If you are planning to visit the Capital of the United States, there are some thing you should know before coming.
While DC is much like any other big city in America, it has its differences. However, no matter how big or small those differences are, you are going to have a fantastic time exploring this city.
Tips for visiting Washington, D.C.
What is the actual name of the city? You could call it DC, District of Columbia or even Washington, D.C. Some of the locals will just refer to their neighborhood like “Georgetown.”
Washington, D.C. is not a state. It is just a territory in America and the Nations Capital.
The US Dollar is the currency exchange in the city and surrounding states. ATM machines are readily available, starting in the airports. It would be wise to keep some cash on you for things like street vendors who don’t take credit cards.
That being said – credit cards are widely accepted, including American Express. You would be hard pressed to find a place that does not take credit card (unless it is a small street vendor). You should let your bank and credit card companies know you are traveling so you don’t have any issues trying to take out cash or pay for something.
You can drive to DC and a lot of people do road trip here. If you do not already know, the city is a maze. And a very busy one at that. It is highly recommended to use public transportation to get where you need to go. Parking in DC can be tricky as a lot of garages fill up and some are expensive. There is some free parking in DC, but as you can imagine, it fills up quick. If you do find a free spot, double check the times so you don’t get a ticket or towed. You should also check how much your hotel charges to keep your car per night. Valet can get very expensive in the city.
Other ways to get to DC: several buses and train routes on the east coast service Washington DC like Amtrak, Greyhound, Megabus, and more. You can take a bus from New York to DC in about four or so hours depending on the time of day and a train in under three hours if you book an express. You could also fly to one of the three airports in the area. Reagan National Airport (DCA) is the closet to the city and then there is Dulles (IAD) in Virginia and Baltimore (BWI) in Maryland.
Pay attention to the address designation. Washington DC is split up into four areas with the same addresses, but ending different. Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, Southeast. You will want to make sure you know exactly which one you are headed to.
If you are taking in a show at the Kennedy Center (and we highly recommend it – just plan well in advance) and using public transportation, the Foggy Bottom Metro Station has a free shuttle there.
There is a wealth of free things to do in Washington, D.C., including ALL the Smithsonian Museums and Zoo (The Holocaust Memorial Museum, U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing and The National Museum of African American History and Culture do require tickets to enter) , the National mall, Monuments, and Memorials. You could essentially pay to come to the city and do all the free stuff.
The National Mall & Memorial Parks is a designated National Park and considered “America’s front yard.”
The White House is also free but takes advance planning to get screened and/or tickets. Plan ahead if this is on your list. Last time checked, the White House is a six month + application process.
As for things to do in Washington, D.C. at night, the Monuments are a great option. You can either walk or take a guided tour to see them all lit up. Seeing them lit up at night is an entirely new experience and usually a lot of people are not out.
The best place to see the sunrise is on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Looking out you will see the reflection pond, WWII Memorial and the Washington Monument.
One of the best places to see a sunset is also by the Washington Monument. You could go to the steps of the Capitol Building and watch down The Mall, Yards Park, Tidal Basin looking towards the Jefferson Memorial, POV Rooftop, and many more locations around the city.
Getting around the city is pretty easy. You can use services such as Uber, Lyft, Capital Bikeshare, the Metro or buses, and walking is a great option too.
The Washington DC Metro area Metro has 91 stops making up the green, yellow, blue, red, orange, and silver lines that cover most of the city. The only major area the Metro does not go is Georgetown. The two easiest walk able Metro stops to get to Georgetown would be Dupont Circle and Rosslyn. With Rosslyn, it is located in Virginia and you would have to walk across the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge. But everyone does it, so you won’t be doing it alone.
The Pentagon is the largest office building in the United States and located in Washington, D.C. With about 26,000 employees working in the building. Of the 800,000 or so people who work in DC each day. a large percentage of them are going to just one location .. that has SIXTEEN parking lots.
Knowing that many people work in the city and with the about 22 million visitors who come to the city each year, you can imagine the city is usually busy.
Some of the busiest and most expensive times to visit and when the city sees an influx of visitors are: during the Cherry Blossoms. fourth of July, Inauguration, spring (for spring break, Easter and school trips), and a lot of the summer when kids are out of school.
The best time to visit Washington DC is largely going to depend on your schedule. If you are flexible and trying to save money and avoid crowds, come in late August when everyone has left. It will be pretty hot but the discounts and lack of crowds will be worth it. Late fall when everyone is back to school and summer is clearly gone is also a great time to visit as well as late January – up until the Cherry Blossoms (which is unknown and dependent on the weather). If your schedule is not very flexible, the city is great year round, you just may pay a premium if you are coming for a special event or during high season.
Arlington Cemetery is technically in Arlington, VA but it has its own Metro stop. It is quite big but worth the visit. You should check out the changing of the guard with the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, John F. Kennedy’s grave and rows upon rows of gravestones.
Love planes? While the Air and Space Museum is a MUST, don’t miss a chance to see live planes either taking off or landing at Gravelly Point Park outside of Reagan National Airport. If you have driven into the city, you can easily get there by driving through the airport and after exiting to head back to DC, you will see a turn on the right for the park that has a lot of parking. There is no Metro that goes here, so if you do not have a car, use a ride sharing service like UBER.
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