25 Washington, DC Travel Tips to Avoid Missing Out

Washington, DC has a wealth to offer visitors beyond the world’s largest collection of free museums, The Smithsonian. An impressive and diverse culinary scene features most of the world’s nationalities. Opportunities to tour the White House, US Capitol Building, Supreme Court and other key federal buildings offer additional world-class experiences. And there’s great rooftop bars and hidden gems scattered throughout the area. Here are 25 Washington, DC tips to insure you have an awesome visit!

National Cherry Blossom Festival

Alex & Bell with the cherry blossoms and the tidal basin in the background
Enjoying the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin, with the Jefferson Memorial behind us.

The peak of the cherry blossom trees is one of the most popular times to visit Washington, DC. Peak cherry blossoms range from year to year. Historically, this occurs as early as March 15th and as late as April 18th. You can’t know for sure if you’re visiting from outside the area and want to plan in advance. The average date for peak cherry blossoms is April 4th. Peak blossoms last for around 1 week.

Visit DC on Weekends and You Can Save Big on Hotels

Washington, DC draws many tourists. Hotels are generally busiest on weekdays. This is due to business and government travel. Visitors can find weekend prices as low as 300% less compared to weekdays! This makes Washington a great weekend destination for travelers of various budgets.

Sofitel Lafayette Square

Sofitel Lafayette Square is a great luxury stay near the White House, often with much cheaper weekend rates. Located 1,300 feet from the White House in Washington, D.C., this historic hotel features an on-site restaurant and lounge. Offering French comfort food, Opaline Bar and Brasserie is located on site.

Hilton Washington, DC Capitol Hill

One of our favorite DC stays has been at the Hilton Washington, D.C. Capitol Hill. Located in the center of Washington, D.C, the hotel is within 2,800 feet of the United States Capitol Building and Union Station. Some rooms have views of the US Capitol. It is worth requesting them in your reservation notes or from the receptionist at check-in!

The Washington Hilton

The Washington Hilton features an outdoor courtyard and has views of the capital skyline. This Washington, D.C. hotel is just 1.6 mi from the White House. The District Line Restaurant at the Hilton serves handmade cocktails and local American specialties. A large buffet breakfast is served daily. The Washington Hilton hosts the annual Washington Correspondent’s Dinner.

You can save big money on hotels, while receiving complimentary room upgrades. Read our article on travel hacks to learn more. We save thousands a year on flights and hotels thanks to these hacks!

US Capitol Building Tour

Capitol Hill with bright blue skies above Washington, DC
The US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

A US Capitol Building tour is one of many great free things to do in Washington, DC. Visitors can arrange tours through their senator or congressman’s website or pick up gallery passes by swinging by their offices. The gallery passes are required to visit the House and Senate chambers. If you don’t prearrange a tour, you can also visit the Hart or Russell office buildings. You can ask any senator’s receptionist for the gallery passes.

US Capitol Visitors Center hours are from 9am – 3pm Monday – Friday. You can book free tours of the US Capitol on their website. Read the list of prohibited items before touring the US Capitol. Prohibited items include liquids, large bags, aerosol containers, food, drinks and obviously no weapons.

White House Tours (Currently Unavailable)

You can try and organize a free tour of the White House on your Congressman’s website. Make the request a minimum of 3 weeks in advance (required). To be on the safe side, you can request a White House tour as early as 3 months in advance.

White House tours are subject to availability and there are no guarantees. But even if you don’t get a spot, you can at least get photos outside! Visitors from outside the US can contact their embassies to arrange a tour (or passes for Congress); and need to bring their passport for the tours.

You can get closer to the White House for photos at the back entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue. The photo of us below is in front of the White House during the Obama administration. During that time, you could even poke a camera between the fence’s bars. There is currently a barricade preventing passing visitors from getting that close to the front fence.

Alex & Bell out the front of the white house

Rent Bikes or Scooters and Cycle the National Mall and Tidal Basin to See the Monuments

Capital Bikeshare has the most bikes along the National Mall, with several docking stations. Lime offers scooter rentals in the nation’s capital.To find their scooters, just download the Lime app on your phone and search the area. All payments for Lime are made through their app.

Capital Bikeshare payments are made at docking stations. You can save money by dropping Capital bikes off at another station within 30 minutes. If you need more time, you can then pick up a different bike from the station. These are great ways to self-tour the Washington Monument, War Memorials, Lincoln Memorial and the memorials along the Tidal Basin as well.

Alex and Bell biking with Capital Bikeshare bikes on the National Mall
Rent Capital Bikeshare bikes to tour the National Mall and beyond!

Smithsonian: World’s Largest Collection of Free Museums

The Smithsonian includes 20 different museums and galleries, along with the National Zoological Park. The National Zoo is home to many endangered animals including orangutans, gorillas and pandas. Visit the National Portrait Gallery to experience US history in paintings and pictures. There’s a lot to experience in Washington, DC for free.

Entrance into the Natural History museum in DC

Significant Artifacts Important to US History

Many of the most important US artifacts are clustered in free museums and galleries along the National Mall, between the US Capitol Building and the Washington Monument. You can see an original copy of the US Constitution at the National Archives.

The National Museum of American History showcases the original star spangled banner. Adopted on June 14, 1777, the first Flag Act created the original United States flag of thirteen stars and thirteen stripes. The massive flag on display measures 30 feet by 42 feet and is showcased behind glass.

The National Air and Space Museum features an impressive collection of aircraft and space memorabilia, including the lunar module. These spots can be especially crowded on weekends. So go early or during the week if you want to avoid potentially long lines. You can also book a hotel located near several museums to get a head start from the crowd.

Take Advantage of Washington, DC Happy Hour Specials

Happy Hour is a favorite pastime in Washington, DC. Many establishments only have weekday specials. But a few of our favorite establishments have great weekend happy hours too.

Joe’s Seafood has one of the best happy hours in DC featuring half off draft beers, wines, cocktails and specials on seafood appetizers.

Succotash also has an excellent happy hour with a good selection of wines, beers, cocktails and appetizers. It’s hard to beat $1 wings smoked Alabama style, served with celery slaw. Happy hour discounts run from 4pm-8pm.

Another favorite happy hour of ours is Zorba’s Cafe in Dupont Circle. During the warmer months, their terrace has a Mediterranean feel with Greek music playing. Their happy hour runs Monday-Friday from 4-7pm.

Check out DC happy hours to see many more options.

Cocktail at Joe's seafood restaurant

Picnic on the Tidal Basin or National Mall

One of our favorite things to do in summer is to visit the nation’s oldest fish market, The Municipal Fish Market, along the Potomac River. We’ll often buy some boiled shrimp, crab cakes and maybe a piece of delicious deep fried salmon, hush puppies and coleslaw. It is less than a 10 minute walk to sit across from the Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin. We are surprised that so few other people do this!

picnic of shrimp & corn along the tidal basin DC

Restaurant Recommendations in DC

Washington, DC has a world-class culinary scene, with almost every nationality represented. Here’s some of our favorite DC restaurants.

Bistro Cacao is wonderful for a romantic dinner. This lovely French restaurant close to the US Capitol features intimate booths adorned with elegant red drapes.

Le Diplomate is a bustling French brasserie popular with DC residents. So make reservations in advance.

We love taking guests to Old Ebbit Grill, DC’s longest-running restaurant, featuring beautiful paintings depicting the country’s founding.

Just down the road is The Hamilton DC, run by the same owners, offering a similar experience and an extensive menu.

Washington, DC Rooftop Bars

View of the White House from POV Rooftop Bar with a glass of white wine
Enjoy a glass of wine POV Rooftop Bar overlooking the White House

It’s a great idea to visit a picturesque rooftop bar in any city and DC has many. Vue Rooftop DC, atop Hotel Washington has an excellent view overlooking the White House and Washington Monument. Tables are reserved for customers eating, but you do not need a reservation to head up for a drink. Go just before sunset for the best experience!

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is home to the world’s largest library. The library also houses Thomas Jefferson’s book collection. Despite being a slave owner, Jefferson encountered financial difficulties and had to sell his book collection to the US government following his presidency. Visitors can take a free one-hour walking tour of the Jefferson building, and learn about the history and work of the Library of Congress.

Ornate stairs and columns at the Library of Congress
Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Arlington National Cemetary

tombstones in Arlington Nation Cemetery
Tombstones line Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

Arlington National Cemetery was established in 1864 during the American Civil War. It’s currently the property of the US Army. President John F. Kennedy is buried there, along with 400,000 other American servicemen and women. Don’t miss the Changing of the Guard, with a great view of Washington, DC in the background. From October through March, the Changing of the Guard takes place on the hour. From April through September, the changing of the guard takes place every half hour. Closing time is 5pm October-March and 7pm April-September. Plan your visit here.

Arlington Observation Deck: The View of DC

View of Washington DC at dusk

Just across the Potomac River from DC, Arlington, Virginia has a new Observation Deck called The View of DC. It offers sweeping views for miles across the Potomac River and DC cityscape. Interactive touch screen displays offer information on the city’s buildings and monuments. Stepping Into Perspectives is a multisided holographic display allowing visitors to watch historical figures tell their stories. Use our promo link to save 20% off your visit and get $15 off their Drink in the View package. If you’re staying in Arlington, there’s several other great attractions there too.

Tour the Supreme Court Building

US Supreme Court Building
US Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC

The Supreme Court Building is the nation’s highest court. It’s open to the public Monday to Friday from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm and closed on weekends and all federal holidays. Walk up tours are not available if the court is in session. Check their homepage for the court’s daily calendar to plan a visit. Sections of the first and ground floors of the Supreme Court Building are also open to the public.

Mount Vernon: George Washington’s Estate

George Washington's house Mount Vernon in Virginia
Mount Vernon, George Washington Estate near Washington, DC in Virginia.

George Washington was not only the first US president, he was also the general who led American revolutionaries into battle, ultimately defeating England for independence. His former estate at Mount Vernon is 18 miles (30km) across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. Get a glimpse into American life from centuries ago while learning about the history of the slaves who worked there.

The tombs of both George and Martha Washington are located on the Mount Vernon estate. There is also a distillery and gristmill.

Washington, DC Sightseeing Tours By Land and Sea

Here are some some great tours of Washington, DC, great for learning more about the city, or to have a great date night!

Hop On Hop Bus Tour

Hop on hop off bus tours are a great idea to quickly tick many Washington, DC highlights off your list. The Washington, DC Hop On Hop Off Tour starts at $49.95. The route covers many of the city’s top attractions, including the White House, Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and more.

Washington, DC Dinner Cruise

A great date night idea is a Washington DC dinner cruise aboard the elegant Odyssey cruise. Enjoy a tasty 3 course dinner and live entertainment inside the exquisitely decorated glass atrium while viewing DC highlights along the Potomac River. Highlights include the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, Reagan National Airport and much more under a moonlit sky. The 3 hour Washington, DC Odyssey dinner cruise starts at $144.22.

DC Bike Tour

Exploring a city by bicycle is one of our favorite ways to explore a city, and DC is no exception. This guided bike tour covers the Lincoln Memorial, White House, Supreme Court and the US Capitol Building. The friendly guide shares a wealth of history, facts, and city knowledge on this easy bike ride through the nation’s capital. The 3-hour Capital Sites Bike Tour bicycle tour costs $55.

Go Zip-lining at the Adventure Park at Sandy Spring

Alex and Bell about to zip-line at the Adventure Park in Sandy Spring, Maryland
The Adventure Park in Sandy Spring, Maryland.

The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring is an entertaining complex of 13 ropes courses, packed with 190 climbing, balancing elements and ziplines. The courses range from easy purple courses to highly challenging double black courses. Heights reach 65 feet on the black courses, testing the limits of those looking for a challenge. We recently visited the Adventure Park for the first time and had a blast on the intermediate courses.

Zip-lining through an aerial forest is a seriously fun and liberating endeavor. It’s an entertaining day out for families and friends, and the physical exertion is great for your well being. We left the park feeling relaxed and ready to enjoy a hearty dinner.

The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring is located between Washington, DC and Baltimore, around 10 miles off Interstate-95. The park is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Aerial Adventure Park Ticket Details

3 hours of climbing + 40 minutes initial orientation period. (Max weight limit 265 lbs)

  • Ages 12–Adult: $56
  • Juniors (7-11): $47
  • Child (5&6): $12  (Each child must be accompanied on courses by adult age 18+. One adult per child)
  • Spring & Fall Weekday Special: $39

Arts Club of Washington

Check out the calendar of events at the beautiful Arts Club Of Washington. The art gallery hosts great shows in a historic venue that is the former home of President James Monroe. We recently enjoyed a great performance by Washington Magic that featured fantastic magic and historical anecdotes by former CIA Director John McLaughlin! It included a delicious buffet spread with wine and beer for $65 – well priced for pricey DC. Swing by the Arts Club Friday afternoon at noon from October to June to see a free concert!

Alex & Bell at Washington Magic show
Washington Magic at the Arts Club of Washington, featuring former CIA Director John McLaughlin, David Morey and Savino Recine.

Nearby Wineries in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Alex & Bell at a Virginia winery

If you’ve visited Washington, DC multiple times and are looking for something new to experience, Virginia has some good wineries in the Shenandoah Valley. Depending on traffic, it’s about an hour to 1.5 hours drive to wine country. Sourced Adventures runs a fun winery tour from DC. If you rent a car and drive there, Blue Valley Vineyards is especially picturesque. Obviously, be careful drinking and driving.

US National Arboretum

Alex & Bell at the US National Arboretum botanical gardens in Washington DC
Original US Capitol Building Columns at the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC.

The US National Arboretum features 22 Corinthian columns that were formerly part of the US Capitol Building’s East Portico from 1828-1958. Abraham Lincoln, among other US presidents before him, was inaugurated president in front of them. A great time to visit the US National Arboretum is in spring for the Azalea Blossom. Enjoying a picnic during good weather is truly one of the romantic things to do in Washington, DC. Many who have visited Washington, DC multiple times aren’t even aware of the National Arboretum.

How to Travel to Washington DC

Washington, DC Airports

Three major airports serve Washington, DC. Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) is the best airport to fly into as it’s the closest to DC and visitors can easily get into town on the yellow or blue metro lines. Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) also serve the area.

Dulles is 26 miles (42 km) from Washington DC and a taxi or Uber will run between $45-70. There is also an airport shuttle service. Travel from BWI to downtown Washington DC’s Union Station costs between $8 (MARC trains) to upwards of $30 on Amtrak.

Train travel

Amtrak offers hourly service between New York City’s Penn Station and Union Station in Washington DC. The journey takes between 3-4 hours, depending on the service. The Acela Express is faster and costs more. You’ll save money by purchasing train tickets in advance.


Washington, DC has some of the worst traffic in the United States. Avoid driving in the city and along the beltway during rush hour times when you can. Parking can also be an issue. Parking is expensive, like any major city.

Bus Options

Budget travelers can find very low bus fares by purchasing tickets in advance. There’s frequent service connecting various neighborhoods around Washington, DC and New York City. Wanderu covers many bus options. It is also a good idea to check individual bus companies like Peter Pan. Wanderu does not always list every bus option.

Best Times to Visit Washington DC?

Landscape shot of the Tidal Basin with Jefferson monument and Washington monument

Visiting DC for the cherry blossom festival in late March or early spring is popular, but expect weekend hotel rates to be higher. Summers are extremely hot, but as Congress and the Supreme Court take a recess in July and August, weekend deals are still possible. Winter weather can be very cold, but you can get great deals on weekends and the museums are not crowded.

Washington, DC as Part of a US East Coast Road Trip

I grew up in Florida and we also lived in Boston for a couple of years. Read our article on Great Road Trip Stops from Florida to Washington, DC. We give tips on destinations from Saint Augustine, the oldest European town in the US dating to 1565, to Annapolis, Maryland.

Pinterest Pin

Save Big Money on Travel to Washington, DC

US based travelers can play the credit card points game to save big on travel. Take advantage of credit card bonus sign-ups for practically free flights. The keys are finding the rewards card that’s right for you and paying off your monthly balance to avoid interest payments. Reach out or leave a comment below if you have questions!

Washington, DC Recap

There is a wealth of experiences on offer in the capital of the United States. From museums to world class restaurants, there is plenty to keep you occupied. If you have visited DC before and you’re looking for even more ideas, read our article on Great Washington, DC Day Trips. If you have questions on planning a trip to Washington, DC or on travel hacking, email [email protected] or leave a comment below. There’s so many great things to do in Washington, DC!

Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links. If you book through certain links we receive a small commission which helps maintain our site, and costs you nothing extra. Thanks for using them!


  • Alex Kallimanis

    Alex Kallimanis is an award winning travel journalist and travel planner who has visited 67+ different countries, including all 27 European Union countries across all continents except Antarctica. He has resided around the world, living in countries like Australia, the Netherlands and Ireland for over 7 years combined. Currently residing in the Tampa, Florida, area with his wife Bell, he still spends much of his time in Europe as a dual Greek citizen. Alex is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with a bachelor of arts degree in history, and was the president of Phi Alpha Theta (Honors History Society) during his senior year there. Alex is an avid enthusiast of sports, spas, delicious food, the outdoors, craft beverages, history and culture.

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3 thoughts on “25 Washington, DC Travel Tips to Avoid Missing Out

  1. Hello,
    Great post! Wonderfully written and so informative. I love Washington DC. There is so much to do and explore. What was your favorite thing?

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Anna! Great question on a favorite thing but tough to say. We’d say the US Capitol Building tour is a must since it’s filled with great art, history and insight into how the country is ran. It’s also easy to do the tour and free.

      If you haven’t visited Mount Vernon or the National Arboretum, consider those on a future trip to DC! And there are lots of little hidden gems in DC like the Arts Club of Washington.

      For first time visitors with limited time we recommend they stick to the museums and monuments along and near the National Mall as there’s so much to experience!

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