The Ultimate Washington DC Travel Guide (2023)

March 12, 2023 in Trip Planning

You’re planning a trip to the nation’s capital – awesome! In this Washington, DC travel guide you’ll find all the information you need to prepare for a great trip – everything from getting in and navigating the city to accommodations, transportation, and where to eat. You’ll also learn about exciting things to do and see during your visit, as well as helpful tips on budgeting, packing, and weather conditions. By the time you’re done reading you’ll be well on your way to an amazing trip to Washington, DC.

By the way, my name is Rob. I wrote this guide because in my decade-long career as a tour guide, I’ve met amazing travelers from all over the world and I want to help everyone who visits love this city as much as me. You’ll see my face peppered through the guide as I’ve included videos that I’ve created on each topic to help you go even more in-depth.

I hope you find everything here helpful. Enjoy your trip!

Getting into Washington DC

Most Washington, DC visitors will arrive by air, train, or car, and a few will arrive by bus or other means. If you’re flying, the city is served by three airports:

  • Reagan National (DCA)
  • Dulles International (IAD)
  • Baltimore-Washington International (BWI)

Reagan National Airport is the closest and most convenient option. It’s located just across the Potomac River from downtown. However, which airport you choose depends on various factors such as airfare, flight schedule, and where you’re staying.

Check out my video guide to our three airports for more details.

Washington DC Airports Guide ✈️ Costs, Distance & Convenience

If you’re traveling to DC by train or bus, you’ll arrive at Union Station. It is closer to downtown than any of the airports. If you’re driving your own car, it’s important to decide in advance where to park. Hotel parking is available but expensive. There are several safe and affordable garages in town. Once you arrive, I recommend parking your car and using alternative modes of transportation. Driving in DC is stressful and unpleasant.

If hotel parking isn’t for you, check out my video guide on where else you can park.

Where to Park in Washington DC

Washington DC Map and Orientation

To fully explore Washington, DC, it’s helpful to understand the city’s orientation and where the main points of interest are located. The best-known landmarks are: the White House, where the President lives, and the Capitol, where Congress convenes. These are both located in the center of the city. The Washington Monument, the tallest structure in DC, is south of the White House and serves as a useful reference point. East of the Washington Monument is the Lincoln Memorial and other national monuments, which are part of the National Mall, the most famous park in the city.

Across the Potomac River in Virginia is Arlington National Cemetery, an important site worthy of a visit. To the northwest of the National Mall is Georgetown, a popular neighborhood that offers excellent shopping, a waterfront park, Georgetown University, and the famous Exorcist steps. The National Zoo, the only zoo in America that is both free and home to Giant Pandas, is also located in the northwest section of the city.

To the south of the National Mall, you can explore the Wharf, situated on the Washington Channel, and the Navy Yard neighborhood, which is home to Nationals Park. Make sure you learn how to navigate our unique street grid so you don’t get lost!

Washington DC Street Grid, Explained

Washington DC Hotels and Accommodations

Choosing the right place to stay is one of the hardest parts of planning a trip. When it comes to hotels it can feel like Washington, DC has an overwhelming number of choices. For most visitors, a hotel close to the National Mall with nearby amenities like restaurants and drug stores is an ideal home base. The area around the White House, north of the National Mall, is a good option, as is the Wharf to the south. Crystal City in Virginia is also a decent choice, as it’s a short Metro ride into downtown. In total, I recommend 11 different areas to stay. Each area has its own pros and cons, but all are worth considering.

Best Hotels & Areas to Stay in Washington DC

While it may be tempting to try to save money by staying in the suburbs and commuting in, I generally don’t recommend it. Staying far away from the city center can make it difficult to recharge mid-day, especially if you plan to do a mix of daytime and evening activities during your trip. For most visitors it’s better to choose a hotel that’s in the heart of the action that can serve as a home base.

Getting Around Washington DC

Getting around in Washington, DC is relatively easy because there are so many transportation options. The best way to experience the city, if you are physically able, is on two feet. Walking is free and allows you to see more than they would from a car or underground. Metro is a great way to reach a lot of major sites. If you’re visiting from a place that doesn’t have a lot of public transportation it may feel intimidating. But I have lots of videos about Metro that you can watch to get comfortable. My Dos and Don’ts for riding Metro is a great place to start.

How to Ride DC Metro 🚇 2022

For destinations not served by the Metro, the Circulator bus is an excellent low-cost option. Capital Bikeshare is my personal favorite mode of transportation, as it’s cheap and convenient for solo travelers or couples. However, families with children or larger groups may have more luck with taxis, Uber, or another means of getting around. I rounded up all the transportation options available in Washington, DC if you’re interested in learning what’s available.

Washington DC Transportation Modes RANKED

Things to Do in Washington DC

Washington, DC offers an incredible variety of things to do for visitors of all ages and interests. The city is famous for its museums, with the Smithsonian Institution being the most renowned. The Air and Space Museum, Natural History Museum, and American History Museum are the “big three” most popular museums, but other lesser-known gems like the National Portrait Gallery and the National Postal Museum are equally fascinating. Art enthusiasts will love the National Gallery of Art, which houses an impressive collection of classical and modern works, as well as its outdoor Sculpture Garden. Private museums like the International Spy Museum and Planet Word offer unique and immersive experiences that are worth checking out as well.

In addition to museums, Washington, DC is home to some of the most iconic federal government buildings and landmarks in the world. The three branches of government, represented by the White House, Capitol, and Supreme Court are all located within a few miles of each other and offer tours if you want to go inside. Other government-run sites like the National Archives, Library of Congress and Ford’s Theater are also worth considering.

And then there’s the famous national monuments and memorials. I truly believe one of the best ways to experience the monuments and memorials is on a guided tour. While it’s possible to wander around and see them on your own, you’ll get much more out of the experience with a professional guide who can explain the symbolism and historical significance of each site.

For visitors who want to balance out the museums and historical sites with other forms of entertainment, DC offers plenty of options. Sports fans can catch a game of their favorite professional team, whether it’s the Washington Wizards in the NBA, the Nationals in MLB, or DC United in MLS. The Kennedy Center is a renowned performing arts venue that showcases theater productions, ballets, and musical performances. The Wharf, a vibrant waterfront development, offers three stages for live music, as well as shops, restaurants, and a lively atmosphere.

Where to Eat in Washington DC

Washington, DC is not the world’s most famous foodie destination, but it punches above its weight when it comes to high quality dining. While there are no shortage of great places to eat, identifying the best ones for your trip can be a challenge. If you want to sample DC’s signature foods, look for half-smoke sausages from Ben’s Chili Bowl, Ethiopian cuisine, and wings with Mumbo sauce from a Chinese carryout. Since the city is relatively close to the Chesapeake Bay there is also plenty of excellent seafood, with fresh steamed crabs being a popular dish at the Wharf.

Here’s my roundup of all of DC’s signature foods.

Famous Foods to EAT in Washington DC

For visitors looking for the best of the best, the Michelin Guide is a great starting point. My favorite resource is Washingtonian Magazine’s annual 100 Very Best Restaurants list. Food tours are also a great way to sample a variety of cuisines and get insider recommendations from local guides.

If you’re on a budget, Washington, DC is known for its excellent fast casual dining scene. At these spots you can find delicious meals for around $10-$15. Fast casual restaurants typically offer counter service and a relaxed atmosphere, making them a popular choice among locals and visitors alike. They’re more expensive than fast food but less expensive than sit-down restaurants but still with excellent food!

If you want to start making a list, I have a video where I visited and showcased a few of my personal favorites.

Best Fast Casual Restaurants in Washington DC 🍔 2022 Cheap Eats

Budgeting Your Washington DC Trip

Is Washington, DC an expensive destination? How much should visitors expect things to cost? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is: it depends!

Every visitor needs a place to stay and the price of hotels varies dramatically depending on your trip dates. Contrary to what many people believe, hotel prices are not highest when the most tourists are in town. Instead, hotel prices in DC are driven by business travelers and are highest when lots of people are here for business and conferences. Generally, if you come to DC on slower dates, you can expect hotel rates in the mid-range of $100-$200. However, rates in the $200-$300 range are not uncommon, especially when many business travelers are here.

Meals are another significant cost category, and prices heavily depend on where you eat. My favorite fast casual restaurants typically cost between $10-$15 per person. A sit-down restaurant might cost between $20-$30 at the low-end and $100 or more at the high end. If you choose to dine at Michelin-starred restaurants, you could spend as much as $300 per person! Alcoholic drinks at restaurants in DC are also pricey. A draft beer might cost between $8-$12, a basic house wine might be $10-$15, and a craft cocktail could be $15-$20.

You can save some money by going for happy hour specials, which is one of the tips I offer in my video on how to save money on food.

Tips to Save Money on FOOD When You Visit Washington DC 🤑

Transportation costs should also be factored into your budget. On average, budget $2.50 per person for a Metro ride and $1 per person per ride for a Circulator bus ride. A taxi will probably cost $10-$20 for a trip inside the city. Fortunately, most of the museums and federal sites in DC are completely free, which will help you save some money on entertainment.

If you want a full breakdown of all the possible costs you might incur in DC, check out my video on this topic.

How Much it COSTS to Visit Washington DC

What to Pack for Washington DC

When it’s time to pack for your trip to Washington, DC, the most crucial item to include in your suitcase, no matter the season, is a pair of comfortable walking shoes. I’ve never had someone tell me they regretted bringing comfortable shoes to Washington, DC.

In terms of clothing, it largely depends on the season. For summer visits, pack lightweight clothing, shorts, and items that will keep you cool under the sun. Bring accessories such as hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen. During winter months, make sure to pack a warm coat, a scarf, gloves, and a hat to keep you cozy. It’s worth saying that DC isn’t as cold as other east-coast cities. In the spring and fall, it’s best to pack layers, as the temperature can fluctuate throughout the day.

If you’re curious about what I wear as a tour guide who spends a lot of time outdoors, check out my video about it.

What to WEAR in Washington DC in Every Season

Preparing for Washington DC Weather

The most popular landscape photos of Washington, DC are taken during the relatively small number of nice weather days. When you look at photos of the famous cherry blossoms it’s tempting to think we have picturesque weather year-round. However, the reality is that Washington, DC is a city that experiences all four seasons and nice weather is more of a treat than it is the norm.

Summers in DC are hot and humid. Winters can be cold but not unbearable. While snow is not uncommon, it typically only accumulates about a foot per year. The best weather tends to be in the spring and fall.

Thunderstorms are frequent in the summer, particularly in the early evening. Hurricanes can also pass by the city during the summer and fall. If you’re lucky and get to experience a nice day in Washington, DC make sure to get outdoors and take advantage!

Best Time to Visit Washington DC

There is no single best day or week to visit Washington, DC. Every month has its own unique pros and cons.

The busiest periods in DC coincide with school break. You’ll find the most tourists around during spring break and summer break. One of the most popular events in the city, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, occurs from March 20th to mid-April. The overlap between cherry blossom season and spring break makes this time of year extremely busy.

January and February are the least busy months, but there are still many indoor activities that you can enjoy with smaller crowds. September and October are some of the best months to visit Washington DC if you can swing it. The crowds are smaller than in the summer months, and the weather is more comfortable.

Previously, school field trips were concentrated between mid-March and Independence Day and then from September to Thanksgiving. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, school groups are now visiting the city all year round.

If you want more tips on how to navigate the school field trip season, check out my dedicated video on that topic.

Washington DC Field Trip Season, Explained

Next Steps for Planning Your DC Trip

Congrats, you’re now a equipped to be top-tier Washington, DC traveler. The next step is to start getting tickets and reservations for the sites that require them. Government sites like the Capitol require reservations. Many museums require free timed tickets as well. And don’t wait to long to book your tours and activities! Trip Hacks DC tours do book up, sometimes weeks in advance! If there’s an activity you have your eye on, don’t procrastinate! If you wait too long you may wind up disappointed.

Know someone who’s visiting Washington, DC soon? Spread the wealth and share this Washington, DC travel guide with them to help them out too!

Podcast Ep.52 Washington DC Experiences to DO and SKIP

October 1, 2023 in Podcast

Washington, D.C., is packed with history, culture, and sites. Planning your visit can be tough with so much to see and do. Most visitors don’t have endless time, so making smart choices is key. In this episode, Rob breaks down the top tourist spots, sharing which ones are worth your time and which ones you can skip. Get ready to make the most of your D.C. trip!

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Podcast Ep.51 Rob’s Washington DC Travel Philosophy

September 1, 2023 in Podcast

Planning a trip comes with a lot of questions: When should you go? Where’s the best area to stay? How do you put together a great itinerary? Every traveler is different, with their own likes, dislikes, and budgets. Over the years, I’ve learned some useful things about Washington, DC travel. In this episode, I’ll share my personal opinions about planning a trip to the nation’s capital. Whether you travel often or you’re planning your first trip, you’ll find practical tips to make your next visit a great experience.

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Podcast Ep.50 Trip Hacks DC Turns 50!

August 1, 2023 in Podcast

This is a milestone episode for the Trip Hacks DC podcast! Almost exactly five years after this show launched we’ve reached 50 episodes. Rob invited some friends and former guests back to ask questions and give you a behind the scenes view into being a tour guide, running a tour company, and creating travel content on the internet. Thank you to all listeners for helping the podcast get this far!

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Podcast Ep.49 Washington DC’s Food & Restaurant Scene in 2023

July 1, 2023 in Podcast

How has Washington DC’s restaurant scene changed since Covid? Is Georgetown a good neighborhood to go for a meal? Can you trust influencers on TikTok for restaurant tips? Jessica Sidman returns to the Trip Hacks DC podcast to answer all of these questions and more! Jessica is the food editor for Washingtonian Magazine where she covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene.

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Podcast Ep.48 Accessible Travel Tips for Visiting Washington DC

June 1, 2023 in Podcast

Visiting Washington, DC should be a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone. In this episode, we’re talking about tips for travelers with disabilities or those who need accommodations. We’ll cover everything from how to choose a hotel, public transportation, and how to get around, to the best way to navigate the major tourist sites in the nation’s capital. Joining this conversation are Kelsey Ibach and Jenny Burke. They are the co-founders of The Inclusive Traveler, an accessibility-focused travel community that spreads awareness, encourages others to travel, and promotes an accessible future. At the end of the episode, we chat about what we can all do to make travel more enjoyable for everyone.

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Podcast Ep.47 Tips for Visiting Washington DC in the Summer

May 1, 2023 in Podcast

Summer is the peak travel season in Washington, DC! In this episode, Rob will take you through all the essential information you need to know to make the most of your summer trip to DC. He will cover what to expect in terms of crowd levels, weather, and the special events, concerts, festivals, and sports that you won’t want to miss. If you’re planning a summer trip to Washington, DC, don’t miss this episode full of practical advice and inspiration to help you make the most of your visit.

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Podcast Ep.46 Visiting Washington DC with Kids of All Ages

April 1, 2023 in Podcast

Washington, DC is a great family-friendly travel destination. In this episode, we’re exploring the best of Washington, DC through the eyes of your kids, with the understanding that kids of different ages have very different interests! We’ll cover activities tailored to toddlers, grade-schoolers, and teenagers alike. Rob is joined by guest Jennifer Liao of FamilyTripGuides, a local blog that is a wealth of information about things to do with kids in the DC area and beyond.

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Rob’s Favorite Post Tour Lunch Spots

March 15, 2023 in Uncategorized

Thanks for joining me on the tour! Our time together will end at the World War II Memorial, and after three miles of walking, you’ll likely be hungry for lunch. The National Mall is, unfortunately, a bit of a restaurant desert. There are no restaurants in the immediate vicinity of our ending spot. However, here are a few nearby options that I like. Enjoy!


Potbelly serves solid sandwiches.
  • Address: 1701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
  • Distance: 15 minute walk
  • Open: 7 days per week

Potbelly is the closest spot to where we’ll end the tour. They serve solid sandwiches and milkshakes. If you like a little heat get the hot peppers on your sandwich – they are addicting!

District Taco

My favorite taco spot in DC!
  • Address: 1309 F St NW
  • Distance: 22 minute walk
  • Open: 7 days per week

District Taco is one of my personal favorites. They specialize in Yucatan style Mexican food and the menu has plenty of high-quality vegetarian options (and some vegan too). My go-to order is a carne asada Bowl served “Jefe way.”


Absolutely delicious Mediterranean food.
  • Address: 1311 F St NW
  • Distance: 22 minute walk
  • Open: 7 days per week

Roti is a Mediterranean Restaurant with bold flavors! My go-to order is the Harissa Chicken bowl. Their salads and pitas are very solid as well!


Unique oval shaped pizza.
  • Address: 1005 E St NW
  • Distance: 24 minute walk
  • Open: 7 days per week

You can’t have a list of lunch spots without a pizza option. &Pizza is unique oval shaped pie made to order, assembly-line style, right in front of you. Then it goes into the oven and in only a couple minutes you have a delicious hot pizza ready to eat. My all time favorite pizza is the “Dirty Bird.”

Rice Bar

Korean food is my all-time favorite!
  • Address: 801 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (the door to Rice Bar is actually at 9th St and D St NW)
  • Distance: 24 minute walk
  • Closed: Sunday

Bibimbap is Korean for “mixed rice” and is served in a bowl topped with vegetables, chili paste, soy sauce and fermented soybean paste. If you’ve never had it before, give it a shot. The combination of ingredients is really delicious. No matter what I get I always like to top it with a fried egg.

8 Tips for Seeing the Washington DC Tidal Basin Cherry Blossoms

March 12, 2023 in Blog

Spring in Washington, D.C. is synonymous with the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms, one of the most popular and highly anticipated blooms in the world. Each spring, hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the Tidal Basin to witness the beautiful cherry blossoms in peak bloom. The entire area transforms into a picturesque sea of pink and white. If you’re planning to visit the Tidal Basin cherry blossoms this year, this article will provide you with some useful tips and tricks to make the most of your visit and avoid the crowds. So, let’s dive in!

Tips for Visiting the Tidal Basin Cherry Blossoms 🌸 Washington DC

Tip #1: Set Proper Expectations

The first and most important tip for seeing the cherry blossoms is to temper your expectations. While you will find many amazing photos of the Tidal Basin in full bloom, these images often don’t show the hordes of people who flock to the area at this time of year. If you’re expecting to have a quiet moment alone with the cherry blossoms, you may be disappointed. Instead, approach your visit with an open mind and be prepared for crowds. Understand that Instagram vs. reality very much applies here.

Tip #2: Plan for Crowds

If you’re going to head down to the Tidal Basin to see the Washington, DC cherry blossoms you need to prepare for heavy crowds. The dates during the National Cherry Blossom Festival are busiest of the year for tourism in DC. The areas on the Tidal Basin that get the most crowded are the Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, and MLK. However, don’t let the crowds discourage you from seeing the cherry blossoms. If you plan ahead and set realistic expectations, you can still enjoy the beauty of the blossoms without feeling overwhelmed.

Tip #3: Visit Early or Late

To navigate the crowds at the cherry blossoms in DC, consider visiting early in the morning or late in the day. Most visitors tend to arrive mid-day, so by going early or late, you can avoid the heaviest crowds.

If you choose to go early, prepare to see a lot of people dressed up for photos with professional photographers. Photographers like to take advantage of the morning golden hour and lighter crowds to capture stunning photos of the cherry blossoms, so be prepared to dodge a few photo shoots. Alternatively, you can visit the cherry blossoms after dark for a different but still beautiful experience. While they may not photograph as well in the dark, the cherry blossoms are still stunning to see in person.

Tip #4: Embrace Overcast or Rainy Days

If you want to avoid the heaviest crowds, consider visiting on an overcast or rainy day. While many tourists flock to the Tidal Basin to see the blossoms on sunny days, locals who live nearby are often deterred by wet weather. Don’t let a little rain discourage you from experiencing the beauty of the cherry blossoms. Bring a raincoat and umbrella and embrace the weather. Not only will you dodge the crowds, but you may also get a unique and memorable experience of the blossoms in the rain. Plus, the overcast or rainy weather can add a moody and atmospheric vibe to your visit.

Cherry Blossoms Reflection in a Puddle
Don’t be afraid of a little rain!

Tip #5: Know the Best Ways to Get There

Getting to the Tidal Basin during cherry blossom season can be a challenge, but with the right transportation tips, you can avoid the stress and enjoy your visit.

The best way to get to the Tidal Basin is on foot or via the Metro. The closest Metro stations are Smithsonian and L’Enfant Plaza. If you’re arriving on the Orange, Blue, or Silver line, use the Smithsonian station. If you’re arriving on the Blue or Yellow line, use L’Enfant Plaza.

Driving your own car is strongly discouraged during cherry blossom season due to limited parking and heavy traffic. Instead, consider using Capital Bikeshare or e-scooters to get around. If you use Capital Bikeshare, be sure to check the app for available docks near the Tidal Basin, as they can fill up quickly. If you opt for e-scooters, use the app to find approved locations where you can end your ride and leave the scooter. Keep in mind that some roads may be closed or restricted during the festival, so plan your route accordingly.

If you can swing a hotel downtown or at the Wharf you’ll be in great shape. These locations make it easy to walk back and forth between the Tidal Basin and your hotel.

Tip #6: Discover East Potomac Park

East Potomac Park is one of the best spots in Washington, DC to see cherry blossoms. Even though there is a huge concentration of cherry trees and even though it’s relatively close to the Tidal Basin, few people go here! East Potomac Park is southeast of the Tidal Basin and you may hear people refer to it as Hains Point (technically Hains Point is only the tip of the park). It’s a great spot for a light stroll or a bike ride. This is a popular spot for bicyclists year-round and a particularly amazing ride during the bloom.

Tip #7: Reserve a Paddleboat

Renting a paddleboat is a popular way to see the blossoms from a unique perspective. Paddleboats are small boats that you power by pedaling like a bicycle. The paddleboat dock is situated on the east side of the Tidal Basin, just a short walk from the Washington Monument. If you plan on paddling during this season, it’s highly recommended to make a reservation in advance, as far ahead as possible. Due to its immense popularity, the number of boats available is limited.

Tip #8: Discover hidden gems

When you visit the Tidal Basin to see the blossoms don’t miss some fun hidden gems! A favorite among tour guide is a little cherry tree called Stumpy. It’s located in an area that often floods during high tide, which has damaged its roots. Despite the odds, Stumpy still manages to bloom every spring.

Stumpy blooms every spring!

If you head over to the FDR Memorial, you’ll find the Japanese Pagoda, a gift from the mayor of Yokohama in the 1950s. Not much is known about its history, but it’s worth checking out. And the Japanese Lantern is a historic artifact over 300 years old and one of the oldest outdoor pieces in Washington, DC. It’s located near the spot where the very first cherry tree was planted on the Tidal Basin over a century ago. You’re not going to find many artifacts this old around Washington, DC!