Everything You need to Know About Visiting Washington DC

Disclaimer: This post might contain affiliate links, which means we get a small commission if you make a purchase (at no extra cost to you).

Washington DC: the nation’s capital!

If you could only visit one city in the United States, we would recommend visiting Washington DC! Washington DC is full of so many things to do, history, and diverse cuisine! Washington DC is home to many symbols of American culture and history, making it a gold mine for sightseeing and tourism. Here is your travel guide for everything Washington DC! We have family who lives in Washington DC, so we have been visiting the city for years!

Your Washington DC Travel Guide

When to Visit Washington DC and How Expensive?

Although Washington DC has a very high cost of living, visiting Washington DC doesn’t have to be incredibly expensive! The most expensive part of your trip to Washington DC will likely be your accommodation and travel expenses. Thankfully, many (and most) of the things on this list of Washington DC activities are FREE! Additionally, the time of year when you visit Washington DC will affect hotel and travel expenses. Like in most places in the United States, visiting around Chrismas and during the summer will be the most expensive and busy time of the year!

Getting Around in Washington DC

Getting around Washington DC is quite easy because the public transit system is quite efficient and easy to use. Both Metro bus and subway services are available and take you all around the downtown area of Washington DC and out to the suburbs. We personally like the Metro subway system or just the Metro as locals call it, better than the bus system. The Metro system is very easy and works like any other subway. It will take you everywhere you need to go for touring Washington DC! So don’t bother renting a car unless you drive into the city, park it, and leave it at your accommodation! And the Metro is not very expensive compared to renting and driving a car. However, the Metro during rush hour is VERY busy. So as a tourist, avoid it. Locals will get frustrated with you if you’re bumbling around the Metro when they’re trying to get home from work!

Must Do’s of Washington DC

If you’re a first-time traveler to Washington DC, here is your list of “must do’s” in Washington DC! This list is also perfect for visitors who have a limited amount of time in Washington DC!

The Mall and Washington Monument

The National Mall isn’t the mall you’re thinking of. It’s basically a large green space surrounded by a hub of museums, monuments, government buildings, and things to do! Throughout the year, there are countless events occurring at the mall. Our favorite is the National Book Festival! The National Mall is a happening place, people play games, play with their dogs, and children ride the Carousel.

In the center of the National Mall is the Washington Monument. This monument was constructed in… and actually wasn’t completed until years later after the Civil War. That’s why the bottom portion is a different color from the rest! You can take an elevator up the Washington Monument and get a beautiful view of the city below!

National Zoo

Our favorite thing to do when we visit Washington DC is to stroll through the National Zoo! The National Zoo is not only a free, family-friendly activity in Washington DC, but it’s also a leader in the world for animal conservation efforts and education. The National Zoo has been working for years to increase the numbers of endangered and threatened species.

Throughout the year, the National Zoo hosts events such as Boo at the Zoo for Halloween and Zoo Light for Christmas!

The White House

If you’re visiting Washington DC for the first time, definitely pay the White House a visit! You can admire it from across the lawn for photos, or you can take tours. Touring the White House requires prior reservation with your representative, so check out the guide here to visiting the White House!

The White House is a neoclassical building that has housed the presidency since John Adams!

The Capitol

To see the other branch of government in Washington DC, plan a visit to the Capitol! You can take tours, view exhibitions, and maybe even see Congress in session during your visit!

Pick a Museum

Washington DC is every history buff and museum lover’s heaven! Washington DC is full of museums that you couldn’t possibly visit them all in one trip! We have been visiting Washington DC for years and there are still some that we haven’t visited! For you’re trip to Washington DC, pick a few museums from our ultimate Washington DC Museum guide! The best part about many of the museums in Washington DC is that they are free!

More Things to Do in Washington DC

Memorials and Monuments

In addition to being filled with museums, Washington DC is scattered with memorials and monuments honoring the important people in American History. These monuments and memorials are lovely places to visit for quiet reflection and sightseeing. Many are beautifully and symbolically decorated, making your visit thought-provoking and visually interesting.

Sporting Events

Washington DC is home to many professional sports teams including the Washington Capitals, Washington Redskins, Washington Nationals, and Washington Wizards, hockey, American football, baseball, and basketball respectively! Going to sporting events in new cities really shows you what the local people are like in their element and hometown pride!

Smithsonian Offices and Castle

Thanks to the Smithsonian Institution, we can enjoy thousands of years of artifacts in the museums and galleries in Washington DC. The Smithsonian Institution Castle is a focal point of the National Mall and the original Smithsonian Institution building. It currently houses the Smithsonian Institution’s administrative offices, information center, and some exhibitions. The building stands out with its brick, Seneca red sandstone and faux Norman architectural style (a 12th-century combination of late Romanesque and early Gothic). The Castle was finished in 1855 and is designated a National Historic Landmark.

Library of Congress

If you’re paying the Capitol a visit, you might as well visit the Library of Congress as well! The Library of Congress. James Madison is credited with proposing the idea of a congressional library. The Library of Congress was established on April 24, 1800, when President John Adams transferred Congress from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington DC. After the original Library was destroyed during the War of 1812, Thomas Jefferson sold his personal collection of books as a replacement. Today, one-third of his original collection remains in the Library, as the other portion was sadly destroyed in a fire. Almost all of the books that were lost have been replaced. 

Arlington National Cemetary

Arlington National Cemetary is the United States Miltary cemetery honoring and remember fallen soldiers from the Civil War until present.  During your visit you can pay respects and view the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Mount Vernon

Shop and Dine in Georgetown

Georgetown is a trendy, historic neighborhood in Washington DC where you can find cute boutiques and restaurants (ie Georgetown Cupcakes). We love visiting Georgetown to get away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.

United States Botanic Garden

If you’re looking for something different to do in Washington DC, visit the United States Botanic Garden! This beautiful conservatory features indoor seasonal flower shows throughout the year and outdoor gardens. The Winter Flower Show is beautiful and includes a train exhibit! The United States Botanic Garden is also free!

Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is the place to go if you’re looking to experience the arts in Washington DC. For decades, the Kennedy Center has been dazzling visitors with performances encompassing the genres of theater, dance, ballet, and orchestral, chamber, jazz, and folk music. It also provides multi-media performances for adults and children and performing arts education.

Ford’s Theater

Ford’s Theater was the site of the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. A few years after the tragedy while being used as a warehouse, part of the building collapsed, causing 22 deaths. Locals then began to believe the site was cursed. Ford’s Theater was renovated and re-opened as a theater in 1968 and during the 2000s, it was renovated again in commemoration of the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. Today you can see performances as Fords Theater and take hours.

Rock Creek Park

If you’re looking to enjoy some green space and parks in Washington DC, Rock Creek Park, one of Washington DC’s National Parks, is a beautiful space to visit!

National Cathedral

The National Cathedral is probably one of the must unique cathedrals you’ll visit in the United States! Darth Vader is featured as a gargoyle, a piece of the moon is the focal point of one of the stained glass windows, and each state has its own gargoyle. The National Cathedral is a place for all people and faiths and serves as a national symbol for our diversity. In 2011, Washington DC suffered an earthquake, (yes an earthquake) and the Cathedral was damaged and restored. The National Cathedral is of the neo-gothic style.

Old Post Office

Unfortunately, the historic Old Post Office building has been transformed into a hotel, which locals and historians were not happy about. The Old Post Office is a fine example of the Romanesque Revival architecture in the nineteenth century United States. The large bell tower houses the “Bells of Congress” and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Even though it is a hotel now, you can take tours of the Bell Tower with a National Park Ranger.

More About Visiting Washington DC

Spending the Holidays in Washington DC