Washington D.C. Travel Guide
With its marbled monuments and high-profile politicos, Washington, D.C., has long been saddled with a reputation as a stuffy government-driven town. A "city of southern efficiency and northern charm," as John F. Kennedy once described it, Washington is often seen by outsiders as slow and inefficient. But these days, our nation's capital is awash with a new energy, transforming itself into an exciting, faster-paced East Coast vacation destination. Although government is still the ... continue»
See the Best Hotels in Washington D.C.»
The best times to visit Washington, D.C., are from September to November and March to May. In the autumn, the sweltering summer is gone, taking with it most of the high-season tourists. All that's left are crisp breezes and changing leaves, which, by the way, look great against all those marble monuments. Second to fall is spring, which is also a mini high season thanks to the Cherry Blossom Festival in late March and early April. Summer in D.C. is hot and sticky, making less than ideal conditions for exploring the great outdoors. That said, many museums blast air conditioning, so if you can stand the heat, you'll find plenty of free attractions to keep you entertained. Winter is definitely low season. And though the chance to find lower hotel rates is high and the weather is mild compared to other destinations along the East Coast, the city is prone to freezing cold temperatures and snowstorms.Best Times to Visit Washington D.C.»
Washington D.C. Neighborhoods
Washington, D.C., is laid out on a grid pattern, with numbered and lettered streets intersected by diagonal avenues. Most of these diagonal avenues are named after states. Generally, streets running east to west have lettered names in alphabetical order as you travel north. So you would walk north to get from K Street Northwest to L Street Northwest. The numbered streets run north to south — and increase as you travel west in Northwest D.C. and as you travel east in Northeast D.C. Therefore, you would walk west to get from 19th Street Northwest to 20th Street Northwest; you would walk east to get from 11th Street Northeast to 12th Street Northeast.
Northwest is where you'll find most government office buildings, as well as the majority of the city's postcard-worthy attractions. This quadrant is also home to a bunch of the top nightlife and entertainment options, and a burgeoning restaurant scene.
Accessible via the Federal Triangle, Smithsonian and Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter Metro stations.
A beautiful green space that stretches for more than 2 miles and serves as a central point of the city, the iconic National Mall is anchored by the U.S. Capitol Building on one end, and the Lincoln Memorial on the other. In the middle, the Washington Monument marks the highest peak of the city. Numerous noteworthy (and mostly free) museums line the Mall's sides, including the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum (one of the two — the other is in Virginia), the National Museum of American History and the National Gallery of Art. Keep in mind, the Mall sprawls over both the Northwest and Southwest quadrants.
Accessible via the Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter, Judiciary Square and Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro stations.
North of the National Mall, the Penn Quarter area has a flourishing group of art galleries and restaurants, as well as some of the city's most interesting museums. It's also where you'll find the Verizon Center — where the NBA's Washington Wizards and the NHL's Washington Capitals play, and where many major recording artists perform. You'll find the interactive Newseum situated south of the Verizon Center. In close proximity is the National Archives, which displays the original Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Accessible via the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station.
Northeast of Penn Quarter, Chinatown is a vibrant and historical neighborhood brimming with trendy dining establishments and plenty of entertainment options. Anchored between H and I Streets and 5th and 8th Streets, NW, Chinatown plays host to a string of hotels, clubs and shops. The area also features 20 Chinese and Asian-inspired restaurants. Museums here include the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery and the International Spy Museum, among others.
Accessible via the Dupont Circle Metro station.
Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut avenues intersect at the Dupont Circle, a roundabout that lends its name to the surrounding area. This one of the hippest areas in D.C., and it's also the heart of the city's gay community. Restaurants, boutiques and bars surround the actual circle.
Accessible via the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle Metro stations and the 42, 90-series, X3, and S-series bus lines.
Despite its small size, the Adams Morgan area just north of Dupont Circle is another one of the city's trendiest, busiest neighborhoods. Eclectic bars, clubs and restaurants are scattered throughout. D.C.'s Metro does not service Adams Morgan, but the area is within walking distance from the Dupont Circle and Woodley Park Metro stations.
U Street Corridor
Accessible via the U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo Metro station.
To the east of Adams Morgan on U Street, between 9th and 18th streets Northwest is an emerging part of the city called the U Street Corridor. Once a historically black area where blues and jazz kings Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong played soulful numbers in nightclubs and theaters, U Street brims with new jazz clubs, bars, shops and restaurants. Howard University, a well-known historically black university, is located to the east.
Accessible via the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Metro station.
Picturesque with its stately residences and canopies of trees, Woodley Park is home to the National Zoo, a handful of antique shops and a collection of excellent restaurants. Located north of Adams Morgan, this neighborhood is accessible by the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan Metro station.
Accessible via the DC Circulator bus, the Georgetown Metro Connection bus, the 30-series, D-series and G2 bus lines.
Georgetown, just southwest of Dupont Circle, is another popular (and swanky) D.C. neighborhood. You can reach the city's oldest neighborhood most easily by bus, though the Foggy Bottom metro station is approximately a 15-minute walk away. Along the district's main corridor, M Street, and housed inside converted row houses, you'll find chain stores galore, including J.Crew, Urban Outfitters and Nike, among many, many others. Here is also where you'll find the crème de la crème of gourmet cupcake institutions, including Georgetown Cupcake, Sprinkles and Baked & Wired, all within a few blocks of each other. You'll also find quite a few restaurants, with various price points and atmospheres. During your visit, you can't miss wandering along the area's cobblestone streets or heading to the waterfront to take in scenic views of the Potomac — both of which make for an ideal way to cap off a day of sightseeing.
Accessible via the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro station.
South of Dupont Circle is the Foggy Bottom area (accessible via the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro station), which mainly consists of George Washington University. The neighborhood, which was originally the main industrial portion of the city, is now largely residential. The few restaurants and bars in the area mostly cater to the younger crowd that calls the area home. Some standout attractions in the area include the Watergate Complex and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Accessible via the Smithsonian, L'Enfant Plaza, Federal Center SW, Waterfront-SEU, and Navy Yard Metro stations.
The smallest of the four quadrants, the southwest region of D.C. is home to a selection of museums right off the National Mall including the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of African Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden — all part of the Smithsonian Institution. The United States Holocaust Museum is also nearby just south of the Washington Monument. On the most western end of the Mall are the majestic Lincoln Memorial and the beautiful Reflecting Pool. A few blocks south of the National Mall is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, located near the Tidal Basin. The dome-shaped memorial is reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome and has a clear view of the White House.
Accessible via the Union Station, Stadium-Armory, and New York Ave-Florida Ave-Gallaudet U Metro stations.
Northeast D.C. is home to the Capitol Hill neighborhood and another pocket of universities, including Trinity Washington University, the Catholic University of America and Gallaudet University. Gallaudet, notably, was founded by Congress as the world's first school of advanced learning for the deaf. Other Northeast landmarks include the United States National Arboretum, a free botanical garden and research center located off the Stadium Armory Station Metro stop.
This district, which refers to a portion of H Street Northeast between 12th and 14th streets, is a small but increasingly popular part of town. The area is home to a number of trendy restaurants, as well as a hip nightlife that tends to be less expensive than the spots in Northwest D.C.
The Library of Congress, Union Station, the Supreme Court, the Folger Shakespeare Library and a bunch of Victorian row house residences that surround the Capitol are part of a neighborhood aptly named Capitol Hill, or simply, "the Hill." Filled with many young professionals who work for U.S. senators and representatives, the area also has a good assortment of restaurants and shops. Travelers should note that Capitol Hill straddles both Northeast and Southeast quadrants.
Accessible via the Eastern Market and Capitol South Metro stations.
The main point of interest in the Southeast quadrant is Eastern Market, located only a few blocks away from the Capitol next to the Metro stop of the same name. In addition to its meat and produce counters, the redbrick public market also plays host to an art gallery and a flea market.
Barrack's Row, located a couple blocks south of Eastern Market along 8th Street Southeast, is named for the Marine Corps Barracks, which have anchored the area since 1801. Restaurants, bars, boutiques and even a classical acting academy line the street, which leads down to the Anacostia River. Charming row houses sit nearby.
The LEED-certified Nationals Park sits near the Anacostia River and is home turf for the Washington Nationals professional baseball team. Across the river from Barracks Row is Anacostia, home to the Anacostia Community Museum, which travelers say does a good job of explaining the African-American experience. Note: Anacostia isn't the safest area, so you might want to steer clear after dark.
Located to the southwest of Washington, D.C. across the Potomac River, northern Virginia is home to some of D.C.'s most iconic attractions. Visitors will find the area's hotels, restaurants and sites are most convenient through the Blue, Yellow and Orange Metro lines.
Accessible via the Clarendon, Arlington National Cemetery, Pentagon, and Pentagon City Metro stations.
Arlington refers to a large swath of land across from the Potomac River in Virginia. The area is bursting with high-rise office and apartment buildings, streets lined with picturesque homes, as well as interesting shops, restaurants and bars. It is easily accessible by public transportation and has relatively more affordable hotel options. Arlington also shelters the Arlington National Cemetery's 600-plus acres of rolling hills and thousands of marble gravestones. The Pentagon and the September 11th Pentagon Memorial are located in Arlington, too.
Accessible via the Braddock Road, King Street, Eisenhower Avenue, and Van Dorn Street Metro stations.
Located west of the Potomac River and south of Arlington, Alexandria city is a mainly residential area. We recommend a visit to the shops, restaurants and bars of the city's Old Town, situated on the Potomac River. Just about 8 miles south is George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens, the former estate of inaugural president George Washington.
Punctuated by cobbled streets and historic mansions, Old Town serves as a charming place to unwind after taking in D.C.'s must-see sites. At the heart of Old Town, you'll find King and Washington streets, two main drags overflowing with restaurants, boutiques and pubs. For a stellar view head east, where you'll find striking views overlooking the Potomac River.
Accessible via the Bethesda and Silver Spring Metro stations.
Washington, D.C.'s main Maryland suburbs are Bethesda and Silver Spring. For visitors, these cities are most conveniently accessed on Metro's Red Line. Bethesda is a mainly residential area, with open-air shopping and a handful of restaurants and bars. Silver Spring has a bit more lively downtown area, which is all about bright and shiny modernity. High-rise apartments and office buildings scream contemporary, as do the many open-air shops, restaurants, bars and particularly spectacular AFI Silver Theatre & Cultural Center.
Baltimore and Annapolis are approximately an hour's drive from Washington, and make for nice side trips from the area. Baltimore is also accessible by both the MARC and Amtrak trains; MARC is significantly cheaper.
While you probably will not encounter any major crime as a tourist in D.C., it is still wise to be vigilant when exploring the city. Use common sense when walking around — avoid quiet side streets, especially when you are alone or don't really know where you are going, and be sure to keep your purse and wallet secure. Visitors should be particularly wary in the Capitol Hill, Atlas District and Southwest areas at night. As a tourist, it's unlikely you'll encounter any major crimes; however, if you plan to visit any of the District's crime-ridden areas, which includes Anacostia, Southeast and Northeast D.C., east of 15th Street Southeast and Northeast, stay alert and avoid traveling alone, especially after dark.
The best way to get around Washington, D.C., is via the clean, safe and efficient Washington Metrpolitan Area Transit Authority public transportation system. Most travelers (and residents) use a combination of the metro trains, the buses and their own two feet to get around, but keep in mind that as the metro continues to develop the new Silver Line, which is scheduled to be completed in 2018, you should prepare for delays and closings. You can even take a metro train or bus into the city from the closest of the area's three airports: Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Arlington, Va. Renting a car isn't advised; D.C. is regularly ranked as one of America's worst cities for driving. If you must have your own wheels, you should primarily keep them parked at your hotel. You can also traverse the capital city by taxi, but it'll cost you.Getting Around Washington D.C.»