Tourism: National Harbor and The Gaylord

national harbor

Last weekend was sunny, warm and the perfect day to spend on the waterfront, so my boyfriend decided to surprise me with a trip to National Harbor. We have tickets later in November for Kooza, which will be set-up on a lawn somewhere at the Harbor, so Matt thought it would be nice for us to walk around and visit before it gets too cold. So we headed on over.

National Harbor would be smart growth defined (if only it had public transit included) – it’s home to restaurants, hotels, the obvious harbor, condos, a troubled farmer’s market, shopping, and office space. And it’s perfectly manicured. I’m positive that somewhere in their marketing and advertising literature someone calls it ‘luxury living defined’. Which also makes it just a touch creepy. (I sometimes have a problem with perfection. Weirds me out.) But hey, on a day designed for us to play tourist, it’s perfect.

We went by water taxi, taking the National Harbor/Alexandria boat run by the Potomac River Boat Company. I have no idea how other people get there but the water taxi was packed and very popular. (I do believe you can drive, but why drive when you can go by boat?) The Potomac River Boat Company runs two taxis from Alexandria over to the Harbor. There are two docks, both a south dock at the Gaylord and the north dock at the Awakening statue, so you have plenty of choice on departure times. Very convinent and affordable. We paid $14 per person, round trip.


We chose the south dock, because I was feircely curious about the monstrocity that is the Gaylord. It is HUGE. In fact, the Web site says “[the] Gaylord National [is] the largest hotel in the Washington, D.C. area and the largest non-gaming combined hotel and convention center on the entire east coast.” It’s big. I’m not kidding. We strolled right into the hotel, which is basically a huge atrium, with hotel rooms facing inwards overlooking three stories of shops, and a bunch of restaurants. It’s GINORMOUS.

inside the gaylord

I’m not really doing it justice with that picture, but you get the idea. With 2,000 rooms the place is, well, large. I’m running out of synoyms for big, here. It’s worth the spectacle, it really is. We took the glass elevators up to the 17th floor (as high as it’ll let you go) and peered out the window. The view was amazing. You could see all of Old Town, down the Potomac to the Capitol and the Monument. We certainly weren’t the first with that idea, either. While we were up there four other groups came to look out the window. It is definitley one of the best views of the city I’ve ever seen!

So after checking out the Gaylord, we went to walk around the rest of the Harbor. It’s not too terribly big, I think it’s got maybe three street levels, but they sure do pack it in. There’s a Cake Love, a Potbellys, a Ben and Jerrys, and much much more to come. Rosa Mexicana just recently opened a location there, and I’m dying to try Ketchup when it opens. Just be warned, the lines in the places that are open are intense. And not very efficient. We left Ben and Jerrys three times before finally sucking it up and waiting literally twenty minutes in line. (I really wanted Half-Baked, okay?) Potbellys wasn’t much better either. I’m used to the super-fast Potbellys on L (the one at 19th and at 17th) – both are the pinnacle of efficent lunch-time lines. Trust me, the National Harbor Potbellys did NOT get the memo and does not have it down. So if you want to eat anything, be prepared to wait in long, slow lines. They’re opening a gelato place soon, which might help alleviate the Ben and Jerrys line that was ridiculously long, but consider yourself warned.

So we took our long-awaited Potbellys and sat on the steps down to the Awakening. Yup, folks, this is the “undisclosed” “secret” re-location location of the Awakening statue. I never saw it in its first location, Hains Point, but this one is fine. It’s pretty, the harbor in the background and all. I the best thing I saw was some girl stand in the face’s mouth to take a picture.

the awakening at national harbor

All in all, worth the trip, especially if you love to be on the water like I do, or want to spend a nice afternoon outdoors. Have you been? What did you think? Tell me in the comments!

Katie moved to DC in 2007, and has since embarked upon a love affair with the city. She’s an education reform advocate and communications professional during the day; at night and on the weekends, she’s an owner here at We Love DC. Katie has high goals to eat herself through the entire city, with only her running shoes to save her from herself. For up-to-the-minute news and reviews (among other musings), follow her on Twitter!

11 thoughts on “Tourism: National Harbor and The Gaylord

  1. I haven’t been either, but can see it from the rooftop of my building on the north end of Del Ray. I can tell even from there (about 6 crow-flying miles) that it’s megalithic in size! A neighbor from the building took his wife for an excursion in the spring, and they raved.

  2. Just an FYI on public transit…you can take the Metrobus (NH-1) straight to National Harbor. : -) they have the complete bus schedule on their website under the ‘directions’ tab at the bottom.

  3. Yay, transit-savvy SAA to the rescue. But I think to really be considered smart growth you need some SERIOUS public transit infrastructure (ie: metro, other connecting neighborhood buses, bike lanes, bike stands, etc.) that National Harbor is lacking.

    But good heads-up on the correct bus route!

  4. Correct me if I am wrong, but were you in a hurry to get out of Ben and Jerry’s and Potbelly’s? Whenever I am in a situation like that, especially when I don’t have to get back to work or something, I just let it flow and don’t worry about the speed with which I am being served. Does it really matter in the long run.

    Oh yeah, by the way I work on the same building as Potbelly’s on 17th. It truly is fast, but that is because people usually go on their lunch breaks and they need to get back to something.

    Did you have something to get back to that day at the Gaylord and proximity sites?

    Great post. I am interested in seeing what they have down there.

  5. Oh yeah, nothing compares, at least to me to the way Vegas hotels are in terms of the awe inspiring, a place I lived for a year after moving away from Reno, NV (my hometown).

  6. You were correct about the ‘creepy feeling’. Let me fill you in. I’ve lived in PG County up until I was 19 years old. When we first heard of this project the first words that were in the back of everybody’s mind was “they are going to build what? Where?”
    PG County is now DC twenty years ago. Fort Washington/Oxon Hill is one of the worst places you can live. Crime is rampant and the neighborhoods are in complete disrepair with foreclosures, don’t even get me started on the school system. The Gaylord is an oasis in the middle of a swamp. Some people said SE Navy Yard would never take off and look at it now, but this area has a river and a border to cross; the Gaylord does not. There is a reason the Gaylord resort has its own police station with state of art equipment and cameras everywhere; they have to. It will be a matter of time until the hood comes to hang out in this resort. And with condo prices similar to DC; I don’t think so.

  7. If you haven’t been to a Gaylord property before, it’s easy to believe this is a huge monster. But actually, it’s the smallest of the Gaylords I’ve been to over the past few years.

    They started with the “original” one in Nashville, TN. The first expansion was down in Orlando. It’s about 1.5X the size of the one here, although it isn’t perfect. The one in Texas is even better. And they are opening one up in San Diego, CA – I can’t wait to see that one.

    The thing about Gaylord is that the conventions LOVE them. I know that my company keeps looking at them for it’s annual conference – and would have gone to this one if it weren’t booked solid TWO years out already. Consider the perfect conference. Everything is walking distance. Huge convention space, with hotel under one roof. Restaurants in the huge atrium. Other places to eat nearby. And a tourist spot nearby for the family to visit while you are in meetings.

    If only the DC convention center had figured this out before they spent all that money on it.

  8. Pingback: We Love DC » Blog Archive » South Moon Under, National Harbor Style

  9. Pingback: We Love Weekends: August 29-30 » We Love DC

  10. Pingback: Ice Ice Baby » We Love DC