Washington DC: Things to know before you go

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I've been in DC for 11 years now and, as a result, have given the city highlights tour a lot!  Since there is always something new to do or see, it's always fun.  People often ask what they should do in town, so I'll give you some suggestions and resources for planning a trip to DC.

When to Visit

I don't recommend DC in the summer - it's hot and VERY humid (it is a swamp, that despite promises, has not been drained). September is usually when things start to cool off, but the heat seems to stay longer and longer every year.  DC's off-tourist season seems to run between Thanksgiving and mid-January.  It's much less crowded and most things are still open.  The cold weather doesn't seem to move in until January and is fairly mild compared to the Midwest.  

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Getting Around

Getting around DC is really easy!  The buses and subway system, known as the Metro, are by far the best way to travel around the city.  While maybe not the fastest, you do save a good bit of money and don't have to worry about parking and the like.  The buses and the Metro use the same SmarTrip cards, making life easy.  Be sure to stand on the right of the escalators, as people want to get by! Escalefters are not taken kindly to. 


I recommend using Google Maps and the Transit smartphone app to get around. Google Maps public transportation option will tell you which bus routes or Metro lines to take and Transit will let you know when the next bus is going to arrive.

The Museums and Things to Do

Mike asked me to talk about my favorite - but they're all great.  AND almost all of them are free! I recommend following your interests - if you like art, hit up the art museums; if you like history, visit those museums; and so on. the exhibits are constantly changing, so check what's showing before you go. You'll probably want about 3 hours per musuem - and take breaks in between things!  

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Here are a couple resources for some of the top destinations to help you figure out what's going on while you're in town:

  • The Smithsonian - a lot of people don't realize the Smithsonian is actually 19 different museums and a zoo!  There is a TON to see - and all of it free. Most of the museums are down on the Mall. Things are always changing - so if you haven't been by in six months, there is going to be something completely new the next time you visit. I recommend checking out both the current exhibits and event calendar to see if anything catches your eye.  The programs and tours don't cost anything and are given by enthusiastic, knowledgeable volunteers. If you feel overwhelmed by options, pop into the Castle to find your museum spirit guide. One of the volunteers will be able to help direct you if you give them some general ideas of what you're interested in. All the Smithsonian museums are open every day of the year except Christmas, with some museums having late closings summer weekends.
  • The National Gallery of Art - Another wonderful collection of art down on the Mall.  Also free. Two huge wings to check out.  Open 10-5 Monday-Saturday and 11-6 on Sundays. Closed Christmas and New Year.
  • Library of Congress - a beautiful building with lots of exhibits. 
  • Capitol Building - Free tours start about every 10 minutes and last about a half hour.  Despite what it says on the website, you do not need to book a general tour of the Capitol in advance because same day passes are usually available (although booking in advance is recommended). You can just show up. If you want a tour to see additional parts of the building, you will need to book that through your congressperson.  Open Monday-Saturday. 
  • White House - Touring the White House does require you to send a note to your congressperson at least 3 months in advance.  Spots are very limited and hard to come by. You may need to come back to DC for this one!

The Monuments

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The big monuments are down on the National Mall.  It's a walkable 3 mile loop around the Tidal Basin and Reflecting Pool. Definitely wear comfortable shoes! The monuments are open 24 hours a day and are lit up nicely at night. If you're looking to maximize your time, I'd recommend doing museums during the day and the monuments at night. 

There is also Circulator bus route that stops at all the monuments.  It costs a $1 to ride and comes by about every 10 minutes. If you're using a SmarTrip card, you can get on and off the bus within an hour without having to pay the fare again.  Do check the Circulator website ahead of time because events on the Mall do disrupt service. The bus usually runs until about 7pm most nights. 

Where to Stay

Personally, I'm a fan of the Airbnb experience but I know that's not for everyone. There are a ton of hotels in the DC area and my advice would be to find one within walking distance of a Metro station. 

Eating in DC

The DC dining scene has grown quite a bit in the last 5 years, with Michelin star restaurants, breweries, and food trucks. Heading north off the Mall on 7th street toward Chinatown you will come across a large selection of some of the best known DC chefs.  Dupont, Adams Morgan, Eastern Market/Barracks Row, and the U Street area have just about everything you can imagine.  People ask about Georgetown, but I think it's overrated! Check out the locals' favorite spots on the Washington Post websiteto live like a Washingtonian. 

Because Adventure Travel Feeds the Soul,
Statixc and the Hashtag 59 Team

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