Essential Travel Guide to Washington DC [Updated]

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One of the first cities that anyone traveling to the United States should visit is Washington DC. It’s both educational and enjoyable, filled with historic sites, galleries, museums, and home to some pretty famous landmarks. If haven’t made it to the nation’s capital yet, you should put it at the top of your list of places to see.

This essential travel guide to Washington DC will help you discover the best the city has to offer, from monuments and things to see, to eclectic neighborhoods and exciting cuisine.

Jump straight to the print-and-take-with-you infographic guide.

Washington DC
Washington DC

Although you will never find yourself short of things to do or see in Washington DC, there are several must visits in the capital. So plan to fill your time with monuments, historic and government buildings, museums, and a walk on the National Mall.

» Want more? Here are 50 top activities to do in Washington DC. Or see it like a local with these 13 non-touristy things to do.

What to Do in Washington DC

A tour of the Capitol Building is a fascinating way to see democracy in action. You can take a tour inside and witness history and history in the making.

You’ll also want to book tours of the White House (if possible), Ford’s Theater, the National Monuments (especially amazing at night), and Washington National Cathedral.

Of course, monuments are just one aspect of the city. Museums are also in abundance. You could easily spend a week or two wandering through the top museums.

The world renowned Smithsonian Institution is the most famous collection of museums and galleries, including the Museum of Natural History, National Air and Space Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Museum of the American Indian. Entry is free.

But don’t forget the very popular Spy Museum, the Newseum, the National Archives, and the Holocaust Museum.

Neighborhoods to Visit in Washington DC

There are many vibrant neighborhoods filled with character and charm in Washington DC. And then there’s the outlining cities of Alexandria and Arlington to explore.

  • Georgetown
  • Dupont Circle
  • Downtown (encompassing Chinatown, Penn Quarter)
  • Logan Circle
  • Capitol Hill
  • Adams Morgan
  • Southwest / Waterfront

Tours to Book in Washington DC

If you want to let someone else take care of the details of your trip, then booking a few tours is a great way to see the city.

Don’t forget to get your Washington DC Explorer pass, which will gain you free entry to many popular attractions.

Here are some of our favorite tours in the city.

Where & What to Eat in Washington DC

The dining scene is very eclectic in Washington DC. You can eat cheaply or go all out with fine dining, there’s amazing pizza and burgers, as well as the freshest seafood. Don’t forget the cultural cuisine – Ethiopian is a clear favorite.

If you’re wanting to get a good overview of the food and find places you’ll want to try during your trip, we definitely recommend going on a food tour. There are some really great ones in Washington DC. Here are the ones we like.

Fine Dining

There’s a lot of upscale and fine dining in DC. Some you’ll have to stand in line for, some you’ll have to make a reservation well in advance.

Casual / Local Favorites

Cultural Cuisine

Where to Stay in Washington DC

There are a lot of great neighborhoods in Washington where you can stay as a tourist and fully enjoy yourself. Where you stay depends a lot on what you want to do and your budget.

It can be expensive to stay right in the city. For budget travelers, it may be more economical to stay outside the city in Arlington or Alexandria and take the Metro in to the city.

If you can afford it, try to stay as close to the action as possible. You can see prices or book directly with Booking.com through these links:

We recommend these places to stay in Arlington and Alexandria:

We recommend these places to stay in Washington DC:

Travel Guide to Washington DC

Washington DC Essential Travel Guide

Before you go: Over 30% off on unforgettable Night Tours in Washington DC

Be Prepared for Travel


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washington dc travel guide
Essential Travel Guide to Washington DC [Updated]

2 thoughts on “Essential Travel Guide to Washington DC [Updated]

  1. Dana Cook says:

    Any advice for a Friday and Saturday in the city with 3 kids (8-14)? We were thinking of renting bikes and seeing the sights this way. Does that seem reasonable? I’m not sure if DC is biking-friendly. And stay in Georgetown or DuPont Circle area? Thanks!!

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Hi Dana, Cycling in DC is definitely reasonable. It’s especially easy to do around the mall and there are lots of bike stations there where you can rent bikes and park them again. The kids would enjoy the museums and monuments. The only thing I would caution against is if it’s a summer weekend there will be a lot of people and it’s difficult to ride around when there are so many people. Georgetown or Dupont Circle are good places to stay. Maybe also consider staying near the mall in L’Enfant Plaza area.

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