You mean aside from the fact that the city is a living history book full of powerful moments and memorable experiences? Well, for starters, Washington, DC is the only city in the world where you can visit with a 19-foot President Lincoln, read the real U.S. Constitution, see Dorothy’s ruby-red slippers, soak in internationally acclaimed art and explore space travel - all in one day.
At once an international crossroads and America’s hometown, DC offers visitors a vacation like none other. Both educational and entertaining, you’ll find it hard to fit in all of our world-class museums and monuments, unique neighborhoods, top-rated restaurants, gorgeous parks and gardens, and endless performing arts options in just one visit.
But don’t worry – we’re sure your first visit will be just one of many.
No first trip to Washington, DC would be complete without a tour of the city’s iconic monuments and memorials. Pick up a tour from Union Station (Old Town Trolley, Open Top Sightseeing buses and DC Ducks all launch from the train station) to get the lay of the land, or see the city by bike or Segway (check out rentals near the Old Post Office). Either way, you won’t want to miss the sights on the National Mall, including the Washington Monument; Lincoln, Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorials; and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
The top attractions by annual attendance are:
- National Air and Space Museum
- National Museum of Natural History
- Lincoln Memorial
- National Museum of American History
- World War II Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- Korean War Memorial
- FDR Memorial
- Rock Creek Park
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- National Zoo
If you plan ahead, you’ll also want to get a tour of The White House. Tours of the U.S. Capitol can be booked onsite, or you can contact your Congressional representative ahead of time to arrange a more in-depth tour.
The Obamas like Blue Duck Tavern and Ben’s Chili Bowl. Rachael Ray loves Rasika. Powerful politicos are known to frequent Founding Farmers and Seasons. Political and chef endorsements aside, Washington, DC has ascended to the rank of foodie town in recent years, with a cadre of celebrity chefs, from Wolfgang Puck to multiple “Top Chef” winners, opening outposts here. Esquire ranked us in the top 10 U.S. cities for dining, and Spanish import José Andrés (the city’s unofficial godfather of good food) considers DC - and the multiple award-winning restaurants he’s opened here - his second home.
Beyond celeb chefs, the nation’s capital offers everything from over-the-top culinary experiences to family-friendly fast food. Most museums offer dining options (whether you want hamburgers and fries or authentic cuisine matching the museum’s theme) and neighborhoods abound with original restaurants and quirky cafes. In DC you can also take one-of-a-kind food (and drink) tours from DC Metro Food Tours and DC Brew Tours.
It’s really up to you – there’s something going on every season in Washington, DC. But because Washington, DC hosts many business travelers, hotel rates tend to be lowest on weekends and during the summer and winter months. The museums and other attractions are quieter during the winter but stay busy throughout the summer with vacationers (though some museums keep extended summer hours to help alleviate crowds).
Depending on the season you visit, here are a few key events to look for:
Spring – National Cherry Blossom Festival, Passport DC, Nationals baseball
Summer – Memorial Day weekend, Fourth of July weekend, DC Jazz Festival, Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Fall – National Book Festival, DC Blues Festival, Nation’s Football Classic, Halloween festivities, Taste of DC
Winter – National Christmas Tree Lighting and Pageant of Peace, ice skating at the National Gallery of Art, Downtown Holiday Market, New Year’s Eve festivities
Visitors can travel to Washington, DC by plane, train, bus or car. The region is serviced by three airports, as well as Amtrak at Union Station. Once you’ve arrived, DC is an extremely easy town to get around. We pride ourselves on being pedestrian-friendly (in fact, the Brookings Institution once named us the “most walkable city in the U.S.”) and on our clean and accessible Metro system. Most attractions are within walking distance of a Metrorail or Metrobus stop. You can also use the DC Circulator, which makes roundtrip loops throughout a number of popular DC neighborhoods, and you’ll find cabs in abundance.
As a first-timer, we’re guessing at least some of your time will go toward seeing our world-famous monuments, memorials and museums. A hotel near the National Mall and central Smithsonian museums would be advisable, but really any hotel within walking distance of a Metro stop will work.
With more than 15 distinct neighborhoods in DC, nearly all of them make a great home base for a vacation. Like the nightlife? Try a hotel near Adams Morgan or U Street. Want to see politicos in their native environment and tour the U.S. Capitol? Make a reservation for a hotel on Capitol Hill (be sure and also check out the expansive Eastern Market for their fresh picnic-perfect produce). Or maybe you’re just primed to people watch. Dupont Circle is a great haven for scoping out the locals and browsing independent bookstores, shops and cafes.