This Washington DC Travel Guide shares everything you need to know before visiting the capital city, including where to stay, what to do and how to save.
The home of the President and the capital city of the United States, Washington D.C. boasts a number of beautiful parks and historical landmarks; ideal for those interested in American History. A city of contrasts, Washington homes members of congress who spend, spend, spend, yet there are many poor and homeless occupying the parks and streets. There’s a lot to see and do here so prepare for long busy days.
The Smithsonian Museums cover a wide range of interests and are all free. The city is littered with monuments celebrating the great men of America and are mostly based around the National Mall, alongside the Museums. Watch the Washington Nationals baseball team at the Nationals Park and enjoy an exciting president race and family atmosphere. If you are fortunate to visit during March – April, you can witness the Cherry Blossom Festival, with Washington radiating in colour.
Budget: Dorm beds $25 – $50, private rooms in budget hotels begin at $50.
Midrange: Hotels or B&Bs cost $120 – $250.
Luxury: Luxury hotel double room $350+
Transport: Metro day pass $14.50, single ride ticket $3. Taxi rides will cost you upwards of $12.00 depending on your zone and distance.
Average cost of food:
There are a range of cheap options throughout Washington as well as high end restaurants. There are some good fast food spots but not in all parts of Washington. Take a DC food tour to learn about the best eats and the best neighbourhoods for food too.
Breakfasts and lunches can be found under $10 whilst budget dinners often range between $15 – $30.
Midrange restaurants for two with three meal course will set you back $40 -$70 whilst a high end restaurant averages $60 – $100.
We often found a good restaurant with a wine and beer would be $45 approx.
Best time to visit Washington DC
The best time to visit Washington is during April and May, when the city is full of Cherry Blossoms. March to May and September to November offers cool, pleasant weather with less tourists too.
As with most places in America, July to August is high season for tourists and the city gets very hot.
Visiting in the fall before Thanksgiving is the cheapest time to head to Washington DC and hotels drop in price between Thanksgiving to New Years too but check the weather forecast when planning a trip.
Where to stay in Washington DC
Hostelling International – Washington DC Hostel offers dorms in gender or mixed dormitories, starting at $29 whilst double rooms start at $89 per night. With a metro station just 5 minutes away and the White House and National Mall just 900 yards away, this is a popular choice for backpackers on a budget.
Duo Housing Hostel is also rated highly, with its homely atmosphere and great prices; Beds in a mixed dormitory start at $21.95 and included breakfast and free WIFI.
Comfort Inn Downtown DC/Convention centre costing $207 per night is a popular hotel, rated highly on TripAdvisor for its great staff, great locations and excellent value for money.
You may also wish to stay at the luxurious Washington Plaza at $290 per night.
You can also save some money by using Airbnb rentals, especially if you are in a group. Or you can enjoy one of the fun unique Airbnbs near Washington DC; perfect for those looking for something a little different.
The Jefferson Hotel is one of Washington’s finest, with rooms starting at $525 and guests rating this place the top hotel on TripAdvisor, it is no wonder this place sells out fast. The immaculate rooms and elegant interior is the perfect touch for those craving a bit of luxury.
The River Inn is a favourite of mine, with the hotels ‘Trendy Foggy Bottom Diner’ serving delicious food and a great chill out spot for drinks in the evening. A luxury hotel at a great value price; rooms start at $201 per night.
Save money in Washington DC
America is not the best place to start if you are travelling on a budget but there are many ways you save money travelling the USA.
- Chain hotels – The USA has many budget chain hotels. These are basic and make sure to check reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor first, but you can save some serious money staying in places like Econolodge, Travelodge, Days in and Super 8.
- Hotels with kitchenettes – When booking a hotel or motel, check if there is a kitchenette. If there is a room or hotel with a kitchenette, then opt for that choice, especially if you are staying somewhere for an extended period of time. This means you can save loads of money cooking food yourself rather than eating out.
- Farmer markets – Heading to farmer markets or ethnic grocery stores can save you money on snacks and food.
- Early Bird – When eating out, either aim to have a big lunch or head to a restaurant before 5. Many places offer an early bird option, where you can save money when eating between 2 – 5pm.
- Coupons – Pick up the local newspaper to find coupons for attractions and restaurants each week. If you plan on visiting a chain restaurant or cafe (such as Starbucks), check for vouchers or gift certificates on Ebay.
- Reward cards – If you travel a lot, why not get a rewards credit card for your favourite hotel chain. Hilton and Marriott have great sign up offer, so you can collect points each time you spend money on the card and then redeem free stays and upgrades worldwide.
- Compare rentals – If you intend on road tripping, make sure you compare prices for a rental car on websites such as rentalcars.com or hotwire.com.
- Turo – Another option if you are looking to rent a car is by using getaround.com or turo.com. This is a similar concept to airbnb but for cars; you can rent a car from owners and this can work out cheaper than renting from a rental company.
- Avoid checked luggage – If you are flying in or out and visiting for a short period, avoid having checked luggage. You can book budget flights to save money but these don’t always include checked luggage.
- Hotel Tonight – This app can be used in the big cities such as New York, LA, Chicago, Miami and Vegas. It offers last minute rooms, particularly great if you are thinking of a weekend away.
- Download a Wifi Map – This map is fantastic at finding available Wifi Spots in your area. These aren’t just Free Wifi Spots too, they have a database of passwords to make your connection reliable and safe.
- Avoid Public Holidays – Hotel and travel prices rise around the 4th July and Labor Day, so avoiding travelling at this time. If you do want to travel at this time, book everything in advance.
- Avoid hostels – Hostels are a great way to save money accommodation everywhere else in the world but not in the US. There aren’t many hostels and most are overpriced. If you are travelling by yourself, you are better off using a budget hotel or look for a bedroom on airbnb.
- Free attractions – Take advantage of the free attractions in Washington DC. Head to the monuments, White House and Smithsonian Museums or get a free guided walking tour with DC by foot.
- Go Washington DC Passs – This city pass saves you money on the major attractions if you plan on seeing a lot during your time in the capital.
- Use Ticketmaster – We loved watching the Washington Nationals play and shopped around for tickets before we arrived. To find the best rates, book seats in advance on Ticketmaster.
Best things to do in Washington DC
Vietnam & Korean War Memorial
National Gallery of Art
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
The White House
Capitol Hill and the Library of Congress
World War II Memorial
Washington National Cathedral
Museum of African American History
Arlington National Cemetery
National Archives Museum
The Tidal Basin
National Air & Space Museum
United States Holocaust Memorial
JFK Center of Performing Art
National Museum of Natural History
International Spy Museum
American History Museum
How to get to Washington DC
Fly – Fly into Reagan National (DCA) which is the nearest and most convenient airport to DC, from here you can catch the Metro blue and yellow lines or a super shuttle/taxi. Dulles (IAD) airport also includes super shuttle or Washington Flyer bus to downtown Washington DC or Baltimore Washington International (BWI) is an airport slightly further from the capitol but cheaper flights may be found to this airport which is also connected to MARC trains that take you straight to Union Square.
Bus – Greyhound, BoltBus, Megabus and Washington Deluxe buses stop at Union Station, where you can then catch the Amtrak or red line to your hotel. Inexpensive fares can be found on a Chinatown bus, which takes you from Chinatown NYC to Chinatown WDC. Buses can take approx. 5 hours depending on traffic from NYC to Washington and prices start from $24 for advanced tickets, again from NYC to Washington DC.
Train – Amtrak serves Washington D.C. with trains stopping at Union Square. This is great if travelling the East Coast with train routes available from: Boston all the way down to Miami.
Drive – The Beltway, Interstate 495 surrounds the Washington DC area whilst Interstate 95 on the major north-south highway can be used to access DC.
How to get around Washington DC
The Metrorail and Metrobus is the safest, cleanest and most efficient transportation to use in Washington. Many hotels are conveniently located near a metro station or bus route and serve the many tourist attractions of the city.
We found walking was a great way to get around Washington, taking in the sites and parks Washington has to offer. Taxi’s maybe a better choice for those heading back after an evening out but can be costly if travelling far, as with all cities.