5 min read – On a recent trip to visit one of the kids in upstate NY (“Ithaca is Gorges” article), we swung by Washington DC for a little sightseeing. Since Bev & I used to live in the DC area, we tend to look for destinations previously uncharted; local attractions we have yet to visit. For this trip, we ventured 9 miles outside of DC to the DC National Harbor. Is a visit to the DC National Harbor worth it? I guess the honest answer is… it depends.
What is the DC National Harbor?
Just over the Maryland border & 9 miles from Reagan airport, DC National Harbor is a modern adult playground. The 10 year old development features an MGM Casino (including a 3000 seat concert venue), 160 stores, 40 restaurants, and the Gaylord convention center. The location, nestled on the waterfront of the mighty Potomac, is a great spot for strolls, hikes, bikes, dining, waterfront cruises and great sunsets. Did I mention the 180 foot Capital ferris wheel? The festive location is designed for a steady stream of events in the downtown or MGM There’s a lot going on, year around.
The MGM Casino
The MGM Casino is, well… a big casino. While not as voluminous as its sister casino in Vegas, the MGM is upscale & feature laden. It also sports the largest gaming floor in the US, outside of Vegas.
The MGM rests on a hill, about a mile outside of DC National Harbor. It’s a moderate walk from the Harbor downtown on a well marked trail along the Potomac; a fun stroll when the weather cooperates.
The Gaylord Convention Center
The Gaylord is a sizable, modern hotel and convention center. The rooms are spacious and offer great internal views of the hotel, surrounding harbor and DC skyline.
Featuring great shops, bars (including a rooftop bar) & a spectacular 19 story center atrium, it’s a luxurious way to stay experience the area. It also sits in the A+ position in DC National Harbor. This makes for an easy walk to the downtown and surrounding attractions.
The attached convention center does put the hotel on a grand, outsized scale. The Gaylord, while extremely nice, certainly isn’t an intimate experience. For those of you who’ve attended corporate conventions, this will seem all too familiar.
If the convention center vibe isn’t your cup of tea, there are also a number of nice hotels available in the National Harbor downtown.
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Is the DC National Harbor Worth it?
Washington DC is one of the most historic and interesting cities in the US. There are a thousand fascinating sites, tours & excursions to experience in the heart of downtown DC.
If it’s your first visit to DC, stay in and around DC. The neophyte National Harbor, while fun, isn’t really an historic destination of note. You can drop into a casino or ride a ferris wheel at a number of locations around the country. The rich history and stunning monuments that are Washington DC will take time to absorb.
Where’s the Metro?
One of the best parts of touring DC is it’s efficient, convenient metro trains. DC Metro gets you to where you want to visit. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the National Harbor isn’t on the metro line. This means you’re about a ½ hour Uber from DC.
While it’s only 9 miles… it’s traffic miles 🙁
Staying at the National Harbor with a primary goal of touring DC simply isn’t convenient.
No stranger to DC? Or an extended stay? OK then!
If you’ve been to DC before and have already experienced the many wonderful monuments, museums & buildings, the National Harbor moves up the list. Keep an eye out for one of the many special events at the harbor or the MGM casino. While the National Harbor isn’t historic, it is a fun excursion. Maybe come out for a concert, a little gambling & spend the night. Then back to DC to take in more sites.
Service: A sign of the Times? Unique Dining?
Two days is a small sample size but we felt the service in town and at the restaurants was lacking. The National Harbor might be suffering from the same worker shortage as many areas of the country. Some of the restaurants we visited felt under staffed… and a little disinterested in catering to the customer.
Lastly, many of the Harbor restaurants are national chains. Nothing wrong with big chains, but it goes back to having a unique DC experience versus something you’ve seen elsewhere. There are a plethora of unforgettable, unique restaurants waiting for you in and around DC!
The Value of Time
Again, if you have the time and are no stranger to the DC area, a side trip to the DC National Harbor might be worth it. It’s clean, modern downtown and views across the Potomac are quite nice.
As someone who spent decades living in DC, I’m glad to have seen DC Harbor & would consider going back for a specific event. That said, if you’re visiting DC for the first time and time is at a premium, stay in town and enjoy one of the greatest cities in the world!
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