Visiting the nation’s capital is an exciting and enriching experience. Whether you’re a history buff, a political junkie, or an arts and culture nerd, there’s literally something for everyone in Washington, D.C.
The venerable city is at the heart of the American experiment, which makes it the nerve-center of the world.
Most tips for visiting Washington, D.C., focus on this rich history. You can come here to admire L’Enfant’s famous city design, as well as its world-renowned architecture; or wander through the city’s world-class museums, such as the various Smithsonian museums, or spend some time in the Library of Congress.
There are plenty of other things to see and do as well. Outside of the seats of power and the grandiose historical monuments, there’s a vibrant urban scene as well.
Touring Washington, D.C.: Tips on What to Avoid
But, let’s face it: there’s also plenty you don’t want to see and do when you’re in the capital. You want to make the most of your time in the city, so it’s good to plan ahead and find the best tips for traveling to Washington, D.C.
In order to help you make the most of your visit, we’ve put together a guide on eight things to avoid when you visit DC:
1. Stay Off the Road
The streets of Washington are notoriously confusing and difficult to navigate. If you’re planning on being a tourist in DC, your best bet is to forget all about renting a car and stick with the Metro.
It’s a safe bet that the extensive Washington Metro connects to most of the places you’ll want to visit in the city. And most of whatever else you’d want to see is probably within a short walk of the nearest Metro stop.
The bottom line is, there are plenty of options for traveling in Washington, D.C. that don’t involve renting a car. And for some other good travel options in the capital, check out this article.
2. Don’t Visit in the Summer
Do yourself a huge favor, and just stay away from Washington in the summer.
The city is infamously hot and humid during the summer months…and that’s to say nothing of the swarming crowds of fellow tourists. And don’t forget the powerful thunderstorms that billow up in the afternoons—these can put a real damper on your trip.
If possible, try to schedule your trip for the fall months. The weather will be more pleasant, and the crowds will be less oppressive.
3. Get out of the Mall…
Look, it’s easy to get sucked into spending all your time at the National Mall.
The place is positively lousy with museums, art galleries, memorials, and many other cultural attractions. So it’s obviously got a lot going for it.
But here’s one of the better Washington, D.C., tourist tips: don’t spend all your time at the Mall. By all means, visit its attractions and enjoy what it has to offer—but make sure you get away and experience the real Washington.
There are great museums that are not located on the Mall, and there are many other sights to see and things to do elsewhere in the city. Go out and eat at a world-class restaurant, visit a theater, shop for souvenirs at local stores…or just explore, if you have the time.
4. …But Not at Night
This is the flip side of the above point. You don’t want to spend too much time at the National Mall…but you also don’t want to forget to see it at night.
When the sun goes down, the Mall lights up in a spectacular display, showcasing the grandeur and majesty of the nation’s capital. You really don’t want to miss it.
Guided tours are available, or you can explore on your own if you prefer.
5. Don’t Forget to Explore DC’s Culinary Scene
Among the places to avoid in DC are the tourist trap eateries. We can’t stress this enough: you should really get out and explore the city.
One of the really surprising things about DC is that it’s become a first-class dining destination. What shouldn’t be surprising, given the city’s cosmopolitanism, is the great variety of international cuisine that’s available.
Columbia Heights has many great restaurants, like Queen’s English or Call Your Mother Deli. And don’t overlook the offerings of some of the museums, like the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Ditch Your Plans
It’s wise to make plans…but sometimes you just need to be spontaneous.
So don’t rely too heavily on all those careful plans and itineraries you put together before the trip. Once you’ve seen the White House, hit the Mall, and taken a selfie at the Lincoln Memorial, it’s time to see what else you can discover.
Actually, some of your best memories of the trip might be from these unexpected discoveries. There could be festivals, concerts, and other public events taking place during the time of your visit—you don’t want to miss these.
And remember: you’re in Washington, D.C. History is made here all the time…you might even be lucky enough to see it happening.
7. Don’t Overlook the Jefferson Memorial
It’s easy to focus on the more famous Lincoln Memorial, and forget about the Jefferson Memorial. But you’ll regret it if you don’t set aside the time to visit this remarkable monument.
Patterned after the ancient Pantheon of Rome, as well as Jefferson’s own Rotunda at the University of Virginia, the Jefferson Memorial is a beautiful piece of architecture that is well worth a visit.
8. Forget About Visiting Every Museum on Your First Trip
There are so many museums to visit in Washington, D.C., that it’s not very likely you can hit them all in one trip. They cover such a wide variety of subject matter that it’s easy to end up getting lost in the halls of even a single museum.
So you need to make a plan and hit the museums with the surgical precision of a SEAL team. Focus on what you’re interested in, and decide on a handful of museums to visit.
Hey, you can always visit the other ones on your next trip.
Follow These Tips For Visiting Washington, D.C.
There’s a lot to see and experience when you visit the nation’s capital. Using these tips for visiting Washington, D.C., will help you avoid some of the commonest pitfalls for tourists.
Most importantly, remember that you’re in the political and in many ways the cultural heart of the country. So let it all soak in—and don’t forget to just enjoy yourself!
And while you’re here, be sure to check out all our great travel articles—they’re full of great tips, whether you’re visiting DC or just exploring your own neck of the woods.