark, winding stone staircases that lead to the building's towers.

The top of the cathedral serves as the highest point in the city, and comes with sweeping views of the monuments below.

The private tour is also the only way to get a good sighting of the Cathedral's most popular grotesque: a carving of Darth Vader.

washington national cathedral darth vader

A drink with a view

Craving more heights? Head to the W Hotel's POV rooftop bar and perch yourself 11 stories above the city streets with a premium cocktail in hand. You don't have to be a guest to enjoy the bar's unparalleled views: It's directly adjacent to the White House grounds and overlooks both the Washington Monument and Treasury Building. The historic hotel stood as the Washington Hotel for nearly 90 years before it was bought by Starwood and transformed into a W property in 2006.

w hotel pov bar

If you're coming for the Inauguration -- and lucky enough to be invited to one of the private parties at POV -- the rooftop will offer a great view of the festivities, without the crowds and winter chill.

Late night dining

Your meetings are over and you've just finished partying hard through the night to celebrate a successful trip. It's last call and you're hungry. Have no fear! One of the best remedies to soak up the night's revelry is pizza of course, and you won't find a better New York slice in D.C. than at Wise Guys Pizza. Their joyful staff will gladly serve you until 5 a.m. on weekends.

If pizza isn't your thing, you can also dine at all hours of the night in one of the many Chinese restaurants in D.C.'s Chinatown neighborhood. New Big Wong, an underground joint with serviceable dumplings, also makes for great people-watching.

By land or by air

If you're flying, Washington Reagan National Airport is closer than Dulles or BWI -- if traffic cooperates, a taxi or Uber ride can get you to the center of town in less than 15 minutes. If roads are clogged, just hop on the Metro.

Another option for getting to D.C. instead of flying: Amtrak. The train stops right in historic Union Station, an architectural work of art that's been renovated in recent years. The station's entrance is steps away from the U.S. Capitol building. On your way out of town, avoid the lines to board the train by splurging for Red Cap service. Helpful porters near the luggage carousel will escort you and your baggage before anyone else. Tip generously.

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