Washington, D.C. travel guide

Washington, D.C. Tourism | Washington, D.C. Guide

You're Going to Love Washington, D.C.

Politics, culture, history and family attractions combine to form a perfect vacation package in Washington D.C., so why not book a getaway to America's capital for your next trip?

On one hand, Washington is a place to get in touch with history and the roots of democracy. Spend a few days on the Mall visiting Washington's huge array of memorials and shrines to political giants like Abraham Lincoln, inspirational heroes like Martin Luther King Jr and those who sacrificed their lives during the Vietnam War. Plan in advance, and you can even enjoy a magical tour around the White House - a once in a lifetime experience.

On the other hand, Washington D.C. offers plenty for thrill seekers and entertainment lovers. Watch NFL, Major League, NBA or NHL matches. Catch a music performance at the Kennedy Center. Visit the fantastic zoo or hop between gourmet restaurants from every part of the world.

Such a unique blend of history, politics and vacation attractions makes Washington D.C. a superb destination for families, couples and solo travelers, so if you haven't visited, now's the time to do so.

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Washington, D.C.

A Chance to Visit the Nation's Political Heart

Washington D.C. is one of the most important cities on the planet for one single reason: it's the seat of the U.S. Federal Government. If you want to see how politics is done, tours of the White House or Capitol Hill are a must.

Take a Tour Through American History

Since its founding in 1801, Washington D.C. has seen a lot of history - from the savagery of the Civil War to the Great Depression and the Civil Rights era. You can get a great sense of how America has developed by touring attractions like the Lincoln Memorial, Ford's Theater and the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. If history is your passion, a visit to Washington D.C. will be utterly fascinating.

World Class Museums

Modern Washington isn't just a political center. It's also a major hub for arts and culture, mainly due to the vast Smithsonian Institution. You could spend days touring its 19 museums, which include the superb National Air and Space Museum, but don't neglect other institutions, like the quirky and fun Spy Museum or the Newseum, dedicated to the business of newspapers.

Food and Drink from all over the World

One of the benefits of hosting visitors from all over the world has been that Washington has developed a wonderfully cosmopolitan food culture. Dine at high-class Ethiopian restaurants like Dukem, try the Brazilian dishes at Texas de Brazil, enjoy authentic curries at Rasika or go for down-home country cooking at Southern Efficiency. Whatever you want, you'll find it in D.C.

Superb Sporting Attractions

Sports fans can also find something to love when they visit Washington D.C. There's NFL action when the Redskins are in town, while the Nationals compete in Major League Baseball, the Wizards play in the NBA and the Capitals in the NHL - so every major sport is covered.

What to do in Washington, D.C.

Take a Tour of the White House

One of the city's major attractions, the White House is the home of the U.S. president and a captivating place to visit. If you want to see the Oval Office or the Lincoln Bedroom, be sure to book well in advance (at least 21 days) as places are always limited.

Visit the Presidential Memorials

Washington's city center contains impressive memorials to America's greatest presidents, with shrines dedicated to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Grant. Visiting them all is a powerful experience, and provides a unique window into the nation's history (and it can be done very easily thanks to the circulator buses).

Visit all of the Smithsonian Museums

Washington D.C. is probably American's number one destination for museums, and most of them come under the umbrella of the Smithsonian Institution. This includes 19 different museums, across a wide range of subjects, with highlights including the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History.

Take your Kids to the National Zoo

Located in the Upper Northwest neighborhood, Washington's National Zoo is one of the nation's largest and most popular. See everything from gibbons and pandas to Amazonian piranhas, American bison and a huge collection of reptiles.

Book Tickets to a Kennedy Center Show

The Kennedy Center is one of the U.S.' premier cultural venues, hosting performances by the Washington National Opera and the National Symphony Orchestra. It has a constant program of events including jazz, live theater and ballet - so if you want a cultural treat during your stay, it's the best place to go.

Take a Tour of the White House

One of the city's major attractions, the White House is the home of the U.S. president and a captivating place to visit. If you want to see the Oval Office or the Lincoln Bedroom, be sure to book well in advance (at least 21 days) as places are always limited.

Visit the Presidential Memorials

Washington's city center contains impressive memorials to America's greatest presidents, with shrines dedicated to Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Grant. Visiting them all is a powerful experience, and provides a unique window into the nation's history (and it can be done very easily thanks to the circulator buses).

Visit all of the Smithsonian Museums

Washington D.C. is probably American's number one destination for museums, and most of them come under the umbrella of the Smithsonian Institution. This includes 19 different museums, across a wide range of subjects, with highlights including the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History.

Take your Kids to the National Zoo

Located in the Upper Northwest neighborhood, Washington's National Zoo is one of the nation's largest and most popular. See everything from gibbons and pandas to Amazonian piranhas, American bison and a huge collection of reptiles.

Book Tickets to a Kennedy Center Show

The Kennedy Center is one of the U.S.' premier cultural venues, hosting performances by the Washington National Opera and the National Symphony Orchestra. It has a constant program of events including jazz, live theater and ballet - so if you want a cultural treat during your stay, it's the best place to go.

Where to Eat in Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C. is packed with superb restaurants from almost all areas of the world. If you want to splash out, head to Georgetown or the East End, where eateries like Kinship and Minibar offer gourmet entrees from elite chefs (and a meal will cost upwards of $60 per head). For more affordable eats, try the tapas selection at Jaleo, Ethiopian restaurants like Dukem in Shaw or El Chalan, the city's best Peruvian restaurant. Whatever your tastes, Washington has chefs who can deliver. Expect midrange meals to cost $15-25.

When to visit Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. in December
Estimated hotel price
$211
1 night at 3-star hotel
Washington, D.C. in December
Estimated hotel price
$211
1 night at 3-star hotel

Seeing the sights in Washington often requires a lot of walking, which can be tough in the extremely hot, humid summers. This makes spring and fall an excellent time to visit. With temperatures in the 60s most days, you will be able to wander the Mall and neighborhoods like Georgetown in complete comfort. Winter is a cheaper alternative, and the Mall can be magical in the snow, but Washington does experience severe freezes and snow storms, so it may not be for everyone.

Data provided by weatherbase
Temperatures
Temperatures
Average
Celcius (°C)
Data provided by weatherbase

How to Get to Washington, D.C.

Plane

If you are flying into Washington D.C., you'll have two potential entry points. Many domestic flights touch down at Ronald Reagan National Airport, which is around 3 miles south of the city center. From there, the best route into town is to take the Yellow or Blue MetroRail service, which takes 15 minutes. Buses 13F and 13G also run into the East End of Washington and cost $1.75. Another option is flying into Dulles International Airport, which is 26 miles out of town. From there, you can catch the Silver Line Express Bus to Wiehle-Reston East Metro Station, which costs $5. After that, take the MetroRail service into the East End. The whole journey takes around an hour. Alternatively, you can catch Metrobus 5A, which costs $7 and takes around the same amount of time.

Train

Washington's central Amtrak station is Union Station, located near Capitol Hill. The city has excellent connections to cities like Richmond, New York, Boston and Philadelphia via services like the Cardinal, Crescent, and Carolinian. There are also regional rail connections to cities like Fredericksburg, VA, and Baltimore.

Car

If you are driving into Washington D.C. from the north or south, I-95 is the road to take, while the Baltimore Parkway connects Washington with Baltimore. Anyone coming from the south and west can hook up with I-81, while anyone driving from Chicago needs to take I-65, then take I-70.

Bus

Washington D.C. has excellent bus connections with Eastern Seaboard cities like New York and Philadelphia via companies like Greyhound, Megabus, BoltBus, BestBus, Vamoose Bus, Peter Pan and Tripper Bus and fares from New York can be as low as $10. Most buses terminate at Union Station.

Airlines serving Washington, D.C.

United Airlines
Good (69,523 reviews)
American Airlines
Good (47,698 reviews)
Lufthansa
Good (28,424 reviews)
KLM
Good (3,808 reviews)
Delta
Good (30,763 reviews)
Air France
Good (4,367 reviews)
British Airways
Good (23,354 reviews)
Turkish Airlines
Good (23,624 reviews)
SWISS
Excellent (9,192 reviews)
Qatar Airways
Excellent (11,550 reviews)
Iberia
Good (6,170 reviews)
Air Canada
Good (25,055 reviews)
Austrian Airlines
Good (4,862 reviews)
Emirates
Excellent (15,780 reviews)
TAP AIR PORTUGAL
Good (5,585 reviews)
Brussels Airlines
Good (2,482 reviews)
Scandinavian Airlines
Good (5,454 reviews)
Alaska Airlines
Excellent (30,346 reviews)
Finnair
Good (3,882 reviews)
JetBlue
Excellent (20,186 reviews)
Show more

Where to stay in Washington, D.C.

Washington D.C. offers accommodation options for all tastes - but rooms aren't always cheap. At the lowest end of the price scale, hostels like Capital View or D.C. Lofty provide affordable dorm rooms. Good family options include the Hampton Inn (near Washington Convention Center) and Henley Park Hotel, both of which are moderately priced. However, for a real luxury accommodation experience, try upscale hotels like the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown or the Mayflower Hotel, which regularly hosts presidents and visiting dignitaries.

Popular neighbourhoods in Washington, D.C.

The West End – The West End lies west of the White House and offers plenty of upmarket hotels and attractions. It's the home of K Street, famous for its political lobbyists and Foggy Bottom, which hosts world institutions like the IMF. For tourists, the West End is the best place to stay if you are focused on touring the White House, and there are many other attractions in the neighborhood, including the National Geographic Museum and Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The East End – The East End lies on the other side of the White House, and it's equally upscale. Attractions in the area are almost endless, from the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, to the National Air and Space Museum, Ford's Theater (the site of Lincoln's assassination) and the fascinating International Spy Museum.

Georgetown – Famous for its university, Georgetown feels different to the rest of Washington, which may be due to its being much older than the rest of the city (some buildings date back to the 1750s). It's a great base to explore the Downtown attractions, and has highlights of its own, including the beautiful gardens of Tudor Place, the 18th-century City Tavern Club and the chance to watch candlelit live music on Dumbarton Street.

Most popular hotel in Washington, D.C. by neighbourhood

Where to stay in popular areas of Washington, D.C.

Most booked hotels in Washington, D.C.

State Plaza Hotel
Excellent (8.8, Excellent reviews)
$257+
SpringHill Suites by Marriott Alexandria Old Town/Southwest
Excellent (8.8, Excellent reviews)
$198+
Morrison House Old Town Alexandria, Autograph Collection
Excellent (8.9, Excellent reviews)
$424+
Washington Plaza
Excellent (8.4, Excellent reviews)
$260+
Omni Shoreham Hotel
Excellent (8.4, Excellent reviews)
$290+
Lorien Hotel & Spa
Excellent (8.4, Excellent reviews)
$340+
See all hotels

How to Get Around Washington, D.C.

Public Transportation

Public transportation in Washington is provided by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and options include MetroRail, MetroBuses and circulator buses which serve the major attractions (and cost just $1 for a single ride). The Metro is usually the best way to get around. Tickets cost $1.75 during off-peak periods and $2.15 at peak times, but day and week passes are also available and offer major savings. Visitors need to know that all Metro riders need to purchase a SmartTrip Card, which can be obtained from stations in the D.C. Metro area.

Taxis

If you don't have a vehicle of your own, taxis are a good way to avoid long walks between attractions. Taxi rates in Washington D.C. start with a basic charge of $3 and then charge $2.16 for every subsequent mile. However, getting around Washington is even cheaper with Uber, who charge a meter drop of $1.15, then around $1 per mile, with a minimum fare of $6.35.

Car

Renting a car isn't usually the best option in Washington D.C. (unless you are staying in an outlying suburb). That's because the major attractions are all located in the same neighborhood and parking at different locations isn't generally practical. The city also tends to experience heavy rush hour traffic, making Washington an awkward city to navigate by car.

Car hire agencies in Washington, D.C.

Enterprise

Enterprise

Hertz

Hertz

Avis

Avis
Find car hire in Washington, D.C.

The Cost of Living in Washington, D.C.

Shopping Streets

America's capital isn't usually thought of as one of the best places around to shop at boutiques or craft markets, but some districts have great places to browse for unique clothing and other items. Georgetown has some fantastic women's clothing stores like Violet and Ella-Rue, while Shaw offers apparel boutiques like Lettie Gooch. If you need to access a large-scale conventional mall, head to Potomac Mills in the suburb of Woodbridge, where the 200+ stores include major names like the LEGO store and Aldo.

Groceries and Other

Washington D.C. has its fair share of major supermarkets, including Giant, Aldi, Trader Joe's and Safeway. But if you want to shop for fresh produce and artisan foods, head to the Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, which is on every Saturday and Sunday. Prices are quite high by national standards, and you should expect to pay around $3.70 for 12 eggs or $1.90 for a pound of potatoes.

Cheap meal
$23.39
A pair of jeans
$77.29
Single public transport ticket
$4.68
Cappuccino
$6.43