Washington D.C. is my hometown so thought to give some basic travel tips for those who might want to visit. D.C. is the home of the U.S. government, but there is much more to the city than just that. And over the past 5 or so years the city has been changing at an incredible rate, and with all the development there are good things and bad things, but D.C. holds a place in my heart as my home so am always happy to hear that someone enjoyed their visit.
There is a great network of Metro (subway) stations and buses, but unfortunately they have been slower and a bit less reliable since they’ve started doing renovations. Also, there are no longer trains until 3 am on Friday and Saturday nights, so either keep a close eye on the time or use Uber/Lyft. Also they started charging $1 every time you purchase a paper (1 time use) ticket for the Metro, so it might be worth it, depending on how long your stay is, to buy the SmarTrip. You put however much money you want or need on it, and just tap it on the turnstile as you go through (on the way in and out) and you can even use it for the buses.
Another great thing for visitors is the large network of Smithsonian museums and attractions. Unlike other cities entry to all Smithsonian facilities is free! The only time I’ve ever paid for entry to a Smithsonian museum was for a traveling special exhibition, but even then it’s rare. The majority of the museums are clustered around The National Mall, which can be a lot of fun in the summer because they host all sorts of festivals and you can even find some pick-up sports. Some of the main tourist attractions like the Monument, White House, etc. are also right there! My one side-note for spending time downtown on the Mall is to bring snacks or a picnic lunch with you. There aren’t a ton of food options around the area, and what you can find is either fast-food or terribly overpriced. I tend to opt for sitting outside on the lawn, in the sculpture garden, or under some trees because not only is it cheaper but it’s relaxing.
There are so many museums around the Mall that it’s really hard to see everything in one trip, unless you have several days to a week, so here are some of my favorite museums:
- The Freer & Sackler galleries are right outside the Smithsonian Metro exit, and there’s an underground passage that connects them. This is where you’ll find the Peacock Room, the chain of ‘monkey’ sculptures hanging down the center of a spiral stairway, and even the occasional film viewing and kids arts workshops.
- The National and Hirshhorn Galleries are also great for the art lovers. They are right across the lawn from each other and they both have great collections. The National Gallery has more classic type art and the Hirshhorn is more on the modern side.
- A museum that is great for both kids and adults is the Natural History Museum! I’m a big nature lover and really enjoy how they put this museum together. Also, a regularly listed go-to museum for kids in a lot of travel books is the Air and Space Museum, but I honestly think the Natural History Museum is more fun.
One last Smithsonian facility to visit that is not downtown but easily accessible by the Metro on the Red Line is the National Zoo! It’s a large Zoo with a great array of animals, and, generally, a well-kept facility, that is walk-able from Woodley Park Zoo/Adams Morgan station. Just be aware you’ll be walking up-hill to get there. In the summer, to help keep visitors cool in the crazy D.C. humid summers they have these sprinkler-shower things scattered around the Zoo for people to walk through and cool off. It’s great for kids but also a lot of fun for adults, so this is one place I highly recommend if you have at least half a day to spend wandering around.
One last place, that I don’t go often but is always fun when I do, is the Kennedy Center. It’s not part of the Smithsonian network but it is a great place to see some live performances, and they do have a free show option. The Millennium Stage, is the space that regularly has free-of-charge performances, usually around 6 pm. I would check the schedule on their website before trekking out there. It’s easy to get to from Foggy Bottom Station because there’s a bus that will drop you right at the front door. Also, if you’re able to hang around you can catch the view of the city lights from their terrace.
There’s a nice mix of people in D.C., which means there’s a nice variety of food to choose from. The D.C. area is well known for Ethiopian food, and with all the new development there are all sorts of new places to eat that I haven’t had the chance to try yet. But there are still some staples of the city that are great go-to options, and have yet to disappoint.
- One of my favorites is Moby Dick, house of kebab, they have a handful of locations across the D.C. area, which includes Georgetown and Bethesda.
- In the warmer months grabbing some of our famous crabs and other seafood snacks at the Fish Market can be a great fun. They’ll even season and steam your order right there for you!
- There’s also a lot of El Salvadoran restaurants across the city, which serve Pupusa (my favorite food). It’s easy to find and pass places as you walk around but El Tamarindo in Adams Morgan and Ercilia’s Restaurant in Columbia Heights are both good options.
- Ben’s Chili Bowl is a famous D.C. restaurant that is a great go-to, especially after some drinks. Their half-smokes are awesome, but topped with their chili they’re even better! They’ve been expanding but the original is just outside the U St Metro.
- If you’re hanging-out in Adam’s Morgan and are looking for a great late night snack stop by Jumbo Slice. Their slices are as big as your face!