Whether you’ve been to Washington, DC or not, chances are you know all about this historical city. With iconic monuments and memorials serving as the backdrop for many movies and home to hundreds of years of American history, you will feel that you are already very well acquainted with DC.
Best known as the capital of America and the home of the President of the United States, Washington, DC is the political headquarters of the federal government. But beyond the historic White House and the iconic U.S. Capitol Building, there is a wealth of history and culture, quaint neighbourhoods, off-the-beaten-track museums, delicious dining, unique boutiques and gorgeous gardens waiting to be explored.
You will enjoy a robust dining and nightlife scene, high-end designer retail venues and the largest theatre community outside of New York City. Visitors are drawn to the National Mall with its majestic monuments and memorials surrounded by seemingly endless expanses of green parkland. From cultural affairs and festivals to sporting events and sightseeing tours, Washington, DC offers something special for every visitor year-round.
Things to do
Top tips for visiting Washington DC
1. Avoid driving
• With an excellent public transport system (see below) there is no need for a car, especially as the roads as in any city can get congested with traffic and parking is expensive.
2. Mind your Metro manners
• The D.C. transit system prides itself on being one of the cleanest and most orderly in the country. A few simple dos and don'ts will help you navigate the Metro with ease:
• When on the escalator, do stand to the right and walk to the left, (just as you do in London) letting those in a hurry pass by.
• Don't eat or drink on the Metro.
• Do stand aside and take a moment to figure out where you are going.
• The direction a Metro train is going is determined by its final destination.
3. Consider fall
• Visitors flock to Washington between April and August. The city can be debilitatingly hot and humid in the summer, which makes trekking around to all those outside monuments a sweltering affair. Remember, D.C. is lovely all year round – especially in the fall.
4. Eat your way around the world
• Washington is a true melting pot with residents from around the world, which is reflected on the menus in restaurants. Forget the chain restaurants you probably have at home. Instead, make like Columbus and discover the city's global palette.
• Local favourites include Mexican tapas at Oyamel, Indian at Rasika, Ethiopian at Etete, Italian at Dino and Belgian at Brasserie Beck.
5. Plan ahead
• You can simply walk into many of Washington's attractions without tickets or reservations, but some of the biggies require a little advance preparation.
6. Pack your running shoes or hire a bike
• With over 200 miles of trails in Washington, jogging and biking are popular activities.
• Runners interested in taking in the monuments and looping around the Mall should aim for an early morning jog as the area gets crowded later in the day.
• Alternatively, head to Rock Creek Park, a 1,800-acre maze of beautiful, well-marked trails, stretching 11 miles from the Lincoln Memorial to beyond the Maryland border. A paved path runs from the Kennedy Centre through the park.
• You can also pick up trails near DuPont Circle and the National Zoo.
7. Go celebrity-spotting
• L.A. and New York have movie stars and models. In D.C. the power players are the politicos. Keep your eyes peeled and you might spot a few Washington celebrities. Classic power spots include The Palm and Off the Record, the bar in The Hay-Adams Hotel. For a power breakfast, visit Bistro Bis on the Hill or the Four Seasons in Georgetown.
8. Tune into the music scene
• Jazz legend Duke Ellington was born and raised in Washington and a thriving musical tradition continues. There are plenty of hot spots to hear live music, particularly along the U Street corridor where Ellington used to play.
• Bohemian Caverns hosted everyone from Coltrane to Calloway and the subterranean supper club still features jazz bands.
• Down the street is The Black Cat, whose founders include Foo Fighter Dave Grohl. Modest Mouse, the White Stripes and Jeff Buckley are just a few of the names who have performed at this hipster club.
• Across town in Georgetown there's Blues Alley, the country's oldest continuing supper club. Check out the schedule in advance as big name acts sell out quickly.
9. Put your wallet away
• Many of D.C.'s sights are free – the Smithsonian museums, the Washington National Cathedral, National Geographic Society, Library of Congress and so many more. But those aren't the only freebies to be found. Put your bargain hunter hat on and you'll find there are plenty of free ways to explore the capital.
• Every day, the Kennedy Centre’s Millennium Stage hosts a free performance at 6 p.m.
• The United States Navy Band performs free concerts throughout the area (check navyband.navy.mil/sched.shtml for the schedule).
• Tryst Coffeehouse in the lively Adams Morgan neighbourhood hosts free jazz nights Monday to Wednesday (and free Wi-Fi during the week).