Conferences can be a lot of fun, but it is easy to get stuck into a hotel or convention center and not actually enjoy the city while you are there. Recently, I just had a convention at National Harbor. Without large gaps of time in your schedule, exploring can get complicated but there are a few tips that can help you find more than just the standard stops when you’re at a conference anywhere!
- Reach out to friends who live nearby who can give good suggestions of restaurants or sights to see around the area where you will be staying.
- Check in with the concierge on what to do/see/eat in the evenings (since that will be probably the only down-time you have!)
- If you want to do something touristy (like a bus tour!) book it ahead of time and plan it out in your schedule.
- Yelp is always great. You can find some surprising spots on it and they can give you great tips like long wait times during lunch.
Wherever your convention is next time make sure you get out and enjoy the location. Some of the most fun I’ve had was in Atlanta, New Orleans, and San Francisco. And that’s not because they’re great conference centers. It’s because I got out and explored the city.
What I really enjoyed about staying at National Harbor is finding all the amazing things out there that I never realized. I’ve been out there before but only for events like a beer festival and a New Year’s Eve bash, but I’ve never truly explored around how big National Harbor is and the fun parts about it.
First of all, the hotel is beautiful. It’s massive, classy, and the rooms are luxurious. I’ve only ever stayed in rooms that have a look over their interior atrium. Luckily they have giant black out curtains because some of the rooms face over the water and have a striking sunrise view, but that’s not so great if you’re trying to sleep in.
Places to Eat at National Harbor
Old Hickory Steakhouse – Right in the Gaylord. This is if you’re feelin’ real fancy or have the company card. My favorites are their french press coffee, their cheese card where you can choose which cheeses you’ll like, their pork belly chopped salad, and their selections of wine.
Succotash – Southern Fare right off the river. I haven’t been but I’ve heard it’s really good.
McLoone’s Pier House – Right off the river, too. The cuisine they serve is steak and seafood. I’ve had both but I’d honestly stick with the seafood there since their daily specials are usually a great deal for something out of the ordinary. They even have live music on the weekends.
Fiorella’s Italian Kitchen – All about pizza and italian. You can even get an entire chicken parm pizza. Yes, like an entire breaded chicken piece as big as a pizza with cheese and pepperoni on top! All right that’s a bit over the top but the pastas are really good and they give you a huge portion for the price you pay.
Cadillac Ranch – The best salsa you’ll ever have. Seriously! They are a typical great mexican food place, but their margaritas are strong and appetizers are super tasty.
Nando’s Peri Peri – This is a chain, yes, but it’s still good to mention. They have Peruvian chicken and great sauces for it. You order at the counter and they bring it to you. Their red sangria isn’t too bad either.
Elevation Burger – Nothing too much to say here, it’s a typical burger joint where you can choose the cheeses, toppings, and even opt for a good veggie burger.
Things to do at National Harbor
One of the biggest downfalls about National Harbor is that when people travel to conventions here they think, “Oh, it’s in DC!” Which it’s not 🙁 There is another convention center in downtown DC, Walter Reed, but it’s not very big so a lot of bigger meetings opt for National Harbor. The second downfall about this is that there is no public transportation from National Harbor to downtown. The best option is to take a cab over the bridge to Alexandria and then you can catch the metro to downtown. P.S. If you’re not from the area, you’ll need to purchase a day pass or SmartTrip to travel on the metro. It’s a fee-per-distance if you use the SmartTrip card, or you can travel as much as you want with a day pass. It’s super confusing for out-of-towners but the people who work on the metro are super friendly and helpful so don’t be afraid to ask.
Without further ado, here’s some ideas of what you can do on your free time at National Harbor:
Go on the ferris wheel at National Harbor – You get a really cool view over National Harbor, the Potomac, and over into Washington DC, Alexandria, and Arlington. It’s a closed cabin so you can ride it at any time of the year.
Shop at the Tanger Outlets – It’s either a long walk away or a really quick cab ride, but the outlet malls are right near the National Harbor and they have some great shops with good deals like Michael Kors, LOFT, Kate Spade, Banana Republic, and the other usual suspects.
Jump on a boat – There’s many water taxis that will take you across the river to Alexandria or some that will give you a full ride up the Potomac toward DC and Georgetown. You’ll get to pass by the airport, the Kennedy Center, see the Lincoln Memorial, and the monument.
Live like the locals – If you want to do more visiting around and see the local fares, I highly suggest you check out Alexandria, VA. The downtown is historical with cobblestone streets and lamp posts you can tell are hundred years old. There’s many good restaurants over there like Fish Market, Firehouse, Chadwicks, Blackwall Hitch and more. Comment if you want any suggestions. You can also do haunted walking tours, walk around the marina, have some fun at either of the two local Irish pubs, or sometimes catch a karaoke night at Rock It.
Get your butt into the city – Alright, let’s be real. The fun part of DC is DOWNTOWN DC, not National Harbor. So if you have an early night off, grab a cab and head into the city. More suggestions of what to do downtown is here.
What’s your favorite city to travel to?