Washington DC is the fascinating capital of the USA. Filled with eclectic neighbourhoods and vibrant cultural events, it sees over 22 million people visitors each year. With so much to see, do and eat, a trip here can seem a little overwhelming. So, to avoid getting lost in the crowds, here are some Washington DC travel tips to make your life easier.
1. Avoid driving to, and in, the city
Washington DC is one of the most walkable cities in the USA, but it can be quite difficult to navigate by car. Its traffic circles and one-way streets can be quite confusing for those who’ve never been to DC before.
2. Use the city’s excellent public transportation
The city has a well-connected public transportation system including both Metro and bus. The Metro has six lines (Yellow, Blue, Silver, Green, Orange and Red) that are all interconnected, and also connect with suburban stations in Virginia and Maryland. Remember to get a SmartTrip card which you can top up as needed.
3. When you use a Metro escalator, stand to the right.
Much like in London, there’s a certain etiquette to using the Metro in Washington DC. Remember to stand on the right and leave the left-hand side for people walking up or down. Also, stand clear of the train doors and don’t try to rush through, as even one malfunctioning door can delay the whole train.
4. You’ll find cheaper hotels outside DC itself
Hotels in the city can be quite expensive, so unless you’re planning to use an Airbnb or couch-surf, head to the areas around D.C. for hotels that cost much less.
5. Choose the right time to visit
Washington DC can be extremely hot and muggy in summer, while winter weather is often very cold. Spring and autumn have much more pleasant weather, as well as the accompanying crowds and higher prices. However, springtime also brings the blooming of the cherry blossoms and vibrant festivals, including the world-famous Cherry Blossom Festival.
6. Make sure to take a refillable water bottle
Walking around Washington DC can make you hot and thirsty. Save on both money and plastic pollution by carrying your own water bottle with you. You’ll find lots of attractions with water fountains and free tap water where you can easily refill it.
7. The National Mall is longer than you think
Stretching from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall is 1.9 miles (3.0 km) long It is lined with fascinating monuments and museums, making it perfect to explore on foot (though there are also bus tours). But remember, wear comfortable shoes and carry lots of water.
8. Try to visit the monuments at night
Many of the monuments on the National Mall can be quite crowded during the day. However, they’re also open 24 hours a day, so to recap the crowds and get a truly spectacular and unique view of these places, visit after dark. You can even go on the “Monuments by Moonlight” Night Tour to learn more about them.
9. If you want to see inside the Capitol or the White House, plan well in advance
The White House and the US. Capitol Building are some of the most recognizable buildings in the United States. However, you can’t just turn up and go on a tour. To visit the Senate and House floors in the Capitol, apply for passes beforehand. For a tour of the White House, submit a request to a member of congress (for US citizens) or contact your country’s embassy in Washington DC (for foreign citizens) at least a month in advance for your proposed visit.
10. Remember that the Smithsonian museums are free to enter
Like the monuments lining the National Mall, all 19 museums of the Smithsonian Institution offer free admission to visitors (though some do require advance bookings). So take full advantage of this and check of fascinating places such as the American History Museum, the Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, the National Zoo, and more.
11. But, don’t miss out on the paid museums as well
With so many free sights in the city, it is often tempting to skip those sights and museums with paid admission. But try not to miss out on wonderful places such as the International Spy Museum and the Newseum.