Planning: This is not a trip you do on a whim. Try to plan at least 6 months out. Average Cost Per Day: $250 - $350 if you’re solo traveling, $150 - $250 if you’re with 2 or more people. Must Do: The National Mall Don’t Do: If you’re a foodie, there are good restaurants but don’t go to DC on a foodie mission. Hectic Scale: 4 out of 5. There’s so much to do and you could spend a year doing it. Try not to cram. The White House: If you want to go, contact your local congressional leader. You can’t just walk up and take a tour.
Washington DC is the capital of the US and every step you take feels like a trip through history. Now, be forewarned; I’ve been to DC twice. The first time was in 2009 for the inauguration of the 44th President, Barack Obama. I was working on the crew that attended to the silver section of the crowded National Mall. The second time was to visit friends that I made while I was working that campaign in 2015.
So, what I’m saying is that on my first visit I was in town for quite possibly the most hectic event in a century and then on the second visit I enjoyed the city through the eyes of locals. I enjoyed both perspectives because it allowed me to see different sides of the city. Hanging out with locals in any destination is always rad because they know so much, and can help with the pitfalls of travel that come from false advertising and over-promising.
Now, I know. Right now, you’re sick of politics and you don’t want to hear about the guy in office so I’ll do my best to stay away from all of those gory details. It’s important to note though, that any trip to DC will have some sort of political component.
LET’S GET POLITICS OUT OF THE WAY
When you visit DC you have to check out the government buildings. They are as spectacular as they look on TV. I visited the National Mall, the Capitol Building, the Library of Congress, and of course the Washington Monument. Each of the buildings has it’s own charm and allure. I particularly liked looking out from Honest Abe’s statue over the National Mall to the Washington Monument. You feel the rush of power and history if you stop and take it all in. It also feels quite surreal since there are so many movies and TV shows filmed in that very spot. But, the city isn’t all monuments, museums, and men in suits. There’s more to DC than meets the eye: street fests, crazy nightlife, art exhibits with nightlife infused, and the people watching is pretty spectacular.
PRO TIP: DC locals never call the city Washington. It’s always DC and I guess I picked that up while I was there. If you wanna be one of the cool kids, remember that.
From here on out, I’m going to write like a local considering I have spent a combined 6 weeks in town. I’ll touch on some extremely touristy information, but I’m also going to drop some off the beaten path intel that you would benefit from checking out.
TRAVELING TO DC This isn’t one of those destinations you’ll have a hard time getting to. There are 3 airports with round the clock flights: Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA), Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI), and Dulles International Airport (IAD). However, only DCA is close to the city. BWI and IAD are far AF and if you’re staying for a short time I highly recommend striking them from the list. Yes, you’ll save $50 by flying into and out of one of those airports but the ride to your hotel and around the city from either of the far AF airports will far outweigh the savings. It takes forever and the meter is on!
WHEN SHOULD YOU TRAVEL TO WASHINGTON, DC? The first time I traveled to DC I went in January. It was cold, grey, and slushy. Coming from a winter wonderland I’m used to seeing snow sit for months on end. The snow in DC just kinda slides around, becomes slush, then water, then ice, then water again. In the summer, which my friends told me to avoid at all costs, it can get hot … and I mean really hot. Cook an egg on the sidewalk hot. That in mind, I thoroughly enjoyed going in September but from what I can tell anytime between March and early June or September to November is ideal. If you have one take away from this blog it should be when to go. I just saved your life. 😉 If you do go in Spring, try to time out your stay during the Cherry Blossom Festival. I hear it’s almost dream-like and I plan to go in the next couple of years.
GETTING AROUND If your main reason for going to DC is seeing the monuments, buildings, and political attractions then you can walk pretty much everywhere. I highly recommend some comfortable shoes with insoles. If you want to check out all of the attractions that I mentioned earlier and all that’s in between then you’re looking at a solid 8km of walking … mostly on hard ass concrete. Seriously, Sketchers.
If you’re trying to travel further, take the Metro. It’s connected to Google Maps so I won’t spend much time on this except to say it’s the fastest way around by far. If you’re more of a bike rider know these 3 things:
There are bike-share services that average about $10 for the bike. Very cool and super easy to use.
However, the drivers in DC are always in a rush so be careful and don’t ride a bike without knowing your signs and wearing a helmet. I saw a guy get creamed on a bike and he was doing absolutely nothing wrong.
Lock the bikes up! There’s a hefty fee for losing one.
A QUICK RUNDOWN OF SOME GREAT EXPERIENCES
Happy Hour: Sure, other cities have Happy Hour too, but no one does it like DC. Think about all the stress building up in those cubicles. After work, cheap drinks and deals on food are kinda institutionalized. The natives are restless, rabid, and ready to cut loose! Join them and I guarantee a good time. Vinoteca was my absolute favourite Happy Hour spot. The conversations are interesting, the vibe is hot, the women are beautiful, and I’ve seen more than one tie cut off.
Museum Mornings: There are so many museums but remember, this town is a huge field trip town. My recommendation would be to check out 2 museums for every 4 days you have in town and go right when they open. I made the mistake of going to the Holocaust Museum at 1:30 on a Friday. Oy vey! I felt like a babysitter. If I had heard one more kid say, “you’re tall” while grabbing on my pant leg I might have screamed! The Holocaust, Air & Space, and the American History Museums are my favourites but you can find a full list of all the museums you may want to visit here.
Later Landmarks: Of course, you’ll be wanting to check out the landmarks, monuments, and political epicenters! Go at dusk and stay till late. You’ll avoid ten’s of thousands of people and it’s much cooler to see at night. I went during the day on my first trip and night on my second trip … trust me; it’s so much better at night. I don’t feel like I need to list all of the monuments because, let’s face it, 99% of my readers know them, but just in case, here’s a link to all of them. Some tour companies also offer tours of DC by night if you’d rather have a guide who can teach you interesting facts and history about said monuments and memorials. Check out this bus tour at dusk, this trolley tour at twilight, and this evening walking tour. If you’re a couple traveling then I highly recommend going the tour company route at night. They’re kinda romantic.
If you’re in DC and the weather is nice on a Sunday, go check out Meridian Hill Park. It’s a complete contrast vs where all the tourists hang out. You’ll see the gentler side of the city with drum circles, picnics, scenery, and yoga. Oh, and I did karaoke here.
Still want to stretch out those Sketchers? Go check out Georgetown and the river, the Wharf, and maybe take in a boat tour. I know people go on and on about the restaurants in Georgetown but I much preferred jumping on boats and eating on there. It’s unique and beautiful.
Do you know what a speakeasy is? Of course you do, but for the uninitiated amongst us … speakeasy harken back to the days of prohibition. They were bars and restaurants that served alcohol hidden behind cover establishments like coffee shops and other small stores. I’m a huge fan of the prohibition era and have been constantly let down by speakeasies all over the world. HOWEVER, DC knows what’s up. My favorite go-to speakeasy is The Gibson and I won’t say any more than that besides, make sure to get a reservation. The rest you’ll have to figure out on your own.
WHERE TO STAY IN DC I stayed at a hotel that was booked for me the first time I stayed and at a friend’s place the second time so I defer to her for the info about hotels. Here’s what she said. For the budget-conscious traveler, choosing where to stay in Washington DC can be somewhat challenging. If you haven’t noticed, DC is divided up into a bunch of different neighborhoods that each have their own distinct identities and vibes. When deciding on a hostel or hotel, you’ll want to consider ease of walking places or taking public transportation, as well as attractions in that specific area.
To make your life easier, here are 2 neighborhoods/areas I’d recommend staying:
DOWNTOWN Downtown is the heart of the action, and you won’t have to walk far to get to the museums, monuments, and memorials. However, it’s by far the most expensive area to stay in DC, as it’s where the business travelers typically hang out. If you want to stay downtown, I’d recommend the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown as a good value option.
Staying in downtown can be a money suck if you don’t book far in advance or if you’re traveling during the high season. If you’re interested in saving some money, stay in a residential neighborhood of Washington DC. Oh look … those options are below. Read on…
CHINATOWN Chinatown is located north of the National Mall and is home to the National Portrait Gallery and the International Spy Museum, as well as the Capital One Arena and the Convention Center. There’s a lot going on here and is another tourist hotspot, but it has a distinctly more local vibe than the areas closer to the city center.
If you’re hoping to save a lot of money, Hostelling International – Washington, DC is located in Chinatown and is the most well-known and established hostel in the city. Based on the reviews, it’s pretty standard for a Hostelling International but it is affordable and very well-located. I can’t really do hostels personally, but if you’re game, Hostelling International is the Ferrari of hostel management companies.
For travelers who want private rooms, Pod DC Hotel is a fabulous budget option that’s walkable from most places you’ll want to see in the Chinatown or Downtown areas.
THAT’S A WRAP I think I’ve hit you with enough info for one blog. I plan to visit DC again soon and I’ll be sure to do a destination video. Until then, I hope this helped. The city is vibrant and alive but be prepared for some rude people power walking through you like you don’t exist and whatever you do, don’t let street merchants get too close. I’ve heard some really bad pickpocketing horror stories.
All in all, though, I’d say DC is a must for nearly anyone. The culture alone is enough to make the trip worth it. Add in some of what I mentioned and you’ll be very pleased with your travels to the US capital.
Until I go back there’s no video but this travel vlog by April Tandy is fun:
If you’ve been to DC and you know of some gems I didn’t mention, please list them in the comments.