Washington DC City Guide

Updated: Jun 25

When you think of the Nation's Capitol, two things probably come to mind: politics and monuments. While that is a huge component to DC, there is so much more to explore and love about this dynamic city. I've had the pleasure of living in DC now since Sept 2019 and still find so much to explore each and every day.



Things To Know Before You Go to DC

  • DC has a HOT summer and a COLD winter. Be prepared for the weather when you visit.

  • The DC Metro is extremely easy to use! There's really no need to rent a car in the city because you can get around everywhere with the Metro or Uber.

Airports - How To Get To DC

To fly into DC, you have 3 options. This is a huge perk since you're not limited to just one airport. However, DCA is by far the closest and most convenient option, especially if you're flying into the city for a quick weekend trip.


DCA - Ronald Reagan National Airport

This airport is the closest to DC which makes accessing the city very easy from the airport. You can take a quick uber ride ($20 and about 15-25 minutes) or take the Metro for $2 per person. The Metro is directly connected to the airport and it will take you right into the city.


BWI - Baltimore-Washington International Airport

Baltimore sounds far away, but this airport is still very accessible to the city. You can uber here ($50+ and 45+ minutes, depending on traffic). The metro doesn't go all the way to the Baltimore Airport, but you can take the train for just $7 each day. From the BWI airport, you'll get on a free shuttle that takes you to the train station (about 3 minutes away). From there, you'll purchase your Marc train ticket (or Amtrek - but that is more expensive) and board the train. Be sure to check train times because they are far less frequent than the metro so you may be waiting for a little bit. The train station will drop you off at Union Station - from there you can walk/uber to your destination or metro (located at Union Station).

BONUS - Union Station is a stunning train station. Be sure to save time to wonder around and explore this station while you're there.


IAD - Dulles International Airport

Oof. Dulles is a trek. I don't recommend flying into Dulles unless it is INSANELY cheaper. To get from Dulles Airport to DC, you'll need to take a $5 bus to the closest metro station. From there, you'll ride the metro into the city. It sounds simple, but is a bit more of a hassle with the bus.


Attractions - Best Things To Do In DC

Even though I've lived in DC since Sept 2019, I still love doing all of the classic touristy things around the city. There are literally endless things to do and see but my favorites are listed below!



1. Explore the National Mall - Monuments

Free, Ticket Required for Some


Depending on what you want to get out of the National Mall, this could be a few hours of your day, or an entire weekend of activities. There is so much to do and see at the National Mall, and most of it is completely free! If the weather is nice, plan to walk the 2 mile stretch and be prepared to be in awe of the monuments and buildings around you.


THE MUST SEE MONUMENTS are listed below:

  • Washington Monument - Talk about a great view! Take the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument to get a glimpse of the city from the sky! You'll need to reserve your ticket in advance here (note - each ticket is $1).

  • Lincoln Memorial - This iconic memorial sits at the very end of the National Mall and honors the 16th President of the United States. I prefer to visit this monument first thing in the morning before the crowds get there. You don't need to reserve a ticket or do in anything in advance for this memorial. Read more about it here.

  • The WWII Memorial– The serene WWII Memorial is a tribute to all who served and died fighting in WWII. A beautiful testament to those who worked to protect our country, the memorial is located across the reflecting pool from the Lincoln Memorial.

  • Jefferson Memorial - This monument is located at the edge of the Tidal Basin. If you visit during the spring, you may be lucky to see the gorgeous Cherry Blossoms that surround the Tidal Basin.


2. Visit a Smithsonian Museum

Free, Ticket Not Required


The Smithsonian Museums are *free* which makes them that much better. It is perfect for a rainy day or a great option. However, they tend to be very crowded (on week days they are filled with school field trips and on weekends they are filled with locals and tourists). Get there early to avoid lengthy security lines. Check out all of the Smithsonian Museums here.


THE BEST SMITHSONIAN MUSEUMS are listed below:

  • National Air and Space Museum - The National Air & Space Museum technically has two locations. The most popular location is on the National Mall and features large planes, spaceships, and more. Learn all about the history of flying here.

  • National Portrait Gallery - The Portrait Gallery features pictures of various people who have shaped the country to become what it is today! This includes actors, poets, artists, singers, and all Presidents of the US.

  • National Museum of Natural History - You've probably seen pictures of this iconic Museum of Natural History. This museum is the most popular and features the Mega Tooth Shark, African Elephant, Dino Fossils, and more. It is definitely the most eye-catching museum and fun for kids, too!


3. Tour the White House

Free, Ticket Required


A visit to DC is not complete without a tour of the White House. It is pretty cool to see the inside of the President's home and get a behind the scenes look at the security around the White House. The Tour is free and self guided, but requires a ticket booked far in advance through your State Representative. You'll get to see about 5-6 various rooms in the house and walk out through the front lawn.


4. Tour the Capitol Building

Free, Ticket Required


This building is stunning inside and out. If you'd like to see the inside, make sure you book a ticket in advance as spots fill up quickly. Tours are about an hour long and include a movie and walking tour inside. It was one of the first things I did when I moved to DC and I truly loved it!


5. Pay Your Respects at the Arlington National Cemetery

Free

The beautiful, sacred grounds of the Arlington National Cemetery will bring a somber moment to your trip to DC. Be prepared to walk a lot, or pay for a shuttle ride through the cemetery. The must see things here are the Unknown Soldiers Tomb, changing of the guards, JFK tombstone, and the Memorial Amphitheater.


6. Enjoy a Panoramic View at the Old Post Office Tower

Free, No Ticket Required


If the panoramic view at the top of the Washington Monument wasn't enough for you, check out the Old Post Office Tower. Some people say the view is even better than the Washington Monument since you can actually see the monument in the view - you should be the judge of which is better! :)


The Old Post Office is currently used as the Trump International Hotel, but the tower is operated by the National Park Service. You may visit daily from 9AM-4:30PM for free.


7. Shop & Dine at The Union Market

The Union Market is a DC Staple. Tourists and Locals alike will flock to this market for great shopping and unique restaurants.


8. Go Undercover at the International Spy Museum

$24.95pp, Ticket Required


There are so many fun, free museums in DC that you're probably wondering why I'm recommending one that costs money. Let me tell you - it is worth every penny. The International Spy Museum recently upgraded to a new building allowing it to expand and offer more interactive experiences. This museum is fun for kids and adults. You'e given a Secret Identity when you enter that you get to use throughout the museum. I recommend buying tickets in advance for this because they tend to sell out day-of.


9. Visit the Washington National Cathedral

Free to $12pp, Ticket Not Required


Stand in awe as you admire the beautiful National Cathedral. You can visit for free by attending Sunday Service, which is open to the public. Otherwise, tickets are $12 per person.


Bonus: Check out these fun facts about the Cathedral!


10. Experience DC Sports!

$15 to $200+pp, Ticket Required


Cheer for one of the many DC sports teams during your visit to the Capitol. There are so many different sports teams here in the city that you're bound to find one you like! When I moved to DC, I had never been to a hockey game, but now I'm obsessed with them! Check out a full guide to DC Sports here.

  • Washington Nationals (Baseball)

  • DC United (Soccer)

  • Washington Redskins (Football)

  • Washington Wizards (Basketball)

  • Washington Capitols (Hockey)


11. Explore Different Neighborhoods In & Around DC

Free, No Ticket Required


There are so many different parts of DC to explore. Some of the neighborhoods itself are the attraction that offers plenty of shopping, dining, and unique experiences. Check out my favorite neighborhoods:

  • Georgetown - The most obvious DC neighborhood is Georgetown. It is known for being a historic, quaint town

  • The Wharf - This up and coming area is right on the water and the best place to grab drinks with friends.

  • The Navy Yard - Another up and coming area. Here you'll find the Nats Stadium along with tons of bars, restaurants, and shops.

  • Chinatown - Located right near Capitol Hill, Chinatown is a fun area to explore and get authentic Asian cuisine. It is also directly next to the Capitol One Arena (hockey and basketball arena).


12. United States Botanical Garden -

Free, No Ticket Required


My personal favorite "museum" is the Botanical Garden. They offer beautiful exhibits each season of the year. You can tour the Observatory (10AM-5PM) or the National Garden (7:30AM-5PM).


13. Visit the "Black Lives Matter" Plaza

Free, No Ticket Required


DC's Mayor Bowser made history on June 5, 2020 when she renamed a 2-block street "Black Lives Matter Plaza" and painted it yellow. It's located at 16th Street NW, south of K St NW, extending through I St, and north of H Street NW on the north side of President's Park.


14. Try the Iconic "Ben's Chili Bowl" Restaurant


Ben's Chili Bowl is a staple here in DC. It's been around for 61 years and is here to stay! Trying their chili is an absolute must while in DC. The original location is on U-Street but there are a few other locations (including 1 at DCA airport).


15. Watch a Play at Ford's Theatre

$25+, Ticket Required


The Ford Theatre is most known for the tragic assassination of President Lincoln. You can tour during the day to see the ins and outs of the theatre and learn more about the tragic day in history. OR, you can experience the Fords theatre in action at one of their live performances! Ticket prices range in price!


16. Dine at a "Top Chef" Restaurant

$30+, Reservation Recommended


If you're a fan of Top Chef, you'll love dining in DC. A lot of contestants on the famous show live here in DC and own their own restaurants. Some of the most popular ones are:


17. Visit the National Arboretum

Free, No Ticket Required


Visiting the National Arboretum will take your breath away. Explore over 400 acres of gardens and more. It's open daily from 8AM to 5PM.


18. Walk Along the Tidal Basin

Free, No Ticket Required


The Tidal Basin is most famous for the lovely cherry blossoms (which bloom yearly in March/April). However, the Tidal Basin is a beautiful place to walk around all year round. Along the Tidal Basin is the famous Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King Memorial. You'll see the Washington Monument in the background, too!


This is just the start of fun things you can do in DC. AND, did you notice most of the things are free?! That's my favorite part about DC - so many free activities at your finger tips! Your options are endless. Have fun exploring the Nation's Capitol!


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