Key Bridge over Potomac River with urban skyscrapers on early morning in Washington DC, USA.

Washington, D.C. Travel Guide

By Maya Kachroo-Levine
March 01, 2021

Washington D.C. is so much more than the political epicenter of the U.S. and the top cherry blossom destination in the country. The District is home to charming neighborhoods lined with historic row houses, legendary museums (including the 20 odd museums under the Smithsonian that offer free admission), and a vastly underrated fine dining scene. And of course, politics dominates the professional energy of the city much like the tech population shapes San Francisco to a certain extent. 

But the country's capital is also a college town, with universities like Georgetown, Howard, George Washington, and American all within the city limits. This city feels as academic as it does political—but more than the atmosphere being tinged by politics or education, it is weighted with the gravitas of history. Here, our official guide to the best things to do in Washington D.C., including where to stay in Washington D.C., the best D.C. restaurants, and the city's most essential museums and historical sites.

Time Zone

Eastern Standard Time, Daylight Savings Time observed

Best Time to Go

The best time to go to Washington D.C. is between April and June, or from September to October. In the late spring and early summer, temperatures will be warm and welcoming, and in September and October, you'll still catch some warmth, without having to deal with the intense heat and crowds of tourists that come in the summer. 

Washington's famous Cherry Blossom Festival happens from late March to early April (the blooms tend to peak in the last week of March and first week of April). May brings graduation season to this university town, booking up the hotels with proud family members. And, of course, the Fourth of July is a joyous spectacle, but as a result, a rather crowded weekend in the city. The high season in Washington D.C. is considered July and August, which are also the hottest months of the year. 

Things to Know

Washington D.C. is our nation's capital and is not considered a state. It is home to some of the most famous landmarks in America, including the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, and the Washington Monument.

Admission is free to all the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, which consists of 17 museums, galleries, and the zoo.  Museums include the Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American HIstory, National Portrait Gallery, and the Natural History Museum. 

Washington D.C. has an excellent public transportation network, making it an easy city to get around without cabs and rideshares. 

Washington D.C. is set on two rivers, the Anacostia and the Potomac. The Potomac River, which is 405 miles long, separates Washington from Virginia. The nation's capital sits on the north shore of the Potomac.

Theater lovers must visit the John F. Kennedy Performing Center for the Arts, which is not only one of the best known theaters in the U.S., but is a fixture of JFK's legacy situated along the Potomac River.

How to Get Around

Trains: The metro system in D.C., run by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), operates across Washington D.C. and into Virginia and Maryland. The metro has six lines—yellow, orange, red, blue, green, and silver. Find a downloadable metro map here. Metrorail rides cost between $2 and $6, depending on where you're traveling and when. You can also buy a one-day pass for $13, a three-day pass for $28, and a seven-day pass for $58.

Buses: WMATA also runs the D.C. bus system. The WMATA Metrobus has 11,500 bus stops and 325 routes across D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Find all bus maps here. Regular bus fare costs $2. Bus fares are included when you buy an unlimited metro pass, whether it's a day pass or a monthly pass.Taxis and Car Service: Uber and Lyft service greater Washington D.C., and there are taxi stands in the city. To schedule a cab in advance, book through a local company like D.C. Yellow Cab. You can also schedule a local black car through services like ExecuCar.

The Jefferson
Credit: Courtesy of The Jefferson

Best Hotels

The Hay-Adams
Credit: Courtesy of The Hay-Adams

The Hay-Adams

Address: 800 16th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20006
Phone: (202) 638-6600
Website

This historic hotel overlooks Lafayette Square, with views of the White House and Washington Monument. Centrally located to most major D.C. sites, the Hay-Adams is named after original residents John Hay and Henry Adams.

Hotel Lombardy

Address: 2019 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20006
Phone: (202) 828-2600
Website

Looking for European elegance in the heart of the U.S. capitol? Hotel Lombardy delivers on timelessness and chic charm, while standing out as a (not-so-hidden) gem in a prime location.

Sofitel Washington D.C. Lafayette Square
Credit: Courtesy of Sofitel Washington D.C. Lafayette Square

Sofitel Washington D.C. Lafayette Square

Address: 806 15th Street NW, Washington D.C. 20005
Phone: (202) 730-8800
Website

Highly praised for its peaceful atmosphere and comfortable beds, the Sofitel is minutes from the downtown action while still maintaining a refined, luxurious atmosphere.

Riggs Washington D.C.

Address: 900 F Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20004
Phone: (202) 638-1800
Website

Once a national bank headquarters, the Riggs is one of D.C.’s newest hotels, filled with small  bespoke touches that pay homage to its history, such as minibars designed like vintage safes. From the rooftop terrace with views of the Capitol, to drinks from world-acclaimed bartender Mr. Lyan, the Riggs is abundant with D.C. texture and color.

Hotel Hive

Address: 2224 F Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20037
Phone: (202) 849-8499
Website

Described as D.C.’s first “micro” hotel, the Hotel Hive features small, 125-250 square foot rooms with a clean, youthful vibe. Local art murals and graphic wall quotes add to the contemporary, cool ambience.

Exterior of the infamous Watergate hotel, in Washington DC
Credit: Courtesy of The Watergate Hotel

The Watergate Hotel

Address: 2650 Virginia Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20037
Phone: (844) 617-1972
Website

Grab a late-night drink overlooking the D.C. skyline at rooftop bar Top of the Gate, or trade city lights for the indoor glow of 2,500 illuminated bottles at The Next Whisky Bar. This pet-friendly hotel is close to major downtown attractions and the National Mall, while still only steps away from a leisurely stroll along the Potomac or a visit to the Kennedy Center.

Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC
Credit: Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC

Four Seasons Hotel

Address: 2800 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20007
Phone: (202) 342-0444
Website

This luxury hotel is all about location, with direct access to the Georgetown neighborhood’s upscale boutiques and fine dining options. The five-star experience does come at a premium price compared to some other D.C. hotels, but the top-notch service and attention to detail can’t be beat. Enjoy the over-the-top Sunday brunch, award-winning steakhouse, and running trails right at the hotel’s doorstep.

The Ritz-Carlton, Georgetown
Credit: Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton, Georgetown

The Ritz-Carlton, Georgetown

Address: 3100 South Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20007
Phone: (202) 912-4100
Website

Refurbished from an old incinerator, this hotel brings new meaning to industrial-chic, including a private dining room located inside the old chimney stack. Set out on one of the hotel bikes to cruise to adjacent sites, or explore the nearby Georgetown neighborhood.

Rosewood Washington D.C.

Address: 1050 31st Street NW, Washington, DC 20007
Phone: (202) 617-2400
Website

Rosewood Washington D.C. is a chic retreat in Georgetown set along the C&O Canal. The property now has six brand-new townhouses to accommodate long-term guests, as well as 55 rooms and 12 luxe suites. Enjoy a meal on-site at CUT, a steakhouse by Wolfgang Puck.

Book Room at The Jefferson Hotel
Credit: Courtesy of The Jefferson

The Jefferson

Address: 1200 16th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: (202) 448-2300
Website 

This independently owned boutique hotel showcases a more intimate experience, including the chance to meet with the in-house historian for a personalized guidebook to the city. 

The St. Gregory Hotel

Address: 2033 M Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: (202) 530-3600
Website

Newly renovated, and in a convenient, walkable location, the St. Gregory is a welcoming spot. Visitors might have a hard time leaving the cozy lobby with a roaring fireplace and daily complimentary wine, but the pull of lively Dupont Circle can’t be missed.

LINE DC
Credit: Adrian Gaut/Courtesy of LINE DC

The LINE DC

Address: 1770 Euclid Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20009
Phone: (202) 588-0525
Website

 Located inside a 110-year old historic church, The LINE puts visitors close to the National Zoo in an area known for its music and nightlife. This hotel offers a stylish, sophisticated stay, though it is located a bit further outside the central action and downtown.

InterContinental Washington D.C. - The Wharf

Address: 801 Wharf Street, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024 
Phone: (800) 424-6835
Website

This contemporary hotel sits in a newly revitalized area of town with incredible waterfront views, especially from the rooftop pool. Experience this modern D.C. neighborhood while still maintaining easy access to the National Mall. In the spring, be sure to take in the cherry blossoms at the nearby Tidal Basin. 

Mandarin Oriental, Washington D.C.

Address: 1330 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, D.C. 20024
Phone: (202) 554-8588
Website

Prominently located on the Southwest Tidal Basin, near a number of new restaurants and bars, the Mandarin Oriental finds itself among one of the capital’s coolest communities. Glamorous decor, waterfront views, and high-end service are just the beginning of the hotel’s abundant luxuries.

Fiola Mare Restaurant by Fabio Trabocchi
Credit: Courtesy of Fiola Mare

Best Restaurants

Ana at District Winery

Address: 385 Water Street SE, Washington, D.C. 20003
Phone: (202) 484-9210
Website

Inside D.C.’s only operational commercial winery is an upscale dining room with expansive windows overlooking the nearby Anacostia River. This industrial-chic decor pays homage to the Navy Yard neighborhood, with food that is colorful and vegetable-forward.

Bacon egg and cheese sandwich from Call Your Mother Deli
Credit: Tim Casey/Courtesy of Call Your Mother

Call Your Mother

Address: Georgetown: 3428 O Street, NW Washington, D.C. 20007
Website

This D.C. deli was one of President Joe Biden’s first local stops, picking up bagels at the Georgetown location shortly after he was sworn in. The walk-up window service often leads to a line snaking the block, so ordering online in advance is a must.

Fiola Mare Restaurant by Fabio Trabocchi
Credit: Courtesy of Fiola Mare

Fiola Mare

Address: 3050 K Street NW, Suite 101, Washington D.C. 20007
Phone: (202) 525-1402
Website 

High-end service and seafood await at Fiola Mare, delivering beautiful waterfront views and a luxe, modern interior. The sophisticated menu is a great fine-dining option around Georgetown, and reservations are recommended.

Jaleo

Address: 480 7th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20004 
Phone: (202) 628-7949
Website 

Chef José Andrés started his legacy here in 1993, helping to transform the Penn Quarter neighborhood into a bustling food destination. Signature tapas are made even more enjoyable on the patio during the weekday “sangria hour.”

Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe

Address: 4th Street SW, Washington, DC 20560
Phone: (202) 633-6644
Website 

Located on the main level of the National Museum of the American Indian, this cafe serves seasonal, gourmet Native American fare. Perfect for a lunchtime meal while sightseeing, this groundbreaking menu features indigenous food from across North and South America.

Rose's Luxury

Address: 717 8th Street SE, Washington, D.C. 20003
Website 

Featuring creative cooking inspired by the chef’s travels throughout the American South, Mexico, the Mediterranean, and Southeast Asia, Rose’s is walk-in only except for large groups, so prepare to wait (As one of the buzziest D.C. dining destinations, it’s worth it).

Tiger Fork

Address: 922 Blagden Alley NW, Washington, D.C. 20001
Phone: (202) 733-1152
Website

The Hong-Kong style food here includes creative takes on dim sum, noodles, BBQ, and more. Tucked away in the Shaw area, it emphasizes family-style plates and communal dining.

Union Market

Address: 1309 5th Street NE, Washington, D.C. 20002
Website

Home to more than 40 vendors, this artisan hub helps local businesses grow and scale as part of the D.C. community. The food hall has everything from a bagel-topped Bloody Mary, to cuisine mashups like Korean tacos. (For a more central D.C. market location, check out the farmers market at Eastern Market in Capitol Hill).

Zaytinya

Address: 701 9th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20001
Phone: (202) 638-0800
Website

Authentic small plates dominate at this airy, boisterous dining spot. A perpetual popular favorite of locals and tourists alike, this mezze-focused menu is a mainstay in D.C. for a reason.

Reading Room of the Library of Congress
Credit: Amy Sparwasser/Getty Images

Things to Do

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Address: 2700 F Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20566
Phone: (202) 416-8000
Website

Home to performances of all kinds, including theater, dance, music, art, and more, there is sure to be something on the calendar almost any time of year. Plus, the Millennium Stage offers free shows daily. 

Reading Room of the Library of Congress
Credit: Amy Sparwasser/Getty Images

Library of Congress

Address: 101 Independence Avenue SE, Washington, D.C. 20540
Phone: (202) 707-5000
Website

The building itself is a work of art, with a beautiful, intricate reading room and other fine architectural details. An ornate, expansive library, it provides a great respite for anyone seeking knowledge, or even just a break from the D.C. humidity.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Address: 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, Virginia 22121
Phone: (703) 780-2000
Website

Tour George Washington’s estate home and learn about the first president’s life and legacy. In addition to the mansion, which offers timed entry, Mount Vernon hosts a museum and education center, gardens, a slave memorial, working farm, and Washington’s tomb.

National Mall

Address: Downtown D.C.
Website

The National Mall is home to the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, WWII Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, F.D.R. Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Approximately two miles long, this expansive patch of monuments and memorials is known as “America’s front yard.”

The Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of African American History and Culture - NMAAHC
Credit: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Address: 1400 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20560
Phone: (844) 750-3012 or (202) 633-1000
Website

The newest addition to the Smithsonian, this museum is a can’t-miss on any D.C. itinerary. Its impressive, ambitious scale tells the story of America through the lens of African American life, history, and culture. 

National Museum of Women in the Arts

Address: 1250 New York Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20005
Phone: (866) 875-4627
Website

This is the only museum in the world that exclusively exhibits more than 250 works of art by female-identifying artists, including original work by Frida Kahlo and more.

National Portrait Gallery

Address: 8th and F Streets NW, Washington, D.C. 20001
Phone: (202) 633-8300
Website 

While it might not be the first Smithsonian museum that comes to mind when thinking of D.C., the Portrait Gallery is a great addition to the more popular stops, especially for those interested in a history of art, and the variety of people who shaped American history.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Address: 10th Street & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20560
Phone: (202) 633-1000
Website

This top-pick among Smithsonian museums has remained a crowd favorite. The celebration of the natural world, from dinosaurs on display to rare gems, can easily take a full afternoon (or more) to explore.

United States Botanic Garden (USBG), Washington DC, USA.
Credit: Getty Images

United States Botanic Garden

Address: 100 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, D.C. 20001
Phone: (202) 225-8333
Website

While the National Arboretum is larger in scale, don’t pass up the opportunity to see this curated natural experience right in the heart of downtown D.C. The Botanic Garden is a great place to escape the bustle of the city and learn about a variety of plants and flowers.

U.S. Capitol

Address: First Street SE, Washington, DC 20004
Phone: (202) 226-8000
Website

Home to the legislative branch of the U.S. government, the Capitol is one of the most recognizable symbols of democracy. In addition to the standard guide-led tour (recommended to book in advance) U.S. visitors can also contact their local Senator or Representative to reserve a staff-led tour.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Address: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024
Phone: (202) 488-0400
Website

This museum is dedicated to the ongoing preservation of Holocaust history. At the start of the main exhibit, victors are given a card with the story of a person from the Holocaust, and are able to walk through a chronological history of the events that unfolded.

Georgetown shopping district along M Street.
Credit: Getty Images

Best Shopping

Cady's Alley

Address: 3314 M Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20007
Website

This design district is home to high-end designers and local antiques, including home furnishings, fashion, and other chic shops.

Georgetown Park

Address: 3222 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20007
Phone: (202) 965-1280
Website

D.C.’s largest mall has more than 450,000 square feet of shopping space. Clothing stores dominate the landscape here, from J. Crew to H&M.

Georgetown shopping district along M Street.
Credit: Getty Images

M Street Shops, Georgetown

Address: M and Wisconsin Avenue
Website

Frequently cited as one of the best shopping streets in the country, M Street is a must-see for D.C. visitors wanting to experience the high-end boutiques the city has to offer.

Politics & Prose

Address: 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20008
Phone: (202) 364-1919
Website 

Known for their author talks, this independent bookstore is a trendy D.C. favorite. Additional locations at Union Market and the Wharf make it accessible as part of any other sightseeing day.

Shop Made in D.C.

Address/Phone: Multiple locations, see website for more details
Website 

The store is dedicated to D.C.-made products, and their four locations throughout the city are home to over 200 makers and nearly 5,000 local products.

Smithsonian Museum Shops

Address: Multiple locations, also available online
Website

Museum stores often carry some of the most interesting, unique gifts. The Smithsonian showcases sophisticated, beautiful items for purchase at most of their major museums.

The Wharf

Address: 760 Maine Avenue SW, Washington, D.C. 20024 (And surrounding area) 
Website

This trendy neighborhood is helping to reestablish D.C. as a waterfront destination. Shop small and support local businesses with a range of products, including art, jewelry, and clothing.

Neighborhoods to Know

Georgetown: The neighborhood around Georgetown University is more than just your classic college enclave. You'll find upscale restaurants, and hotels along the C&O canal, luxury shopping on M Street, and historic homes dating back to the 18th and 19th century here.

Downtown: Downtown is home to the most important address in America: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In addition to the White House, you'll find a number of D.C.'s most famous museums downtown.

Foggy Bottom: Foggy Bottom is nestled between the Potomac River and Georgetown. Tourists generally come to Foggy Bottom to take in a show at the waterfront John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Adams Morgan: This neighborhood is lined with historic row houses and lively restaurants and bars on 18th Street. You'll find art galleries and Michelin-starred culinary talent here, as well as trendy cafes.

Capitol Hill: Home to the U.S. Capitol building, the Supreme Court building, and the U.S. House and Senate, this neighborhood is the political epicenter of our country. You'll find plenty of tourists here as well as the political working crowd, many of whom reside in the lovely 19th-century Capitol Hill rowhouses.

Dupont Circle: A chic neighborhood known for its restaurants and shopping, Dupont Circle offers a relaxed elegance. In Dupont Circle, you can spend an afternoon finding the District's trendiest brunch spots, or exploring upscale art galleries on Dupont's First Fridays.

Weather

Spring and autumn are recommended times to visit D.C. because of the temperate weather. The heat climbs significantly in the summer, reaching into the high 80s in July. By September, the heat peters off, leaving behind mild temperatures for the fall. Washington D.C. doesn't have a bitterly cold winter, but temperatures can still dip below freezing in December, January, and February. 

The following are average Fahrenheit lows and highs by month. Average annual precipitation 19.3 inches.

January 29 - 44
February 31 - 47
March 38 - 56
April 47 - 67
May 57 - 76
June 67 - 85
July 72 - 89
August 70 - 87
September 63 - 80
October 51 - 68
November 41 - 58
December 33 - 48

Apps to Download

WMATA SmarTrip App: Plan your metro and bus trip, and pay in advanceiOS | Android unavailableDC Metro and Bus App: Metro and bus tickets, maps, and schedules
iOS | Android

Parking Panda: Find parking in major cities like D.C.
iOS | Android

Uber: Rideshare servicing D.C.
iOS | Android

Lyft: Rideshare servicing D.C.
iOS | Android