Home

Home Travel Tips Travel Deals Destinations Trip Reviews Forums Blog
The IndependentTraveler.com Blog

mount rushmoreQuick quiz: Can you name all 44 U.S. presidents? Er … neither can we. But that won’t stop us from using their special day as an excuse for a mid-winter long weekend getaway!

In honor of George and those who came after him, here are five presidential-themed U.S. destinations to consider.

Washington D.C.
It might seem like an obvious first pick, but if you love all things presidential then you can’t beat Washington D.C. Beyond the White House, the Capitol and the world-class network of the Smithsonian museums are plenty of other ways to fill a long weekend. To learn more about the city’s fascinating history, take a walking tour with Free Tours by Foot (the company offers an interesting option focused on Lincoln’s assassination) or Walk of the Town.

If you’d prefer to eat your way around the city, try DC Metro Food Tours, or browse the ethnic offerings in the trendy Adams Morgan neighborhood.

Our Favorite Washington D.C. Hotels

Mount Vernon Estate
George Washington and his wife Martha called this estate home for more than 40 years. Learn about George and Martha’s life and enjoy their legacy at their home along the Potomac River. In honor of Washington’s 281st birthday, admission is free on February 18, and the estate will open one hour early. There are several events scheduled over the weekend including book signings, discussions, musical salutes and a wreath-laying ceremony at Washington’s tomb.

Mount Vernon is located in Northern Virginia, just 16 miles from Washington D.C. The estate is accessible by car and public transportation.

Mount Rushmore
The Black Hills of South Dakota are home to an incredible granite sculpture of four past presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. There’s more to do here than just ogling the big heads; guided tour options include a Ranger Walk, Sculptor’s Studio Talk and a Heritage Village tour that highlights the customs of local Native American communities.

Other activities in the area include the Black Hills National Forest, which boasts the highest point east of the Rockies, and Badlands National Park, with its amazing landscapes. Crazy Horse Memorial, the largest sculptural undertaking in the world, is also nearby.

The 10 Best U.S. National Parks

Gettysburg National Military Park
The year 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, and the military park’s calendar is filled with events to commemorate the Civil War’s bloodiest battle. President Lincoln delivered one of the most famous speeches in American History, the Gettysburg Address, on the property.

Events scheduled over Presidents’ Day weekend include educational talks, an art exhibit, tastings at a nearby winery and the chance to “meet” President Lincoln in the Hall of Presidents.

Washington Crossing Historic Park
On Christmas night in 1776, George Washington and his men crossed the Delaware River and marched to Trenton, New Jersey, in a surprise attack against the Hessians during the Revolutionary War. The area is now a historic park, which will hold a birthday party for Washington on February 17 — complete with a cake cutting at 1:30 p.m. (Admission is a measly $1.)

Washington Crossing is a bucolic village located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, just down the road from the artsy riverfront community of New Hope.

– written by Lori Sussle

biking indianapolisBe you leisure or business traveler, you’ve probably been here: in a new city with a day to see it.

The best way to do it? Get on a bicycle.

The Dutch, Germans and Chinese might shrug at America’s urban bicycling “revolution,” but an increasing number of U.S. cities are introducing bike share programs, carving bike-only lanes from roads and generally promoting two-wheeled transportation. There’s even a political action committee, Bikes Belong, that supports bike-friendly candidates.

I’ll steer clear from politics, but will say this: There is no more efficient, invigorating way to see a city in a day.

At a recent Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) conference in Indianapolis, I cycled the city’s $60-odd million Cultural Trail, a 7.5-mile route that took our group on a leisurely tour past museums, canals, monuments, restaurants and purpose-built art installations. Having your own bike/pedestrian lane is something of a confidence booster. I got a better feel for Indy, a compact, accessible city (if not the stuff of bucket list day dreams), in five hours than I did in the other five days I was there. It was also good to get the heart pumping after so many SunKing IPAs.

Bike Tours and Trips

The city doesn’t yet have an automated bike share program, something found in Washington D.C., Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis and Miami. This approach, however, generally places an emphasis on returning bikes to hubs within an allotted time period (or paying a surcharge). Mapping out a full-day route vis-a-vis bike hubs does require some planning. An app makes it easier.

Renting a bike for the day or a half day takes out some of the stress.

However you roll, be aware of the road rules and the reputation. The cohabitation of cars and bikes is a relatively new phenomenon in U.S. cities, and bike lanes aren’t a constant. You will have to share the road with wary drivers, and rules for cyclists vary by city. “I didn’t know” might not convince a police officer from handing out a citation.

Disclaimers aside, tell us: What’s the best city you’ve ever cycled in?

– written by Dan Askin

Martin Luther King, Jr. In honor of today’s 49th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, we’re exploring five places you can visit where the man himself once slept, walked, spoke, protested and generally inspired a nation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site (Georgia)
This historic national landmark is actually a conglomerate of several sites in Atlanta, Georgia, that include Dr. King’s boyhood home on Auburn Avenue as well as Ebenezer Baptist Church, where both he and his father were pastors. Don’t miss the visitor center’s museum that chronicles the American Civil Rights Movement. Another interesting must-see is Fire Station No. 6, which houses an exhibit on desegregation within the Atlanta Fire Department.

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church (Alabama)
A historic building in and of itself – having been founded in 1877 in a slave trader’s pen – this small Baptist church was forever entered into the annals of history by its 20th pastor, Dr. King, who served from 1954 to 1960. Most famously, the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the 1950′s was directed by Dr. King from his church office. In 1980, a beautiful mural was painted outside the church depicting scenes from Dr. King’s journey from Montgomery to Memphis. Tours of the church can be privately arranged.

Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail (Alabama)
This 54-mile trail commemorates the route of the 1965 Voting Rights March beginning at the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma. It includes the Edmond Pettus Bridge where on March 7, 1965 marchers were tear-gassed and beaten by police offers. The march, led by Dr. King, began again a few weeks later with protesters joining from around the country. The five-day trek ended at the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery with several notable speeches, including one by Dr. King. The entire route is a component of the National Trails System and is administered by the National Park Service. Several interpretive centers are placed along the trail.

Slideshow: The Eight Best U.S. Road Trips

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (Alabama)
A large museum and research center, the Civil Rights Institute is located in Birmingham’s Civil Rights District, which is home to the 16th Street Baptist Church. Dr. King was a frequent speaker at the church, which was also the site of the horrific fire bombing that killed four young girls. The Institute’s permanent exhibit is a self-directed walk through Birmingham’s contributions to the Civil Rights Movement.

National Civil Rights Museum (Tennessee)
Located in Memphis, Tennessee, the National Civil Rights Museum is a complex of museums built around the former Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was shot and killed on April 4, 1968. In addition to a museum tracing the Civil Rights Movement, visitors can see the site where James Earl Ray first confessed to the shooting, as well as the rooming house where the murder weapon was found.

Bonus Site: Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (Washington D.C.)
While Dr. King may never have visited the actual site of the memorial created in his honor, Washington D.C. is where he gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 in front of some 250,000 listeners. The official address of the monument, 1964 Independence Avenue S.W., commemorates the year that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law.

Visit the Southeast Message Board

– written by Dori Saltzman

paris fashion sunglasses eiffel towerWhat exactly are “rude” countries and “rude” cities?

I’ll tell you what they are: Places that travel Web sites and publications routinely turn to in order to get people talking (and, uh, clearly it works).

A few weeks ago, Skyscanner — a Web site that compares rates on different airlines — announced that its users had deemed France the world’s rudest country, with Russia taking the second spot. (The United States was No. 6.) By default, that apparently makes Paris the world’s rudest city. And in January, Travel + Leisure magazine announced its readers’ picks for America’s rudest cities, with New York taking the top “prize.” Slots two through through five went to Miami, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Boston.

I’ve been to all of these cities, and I’ll be darned if I can tell which one is ruder than the other. I’ve seen heroic acts of kindness in the Big Apple, and while you can’t take the French out of the French, I’ve never felt particularly ill at ease while tromping near the Arc de Triomphe. Washington D.C.? Having lived there for nearly two decades, I always considered the place ridiculously pleasant.

Rudeness is most definitely in the eyes of the beholder, and no doubt travelers have a different take on things than those who live in these bastions of ill manners. I had a former boss who insisted that the only way to avoid rudeness in places like Paris, New York and London (Skyscanner deems the British the third-rudest nationality) was to blend in with the locals, and I always thought was a terrible idea. Why? Because the natives can sniff out posers immediately, and they’ll turn on you.

12 Ways to Feel at Home in a Foreign Place

Instead, I’ve found that being polite myself begets politeness in others. Dressing appropriately (sorry, no flip-flops in Notre Dame) and adhering to local customs goes a long way toward endearing you to the locals. Learning a bit of the native language puts others at ease and shows that you’re at least trying. And by all means, if you bumble into New York thinking that everyone is going to be rude to you … you’ll probably leave thinking they were.



– written by John Deiner

 Swan House Historic Dupont Circle InnHere’s the answer to last week’s “How Much Is This Hotel?” quiz. Play along with future hotel guessing games by subscribing to our blog (top right).

We have a winner! The correct answer to last week’s How Much Is This Hotel? contest is $375 a night. With his guess of $358, Ron has won an IndependentTraveler.com T-shirt.

The room pictured in Friday’s post is the Serengeti Suite at the Swan House Historic Dupont Circle Inn in Washington D.C. The Serengeti Suite features two separate bedrooms and a living room with a working fireplace. Located in D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, the Swan House Inn offers complimentary hot breakfast and free Wi-Fi, and has an outdoor swimming pool. Read more about the Swan House Inn in Washington D.C. Essentials.

Check back this Friday for another shot at winning a prize!

– written by Caroline Costello

washington dcAs the capital of the U.S., Washington D.C. is full of amazing things to see, fascinating history to explore and delicious restaurants to draw your dollar from your purse. But your budget holiday in Washington D.C. doesn’t have to break the bank. There are lots of free activities to enjoy, some perfectly priced restaurants and great-value accommodations in the District of Columbia.

Cheap Sleep
The District Hotel in the Logan Circle Historic District is less than six blocks from the White House, the National Mall and Chinatown, and it’s just a five-minute walk to restaurants, bars and Embassy Row. All rooms have cable TV, air-conditioning and en-suite bathrooms. There’s also free daily continental breakfast and space for parking (for a fee). Private rooms start from $119 per night. There are also plenty of other cheap hotels and hostels in Washington D.C. for travelers on a budget.

Bargain Eats
As a university town, Washington D.C. has plenty of budget eateries to satisfy hungry students, of which thrifty travelers can take full advantage. There are many great value restaurants around the campuses, such as Ben’s Chili Bowl, famous for its chili dogs and chili half-smokes (Bill Cosby cites it as his favorite restaurant in Washington).

Or try the award-winning Hank’s Oyster Bar. The restaurant’s fresh New England beach-style seafood dishes include such delights as crab cake eggs Benedict, smoked salmon platter and seafood omelet — all for fantastic prices. And of course, a variety of oyster dishes are on the menu, as well as a flavorsome selection of wine, microbrews and seasonal beer.

Free Things to Do
- Most of the museums and historic sites at the National Mall are free, including the Smithsonian museums. The tree-lined Mall extends from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol Building and has plenty of green space for you to set up a picnic and enjoy the architecture from the comfort of your blanket.

- Admission to the National Zoo is free. Travelers of all ages will love the pandas, gorillas and monkeys that call the beautiful Rock Creek National Park (where the Smithsonian National Zoological Park is set) home. Apart from the zoo, there are spaces to picnic, hike, play tennis, ride horses, join animal talks and enjoy the crafts at the nature center in Rock Creek National Park.

- Every evening at 6 p.m., the Kennedy Center, Washington’s premier concert hall, puts on free performances. Regular stars include the National Symphony Orchestra, jazz musicians and dance troupes, so keep an eye on the listings.

- Go for one of the daily free tours around the U.S. Capitol building — but get there early, as they’re first come, first served. Otherwise, just browse the galleries at the Capital Visitor Center, where you can watch a live video feed of House and Senate floor proceedings. Visit the U.S. Botanic Garden next door; it houses roughly 4,000 seasonal, tropical and subtropical plants.

- Check out the National Gallery of Art, which has a vast free sculpture garden. Enjoy a guided tour around the center for — you guessed it — free!

- Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for thousands of American servicemen and women. You can walk the grounds for free (but to find the most interesting graves, take a guided tour bus for just $7.50).

- The Bureau of Engraving and Printing runs free tours around the factory where money is printed, cut and examined.

- No visit to Washington D.C. is complete without a tour of the White House. You must make a request through your Congressperson at least 21 days in advance. (Visitors from outside the U.S. should contact their embassy in Washington to submit a tour request.) Otherwise, you can visit the White House Visitor Center for free.

– written by Shing Mon Chung, SEO Executive of HostelBookers.com

Mark your calendars. The National Cherry Blossom Festival has unveiled the most hotly discussed seasonal bellwether since that groundhog popped his head out of his home in early February.

That would be, of course, when the peak blooming days are for the cherry blossoms along D.C.’s Tidal Basin: March 29 – April 3. Check the National Cherry Blossom Festival Web site for details and the full schedule for the March 26 – April 10 event (think everything from parades and parties to road races and street fairs).

cherry blossom festival


No matter when the peak is (and it can swing wildly from mid-March to mid-April depending on how harsh the winter was), there are a few things you should know if you’re planning on going. I lived just outside of Washington D.C. for nearly 20 years and found that even though it’s Tourist Central (and why not?), those flowering trees were just as much of a local magnet. A few tips:

Avoid the crowds.
Easier said than done. While cherry trees are scattered around the city, the iconic forest of pink is sequestered around the Tidal Basin just off the National Mall — and the body of water itself is ringed by a relatively narrow sidewalk. So you can expect a tightly packed mass of humanity on weekends. I’d suggest going in the early morning (watch the sunrise over the blossoms — it’s magical) or in the late evening. During dusk it’s a beautiful scene, and you won’t have to push your way through a crowd. Even better, go during a workday because most everyone is, uh, working.

Watch your step — and your head.
The trees swoop fairly low in some spots, and you could conk your noggin if you’re not paying attention. There’s also a sea of dogs underfoot for some reason (really, why can’t people just leave Mugsy at home?), so it’s easy to get tangled up in someone’s leash or stumble over a wayward Chihuahua. Sidewalks can be a bit uneven in spots as well, so consider going off the trail and walking among the trees themselves.

Pack a meal.
I can’t think of a better place to eat than on a blanket tucked under the cherry trees, and there’s ample greenswards that allow you to do so. But because the Tidal Basin is fairly far afield from delis and the like, it’s best to arrive onsite with food in hand.

Wear comfortable shoes — and do the entire circuit.
You can’t get a really get a good sense of the breadth of the display without actually walking the entire route, so give yourself a few hours (at least). You can visit the F.D.R. and Jefferson memorials along the way (both are top-notch photo ops as well), and you’ll be surprised at how different the vantage points are as you progress.

Don’t drive.
Ok, you can drive if you arrive early enough and opt to park closer to the Mall, which is 15 to 45 minutes away by foot depending on where you settle. Just about every distance in Washington looks closer than it actually is, so be aware that you may have a schlep before the schlep. It’s best to take mass transit, but even the Metro will involve a bit of a hike. Or grab a cab and get out a few traffic-free blocks from the main event.

Stay off the trees.
That’s Rule No. 1 actually — there are warnings everywhere to that effect. But it doesn’t matter: There’s always someone clambering on a branch. If you witness this affront on nature, feel free to lash out at the culprit, and everyone will think you’re a D.C. native (they’re very protective of this amazing asset).

– written by John Deiner

During spring, when frozen fields evolve into painterly kaleidoscopes of color, certain destinations shine. While Holland is arguably the most famous spot for flower aficionados, with Provence, France being a close second, there are plenty of domestic destinations that can compete with the big bloomers. Here are a few of our favorite places to see roses and rhododendrons in the U.S., with bonus travel deals to match.

1. Philadelphia International Flower Show

The Philadelphia International Flower Show, the world’s largest indoor display of flowers, is a world-renowned affair (the show is even highlighted in that famous book, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”). The event takes place each spring at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which transforms into a wild array of eye-popping floral exhibits, featuring everything from fantastical arrangements to full-on gardens brimming with colorful blooms. This year, the theme is “Springtime in Paris,” and the show will take place from March 6 through March 13.

The Deal: The Windsor Suites Philadelphia is currently offering a special flower show package, which includes accommodations, two tickets to the show and breakfast for two, starting at $169 per night.

Philadelphia flower show


2. Yellowstone National Park

Carpets of wild irises, shooting stars, yellow violets, ladies’ tresses and countless other wildflower species take over Yellowstone National Park from May through August (head to the park in June and July to catch the peak). Expect rolling meadows full of flowers and shocks of electric-pink blooms growing from forest floors during late-spring and summer months. Take a ranger-guided hike to learn about Yellowstone’s variety of flowers from a park expert.

The Deal: Parade Rest Guest Ranch, which is located near the Yellowstone park entrance, is currently offering special spring rates for stays from May 20 through June 12.

 Flowers in Yellowstone National Park


3. Portland Rose Festival
Portland, the “City of Roses,” an urban center where pretty gardens seem to sprout on every corner, welcomes spring with its annual Rose Festival. This year’s celebrations take place from the end of May through mid-June. The high point of the whole shebang is the Grand Floral Parade, a must-see frenzy of floats, flowers and music. Other fun events include a rose lighting ceremony with fireworks and a heart-pounding dragon boat race on the Willamette River.

The Deal: The Red Lion Hotel Portland, which is located right on the Grand Floral Parade route, is offering special Rose Festival rates starting at $99 per night.

Portland Rose Festival


4. Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Vibrant orange, yellow and red blankets of poppies appear in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, located about a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles, in early spring. Look for blooms to arrive as soon as March. The peak period for viewing eternal fields of flowers generally happens in mid-April. The reserve has eight miles of quiet trails that are perfect for hiking, photography, wildlife spotting and picnicking.

The Deal: When you stay at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Lancaster, California (the city of Lancaster is next to the Poppy Reserve), save 20 percent on your weekend stay.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve


5. National Cherry Blossom Festival
Our nation’s capital transforms into a breathtaking blush-pink panorama of blooming cherry trees each spring. Thousands of trees popping with color near icons like the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial make for stunning photographs. On top of that, the Cherry Blossom Festival features more than 100 performances and events — many of which are free — including guided tours, fireworks and even a 5K run. The festival runs from March 27 through April 11.

The Deal: Book a Cherry Blossom Festival package at the Melrose Hotel and get accommodations, dinner for two and a late check-out with rates starting at $156 per night.

National Cherry Blossom Festival



– written by Caroline Costello