George Washington dubbed it “The Federal City,” Thomas Jefferson envisioned it as “America’s Paris,” and JFK described it, jokingly, as “a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.” However you regard Washington, D.C. (or as local residents call it, the “DMV"—for D.C., Maryland, and Virginia), it fulfills its reputation as an imperial city with a vibrant energy. Visitors love the United States Capitol, White House, National Mall, Smithsonian museums, and the memorials. But the city’s exciting food and theater scenes also beckon, along with dozens of privately owned museums showcasing everything from art to espionage, and dynamic neighborhoods like U Street, 14th Street, Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, and Columbia Heights. Should you seek temporary escape, the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley lie to the west, and to the east is the Eastern Shore, Chesapeake Bay, and Atlantic Ocean.
Know Before You Go
When’s the best time to go to Washington, D.C.?
D.C.’s high travel seasons coincide with the nicest weather—mid-March to mid-June and mid-September to early November. The most perfect time to come is mid-September to mid-October: The weather is wonderful, the crowds have dwindled, and museums and landmarks are still keeping summer hours.
How to get around Washington, D.C.
Travelers flying into D.C. have a choice of three airports: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). You can then make your way into the city via taxi or shared van service. SuperShuttle serves all three airports. From Reagan National, travelers also have the option of taking the Metrorail into town. From Dulles, Metrobus 5A is an express bus that delivers passengers to L’Enfant Plaza, D.C. Metro station. From BWI, arrive in the city via a MARC train or Amtrak train, which takes you to the Union Station D.C. Metro station.
D.C. is an extremely walkable city, but many options exist for getting around town. The Metro is often the fastest and most efficient way to move between neighborhoods. And the DC Circulator, at $1 a ride, offers an economical fare on six routes through town. Cabs are readily available, but if you need one and there’s none in sight, your mobile device can connect you either to a dispatcher or directly with a taxi. If you’re driving, you can use your smartphone to pay for parking by signing up with Parkmobile. The system will send you an SMS when your park time is about to expire, and you can add time using your smartphone. You can also rent a bicycle to ride around the city, through Capital Bikeshare.
Can’t miss things to do in Washington, D.C.
Along the historic C&O Canal, start your morning off with a visit to Baked & Wired, a family-owned café that offers a cozy atmosphere adorned with work by local artists. Head to the left counter for muffins and breads (the “baked” side) and then to the right for coffee (the “wired” side). Venture outside, and you’re not far from central Georgetown—or Georgetown Waterfront Park, with a scenic path running along the natural curve of the river. It’s perfect for strolling and is popular with joggers and bicyclists heading to the connecting Capital Crescent Trail.
Food and drink to try in Washington, D.C.
With a multicultural population like a microcosm of the world, Washington, D.C. is a foodie town bound to have something to tantalize your taste buds. Two locations in particular offer a plethora of dining options: 14th Street and Georgetown in the northwest section of town. Between these two neighborhoods, you will find sustenance in the capital!
Culture in Washington, D.C.
D.C. is a great museum city. Some of the world’s most-visited museums are here, and many national galleries and museums are publicly funded, so they’re free to visit. A few others, like the Newseum and the International Spy Museum, are worth paying to see. Elsewhere, in its neighborhoods, D.C. is a melting pot of cultures. During the entire month of May, D.C. celebrates its global community with embassy tours and events that take place throughout the city.
There’s always a festival of some sort going on in D.C. One of the most popular annual events is the Fourth of July fireworks celebration that takes place on the Mall. You can crowd in with the masses on a sultry July night. Or, take a boat cruise and see the fireworks from the water—the view is just as spectacular, and you can duck inside to cool off.
Local travel tips for Washington, D.C.
The Kennedy Center stages at least one free performance every day, 365 days of the year, and neither tickets nor reservations are required! You just show up and take a seat. Launched under the Performing Arts for Everyone initiative, the daily performances take place on the Millennium Stage, located in the Grand Foyer, every day at 6 p.m. and last about an hour. The best place to sit is on the carpeted steps just to the left of the stage. Find the right spot, and there’s no one to obstruct your view.