But realistically speaking, are the nation's capitol or the birthplace of the cheesesteak as riveting as a sunny beach in Mexico?
"There's a lot to D.C. that gets swept under the rug that is the Mall and the museums," said Allen Hunter, a senior majoring in history at Georgetown University. "Tourists come and they see one small sector, but really, there's a whole lot to D.C. that's off the beaten path."
Students from Georgetown and the University of Pennsylvania and tourism experts from each city gave some suggestions for how to make the most out of the cheap bus tickets to these cities on spring break.
- The tourist attractions: Washington is packed with monuments, attractions, walking tours, and museums. And the best part? "A lot of these attractions are free," said Chris Gieckel, the international media relations manager of Destination DC. "People don't often see D.C. as a spring break destination, but it's definitely a spring-break friendly city to somebody on a college budget." From the Smithsonian to the Lincoln Memorial, there's a lot to do.
- The neighborhoods: Obviously, the Mall and the museums are the big attractions, but Hunter said to check out two other neighborhoods, Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle. He said that both neighborhoods offered vibrant bars, restaurants and nightlife for college students. "There are a lot of things for young people," Hunter said.
- Food: In addition to pointing out D.C.'s tourist attractions, Gieckel supplied a list of restaurants with meals for under $5: J-Paul's in Georgetown for inexpensive oysters, Ping Pong Dim Sum in Chinatown for half-price food during happy hour, Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill for a burger and fries, and My Brother's Place near the Capitol for happy hour deals. Hunter's must-visit is Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street, which he calls "a D.C. legend," for chili dogs and burgers.
- Entertainment: Hunter's favorite music venue in DC is the 9:30 Club, where he's seen everything from rap staple The Roots to quiet folk music from Iron & Wine. On the more traditional side, Gieckel said the Shakespeare Theater Company offers $10 tickets (and occasionally, performances by legends like Helen Mirren). And baseball and basketball fans are in luck, because tickets to Nationals and Wizards game are on the cheaper side.
- Getting around: It definitely isn't necessary to have a car in D.C. Both Gieckel and Hunter recommend taking D.C.'s Metrorail subway system, which Hunter calls "clean, safe and cheap." Of course, DC's also a great place to just walk around.
- The tourist attractions: Looking for the Philadelphia of 1776? The Independence National Historical Park has plenty of national monuments like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Donna Schorr, director of communications for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., recommends first hitting the visitors center for information regarding historic Philadelphia and other big tourist pulls. But hey, don't forget Philly also ranks, arguably, as the Yummy Junk Food Capital of America--what with its soft pretzels, Tastykakes, thin-crust pizza, hoagies ... and of course, cheesesteaks. So include a visit to Jim's Steaks on South Street for a real Philadelphia treat, slathered in fried onions and provolone. Extra-strength Tums optional, but advised.
- The neighborhoods: Maureen Devenny, a student who works for Penn's admissions department, said for college students, South Street is the trendy place to go. "It has a lot of grittier drinking venues and really good concert venues that are very inexpensive," Devenny said. She also recommended checking out Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, a mosaic maze built from tiles and tons of odds and ends ("pieces of glass, toilet seats, figurines and bike wheels," Devenny said). And for window shoppers (and regular shoppers alike), she says to check out Center City.
- Food: In terms of eating out, aside from the numerous cheesesteak haunts, the big thing in Philadelphia, according to Devenny and Schorr, is to BYOB. "A lot of people like to grab a ton of wine and go to BYOs," Devenny said. "There's a lot of BYOs that are good and cheap, so that's a fun thing to do." Schorr pointed to the VisitPhilly.com Web site as a source to explore some of the 200+ BYOBs in the city.
- Entertainment: For a classy night of Philadelphia entertainment, Devenny recommends looking up the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kimmel Center. Student rush tickets are sometimes available 30 minutes before the performance for $10 (with a student ID, of course). Also, Devenny said that standing-room-only Phillies baseball tickets are pretty cheap.
- Getting around: There's a subway system and plenty of buses in Philadelphia, but if you're traveling in groups, Devenny said it's just as inexpensive to split cabs. "Oftentimes if my friends and I are going somewhere and it's a choice between the subway and the taxi, usually the price is about the same so we'll just take a taxi," she said.