If you are arriving by plane, you may as well think of your airport as a visitor information center, since all three Washington area airports offer all sorts of visitor services. See chapter 2 for specific information about each airport's location, flights, designated place to rendezvous when someone is meeting you at the airport, and transportation options into town.
BALTIMORE-WASHINGTON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT BWI (& 800/435-9294; www.bwiairport.com) services include two information desks (& 800/435-9294 for information and paging) located on the upper level near the ticket counters and a Maryland Welcome Center (& 410/691-2878) at Pier C on the lower level near the international arrival gates; foreign-language assistance in French, Italian, Spanish, and German (you just pick up one of the white courtesy phones located throughout the airport and request assistance); several locations for buying insurance and exchanging currency (& 410/8500237); several ATMs (at the entrances to Piers C and D on the upper level and at the international gates on the lower level); plenty of public phones throughout the airport, including 108 with dataports and some with TDD services and voice-relay phones; many restrooms, restaurants, shops, and bars; a playroom for kids; and a small aviation museum.
Other useful phone numbers are lost and found (& 410/859-7387), police (& 410/859-7040), and parking lots and garage (& 410/859-9230).
RONALD REAGAN WASHINGTON NATIONAL AIRPORT "National" (& 703/417-8000; www.mwaa.com/national) has general information desks and customer service centers (& 703/417-3200 or 703/417-3201) at either end of the second, or concourse, level. Here you can exchange currency, purchase insurance, and recharge batteries. Ticket counters are on the third level, baggage claim and ground transportation on the first level. Some pay phones equipped with dataports are located throughout terminals B and C. An enclosed passageway connects the main concourse to "historic terminal A," where a Traveler's Aid desk operates (& 703/417-3972). You should seek Traveler's Aid assistance if you need foreign-language or crisis help or to page someone; a second Traveler's Aid desk (& 703/417-3974) operates on the baggage-claim level of the main concourse. You'll find ATMs located near the customer-service centers on the concourse level and next to the Traveler's Aid desk on the baggage-claim level. National Airport has more than 100 shops and restaurants.
Other useful phone numbers are lost and found (& 703/417-8560), parking lots and garage (& 703/417-7275), and police (& 703/417-8560). WASHINGTON DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT Dulles (& 703/ 572-2700; www.mwaa.com/Dulles) is the most chaotic airport at which to arrive, with an ongoing major renovation and heavy traffic. Most flights arrive at midfield terminals, where you follow the crowd to the mobile lounges, which you ride for 7 minutes to the main terminal. In time, the plan is for an underground rail system to replace these lounges. The satellite terminals are actually rather attractive and offer decent shopping; the main terminal is another story. You can count on getting help from the Traveler's Aid folks on the baggage claim (lower) level of the main terminal (& 703/572-8296, or 703/260-0175 for TDD service). Phone numbers for other help desks include & 703/572-2536 or 703/572-2537 for the International Visitors Information desk (located at the west end of the lower level of the main terminal, near the International Arrivals area); & 703/572-2963 or 703/572-2969 for general service, foreign currency exchange, and insurance purchases. There are about 40 eateries, 35 retail shops, 7 currency exchanges, and plentiful ATMs, restrooms, stamp vending machines, and phones.
Other useful numbers: police & 703/572-2952; lost and found & 703/5722954; and skycap and wheelchair services & 703/661-8151 or 703/661-6239.
Baggage claim areas are at ground level in the main terminal.
AT THE TRAIN STATION
Historic Union Station (& 202/289-1908; www.unionstationdc.com), 50 Massachusetts Ave. NE, offers a visitor a pleasant introduction to the capital. The building is both an architectural beauty and a useful stopping place. Here you'll find a three-level marketplace of shops and restaurants, direct access to Metro service (you'll see signs directing you to the Metro's Red Line station even before you reach the main hall of Union Station), and, when you proceed through the grand arcade straight out through the station's front doors, a stellar view of the Capitol Building.
The central information desk is in the main hall at the front of the building. You'll find ATMs in the gate area, another near the side doors of the building (near the outdoor escalator to the Metro), and on the lower level, at the end of the Food Court. In the gate area are a Thomas Cook Currency Exchange office (& 202/371-9220) across from gate G, and a Traveler's Aid desk (& 202/3711937) near the McDonald's and gate L. A number of car-rental agencies operate lots here (see "Getting Around," later in this chapter, for specific names and phone numbers). For security, lost and found, and other help or information, call the main number, which is & 202/371-9441.
The Washington, D.C., Visitor Information Center (& 866/324-7386 or
202/328-4748; www.dcvisit.com) is a small visitors center inside the immense Ronald Reagan International Trade Center Building, at 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. To enter the federal building, you need to show a picture ID. The visitor center lies on the ground floor of the building, a little to your right as you enter from the Wilson Plaza, near the Federal Triangle Metro. From March 15 through Labor Day, the center is open Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 5:30pm and on Saturday from 9am to 4pm; from Labor Day to March 15, the center is open Monday through Friday 9am to 4:30pm.
The White House Visitor Center, on the first floor of the Herbert Hoover Building, Department of Commerce, 1450 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (between 14th and 15th sts.; & 202/208-1631, or 202/456-7041 for recorded information), is open daily (except for Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, and New Year's Day) from 7:30am to 4pm.
The Smithsonian Information Center, in the "Castle," 1000 Jefferson Dr. SW (& 202/357-2700, or TTY 202/357-1729; www.si.edu), is open every day but Christmas from 9am to 5:30pm. Call for a free copy of the Smithsonian's "Planning Your Smithsonian Visit," which is full of valuable tips, or stop at the Castle for a copy. A calendar of Smithsonian exhibits and activities for the coming month appears the third Friday of each month in the Washington Post's "Weekend" section.
See chapter 7 for more information about these two centers.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) has a large central office near the White House, at 701 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20005-2111 (& 202/ 331-3000). Hours are 8:30am to 5:30pm Monday through Friday.
At the airport, pick up a free copy of Washington Flyer magazine (www.fly2dc.com), which is handy as a planning tool (see chapter 2).
Washington has two daily newspapers: the Washington Post (www.washington post.com) and the Washington Times (www.washingtontimes.com). The Friday "Weekend" section of the Post is essential for finding out what's going on, recreation-wise. City Paper, published every Thursday and available free at downtown shops and restaurants, covers some of the same material but is a better guide to the club and art gallery scene.
Also on newsstands is Washingtonian, a monthly magazine with features, often about the "100 Best" this or that (doctors, restaurants, and so on) in Washington; the magazine also offers a calendar of events, restaurant reviews, and profiles of Washingtonians.
HELPFUL TELEPHONE NUMBERS & WEBSITES
• National Park Service (& 202/619-7222; www.nps.gov/nacc). You reach a real person and not a recording when you call the phone number with questions about the monuments, the National Mall, national park lands, and activities taking place at these locations. National Park Service information kiosks are located near the Jefferson, Lincoln, Vietnam Veterans, and Korean War memorials, and at several other locations in the city.
• Dial-A-Park (& 202/619-7275). This is a recording of information regarding park-service events and attractions.
• Dial-A-Museum (& 202/357-2020; www.si.edu). This recording informs you about the locations of the 14 Washington Smithsonian museums and of their daily activities.
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