DC in November: How to Plan for Your Visit

October 13, 2019 in Blog

November is perhaps the most underrated month to visit Washington, DC. Kids are back in school and the holidays are coming up, so a family vacation is not on a lot of people’s minds. But if you can swing a November trip, this is a great time for a visit. 

Who’s Visiting DC in November?

Some schools do take November field trips, but it is not nearly as crowded as during the big field trip season from March through June. If you do want to learn more about what to expect, we have an entire article about 8th grade field trip season

There is very little business or conference travel in DC leading up to Thanksgiving, so it is one of the single cheapest weeks of the year for hotel accommodations. That means you can stay at a really nice hotel for a bargain price.

DC Weather in November

In general, DC weather in November is pretty mild.

  • Average daily highs are 59°F
  • Average daily lows are 43°F

November weather is really nice if you like nice fall weather. The first half of November also tends to have nice fall colors—so don’t think that it’s too late to see changing leaves. Because DC is somewhat far south, the leaves change color weeks later than those in New England. 

It’s also worth noting that it’s usually the first weekend in November when daylight savings ends, so it starts getting dark really early. On November 4th, sunset in Washington, DC is at 5:05 pm—and it only gets earlier throughout the month. If you’re looking for more information on DC weather, we have a whole podcast episode that tells you everything you need to know about weather in DC.

What to Pack for DC in November

They key to packing for November is layers. On a typical November day, you could start with jeans and a t-shirt. Then put a sweatshirt over that. If you’re going out early in the morning or later at night, you could even add a light jacket on top of that. And of course, like every month, comfortable walking shoes are a must. 

Holidays in November

There are two federal government holidays in November. The first is Veterans Day, which is on November 11th. This is a government holiday that is not always observed on a Monday, which means it could fall any day of the week. If it falls on a Saturday, it will be observed on Friday. If it falls on a Sunday it will be observed on Monday. 

When you visit on Veterans Day, you will find that it is relatively quiet downtown, since a lot of office workers get the day off. If you visit the war memorials, you will likely find special events and services being held to honor the veterans of our armed forces. 

Thanksgiving in DC

The other government holiday in November is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is one of the biggest travel holidays of the year, but typically people travel to visit family, not to go on vacation. As I mentioned before, this means you can get a killer deal on a nice hotel.

The other cool thing about Thanksgiving is that the Smithsonian Museums are open on the holiday, but tend to be relatively quiet. This makes Thanksgiving a perfect day to visit if you’re looking to avoid the crowds.

Black Friday and Shopping in DC

People who are visiting family in the area want to get out after Thanksgiving and are looking for something to do. The Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving are a little more crowded. Black Friday is not an official holiday, but many people do take the day off of work.

If you want to do Black Friday shopping, you can head over to Georgetown, which has a great mix of boutiques and chain retail stores. Or if you want to be indoors and have the mall experience, Tysons Corner Center is a huge mall about 15 miles outside of Washington, DC. You can take the Metro’s Silver Line to get there.

You can also take the Yellow or Blue Lines and visit the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, which is a bit smaller, but also metro accessible and closer to the city. The Downtown Holiday Market also kicks off on Black Friday. That’s a great place to shop for local goods and to support local small businesses.

What to Do in DC in November

The end of November marks the beginning of Season’s Greetings at the U.S. botanic gardens. This is a winter holiday wonderland and a very popular place to visit at this time of year. Zoolights at the National Zoo starts at the end of November, as well. So if you’re around the last week of the month, you can really start to get into the Christmas spirit. 

If you’re looking for more holiday things to do, you can check out this article on five Christmas activities in DC, along with a few less touristy DC holiday activities.

Everything You Need to Know about Tipping in Washington, DC

September 29, 2019 in Blog

For many travelers, tipping is a big source of anxiety, but it doesn’t have to be. When you travel, knowing the local customs can take a lot of the worry out of the equation. Tipping in Washington, DC is very similar to tipping in most parts of the U.S. So if you are a domestic traveler you are probably more knowledgeable than you think. Here’s how you can prepare yourself for tipping in Washington, DC.  

Tipping Drivers in DC

When you arrive at the airport, the first person you’ll probably find yourself tipping in Washington, DC is your driver into the city. Unless you’re taking the Metro, you will probably use a taxi, Uber or Lyft. For taxi drivers, expect to tip 15%. If they help you with your large luggage or are especially friendly, go up to 20%; the same goes for Uber and Lyft.

Uber is actually very hotly debated when it comes to tips. When Uber launched it was exclusively a luxury car service, with Towncars and black SUVs. The prices were more expensive than a taxi and Uber very clearly stated that the tip was included. 

However, over time, once Lyft and Uber X were created, that model didn’t make sense anymore because the rates were so low. Lyft has always allowed tips. Uber eventually relented and did the same. So now for both services you tip in the app at the end of your ride. 

Tipping Hotel Staff in DC

When you arrive at your hotel, a bellhop may help you with your bags. If they bring your bags up to your room (or if they store them because you arrived early), then you should tip around $2-$3 per bag. 

Assuming you don’t use the “Do Not Disturb” sign during your entire trip, you can tip cleaning staff $3-$5 per day. It’s important to leave these tips daily because the staff rotate and different people may clean the room on different days. If you wait and leave one lump sum at the end, you could unintentionally shortchange someone who cleaned the room earlier in the trip.

In general, you don’t need to tip the front desk staff. Whether or not you tip the concierge depends on what they did. If they just recommended a restaurant or a tour, no tip is necessary. If they did something that takes a bit of work, like getting you show tickets or sports tickets, $5-$10 is about right.

On the other hand, if they did something exceptional, like get you into the hottest restaurant on a Saturday night, then tip $20 at least. Keep in mind that concierges often earn commissions from the businesses they refer to, so if they book you on a tour, they might be earning 20%-30% from that tour company. Doing your research beforehand can help you be aware of things like this.

Tipping Tour Guides in DC

How much you tip your tour guide depends entirely on what type of tour you picked. If it’s a public tour, where you paid per person and are going around with other tourists, $5-$10 per person is about right. So if you’re a family of four, that’s $20-$40 for the family. 

If it’s a free tour or a “pay what you’d like” tour, then it goes up to $10-$20 per person. So a family of four would be $40-$80. If it’s a private tour, then I would start with 10% of the tour price. Or ask the tour company what their policy is. Some of them will specifically say that tips are not required on a private tour. 

Lastly, if you’re attending a park ranger talk or a Capitol tour led by a government employee then no tip is necessary; it is actually illegal for a federal employee to take a tip.  

Tipping Your Servers and Bartenders

When you eat at a restaurant, the tip should be 20% of your total bill. An easy hack to calculate this is to take 10% by moving the decimal point one spot, then doubling that amount. So if your bill was $40.00, ten percent of that would be $4.00 (by moving the decimal one spot to the left). Double four and your tip is $8.00.

Bartenders are a little tricker. If you’re just walking up to the bar to order a beer or wine, then a dollar per drink is fairly standard. If you’re ordering a fancy cocktail, go with 20%. Same goes for ordering a bunch of drinks on a tab: go with 20% when you close out at the end of the night. 

DC in October: How to Plan for Your Visit

September 15, 2019 in Blog

If you’re planning a trip to the U.S. capital and your schedule is flexible, it’s hard to beat DC in October. The summer weather and crowds have cooled down, the leaves are changing colors—it’s an all-around pleasant time of year. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting DC in October.

Who Else Comes to DC in October?

DC in October is reliably less busy than the summertime. However, there is an uptick in traffic the first couple of weeks when kids are on fall break. Fall break is not as common as spring break, and not all school districts take fall break, but a lot of families do take advantage of the time off to make a trip. 

October is also when DC’s secondary 8th grade field trip season begins. We have an entire article about field trip season, but the gist of it is: the primary field trip season is March through June. But the secondary one is October through Thanksgiving. It shouldn’t scare you from visiting DC in October, but it is something good to keep in mind as you plan.

Another thing to note: October tends to have higher hotel rates than other months of the year because there is increased business and conference travel. So make sure to check out our video series about getting a great deal on a DC hotel.

DC Weather in October

October weather is the most reliably fall-like. Average daily highs in September are 68 degrees Fahrenheit and average daily lows are 50 degrees Fahrenheit. But our favorite part about DC in October? There’s almost no humidity.

Do be aware that October is during the tail end of Atlantic hurricane season and DC does occasionally get affected by storms off the coast. If you want to know more about that and lots of other weather phenomenon, check out the Trip Hacks DC podcast episode about weather. It will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about weather here in DC.

October is also when the leaves start to change color. Since DC is farther south, the leaves do change several weeks later than they do up in New England. We typically find the second half of October (or even the first half of November) to be the best time for fall colors. If you really want to check out the colors, consider doing a hike in Rock Creek Park, the huge park in the middle of the city. 

What to Pack for DC in October

They key to packing for October is layers. On a typical October day, you could start with jeans and a shirt. Having a sweater or sweatshirt on hand during the day is helpful. And if you’re going out early in the morning or later at night, you might even add a light jacket on top of that. It should go without saying that, like every month, comfortable walking shoes are a must. 

Holidays in October

There is one federal government holiday in October­: Columbus Day. This is not a holiday where you will find much happening in terms of special events. But one very special thing you can do is tour the Library of Congress’ main reading room. This is typically only accessible to official researchers, but on Columbus Day they hold an open house and anyone can go. 

The other noteworthy holiday in October is Halloween. This is not a government holiday and nobody gets off of work or school, but it’s a popular and fun holiday in DC. Depending on which day of the week it falls, you’ll find lots of Halloween nightlife the weekend before and possibly even the weekend after October 31st. You’ll see lots of houses decorated for the holiday, as well as public buildings. 

Trick or treating in DC is always on Halloween day itself. If you have kids and want to trick or treat, Capitol Hill is a popular area, with lots of houses close together and people handing out candy. East Capitol Street, in particular, is famous for being an excellent place for candy. 

On the other side of town, some embassies welcome trick or treaters (with either candies from their native countries or just your standard Kit Kats). And for really small kids there is trick or treating at the National Zoo

What to Do in DC in October

October is also when the Marine Corps Marathon takes place. This is one of the biggest marathons on the circuit and people travel in from all over the world to run it.

Even if you’re like me and you only run after ice cream trucks, the Marine Corps Marathon may affect your trip because it shuts down many big streets throughout the city, including on the National Mall. So make sure to check their official website for this year’s date so you can plan around it. 

October is also when the theater scene starts to kick into high gear. So check out the Kennedy Center, National Theater, Lincoln Theater and others, to see what’s playing this season. 

If you’re a sports fan, DC in October means the start of the NHL and NBA seasons. So if you’re interested in attending a game of one of DC’s many sports teams, you can check out our video and blog post about it here.

Tips for Visiting DC During a Government Shutdown

September 8, 2019 in Blog

Hopefully you are not reading this because the federal government is shut down. Government shutdowns are awful the travel industry absolutely hates how disruptive they are to the industry. But if you are concerned that you’ll be visiting DC during a government shutdown, here’s what you need to know.

Should You Cancel Your Trip to DC?

When the government shuts down, people want to know whether they should cancel or keep their plans to travel to DC. Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to that question because every government shutdown is different. 

There’s a reason that you’ll often hear a shutdown referred to as a “partial government shutdown” in the news—because the full U.S. government never really closes down. The military, TSA, diplomats and other employees stay on the job. They might not get paid on time, but they show up to work and do their jobs. 

What Closes in DC During a Government Shutdown?

On the other hand, you have government agencies like the Smithsonian. It may not be an agency tasked with national security, but it’s definitely important if you are planning a vacation to DC. Still, even with agencies like the Smithsonian, it’s impossible to know what’s going to happen in DC during a government shutdown until it happens.

For example, there was a shutdown in January 2018 that lasted three days over a weekend. Very few DC sites closed, so if you visited that weekend, your trip was only minimally impacted.

On the other hand, in 2013, the government shut down for 16 days starting on October 1st. For all 16 days of the shutdown, every Smithsonian museum was closed. If you showed up, all you’d find was a locked door and a sign apologizing for the situation.

In yet another example, starting in December 2018, the government shut down for 34 days. Luckily, the Smithsonian had enough funding in reserve to stay open for ten of those days. 

So in other words, if the shutdown had ended on day seven rather than day 34, the Smithsonian wouldn’t have been affected at all. There’s only one problem: there’s simply no way to know any of this in advance.

Monuments and Memorials in DC During a Government Shutdown

Is a shutdown going to happen? Or will Congress make a deal at 11pm the night before? And if there is a shutdown, how long will it last? When it comes to government shutdowns, there’s a lot of uncertainty.

There is similar uncertainty when it comes to the monuments and memorials. In 2013, the monuments and memorials actually closed. There were barriers up around the perimeters and visitors were not allowed in. In 2018-19 they were not closed and people were still allowed to visit.

During that time, many private tour guides still ran tours. However, park rangers were not working. Garbage was not collected on a regular basis. When it snowed, sidewalks and paths weren’t cleared. And restrooms were closed, leaving only a small number of portable toilets near the sites. Not to be graphic, but since they weren’t servicing the portable toilets enough, it got really gross really fast. 

Bottom Line: Should You Cancel?

When it comes to these shutdowns, those of us in the tourism industry don’t get any special insider information. We get our information about the shutdown from The Washington Post at the same time as everybody else. But people still ask us if they should cancel their DC trip.

I think the answer is no—and I’m not just saying that because tour guides like me lose business when people cancel trips. The reality is that there are just too many unknowns and uncertainties. 

For example, if the shutdown starts ten days before your trip, but ends one day before your trip, then you basically cancelled for nothing.

On the flip side, if the shutdown happens the day before your trip and you cancel—but it turns out that many of the things you wanted to see stay open into the shutdown—then you also cancelled for nothing.

There’s Still a Lot to See in DC During a Government Shutdown

Now, what if there’s a shutdown during your trip and the things you wanted to see are closed? There’s still hope. Not every site in DC is affiliated with the federal government. There are private museums, like the Spy Museum and National Geographic Museum, which will stay open. These museums aren’t free, but they aren’t too expensive either. 

Also, many people don’t realize but Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s home, is not affiliated with the government and is open no matter what. Visiting Georgetown’s shops and historical sites, seeing a professional sports game or catching a play or concert are all still great options. It may not be the ideal scenario, but there are still a many ways like these to turn lemons into lemonade.

How to Know What’s Closed in DC During a Government Shutdown

The best way to keep up with what’s open and closed during the shutdown is the local news. The Washington Post, NBC4 and other local news will typically publish an article every few days (if not daily) with status updates on various government sites and agencies. If there is a specific site you want to know about, you can also follow them on social media for the most up-to-date information. 

Lastly, if you’re curious about past shutdowns—when they happened and how long they lasted—there is an excellent Washington Post article that has this information.

Hopefully no one ever needs article because we’ll never have another shutdown…but if we do, hopefully you found this helpful. 

DC in September: How to Plan for Your Visit

August 11, 2019 in Blog

Are you planning a visit to DC but want to avoid the summer crowds? If you can swing it, September is one of the best months to visit our nation’s capital. DC in September features all the great summertime weather without the humidity (and the hoards of middle school students). Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re planning to visit DC in September.

Weather in September

On average, September weather in DC is really pleasant. In fact, DC weather expert Jason Samenow told the Trip Hacks DC podcast that September is one of his favorite months for DC weather. That might be for several reasons:

  • The average daily high is 81°F.
  • The average daily low is 63°F.
  • Best of all, the humidity is ramping down for the season.

There still may be some muggy days in September. But unlike in July, when every day is a guaranteed sauna, September in DC offers visitors more than a sporting chance against the humidity.

Something else to keep in mind is that September falls squarely during Atlantic hurricane season. To understand what that could mean for your trip, you can listen to this episode of our Trip Hacks DC podcast about weather phenomenon in Washington, DC.

What to Pack for September in DC

Visiting DC in September, you’ll want to think in terms of “summer clothes.” Most days, shorts or a light dress would be appropriate. On colder days or if you’re doing early morning/late evening activities, a light jacket or sweater might be helpful.

If you have plans to go to an event at the Kennedy Center or an upscale restaurant, it’s a good idea to pack pants and a button-down for the gents or a dress or blouse and skirt for the ladies. Also, pants and a long jacket are a good idea if you have tickets to a baseball or soccer game; it can get pretty chilly in those stadiums once the sun goes down.

And of course, like every month, comfortable walking shoes are a must. 

Labor Day in DC

There is one federal government holiday in September: Labor Day. This is the first Monday of the month.

The most notable Labor Day event in DC is the starlight National Symphony Orchestra Concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol. This is one of three big concerts held at the Capitol every year, with the others held on Memorial Day and Independence Day. The Labor Day concert usually offers a calmer atmosphere and cooler weather than the Memorial Day and Independence Day concerts.

Also, since Labor Day is considered the unofficial end of summer, many bars and restaurants hold a lot of “end of summer” festivities over Labor Day weekend. It’s just one more reason you should consider visiting DC in September.

September Events in DC

September 11th is the National Day of Service and Remembrance. It’s not a day people will be off work or school, but you may find some events happening around the memorials, Arlington National Cemetery, or the Pentagon if you visit that day. 

Otherwise, the biggest September event in DC is the National Book Festival, hosted by the Library of Congress. It usually falls the Saturday before Labor Day. To learn all about it and plan for your trip, you can check out this Trip Hacks DC video on the National Book Festival.

September is also the month when a lot of neighborhoods host their neighborhood street festivals. This includes events like the H Street Festival, Adams Morgan Day, and Barracks Row Fall Festival. These are usually held on Saturdays (and occasionally Sundays) during September. You can learn a little about the neighborhood, the local businesses and try food from some of the restaurants. 

Another reason you might consider a trip to DC in September is if you’re running a marathon or participating in a charity walk (or run). September is when these events start to pick up, since the weather is cooler and crowds are smaller. 

DC Sports in September

If you’re a sports fan, Major League Baseball and soccer are coming to the end of their respective seasons in September. And once the kids go back to school, tickets for these games get really cheap on websites like SeatGeek and Stubub. Check out this post on Trip Hacks DC on how to score really cheap tickets for the Washington Nationals.

But watch out! September in DC may mean great weather and smaller crowds, but with more business travel into DC than in August, hotel rates are much higher. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying DC in September. Check out these tips for how to get an awesome deal on DC hotels.

7 Can’t Miss Washington DC Instagram Hotspots

November 19, 2017 in Blog

If you come on a Trip Hacks DC tour, we’re happy to point out some good angles of the Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, and other standard Washington, DC photo spots. But if you want to impress your friends with some cool-lesser known shots, these are some off-the-beaten-path Washington, DC Instagram hot spots.

To make them as easy as possible to find, we even made this Google map of the sites you’ll read about in this article.

1. CityCenterDC

Seasonal decorations at CityCenterDC Downtown

CityCenterDC is a new-ish development in Downtown DC. It’s a mix of apartments, high-end restaurants, and shopping—along with the Conrad, a very stylish and fancy hotel. Frankly, all of CityCenterDC feels like it was designed for Instagram. For example, its big colorful statues that you can pose with. 

But the most popular Instagram-worthy features by far are the lights that hang over the walkway. The lights change seasonally, so in the spring you might see the famous DC cherry blossoms. In summer, you might see beach balls. In the winter, snowflakes—you get the idea. In all, it’s a perfect place for some Washington, DC Instagram shots.

2. Kogod Courtyard

The Kogod Courtyard between the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum

This is a favorite Trip Hacks DC spot and we’ve recommended it many times as a good place to go with kids and as an underrated Smithsonian site. The Kogod Courtyard is a beautiful glass ceiling-covered passageway that unites two Smithsonian museums: the National Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum.

The courtyard is located about a mile north of the National Mall, so it’s not quite on the main drag, but both museums are fantastic, especially if you’re into history or art. The amazing architecture of the courtyard is an Instagram-worthy bonus.

3. District Doughnut

The mouth-watering District Doughnut on Capitol Hill

If you’re a foodie, then taking pictures of food for your Instagram feed is a must. As a lifelong doughnut enthusiast, I personally like District Doughnut for two reasons: (1) they’re delicious and (2) they encourage Instagramming and even have their own hashtags: #HappinessFound and #DoughFace. If your Instagram is particularly good, it might get printed and posted on their social wall

Pro tip: when you’re there, make sure you get a cup of Compass Coffee to go with your doughnut; it’s a veteran-owned business and another great local brand. 

4. Ben’s Chili Bowl Mural

Famous mural next to Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street

There are a lot of cool murals in DC—and murals generally make for some very good Instagram content. One of the best known murals is located at the historic DC landmark Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street. No Washington, DC Instagram is complete without a shot of this historic cultural landmark.

The mural features prominent African Americans who have contributed to the history of the city and of the neighborhood, but it has changed in recent years. Today’s mural features famous faces like comedian Dave Chappelle, Barack and Michelle Obama, and Mohammed Ali. It also features some more locally known figures like DC’s delegate to Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton and Jim Vance, a former local TV news anchor. 

Note: This is not the only cool mural in DC, but unlike in some other cities, they’re pretty spread out. So if you’re desperate for DC murals on your Instagram, you may have to travel a bit if you want to hit them all.

5. Culture House DC

You’re not going to find many former churches painted like this!

Culture House DC (formerly The Blind Whino) calls itself the city’s most hidden gem in the arts and cultural community. It’s located about a mile south of the Capitol in an area where very few tourists tend to venture. If it looks like it’s a church, it’s because—once upon a time—it was. Nowadays it’s used as a community art and event space. 

If you want to Instagram this spot, plan ahead because the gates stay locked except for a limited number of hours on the weekend. That said, the limited hours mean you’ll have even greater Instagram bragging rights if you can get a shot of this gem.

6. Watermelon House

The Watermelon House in Northwest DC

The story of the Watermelon House goes like this: the owners hired a painting company to come out and paint their house “fire engine red.” Unfortunately, when the owners got home and saw the painters’ work, “fire engine red” looked more like “Pepto Bismol pink.”

Rather than have the painters come re-do it, the homeowners grabbed a bucket of green and black paint and turned it into a watermelon. Pretty rad, right?

The Watermelon House has existed in this form long before Instagram came around, but nowadays it’s such a popular spot that they added an official hashtag onto the side of the house that you can use when you go: #watermelonhouse.

7. Yards Park Bridge 

This bridge is one of the most Instagram-worthy parts of the Yards Park.

The best-known park in DC is obviously the National Mall, but close behind is Yards Park. It’s located southeast of the Capitol, near the Nationals Ballpark. So if you’re coming to a ballgame, this is an easy Instagram spot to hit beforehand. Folks especially love to Instagram the bridge that spans the pool—and I admit, it is pretty daggone cool. It’s an especially impressive feather in your Instagram cap if you can get it at night.

Happy Instagramming!