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As the nation’s capital, Washington, DC is a political hub housing all three branches of the United States’ federal government. Nestled between Maryland and Virginia, this politically driven city is teeming with historic sites such as the U.S. Capitol and White House; intriguing Smithsonian museums; and famous monuments, including the Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and the Korean War Memorial.
Washington, DC hotels are scattered around downtown, many of which are just within a stroll of the National Mall and some of the must-see monuments, memorials, and museums. With Expedia, vacationers can also snag cheap hotel deals in Washington, DC centrally located near the DC Metro System, which offers opportunities for further sightseeing in the area. Some of these Washington, DC hotel deals even feature specials on city tours and tickets for the historic attractions.
There are also hotels near Washington, DC located in the city’s surrounding areas, such as Alexandria and Arlington, which often present cheaper rates than some of the hotels in Washington, DC. These cities are just minutes away from the DC action, but they also feature their own attractions, such as The Pentagon in Arlington and Old Town in Alexandria.
Three airports service the Washington, D.C. area: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, and Baltimore Washington International Airport. Flights into Washingtom DC Reagan International, however, provide the easiest access to the city sites and attractions.
The city’s Metro stops at Reagan International, while the Dulles and Baltimore airport both offer shuttles and buses to nearby metro stations. While the metro system is a convenient way to arrive at boutique hotels and resorts in D.C., all three airports also feature taxi and car rental services as well.
Visitors traveling to Washington, D.C. from the north often drive on I-95. Road trippers from all directions will meet the infamous Capital Beltway, which features the inner loop and outer loop around the city. Major highways, including I-95, I-66, I-295, and US 50 all intersect with the Beltway.
Washington, D.C. also features a major train station, Union Station, where travelers can arrive by charter bus or train. The Metro and Amtrak both stop at this station.
Travelers can reserve car rentals, but driving around is sometimes best reserved for the areas outside of the city.
In the heart of the city, it’s best to walk or use the Metro. Many of the must-see attractions, such as the Freer Gallery, Botanic Gardens, Lincoln Memorial, and Washington Monument are within walking distance of one another, so trekking along on foot is one of the most convenient, and often only ways of arriving at each destination.
Both locals and visitors regard the Metro as one of the best ways of getting around the city. The Metro currently presents five color-coded lines servicing areas within Washington, D.C. as well as other cities and attractions in surrounding Maryland and Virginia. At any Metro station, visitors can load money onto fare cards or purchase one-day or multi-day passes. The Metro system also includes Metrobuses with more than 200 bus routes in the Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia areas, including stops at all the Metro transit stations.
Things to Do
If you only have one free day to explore the nation’s capital, mosey over to the National Mall to access some of the top attractions within walking distance of one another. Spanning from the United States Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, this nearly two-mile stretch encompasses the museums of the Smithsonian Institute, the Smithsonian Carousel, and the Reflecting Pool. Many must-see memorials, such as the National World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are just outside of this territory, but are often still considered part of the National Mall.
The Smithsonian Institute alone is a must do while visiting Washington, D.C. The institute includes the National Zoological Park, 19 museums, and 9 research centers. The majority of the Smithsonian museums sit on the National Mall, including the National Museum of American History where you can peer at Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” or take a glimpse of the Hope Diamond at the Museum of Natural History. All of the Smithsonian museums offer free admission, so you can happily stay within your vacation budget and still tour some of the nation’s finest attractions.
While Washington, D.C. features a handful of free museums, some of the other museums, which do charge admission, are worth the ticket price. For an eye opening experience, albeit heart wrenching, visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to pay tribute to the survivors and victims of the Holocaust. Meanwhile the International Spy Museum offers slightly more upbeat exhibits with the world’s largest display of international espionage artifacts. The Newseum is another admission charging museum worth a visit, as it highlights the importance of free press. Reserve a few days to explore these museums, so you can truly appreciate them at your leisure.
Take a break from all those history lessons and witness some living breathing action at the National Zoological Park. This is attraction is a top thing to do in Washington D.C., and because it’s a part of the Smithsonian Institute, you can visit all of the animals free of charge. Stand below the O Line as the orangutans tight rope walk and swing across the cables 50-feet above your head, and search for the two-toed sloths in the walk-through Amazonia rain forest exhibit. With reptiles, big cats, pandas, small mammals, insects, and more, the zoo is a fun and educational stop while visiting the nation’s capital.
Arts & Entertainment
Ballet shoes and trumpet toots call the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts home in Washington, D.C. This Kennedy Center houses the prestigious Washington National Opera, National Symphony Orchestra, and Washington Ballet. It is the place to listen to the National Opera’s bellowing baritones and the National Symphony’s staccatoing violinists. And travelers visiting D.C. in the winter months won’t want to miss the Washington Ballet’s annual enchanting performance of “The Nutcracker” at the Kennedy Center, complete with the fear-inducing Mouse King and whimsical Sugar Plum Fairy.
Washington D.C. also hosts a number of other theaters where visitors can immerse themselves in the art and culture of this colorful city. The Shakespeare Theatre Company and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company conjugate and perform at the Arena, while the GALA Hispanic Theatre is a National Center for Latino Performing Arts. The Lincoln Theatre is another population auditorium, where famous musicians Duke Ellington and Miles Davis once graced the stage. From the playhouse, Ford Theatre, where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, to the Marine Barracks, which is where the oldest music group, the United States Marine Band performs, Washington, D.C. presents countless opportunities for experiencing the city’s art and entertainment close to all the luxury hotels.
Before the likeliness of some of the nation’s most prominent figures were set in stone for all to see in Washington, D.C., early settlers took over the land from the Nacotchtank tribe in the late 17th century. In 1970, following the American Revolution, the newly formed Congress designated the Washington, D.C. area as the location of the nation’s capital. One year later, the country’s first president, George Washington, commissioned Pierre Charles L’Enfant to design the city. Although disputes arose, and L’Enfant was dismissed, he is still largely recognized for the city planning. Because the streets can be somewhat mind boggling, especially to newbies, some locals say the city plan was created to confuse invading armies, though this myth has since been debunked.
In the following years, Washington, D.C. grew at a rapid rate, particularly due to the New Deal programs during the Great Depression. Further focused on reforms, the city was a leader in the American Civil Rights Movement where the March on Washington took place and Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. In more recent years, the Washington, D.C. area is perhaps most recognized for the September 11, 2001 attacks, which targeted the Pentagon. Although the city now has stricter security measures, Washington, D.C. remains one of the best historic hot spots in the U.S for a family vacation.
“Hail to the Redskins! Hail victory! Braves on the Warpath! Fight for old D.C.!” The burgundy and gold professional football team was the first NFL team to not only have its own fight song, but also its very own official marching band. The team had a rough beginning in its early days, as it never played in a single postseason game between 1946 and 1970. However, the team has since forged the way playing in five Super Bowls and winning three championship titles in more recent years. For a true Washington, D.C. experience, book a 5 star hotel, reserve tickets for a home game at FedEx Field against the Redskin’s biggest rival, the Dallas Cowboys, and watch the Skins on the warpath!
While D.C. may have had an eclectic baseball history, the newly formed MLB team, the Nationals, is the city’s grand slam. Nicknamed “The Nats,” the baseball team stepped up to bat in 2005, and by 2012, they were the first Washington baseball team to overcome the city’s 79-year drought and reach postseason. During every mid-fourth inning at Nationals home games; watch out for the Presidents Race between ol’ George, Teddy, Abe, Tom, and Bill. The Presidents: Washington, Roosevelt, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Taft run the field with their massive caricature heads from center field down the foul line to the Nats’ dugout. But don’t bet on Teddy, he’s notorious for coming in last place!
A Washington, D.C., vacation can encompass so much more than touring the White House and taking photos at the various famous monuments. Believe it or not, D.C. isn’t just stuffy politician territory, but rather, those business professionals do loosen their ties and hike up their skirts for nights out on the town. And the city nightlife scene certainly doesn’t disappoint. So after you’ve had your fill of history lessons and political insight, head out to hot spots such as Georgetown, Dupont circle, and Adams Morgan to experience some of the hottest after-hour playgrounds.
Georgetown is an upscale, indulgent, and trendy scene most frequented by the younger crowd, while Dupont Circle is a slightly more eclectic scene famous for its LGBT community. Dash into the collegiate hot spots in Georgetown for a guaranteed dance party or dip into the classy lounges and sultry music venues in Dupont. Meanwhile in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, venture out for the fire breathing bartenders, roof top lounges, and elaborately designed dance floors.
When it comes to dining out in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital doesn’t disappoint. A little bit of this and a little bit of that, probably best defines this diverse city spot. Visitors can dine like royalty at some of the upscale restaurants serving up high end cuisine or grab mouthwatering takeout grub from various ethnic diners. Though the city may not cook up a unique cuisine of its very own, the countless international options, such as Ethiopian and Chinese fare, have come to represent D.C.’s culinary world.
After indulging in the diverse dining options Washington, D.C. offers, every visitor must treat themselves to the city’s famous cupcakes. The cupcake industry has taken over the capital city catering to the sweet teeth of locals and vacationers alike. D.C. features a number of cupcake shops dedicated to delicately designing all the red velvet, carrot, and chocolate desserts to answer your confection cravings.
Washington D.C. is a diverse city with an equally diverse shopping scene. Find locally owned boutiques, national retailers, and antique shops on various blocks of the nation’s capital near many of the hotels in Washington, D.C. Browse the cobblestone streets in Georgetown, peruse the eye candy in Dupont Circle, and hunt for fresh produce and crafts at the Eastern Market. The opportunities for finding the ideal D.C. memento or one-of-kind relic are endless in this East Coast city.
Georgetown is the spot where visitors stumble upon vintage shops and quaint boutiques. This historic location also features the Shops at Georgetown Park, which to every shopper’s delight, presents more than 100 stores and popular retailers. Dupont Circle is another popular shopping destination, where D.C. vacationers hunt for treasures at the various bookstores, art galleries, gift shops, and clothing boutiques. And for even more variety, the Eastern Market provides additional opportunities to find everything from handcrafted jewelry, homemade paintings, and baked goods for the eager shopper.
The National Mall is one of the main attractions in Washington, D.C., but oftentimes visitors underestimate how much walking is involved in seeing all the famous sites and monuments. Also, the Mall focuses mostly on the historic attractions, galleries, and museums, and therefore eateries and restaurants are few and far between. With that being said, for the most enjoyable sightseeing experience in D.C., vacationers are encouraged to pack their most comfortable walking shoes and stock up on snacks and plenty of water before trekking the Mall.
Pet Friendly Basics
Washington, D.C. is also a dog friendly city, where Fido can join you on all your adventures from posing in front of the Lincoln Memorial to exploring the Capital Crescent Trail. Play fetch with your furry canine on the National Park and take a jog together in Rock Creek Park. Vacationers can also treat man’s best friend to the luxuries of the off-leash territory in Glover Park Dog Park. Additionally, the nation’s capital features a variety of restaurants and even “yappy hours” in which your pup can join you for dining and socializing. Before extending an invite to your pup though, double check you’re staying at one of the many pet friendly hotels in Washington, D.C.
Personalities & Culture
Much like New York or Chicago, Washington, D.C. is a fast-paced city where people have places to see and things to do at all hours of the day and night. The locals here are generally friendly and helpful, but one major piece of advice in order to stay on their good side is to follow Metro etiquette. For one, remember the right-hand side of the escalator is for standing while the left-hand side is strictly for walking. Do not make the mistake of standing on the left side and block all the hurried commuters. Another word for the wise is to move to the middle of the Metro car to allow for more passengers to board, and if the car is crowded, do not sit on the aisle seat when a window seat is available. This city exerts a hustle and bustle nature, so avoid slowing it down at all costs!
D.C. bound visitors staying at Washington D.C. hotels are sometimes surprised when they realize native Washingtonians are few and far between in this district. This metropolis’ culture is defined by a variety of cultures and a transient professional population. Washington, D.C. attracts international immigrants as well as many business people who relocate to this district for the political and governmental-related job opportunities.
Weather & Culture
If you’re looking to visit Washington, D.C. when the weather is pleasant enough to walk around the monuments without feeling uncomfortable, book a trip during the spring or fall when temperatures are most mild. Spring time presents temperatures generally around 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and for an unforgettable time, book Washington, D.C. hotels during the National Cherry Blossom Festival to see the Japanese gifts bud and bloom. Autumn is another prime time to visit, when the heat from the sweltering summer has tapered off but has yet to welcome the frigid winter temperatures ahead.
Visitors often underestimate the city’s overwhelming heat in the summer and the chilly degrees in the winter. Summers in Washington, D.C., present extreme sticky humidity and temperatures ranging from the 80s to around 100F, with August usually serving up the most brutal temperatures of all. As for the winter months, the city often averages temperatures in around 30 and 40F, with the potential for snow. If you plan on traveling during the summer, stock up on water and breathable clothing, while winter vacationers will want to pack the works: jackets, boots, scarves, and mittens!
Whether it’s the political debates heating up the city or the culture and fashion keeping the district cool, Washington D.C. is a prime vacation destination any time of the year.
Need some more ideas for your next trip here? Our Expedia Viewfinder bloggers have recommendations for your next visit. See some of their latest blog posts below about what to eat, where to drink, what to see, and what to do.