Washington DC Tourism Guide

Welcome to our nation’s capital! Our Washington DC Tourism Guide will help you plan the best experience – from how to get to DC to affordable hotels and most importantly, what to do in Washington DC. Use our tips and guides for advice for your visit. For more helpful information, we recommend Lonely Planet Guidebooks.

What to do before your visit?

Especially if you’re visiting Washington DC in the Spring and Summer months, many DC attractions require timed tickets that sell out months in advance. Or if you’re interested in visiting the White House or visit the Pentagon, security procedures require the request to be made months in advance. Use the Washington DC Tourism Guide below for advice on these specific things to do before you visit DC.

DC Attractions Pass: Advance Tickets and Discounted Rates

How To Tour the White House

Pentagon Tours: How to Visit the Pentagon

The museums below offer both advanced ticket purchase and same day visits. If you’re looking for flexibility in your schedule, you might opt for waiting in line for same day tickets but you run the risk of not getting them. We’ve written how to’s on getting advance and same day tickets for these particular sites.

Ford's Theatre: Washington DC Tourism GuideHow To Get Holocaust Museum Tickets

Bureau of Engraving and Printing Tours

Best Way to Visit Ford’s Theater

Washington Monument Tour: How to Get Tickets

Visit the National Archives DC

Getting to Washington DC

Washington DC is accessible by bus, planes, trains and automobiles. The DC Metro Area has three airports (DCA, BWI, and Dulles), a well connected Amtrak station, and a hub for Greyhound, Megabus, BoltBus and more. If you’re so inclined, you can even bike to DC from Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Virginia! Use our Washington DC Tourism Guide below on the best way to get into the city from your location.

Washington DC Airports: Which Should I Fly Into?

BWI to DC: How To Get From the Airport

Dulles to DC: How To Get From the Airport

DCA to DC: How To Get From the Airport

How to Get to DC by Bus: Greyhound, Megabus, Bolt Bus, Chinatown Bus

DC by Train: Amtrak Washington DC Station

NYC to DC by Bus

Getting Around Washington DC

We recommend walking to get around DC, but we are a bit biased. DC has a well connected public transportation (WMATA) system and difficult to understand parking regulations. For this reason, it is best to park your car for the day in a garage, at your hotel or even at one of the suburban Metro stations and use public transportation to get around the city.

Do I need to rent a car in DC? No! In fact, we highly recommend that you don’t even bother. You can get into the city by public transportation (use the links above!) and once you’re here, most places are easier to get to on foot.

I have a car, but where to Park in DC? The biggest barrier to driving to or around Washington DC is, of course, finding a place to park it. Street parking, while not unheard of, is tough to come by and typically has timing restrictions like any other major metropolis.

If you’re driving in from out of town, you’ll be forced to confront the steep overnight parking rates at hotels. Luckily, there’s a few ways to come out on top.

Parking Panda is a popular service in Washington DC that enables drivers to search for and reserve affordable parking spots at garages and lots near their destination. Simply visit their website and enter the address of wherever you’re headed. You can compare prices, pay for a space that works for you, and they’ll email you a parking pass. The prices listed on Parking Panda are often cheaper than the price at the garage itself, and you can save money on overnight parking just by comparing the best deals near your hotel.

Getting to the National Mall: Parking, Metro, Bus

Use Hop On Hop Off Tours: You can use a Big Bus Tours ticket to get around town via their hop on hop off tours bus

Using Public Transportation in DC:Washington DC Tourism Guide: Bikeshare

Things to Do in Washington DC

There is so much more than the National Mall and Capitol building! (Though we think you should visit those, too!) In addition to taking one or more of our Washington DC Walking Tours, we’ve created some suggestions on DC attractions, sample itineraries and advice for visiting.

With the federal government based in DC, many buildings require additional security to enter before you can tour. We’ve created a helpful Washington DC Tourism Guide to the Security Guidelines of some DC attractions.

Many places offer discount coupons or participate in one of the Tourist Pass options or you can always visit the numerous Free Things to do in DC.

DC Attractions: For our advice on visiting the memorials and museums in Washington DC, we’ve created a list of DC attractions organized both by neighborhood and by cost!

Self Guided Tours: If you cannot join us on any of our walking tours, take one of our self guided tours!

Neighborhood Guides: In-depth How To Guides for larger areas with directions, parking, and insider tips on getting the most out of your visit.

DC Tour Suggestions:

DC Sample Itineraries:

Day Trips from DC:

Hotels & Accommodations in DC

DC has a variety of accommodations from hostels to five-star hotels and everything in between. We’ve made some suggestions below in our Washington DC Tourism Guide to Accommodations.

Do I need to stay in DC? There are many great and affordable hotels outside the city that are easily accessible by Metro, bus and cab. In fact, DC is rather small so in some cases you can still walk to your hotel from DC, even if you’re staying in Virgina! You’ll find many chain hotels just across the Potomac River in Virginia and in Maryland:

On the Blue Line: Rosslyn, Pentagon City, Crystal City, Old Town Alexandria. I

On the Orange Line: Rosslyn, Courthouse, New Carrollton

On the Red Line: Bethesda, Silver Spring

On the Silver Line: Tysons Corner, Spring Hill

Where should I stay In DC? Of course, staying in DC means great location and easy access on foot to your hotel no matter the time of night or operating status of the Metro.

Restaurants in DC

It might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of DC, but we have some of the best restaurants in the country. In fact, one of neighborhood eateries, Rose’s Luxury, was actually voted Best New Restaurant in 2014 by Bon Appetit magazine.

Washington DC Nightlife

Washington DC Tourism Guide: Nightlight in DCWe aren’t a late night city when it comes to tourism. You’ll find many of the museums and attractions close before 7pm. So do what locals do: take in a play or concert at Kennedy Center, enjoy the jazz scene on U Street, or the bars that have indoor putt putt, skee ball and PacMan on H ST NE.

Washington DC Night Tours are a great way to explore the city in the evening.

Adams Morgan is a common spot for going out on the weekends – from sports bars to late night karaoke to live music.

FAQs about Visiting Washington DC

  • Is it safe to walk around (insert neighborhood) at night? Yes, for the most part. It’s still a city and like every city there are some places we don’t recommend, but they are also the places that tourists have no reason to visit. The neighborhoods that you’ll often find yourself are pretty safe. The bad reputation DC has for crime is from the 1980s – things change in three decades! Still be observant but don’t miss out on visiting a memorial or museum because it’s after dark!
  • When is the best time to visit Washington DC? Any time!
    1. Spring: You have the benefit of Cherry Blossoms and all the spring flowers, but you also have all the other tourists who came to see them. Except long lines and crowded museums. This is also the time of year the school groups come an the city is filled with 8th graders.
    2. Summer: As a southern city with a marshy feel (it wasn’t actually built on a swamp, though!), our Summers can be hot and humid. Give up on your hair now and you’ll be fine. The lines are a little less long but the museums will still be crowded, especially on the hottest days. Plan to hit off the beaten path sites during the heat of the day and you’ll learn something new and avoid the crowds!
    3. Autumn: We have autumn-blooming flowers and trees so Fall is just as beautiful as Spring here in DC. If you wait until school is back in session, you’ll find gorgeous weather and smaller crowds.
    4. Winter: This is being written after an entire month of below freezing temperatures (well, maybe one or two days were in the 40s). You’ll have a lot of places to yourself! After a snow storm (which we get usually get a few times a year), you can get some amazing photos of the National Mall.