A Travel Guide To Washington, DC
Washington, DC is more than politics and parties - it is a unique city with plenty to offer for any traveler (and it happens to be one of my favorite cities in the entire world!).
Marvel at the monuments and Smithsonian museums along the National Mall, hit up bars & restaurants for happy hour drinks with locals after work, and don't forget to do brunch on the weekends.
With plenty to do in DC, it's tough to get bored.
Here's your travel guide to Washington, DC!
Getting To Washington, DC: Travel Logistics
Reagan (DCA): If you're flying from another US city, chances are you'll fly into Reagan. Situated along the Potomac River, it is the closest airport to central DC. Reagan is my preferred airport to fly into due its close proximity and ease of getting into the city as it is on the blue metro line.
Dulles (IAD): Washington Dulles airport is the main hub for international flights and is located west of the district, in Northern Virginia. While the metro's silver line will eventually extend to Dulles, as of writing (February 2017) it currently doesn't reach the airport. You will need to take an airport shuttle or taxi to get into the city.
Baltimore (BWI): I flew through Baltimore, Maryland for my very first visit to DC years ago, as I landed a summer job and had to move from Seattle to DC in three days...Baltimore had the cheapest last-minute flight! You'll need to take the MARC train from the BWI airport to DC's Union Station or the start of the yellow metro line, and then go from there into the city. This is quite the trek but is doable if you need to fly through Baltimore.
New to riding the metro? Check out this post on navigating a metro system, using the DC metro map as an example.
Weather in DC
The weather in DC is seasonal - expect mild springs, hot and humid summers, crisp autumns, and cold winters.
In January 2017 this year, it was around 40s-50s F, but I've been there in previous years with plenty of snow in February/March. Pack a pair of sturdy winter/snow boots if you'll be visiting when it is snowy or icy!
Also, keep in mind that cherry blossom season occurs in the spring! Check the "bloom watch" on the official cherry blossom festival website for expected dates. If you plan to visit during this time, book your flights and accommodations early as prices will climb and seats/rooms will fill fast.
I haven't personally been to DC during cherry blossom season, but it is high on my DC bucket list!
While DC itself is small there are many great pockets throughout, each with their own unique vibe.
Here are a few (of many) neighborhoods to consider!
Ahh, Georgetown! I love this neighborhood. It is of course named after Georgetown University, and there is plenty to do nearby: the waterfront, amazing food, shopping, and Georgetown Cupcake (famous for its show on TLC, DC Cupcakes).
Oh and apparently John Kerry lives in Georgetown. Not a big deal at all. :)
The homes in this neighborhood are super cute. If you love seeing cute east coast homes then make sure to walk around.
Wear good shoes! There are some cobblestone streets, and if you venture off M you'll walk plenty of hills to get to the side streets or to Georgetown's campus.
Keep in mind that Georgetown is not as easily located near a metro stop compared to some of the other neighborhoods, so you'll need to walk about 15 minutes across the bridge from the Rosslyn station, or about the same distance from the Foggy Bottom station (both stops are on the orange and blue lines).
Another one of my favorite neighborhoods! One of the things Dupont is known for is its food. The international cuisine is amazing (also note that many of the world embassies are located in this neighborhood so that can help explain why).
Dupont Circle has its own metro stop on the red line.
Also read: Dupont Circle Food Tour in Washington, DC
Not the best Chinatown in the world in my opinion (New York's is better IMO) but I've enjoyed this small part of town and the Asian restaurants! You'll find some shopping in the area, too - though you'll find more American chain stores like J. Crew and Urban Outfitters.
To get to Chinatown from the metro, get off at Gallery Place - Chinatown on the red line.
I've only been to Adam's Morgan a couple of times to go to dive-y bars with old co-workers, but we had fun! It is kind of more of a hipster part of town which could be refreshing if you need a break from the "DC" of DC.
You can get to Adams Morgan from the metro off the green line (U Street) or red line (Woodley Park - Adams Morgan).
Main Tourist Attractions
The National Mall is not a shopping mall - it is a long stretch of grassy area with Smithsonian museums, monuments, and memorials throughout.
GSE's favorite museums: Natural History Museum, American History Museum, Air & Space Museum, and the Holocaust Museum. Normally I wouldn't consider myself a huge "museum" person, but the museums in DC are top-notch, really interesting, and you can learn a lot. Plus, they're all free!
There are not many food options along the National Mall. You can find the typical concession carts with hot dogs, pretzels, ice cream, and tourist souvenirs. Other than the concession carts, the only other places to eat on the Mall are inside the museums. The museum eateries can have some good food, but prices are a little steep!
Also, I haven't had much time around the mall since a visit a couple years back, but in the summer we would find more urban/modern food trucks with various cuisine along one the streets at the Mall.
If you like to exercise outside, go for a run around the monuments in the morning or evenings to get a workout in, avoid the crowds, and enjoy the serenity of the area.
No visit to DC is complete without seeing the White House!
You can walk on the north or south side to snap some photos and view it from the outside.
If you want to take a White House tour (it's free!) you must apply and reserve a ticket before you visit. Tickets are first-come, first-serve, so they recommend applying well ahead of time (you can apply up to six months prior).
Walk Past The Vice President's Office
Not many people realize the VP works at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in addition to the West Wing. You'll see tourists taking photos of the White House and unknowingly stroll past the EEOB thinking it's simply a pretty and probably important building. (Here's what it looks like).
International Spy Museum
This museum is not located on the National Mall like many other museums. Instead, it's downtown.
What's cool about this museum is that there is an interactive simulation that was created by Disney Imagineers. It's really fun and very well-done.
This would be a cool family activity - when I was working an education conference, we took our students there!
Shopping on M Street in Georgetown
M Street in Georgetown is noted for its shopping and is one of the most popular shopping streets in the city.
I recommend walking up the side alleys off M Street for more boutiques and restaurants.
Two restaurants I love in Georgetown are Bodega (a sit-down Spanish tapas restaurant - delicious), and Moby Dick Kabobs (a quick, fast-casual Iranian kabob shop). You can't go wrong with Georgetown Cupcake, either!
There is much more to do in DC, and this guide only scratches the surface! I didn't even get to Arlington National Cemetery...Old Town Alexandria...The Kennedy Center of Performing Arts...
These are my favorite places and things to do in the city, and what I would recommend checking out for anyone's first visit to DC.
If you have additional recommendations or questions, leave 'em in the comments below!