Recently I wrote a post about things to do in D.C. if you are not a tourist. However, I realize that the majority of you who read my blog don’t live in the district, so here’s a post about what to do if you’re a visitor and you only have a couple of days in the city.
Most of the options I list are in central Washington (think the Mall, the White House, the Capitol…) because that’s typically where people want to be if they’re only here for the weekend. However, for hotels, keep in mind that it’s going to be a lot cheaper to be on the outskirts of town. You’ll just have to pay to get yourself downtown, but more on that below!
The Metro here is incredible. Throw out everything you know about subways/underground transportation from New York, which somehow was rated as having the best subway system?? Ask any New Yorker what their worst metro horror story is and I guarantee you it’s disgusting and will traumatize you. Ask any DC’er about the newly renovated metro system and they’ll tell you that maybe there was a delay or shutdown momentarily. It’s clean and reliable and great.
Anyway, if you’re only here for the weekend, I’d recommend getting a little metro pass at any of the kiosks down the escalator of any metro station. They cost $2 flat and then you can add by dollar value depending on how much you’ll need it. This is mainly if you aren’t staying right in the city center.
Uber and Lyft are also pretty good options if you need to get around and don’t want to have to deal with public transportation. I would very much recommend them over taking a taxi. Lyft is a little less expensive, but both work fine, and there are a ton of them downtown at literally any time of morning/day/night. Plus, D.C. is surprisingly small so it’s never really that expensive.
Walking is also a great way to get around D.C. The distance between two metro stops isn’t that far- really between three metro stops isn’t even all that bad. Cutting through neighborhoods filled with houses on hills, row houses, and cute little coffee shops is my favorite thing to do.
The Smithsonian Museums are probably the coolest tourist options that D.C. has to offer (for the not Politically obsessed.) My favorites are the Holocaust museum (plan at least 3 hours- very much worth it) and the National Art Gallery (divided into contemporary and classical art, you could spend anywhere from a couple of hours to two full days depending on how into art you are). I’ve heard that the Museum of African American History is INCREDIBLE, but you’re going to have to secure your spot months in advance. The place opened just over a year ago and it’s still packed every damn day. I’ve lived here for 5 months now and still haven’t gotten to go.
The US Capitol Building is one of my favorite tourist-ey stops. I love our government, as sadistic and disorganized as it is right now, and it’s really neat to get to see where it all goes down. You can take guided tours, just get online and sort it out beforehand. If you want to sit in the house or senate gallery (and if you’re visiting while Congress is in session) contact your representatives prior to your visit and you can get a visitors pass to see a vote or a debate in real life! So cool!
The National Monuments are of course, super popular. The Washington Monument is really easy to get to if you’re on the mall, because it and the Captiol act as bookends for the mall. My personal favorite is the Lincoln Memorial; it’s beautiful day or night, and you get to see the reflecting pool with the Washington Monument at the end as well. I recommend taking a hop-on-hop-off tour to get around all of the monuments. They’re a little pricey ($40-$50) but are hands down the best way to see the city in a short amount of time. I did it the first weekend I was here and got my tourist-fix in about three hours. You could even stretch it out over an entire day and get out at some of the Smithsonian museums.
The White House: Regardless of who you voted for or how you feel about who’s in office, this place is gorgeous and just really cool to see in person. Go by the park side entrance (not the mall side) and get a really good picture. If you’re going in the fall or the spring, check and see if the White House Garden Tour is happening the weekend you’re there. You get to hang out right outside of the White House, listen to live army bands, see the rose and kitchen garden, and just get to say you went inside of the White House gates.
Food: Down on the mall there is surprisingly not that many food options. We the Pizza is, unsurprisingly, a pizza place located near the Capitol. Not a bad walk at all from the mall, and it has a cute name. The cafe in the Museum of the American Indian is by far the most recommended place to eat in the area, and has a really good array of options to pick from. District Taco is really good Mexican food at a very reasonable price (hard to find here) and there are a bunch scattered around the city. West Wing is a really great deli that has warm and cold sandwiches, soup, sushi (haven’t tried it yet), a crazy meat/cheese/bread selection, tons of drinks and chips, and it’s really fast. Not absurdly expensive, either. Lastly, you could always eat at Union Station which is very close to the Capitol and the mall; there’s Shake Shack, a salad place, Chipotle, a Uno Pizza, and Starbucks if you need some coffee.
Brunch: I put brunch in its own category because that’s how people in DC treat it. It’s wild. Like, I love brunch, but people in DC reeallllllyyyy love brunch. My favorites downtown are Founding Framers, a farm-to-table place near the White House, and Le Diplomate, a cute french place. Both of these are pretty expensive, but the less pricey ones are going to be more on the outskirts of the city. If you’re near the uptown area or just want something not crazy expensive, try Brick Lane, which is in Dupont Circle.
What to Bring With You
If you’re visiting in the summer: Dresses, skirts, shorts, tank tops, short sleeve shirts, sandals (comfortable ones), mosquito spray, and sunglasses. It gets HOT AND HUMID in the summer (thank’s founders, for putting D.C. in a literal swamp) so you’re going to want to wear things that cover as little skin as possible while staying respectable. D.C. has a sort of unspoken dress code, especially if you’re downtown, since so many important professionals hang out down there so often.
If you’re visiting in the fall/spring: Light layers (weather is unpredictable here), comfortable shoes, sunglasses. See “dresscode” blurb above.
If you’re visiting in the winter: Heavier layers- think long sleeve shirt and a coat or a sweater and a jacket. Jeans, boots, warm socks, hat, gloves, and hot hands if you’re going to be walking a lot. But be warned, and why I mentioned the layering, inside places are going to be well heated, so don’t plan one toasty outfit or you’ll die of heat stroke. See “dresscode” blurb in the summer section.”