So, you’re planning a trip to Washington DC? Then keep reading until the end as this post will walk you through some of the most important things to consider in order to make it a success.
1. How to get around in the DC area
Washington DC can easily be explored by foot. Don’t forget to put on your walking shoes, because you will definitely achieve your 10.000 steps goal every day!
When you’re tired of walking you can simply unlock a bike from Capital Bikeshare or an electric scooter.
The hop-on-hop-off buses are great for sightseeing and a good option for first-time visitors or if you only have little time to visit the city.
For longer distances, you can use the Metro or a shared ride service (Uber or Lyft).
2. Start your city trip by exploring DC’s most famous landmarks
Put on your walking shoes and follow our self-guided walking tour, provided here below. Start at the Capitol (1), housing the US Congress, and walk along the National Mall while you pass by numerous imposing memorials. Washington Monument (2) honors George Washington, the 1st President of the USA. Walk around the Ellipse Park and explore the North side of the White House (3) at Pennsylvania Ave NW. Once you’re back on the Mall, discover some more memorials: National WWII Memorial (4), Vietnam Veterans Memorial (5), Korean War Veterans Memorial (6) and Lincoln Memorial (7), dedicated to the 16th President of the USA who led the nation through the American Civil War and abolished slavery. Stroll around Tidal Basin and pass by Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial (8) and Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial (9), honoring the 32nd President of the USA. The last stop of our tour is the Jefferson Memorial (10), a tribute to the 3rd President of the USA, known for his authorship of the Declaration of Independence.
3. Fueling up around the National Mall
Besides the many food trucks, there are not many coffee bars or lunch spots on the Mall. Don’t panic, we have some recommendations for you! The Dolcezza café on the Hirshhorn Museum Outdoor Plaza is the perfect spot for a coffee/ice cream break. For lunch, we would recommend you to pick up a sandwich or salad at Cosi (1700 Pennsylvania Ave NW – close to the White House) and enjoy it on one of the benches along the Reflection Pool on the Mall. Both are indicated by yellow stars on our self-guided tour map.
4. Visit a Smithsonian museum
While you’re strolling down the Mall, make sure to visit at least one Smithsonian museum. Admission is free! Our favorites include the National Gallery of Art (exhibiting art from the Middle Ages until today), National Air and Space Museum (the 3rd most visited museum in the world), Hirshhorn Museum (a modern art museum with a beautiful sculpture garden) and National Museum of Natural History.
Rainy day during your Washington DC city trip? Come back and visit some more museums! The National Zoo is also part of the Smithsonian Institution, so entrance is free.
5. Enjoy the sunset at The Wharf
District Wharf, the youngest neighborhood of DC (opened in 2017), is only a short walk from Tidal Basin/The Mall (see arrow on tour map). Stroll down the waterside promenade and the piers (complete with swings and a lovely fireplace!) and enjoy the sunset. Stop by the Fish Market, the oldest continuously operating open-air fish market in the US. Enjoy a glass of wine with oysters (you can order them per piece!) on the patio of Rappahannock Oyster Bar (1150 Maine Ave SW). Sit back, relax and enjoy the sunset from the terrace (next to the bar) on the 5th floor at La Vie Restaurant (88 District Square SW 5th floor). Appreciate the beautiful views over the Wharf Marina from the Canopy Bar (975 7th St SW).
6. Explore DC from the water
The Potomac Riverboat Company offers a water taxi service between The Wharf, Georgetown, Old Town Alexandria, and National Harbor. You can also hop on a monuments sightseeing tour from Alexandria or The Wharf.
And what do you think about a romantic brunch or dinner with skyline views from the water? Odyssey Cruises has it right there for you!
7. Experience the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery
We recommend you buy tickets for the National Cemetery Tour at the Welcome Center. That said, the vehicle will take you to the most important parts of the Cemetery: President John F. Kennedy Gravesite, Memorial Amphitheater, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, The Changing of the Guard, Arlington House and the US Marine Corps Memorial. At every stop, you can disembark and just hop on to the next vehicle.
8. Stop by the world’s largest office building
The Pentagon, the headquarters of US Department of Defense, even has its own 6 ZIP codes (!).
Book a guided tour (14-90 days in advance!), visit the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial and spot the Air Force Memorial with its three steel spires representing the Air Force Thunderbirds performing their signature “bomb burst” maneuver.
9. Wander through the streets of Georgetown
Visit Dumbarton Oaks (1703 32nd Street NW), a historic estate with beautiful gardens. Just around the corner, stopover at Tudor Place (1644 31st St NW), designed by the architect of the Capitol. Walk through Oak Hill Cemetery and gaze at the 18th century Federal-style mansions on N Street NW (between 30th St & 35th St NW). Did you know JFK proposed to Jacky in Martin’s Tavern in 1953? Most importantly, you can still see the ‘Proposal Booth’ inside. Explore the grounds of Georgetown University, the first Catholic University of the US and stop by Healy Hall. Shopaholics will enjoy the main shopping streets of Georgetown (M Street and Wisconsin Ave) and the luxury furniture boutiques in Cady’s Alley. For those of you who want to escape the hectic shopping streets: walk down the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal towpath and enjoy Washington Harbour & Georgetown Waterfront Park.
10. Walk down Embassy Row
Explore Embassy Row, where many of the foreign embassies in Washington DC are located. Enjoy the walk down Massachusetts Avenue and try to guess which country the embassy is from based on the flags.
When in Dupont Circle, visit The Phillips Collection, a must-see for modern art lovers.
11. Explore vibrant Adams-Morgan
This vibrant neighborhood with its colorful houses is filled with bars, book shops, boutiques, and many eclectic dining spots. Walk down 18th St NW between Columbia Rd and Kalorama Rd NW.
12. Visit Washington National Cathedral
The Cathedral (built 1907-1990) is the fifth largest cathedral in the world and has been the location for multiple funerals of US Presidents. This landmark can be seen from almost everywhere in the city.
Stop by the Open City Cathedral Café (3101 Wisconsin Avenue NW) after your visit.
13. Discover Capitol Hill
Take in beautiful sights of The Capitol from US Botanic Garden and Bartholdi Park and Fountain (free admission). Tour The Capitol inside (make reservations in advance!) from where you’ll have direct underground access to the beautiful Library of Congress. Make sure to walk into the US Supreme Court, which is open to the public on weekdays from 9am-4.30pm. Head over to Eastern Market, the place to be for local farm-fresh produce.
Read more: 5 Epic US Railways You Should Put On Your List Now
14. Walk around Penn Quarter
Penn Quarter is situated in downtown DC just North of the National Mall in between the Capitol and the White House. Walk along Pennsylvania Avenue NW, view Pulitzer Prize-winning photos at the Newseum, learn about American history at the National Archives and the National Portrait Gallery (both free entrance), explore Chinatown (5th St to 8th St NW and H St to I St NW) and treat yourself to a high-end shopping experience at CityCenter DC (825 10th St NW).
15. Get back to nature at the US National Arboretum
The Arboretum can be visited year-round. View bonsais of more than 350 (!) years old at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum and walk by the National Capitol Columns that were originally part of the US Capitol.
Stop by the visitor center for more information and the must-sees at the time of your visit.
Have you started planning your trip to Washington DC? What do you think of these Washington travel tips? Let us know if you have any questions or tips to add in the comments below.