Washington, DC at the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial during spring.
travel tips

8 tips for planning a trip to Washington DC - from a local

Lita Talisman

Contributing writer

Washington DC is the capital of the US and the place where history is being made every day. There are plenty of tourists that come to see this amazing city and all of the important places within it.

The monuments, museums and galleries in DC tend to keep visitors' attention - and there's enough to see to keep you busy on future trips as well. Beyond that, there are a some things you should know to help you plan your trip to this fascinating city. Here are few tips for visiting DC from a local.

An elephant exhibition in the Smithsonian in Washington DC

1. There are many free things to do in DC

DC is a wonderful city for tourists, because lots of things you’ll want to see are free. The National Mall is the main attraction in the city, because it is lined with important monuments, famous buildings like the Capitol and White House, and Smithsonian museums. All Smithsonian properties are free, so you can spend a day touring without spending a dime. Also, DC hosts plenty of free events for the city, like Jazz in the Gardens in the summer.

2. Washington DC is expensive

The cost of living in DC is very high, which means when you visit you can expect steep price tags. Coffee costs around $4 at most shops and nice restaurants will run your bill up. Luckily, DC was also the city that started a lot of fast casual restaurants, so you can find some delicious food for less.

The Washington Monument surrounded by cherry blossoms in Spring

3. Spring and Fall are the best times to visit DC

Most people don’t realize that DC was built on a swamp. Because of this, the summer humidity is overwhelming. During the summer, temperatures are usually in the high 80s or 90s with humidity hovering around 50 percent. Spring and Fall are much better seasons to visit with lower temperatures and nicer weather.

Spring is also the best time to visit if you want to see the cherry blossoms in bloom. The Cherry Blossom Festival also runs in late March or early April each year - it's a free event and is well worth attending if you're in the city when it's on.

4. If you want to see cherry blossoms, expect to fight through crowds

While Spring is a beautiful time to visit, hundreds of tourists come to Washington DC each year o see the cherry trees in bloom. You’ll have to walk through hordes of other tourists to see them and good luck getting a picture without others in them. Although, the cherry blossoms are beautiful and definitely worth seeing, be aware that cherry blossom season is the busiest time of the year in DC.

Cars in Washington DC with the Capitol building in the background

5. Expect traffic in DC

Unfortunately, DC is often rated as one of the worst cities in the US for traffic. If you go anywhere during rush hour times, add more time to your travel plans. And if you have a car make sure that you know how to drive around traffic circles or you’ll frustrate all the other drivers around you.

6. The metro can be very slow

If you’re coming from out of town, you may want to use the Metro to get around. However, the Metro constantly has construction or delays. If you’re going on a weekend, you can expect really long wait times. Build extra time into your schedule to get around using the Metro.

Ben's Chili Bowl original and upscale Bens Next Door restaurants in Washington DC

7. DC has a fairly diverse population

One of the best things about DC is that it’s one of the most diverse places in the entire country. As they say DC is a “mixing pot” so you can expect to meet people from all over the world. This means you can also find amazing restaurants that feature these worldly cuisines (make sure to get some Ethiopian when you’re here!).

8. Not everyone works in politics

Despite what people say, there are plenty of DC residents that are not connected to politics. DC is a thriving city with so much to offer like wonderful food, a vibrant arts scene, and beautiful parks. Make sure to explore areas other than the Mall, so that you can get to know this city better and see why so many people love calling it home.

Planning a trip to Washington DC? Stay at the luxurious Hay-Adams Hotel with stunning views in an extremely convenient location.

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Lita Talisman

Author - Lita Talisman

Lita is a travel blogger and content creator that is currently based in Washington DC. She has traveled to over 35 countries and 35 states, and is currently converting a van into a tiny home. You can read in depth travel guides, van conversion tips, and posts about living with Multiple Sclerosis on her blog, Lita of the Pack.

Last Updated 18 July 2022

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