The United States capital is a popular tourist city, welcoming 24.6 million visitors in 2019 alone, setting a new record for the city. While most visitors to Washington, DC are from within the United States itself, 7% of visitors are from outside of the U.S., particularly China, the United Kingdom, India, Germany, and South Korea. Tourism has a significant impact on the city’s economy, supporting nearly 80,000 jobs and bringing in almost $5 billion in wages each year.
As popular as it is, visiting D.C. can be overwhelming! With over 74 museums, 160 monuments, and thousands of restaurants over nearly 70 square miles, there is a lot of ground to cover.
If you’re considering a trip to the capital yourself, you’ll find plenty of information online. But here are three practical, possibly overlooked tips to guide you.
1 | Download the SmarTrip App
There’s a lot to see in D.C., and you’ll need a way to see it all! D.C. has a public transportation system that consists of the metro and bus routes. Like most public transportation systems, there is a learning curve for using it effectively. The SmarTrip app is a convenient way to help.
You can use the app to buy a SmarTrip card that will get you on the metro or any bus you need within the city. Using the app, you can add money to your card whenever you need it. You have to add $4 to the card at a time, but the app is a convenient way to use the public transportation system as often as you need to without buying a multi-day card that you may not use.
The app also has a built-in maps feature that allows you to search the best routes for your destination AND add favorite lines, routes, and destinations to a list to save you time.
D.C. is a walkable city, and many of its attractions are accessible by foot, especially along the National Mall. But having the SmarTrip app on your phone will make it easy to access further away attractions, save you a bit of time, and give you a break when you’re tired.
And, of course, if you’re unable to walk the city, getting around by bus is a great way to see the sights while riding.
One additional note: if you have mobility concerns, the SmarTrip app is still a great tool! All of D.C.’s metro stations and D.C.’s circulator busses are accessible. However, if you plan to use a Circulator bus, you’ll need to look up those routes in advance, as the app doesn’t designate which busses are Circulators and which are not.
2 | Research Museums Before You Go
One great thing about visiting D.C. is its abundance of free museums and monuments. But there are a few things to keep in mind when visiting museums in D.C.
Some museums are completely free without ticket options or requirements, such as the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
Some museums are not free. For example, you can walk into and around the National Building Museum for free, but most of the exhibits within the space require purchasing a ticket. Another example is the Museum of the Bible, which has a paid entry fee.
Some free museums still require (or are made better with!) a ticket. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is an example of a Smithsonian museum that is free to enter but requires a pre-booked ticket for entry. Additionally, some museums, like the National Archives, offer free, pre-booked tickets to shorten your wait time and get you faster access to the gems inside.
With all these possibilities, it’s a good idea to decide what museums you want to see in advance and check their entry requirements early!
One additional consideration: some museums are open daily, like the National Gallery of Art, while some, like the National Portrait Gallery, have days they are closed. So, while checking entry requirements, make sure you double-check visiting hours!
3 | Venture Outside the District
You’ve spent the day visiting all the museums and monuments the Mall has to offer, and you’ve got your SmarTrip card loaded with cash. What should you do next?
Head outside the District!
If you’re just looking for a fun place to grab dinner or seek out some nightlife, D.C. has many great neighborhoods just a short bus or metro ride away. Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom, and Georgetown are just a few neighborhoods you can choose from, each with its own unique offerings. These neighborhoods are an ideal way to get to know the soul of the city, as you’ll mingle with other visitors and locals alike, and you’ll have a diverse array of cuisines to choose from. After a day in the District hitting up the tourist attractions, escaping to a neighborhood for the evening is a great way to balance your trip.
If you’d like to escape the District for the day, you’ve got plenty of options! The District is surrounded by suburbs that are worth a visit. You can escape to Old Town Alexandria to explore its cobblestone streets, head to Arlington to see the Arlington National Cemetery, or cross the Potomac to visit Theodore Roosevelt Island and immerse yourself in nature for a while.
Whichever option you choose, there’s plenty to see outside of the Mall, so give yourself time to explore!
Washington D.C. is a wonderful city to visit, with a myriad of options to explore. When planning your trip, keep these considerations in mind to help your visit go smoothly.
~ Christin Sanders