Washington D.C. Travel Tips
Keep in Mind...
- Restaurant reservations are key Popular restaurants tend to fill up quickly, so ensure your place by making a dinner reservation on OpenTable weeks and even months in advance.
- Walk or metro — don't drive The public transportation system can take you anywhere you want to go without the hassle of finding your way through D.C.'s congested streets.
- Shop at the market D.C. has several weekend markets where you can get a feel for the local art and culinary scene.Check out Eastern Market and the markets in the Dupont Circle and Clarendon-Courthouse areas.
Washington, D.C. may call to mind presidents, monuments, memorials, Republicans, Democrats and the Supreme Court, but you might be surprised to find that the city isn't the stuffy political town it once was. Trendier than ever, the District is becoming an exciting East Coast vacation destination — and not just for patriots. Although government is still the sun around which this city orbits, D.C. also offers a host of renowned museums and interesting neighborhoods. And last but not least, D.C. has a very respectable dining scene. Plus, it's easy to get by on a budget because many of the top attractions are free.
You should definitely spend a day visiting the more traditional sites like the Washington Monument or the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. Allot another day for the National Mall's free Smithsonian museums, including the Natural History Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, among a host of others. In the evenings, unwind as Washingtonians do at one of the city's many trendy bars before dancing in Adams Morgan or a catching a live performance at the Kennedy Center.
How To Save Money in Washington D.C.
- Visit the Smithsonians This magnificent host of museums — which includes the National Zoo — charges no admission, making it very economical for solo travelers and those visiting with a family of five in tow.
- Visit the U.S. Capitol Get in touch with your congressman, and schedule a free tour of the grandiose U.S. Capitol Building.
- Skip the street vendors These kiosks provide overpriced (and mediocre) drinks and treats. Bring your own water bottle and snacks while touring the National Mall's monuments and museums.
Washington D.C. Culture & Customs
You'll find that most D.C. residents were not actually born here. In fact, many of the people you see flooding the city actually come in from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. The city brings in a large range of people from all parts of the country and the world that move here for work and school. And as the hub of American government, Lonely Planet says that "DC's homegrown will argue under the table" with a "population that's as intellectually stimulating as any Manhattan dinner party, and as comfortably down-home as mom's mac 'n' cheese."
Still, with all the city's transplants, there are certain unspoken customs. For example, if you don't want to stick out as a tourist while using the metro, remember that the right side of the escalator is for standing; reserve the left side for those who want to hurry up or down.
D.C. also has deep roots in black history and the civil rights movement. Since the Revolutionary War, the city has always had a large black population as freed slaves from the Upper South would move here to find work. This has since influenced much of Washingtonian culture, as people like Frederick Douglass and Duke Ellington both called D.C. home. Ellington was a major player in shaping the city's music scene, playing jazz in venues along the U Street Corridor.
While you're in town, you may notice license plates with the slogan "Taxation Without Representation." A source of contention with D.C. residents is that despite paying federal taxes, they have no voting representation in Congress. Residents have a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives but no representation in the Senate. There have been efforts to give D.C. more representation but they have been unsuccessful.
Washington D.C. Dining
As the epicenter for American politics and nonprofits, too, Washington, D.C. attracts a diverse clientele — and the restaurant scene reflects the city's assorted population. The cuisine in Penn Quarter, Dupont Circle and along the U Street Corridor are particular favorites. A neighborhood of vying Ethiopian establishments can also be found adjacent in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. In addition, a trendy strip of restaurants on H Street, NE in the Atlas District plates everything from Belgian to Japanese fare.
The city also appeals to gourmands who revel in haute cuisine. We recommend expensive spots like Michel Richard's Citronelle in Georgetown or José Andrés' collection of restaurants including Zaytinya, Jaleo and Café Atlantico.
For more budget-minded options, we suggest making a stop at the D.C. institution, Ben's Chili Bowl, located right next to the U Street Metro stop. Good Stuff Eatery is great for affordable and quick burgers in Capitol Hill Southeast.