Traveling to Washington DC? If it’s your first time visiting our nations capitol there are things you need to know to make your trip more enjoyable. Because Washington DC is amazing! Here are 10 things for the first time visitor to know before you go.
The hubby and I went to Washington DC a little over a month ago and had a blast. But it was not without some pretty shocking reality checks. We only had 2 full days in the city because we were attending our dear friends wedding. So time was not on our side. That leads me to my first of 10 things you need to know before going to Washington DC.
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Make sufficient time
There is SOOOOO much to do and see in Washington DC and the surrounding area that it’s easy to get a bit overwhelmed. Before you go, determine what your “Must see’s” are and plan accordingly.
Just know, that even though all the museums and monuments are in a small area they are further apart then you think. Ever been to Vegas? It’s kind of like that. Where the hotels appear to be close and so you try to walk to the next one and realize HOLY COW these hotels are massive. Yeah…just like that.
Don’t have your heart set on seeing one specific thing
Washington DC is the nations hub of movers and shakers. This means that there can be protest for one thing or another that restrict access to certain monuments. On our trip we could not even get within 4 blocks of the White house. There was also a KKK march and rally. NOT COOL! This put a kibosh on walking around certain areas where they were (Hubby is Cambodian).
Even if you have a tour booked for the White house or US Capitol building you may not be able to see it. We were bummed that we couldn’t get a picture in front of the White house but I guess we’ll have to go back!
Book tours 6 months in advance
You want to tour the White house or the US Capitol building? You need a reservation for that. The tour for the White house is only accessible by asking your member of Congress to obtain this for you. I tried to get a pass about 30 days prior and was told that the tour was “sold” out for about 4 months. Make sure if you want to see the White House in particular, you make plenty of time to request tickets. Visiting the Capitol building can be booked online or through your member of Congress.
Food is expensive
Living in Portland we are no stranger to fancy farm fresh food. Usual dinner costs for us is around $30 – $50. Eating in Washington DC was about $30 – $50 for mediocre cafeteria food. No kidding! Plan to spend around $20 – $30 per adult person on every meal. We did breakfast at Starbucks and lunch at Shake Shack 2 days in a row (which I’m not mad at)!
Right after we got off the plane we went to the nearest Wal-Mart to buy snacks and supplies for our hotel room. Bring a couple of compact light wight water bottles as well. You can fill them up while in all of the Smithsonian museums and at some of the monuments.
Bring a small travel backpack or messenger bag
You will want to bring a bag with you to carry all the extra goodies you need to get through the day. Hub’s brought his Timbuk2 messenger bag that worked perfectly. We packed a tiny umbrella, extra socks, band aids, medicine, water bottles, ID, tour tickets and snacks. If you buy any souvenirs you will have somewhere to put them and when your feet are killing you because you’ve walked your ass off, you can put on some band aids and new socks. Yes, seriously.
Keep in mind that you will be going through a metal detector at EVERY building you enter so having a bag is also handy to keep all your stuff so you don’t have to empty your pockets every time.
Take the RIGHT bus tour
We got suckered into a Groupon. Rather I got suckered in and poor hub’s had to deal with the repercussions. Here’s what I learned so you don’t have to. Not all tour busses are created equal. I purchased and booked a tour bus through DC trails. This was a joke.
Because the tour bus stop was at our hotel I thought it was going to be super convenient. We waited at the bus stop for over an hour and no bus. I called the main office and was told that they don’t service that bus stop until 1 pm, it was 10 am. No where of their website or paper work did it say they don’t go to every stop on their route. However, the BIG bus tour bus comes like clockwork to all its stops. This is the bus tour I would recommend.
Otherwise you can do what we did and take Lyft everywhere. Taking Lyft was cheaper than the Groupon for the bus tour and took us to where we wanted to be and dropped us off closer than the bus would. On average the Lyft ride cost about $9.00 for the two of us. OR take the metro. The metro stops close to most of the top attractions.
If you are renting a car you might be in for a surprise
Renting a car is not the surprise I’m talking about. Toll roads are. We don’t have toll highways or roads here in Oregon. So we’re stupid and have no clue how to use them. If you fly into Dulles you will have at least 2 tolls between you and Washington DC so have some small bills or quarters to pay the toll. Just get into the “Full service” line and pay the toll. No biggie.
Parking in Washington DC is expensive. Our hotel charged $40.00 per night. Geez! I used the parking panda app to reserve a parking spot close to the Capitol building. If you’ve never tried parking panda it’s pretty handy to have in most big cities.
Driving in DC was like driving in Cambodia. Kind of a free for all. I’m not to sure if it was because most people are tourist and don’t know how to drive or that the city lay out is confusing? All I know is, it’s not for the faint of heart. Drive with extreme caution!
Stay in Downtown Washington DC
Downtown Dc is close to everything! The best restaurants, shopping and entertainment is located in downtown as well as the Convention center and CityCenterDC (a huge shopping complex). We stayed at the Grand Hyatt and had a great time. This hotel was centrally located and was a breeze to walk to close restaurants and shopping. It’s just blocks from the National Mall and Smithsonian museums as well.
This is the US Capitol. There are movers and shakers all over the city. They dress to impress. Now having said that, you don’t have to dress up to walk around and see the sights. Just make sure that you have at least one nice dress for dining and men have a collard shirt.
Wear GOOD walking shoes
For the love of everything good, wear good walking shoes. This almost ruined our trip. We walked 15 miles in 2 days. And I wore shoes that I had only worn around the house. SOOOO dumb, and I know better. You will be standing and waking a ton. Make sure you have shoes that are not going to rub you feet raw and are cushy enough to stand in for long periods of time. Think of what you would wear to Disney and that is what you should be wearing to walk in DC. Hubby loves Converse and I love Adidas.
All in all, Washington DC is an amazing place to visit. The hub’s and I think that having a full week would have been enough time to explore DC and the surrounding areas. We also visited Fredericksburg, VA for our friends wedding and are smitten with the charm of Virgina. We are definitely going back!
Have you been to Washington DC? What tips do you have for visiting there? I have my favorite travel accessories here. These are things I take with me when traveling to developing countries but there are some awesome domestic travel accessories as well.