National Mall Tips and Travel Hacks August 13, 2017

The National Mall is a must-see for most Washington, DC visitors. These are six of our favorite National Mall tips and travel hacks.

1. Use the Circulator bus to cool down and recharge

Circulator bus is a great method of transportation. It will take you around to the museums, the monuments, and memorials. On a summer day it’s also a chance to get out of the hot sun and into the air conditioning. When the National Mall route launched in 2015, Circulator purchased some new buses and upgraded the fleet. Many new buses include USB ports to charge your devices. Make sure to look for the USB ports under the seat if your battery is low. Unfortunately some of the older buses do not have them.

2. Use the ‘back doors’ at the museums

Most museums on the National Mall have two sets of doors. One set that face the grassy National Mall and another that face either Constitution or Independence Avenues. Museum security can get hectic. Every Smithsonian museum on the Mall will have a metal detector or a person who searches through your bag. Charter buses only unload on the National Mall side of the museums, so when you’re behind a big group who’s just arrived it’s often quicker and easier to swing around to the other side of the museum. It’s not guaranteed that it’s going to be faster, but during peak school group tour season in the spring, this can save you valuable time.

3. See a Hollywood movie

The Smithsonian has a lot of amazing assets. But one that is often underrated is the IMAX theater at the Air and Space Museum. The Air and Space Museum has a program called ‘Sci-Fi Sundays’ where they pick a Sci-Fi movie and play it on the big IMAX. However, what really gets people excited is that when there’s a big Hollywood blockbuster made for IMAX. A few movies that have been shown in the IMAX theater include Interstellar, Arrival, and Star Wars: A Force Awakens. So if you’re going to be in DC and want to see a Sci-Fi film, check to see if Air and Space has it.

4. Use metro stations other than Smithsonian

There are a lot of Metro stations closer to attractions on the National Mall than the one called Smithsonian. In fact, the Smithsonian stop isn’t even the closest to all of the museums! The closest Metro station to the Lincoln Memorial is Foggy Bottom. The nearest station to the White House is McPherson Square. The closest station to the National Archives is Archives. The nearest station to the Air and Space Museum is L’Enfant Plaza. The closest station to the American Indian Museum is Federal Center Southwest. And the closest station of the Capitol is Capitol South.

5. Walk to Arlington National Cemetery

The Metro map is a useful tool but is not drawn to scale. In the case of Arlington National Cemetery, the map makes it look like it isn’t close to anything. The reality is that it’s actually a fairly short walk from the Lincoln Memorial. You don’t necessarily need to ride the blue line around to Arlington National Cemetery station.

The walk from the steps of Lincoln to the Smithsonian station is 1.2 miles. The walk from the steps of Lincoln to the gate of Arlington cemetery is only 1.0 miles. In fact if you swing around to the back of the Lincoln Memorial you will clearly see the cemetery in the distance. So if you want to go to Arlington and you’re already on the Mall, you don’t need Metro. You can walk.

6. See the monuments in the evening

The National Mall is busiest every day between about noon and 3:00 p.m. which is unfortunate because that is the hottest and most humid time of day; which is especially true in summer. Locals know that one of the best National Mall tips is to see the monuments and memorials in the evening. Not only is it cooler and less crowded, but the monuments take on a whole different feel once the sun goes down. For example people say that the soldiers at the Korean War Memorial Become like ghosts. Plus you can’t come to Washington DC and not see the World War II Memorial after dark lit up in all of its glory.

Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today!Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

National Zoo in DC: 6 tips for your visit August 6, 2017

These are six of our top tips for visiting the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC. One of the best things about visiting the National Zoo is that unlike other zoos in the United States this one is completely free. It might not be the biggest or grandest zoo in America, but this zoo definitely packs a punch!

1. Don’t drive or park at the National Zoo

Regular parking right now costs over $20 per visit. Not only is it expensive but spaces are extremely limited. Even if you are willing to pay, if you show up on a really busy day there might not be anywhere for you to go!

A much better option for getting to the National Zoo is to take the Metro‘s red line. A bonus hack for this is to always walk downhill. When traveling to the National Zoo, use the Cleveland Park station, you’ll walk downhill to get to the zoo entrance. When you leave the zoo, walk downhill to get to the Woodley Park station. This is especially handy if you are traveling with strollers. Nobody wants to push those up a big hill!

2. Use free shuttles to get around the National Zoo

Most visitors don’t realize until they arrive, but the National Zoo is actually built on a huge hill. So, when you are walking around in the zoo to get from exhibit to exhibit you’re actually walking up and down hill the entire time. Make sure to pack comfortable walking shoes!

The National Zoo runs a shuttle throughout the day. So if you’re at the bottom of the hill, and you’re tired, just wait at one of the shuttle bus stops and let a bus drive you back to the top of the hill. The zoo shuttle is completely free.

3. Know where to park your stroller

If you are visiting the National Zoo with kids you will probably have at least one stroller. A stroller makes things super easy because you can pack everything you need in it. There are exhibits that encourage you to leave your stroller outside. We recommend you have another small bag with all of your valuable items so, you just take with you as you leave your stroller at the designated stroller parking.

4. Skip the zoo food

Food at the National Zoo has improved tremendously over the past few years, but the best places to eat are outside the zoo. If you’re organized you can bring your own lunch and or eat at restaurants nearby like Nando’s or Duke’s Counter. Duke’s located right across the street on Connecticut Avenue from the front gate of the National Zoo and is a great place for lunch. There are about ten restaurants located on Connecticut Avenue near the zoo so there are plenty of options.

5. Visit the National Zoo early in the morning

Unlike Smithsonian museums that are located on the National Mall which open at 10:00 a.m., the National Zoo is actually opens early. The grounds open at 8 a.m. and the exhibits open at 9 a.m. One of the great things about getting there early is that it’s usually cooler in the morning and the animals are more active in the morning hours than they are in the afternoon.

If you want to see animals, we definitely recommend going at dawn or at dusk. Midday is hot and its when the animals take their naps. One good thing about visiting the National Zoo during the summer though is there are misters throughout the zoo that are super fun for kids. There is also a splash pad that’s easy to miss. Check it out near the sea lion exhibit.

6. Check out the special events

The National Zoo hosts special events throughout the year. The best known is ZooLights which takes place every year between about Thanksgiving and January 1st. ZooLights is great because it gives you a chance to see the zoo at night. It is all lit up, it’s beautiful, it’s also cold. So, bring hand warmers, and maybe a thermos of cocoa.

The Zoo also has events like Breakfast at the Zoo in September and have Boo at the Zoo in October. You can trick or treat at the National Zoo. This is definitely an experience you’re not going to want to miss if you’re around for it.

Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

Five Things to Do During Summer in DC July 23, 2017

Summer is the most popular season for visitors to come and explore Washington, DC. It’s also when you can find the most things happening around town. These are five of our favorite summer in DC things to do.

1. Outdoor concerts

One of the best things about summer in DC is the awesome and free outdoor music. Summer concert season kicks off Memorial Day weekend with the National Memorial Day Concert. This is held on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol and broadcast live on PBS. During June, July, and August, you can listen to some awesome military band from the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force at the Capitol. These bands perform Monday through Friday in the early evening.

Friday is the best day of the week if you are into outdoor music. Right on the Mall, find Jazz in the Garden. It is held at the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden. About a mile southeast of the Capitol in the Navy Yard neighborhood there are free concerts every Friday night at Yards Park. On Capitol Hill, you can head over to the Marine Barracks for a Friday night Marine parade.

2. Outdoor movies

A lot of neighborhoods host outdoor movie nights throughout the summer. Many follow a theme like spy movies or political movies, while some are based on a voting system where neighbors vote on their favorites.

Lineups are usually announced in the spring. So, you can check out what’s playing and decide if you want to see it when you’re in town. The best thing about these outdoor movie nights is that unlike going to the multiplex, they are completely free! Make sure you bring a blanket or something soft to sit on and bug spray, because this is DC in the summer after all.

3. Paddle around the sights

One of the more unique ways to experience summer in DC is by kayak. There are a few boat houses around the city where you can rent a kayak or a canoe and paddle it around. You can go out on the Potomac River and see sights such as the Kennedy Center, Watergate, and the Lincoln Memorial. To paddle the Potomac, check out the Key Bridge Boathouse in Georgetown. For a little bit different perspective on the city, you can check out the Ballpark Boathouse. This is located right near Nationals Ballpark and take your kayak out on the Anacostia River.

If you are not really feeling confident in either of these things, you can always take a paddle boat or a swan boat out on the Tidal basin. You will get amazing views of the Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

4. Tour the monuments at night

Most locals prefer to go see the monuments and memorials after dark. It’s a challenge to see the monuments during the middle of the day in the summer due to the heat. During the summer, it’s much more pleasant to see the monuments at night when it’s cooler and it’s less crowded. If you don’t like to stay up late, even going in the early evening while it’s still light is a great experience and much less hot than mid-day.

5. Check out a festival

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is one of the coolest events here in DC. every year. It is about two weeks long and held around Independence Day every year. It’s a cultural heritage celebration and each year a different culture or cultures is celebrated.

In August, the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival brings together authors and people who love to read. The Book Festival was founded in 2001 by First Lady Bush, a librarian herself. There are author talks, activities for kids, panel presentations and just a general love of books. If you want to buy some of the books from the authors who are there you’ll have to pay for that, but otherwise it’s almost completely free.

Lastly, check out the Capital Fringe Festival which showcases theater, dance, music, and other performances throughout the city. The performances might not be professional caliber like you’d find at the Kennedy Center, but it’s a lot of fun to check out regardless!

Coming to Washington DC, and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

DC Buses: Hop On Hop Off vs Public Transportation July 17, 2017

Are hop on hop off buses worth it? Are regular city buses better? We are going to compare hop on hop off buses to the public buses here in Washington, DC. The three factors that we are going to compare them on are: price, frequency of service, and the information that you get on the ride.

There are actually several public transit agencies in the Washington DC metro area. If you’re staying downtown you’ll probably notice just two buses: the Metrobus and Circulator.

Metro Bus

Metrobus is run by WMATA, the same people who run MetroRail. They have routes all over the Washington, DC metro area.  It’s probably the most similar to the Regional Transit Agency that your own city might have.

DC Circulator

Circulator is run by the DC Department of Transportation, and it has routes almost exclusively in DC. If you do use the public bus when you visit, it will probably be the Circulator. There are very convenient routes around the National Mall, Georgetown, Dupont Circle, and other popular tourist destinations.

Hop on,Hop Off Buses

Hop on hop off buses, on the other hand, are run by private bus operators. They are called hop on hop off buses to distinguish them from the more standard sightseeing buses, where you might drive around and see the sights from your seat.

Hop on hop off buses are priced in a way where you typically pay for a one-day or a two-day pass and then get unlimited rides during that time period. There are at least four different hop-on hop-off tour operators in Washington DC right now. They all have slightly different routes and slightly different pricing, but they more or less offer the same service.


Each of the hop on hop off DC buses have their own pricing. The one-day pass options that hop on hop off buses offer usually is in the $30-$40 range, with the two-day pass usually in the $50-$60 range.

On the other hand, you can ride the Circulator right now for $1 per Ride. The Metrobus is for $2 per ride. You can pay for the public buses using your SmarTrip card, which also works on the Metro. It is really cheap transportation. So in the price category, we are going to say that the public buses are the clear winner.

Frequency of Service

The DC buses all run on different frequency of service.

Circulator advertises that all buses on all routes will run every 10 minutes. However, from experience, it doesn’t always work out that way.

The hop on hop off buses vary depending on the company and the route. They advertise frequencies of one bus every approximately 20 to 40 minutes. Another thing to keep in mind is the operating hours for these services. The hop on hop off buses end every day around 5 or 6 p.m. The Circulator’s National Mall route ends at 8 p.m. during the summer season. During the winter season at 7 p.m.

Another thing about the Circulator is that you can download the NextBus app on your phone or just navigate to nextbus.com from your mobile browser. It will show you an estimate for the amount of time you have to wait at the stop where you’re standing and you can look at a map of every bus on the route. So, that there is no guessing about where a bus is or how long you’re going to have to be standing there. With longer hours and more frequent service, the public bus is the winner in this category too.

Tourist Information

Information is where these two types DC buses really start to split apart. Public buses are transportation. There’s no tour guide and you can’t expect to get any information about where you’re going or what you’re seeing. If you’re not going to sign up for a walking tour or a bike tour or anything other guided experience, then you might actually find it valuable to pay extra for a hop-on hop-off to get this information.

Some of the hop-on hop-off bus routes have live narration, which is exactly what you want. Steer clear of any bus company that only uses a recording. The one exception to this is if you want the tour in another language, in that case a recording might be the better bet. In any case the winner in this category is obviously the hop on hop off bus.

Our Recommendation

If you just want transportation between the monuments, the memorials Georgetown, and some of the other very popular tourist destinations, check out the Circulator. If you want a narrated tour, but you don’t want to sign up for a walking tour or anything else on the ground, then a hop on hop off might be worth it.

The most important thing is to do your research in advance and make sure that the hop on hop off company that you pick has routes that go to the places that you want to go, and has a live tour guide and not a recording.

Coming to Washington DC, and want to book a tour?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips,  tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites.  Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today!Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

Tips for the 4th of July in DC June 25, 2017

Independence Day is one of the best days to spend in the nation’s capital. There’s a lot happening so it can feel a little overwhelming if you’re not prepared. But don’t worry! These are our top five tips for enjoying the 4th of July in DC.

1. Stay downtown

We always advice visitors stay downtown. It’s convenient and will save you a ton of travel time. However, it is especially important if you want to do the 4th of July in DC. You are going to have the best experience if you’re staying close to the action. There are a lot of road closures on the 4th of July which can make it hard to get around. The Circulator bus and other bus routes on the National Mall do not operate at all.

Staying downtown will give you the chance to take few hours during the middle of the day, walk back to your hotel, bask in the air conditioning, and relax and recharge for a few hours. Then you can head back out for the evening activities. Don’t assume you can’t afford to stay downtown because of all the tourist traffic. Because there are no business travelers over holidays like the 4th of July, hotel rates are usually quite reasonable.

2. Watch the fireworks from the National Mall

A bad piece of advice the locals often dish out is to skip the National Mall on the 4th of July. Will it be crowded? Of course. However, this should not deter you from heading down. It’s important to know that a large section of the National Mall gets fenced off and you can only enter it through a limited number of security checkpoints. The secure area includes the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument.

We like to sit in the area near the museums. This is outside of the secure area so it’s a bit easier to get in and out. It is a little farther away but the view is still excellent.

3. Avoid Metro immediately after the fireworks

Another reason to stay downtown is that after the fireworks, Metro can be miserable. Some People leave the fireworks show early just so that they can beat the Metro rush!

Many hotels downtown are an easy walk of the National Mall. So, afterwards you can just pick up and walk back to your room. However, if you do have to get on Metro, just wait around for a little bit and let the crowds thin out before you start heading back. If you are not traveling with kids, you can head north of the National Mall up 7th St or you can head east past the Capitol and grab a drink before you head back.

4. Attend the dress rehearsal for A Capitol Fourth

If you’ve ever watched the Independence Day fireworks on PBS, you’ve probably also seen the concert. This is a really popular event. If you want to make this part of your 4th of July in DC you should plan to arrive several hours early.

Our recommendation is to attend the full dress rehearsal that they usually do on July 3rd. It is the same show, minus the fireworks of course, and with a smaller crowd, so you don’t have to arrive nearly as early.

5. Do some patriotic daytime activities

One of the most unique things that you can do on July 4th in DC is to see a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence from the steps of the National Archives. The Archives is where the original Declaration is kept.

Immediately after, the National Independence Day Parade begins. The Parade route is about a mile down Constitution Avenue. It is very patriotic with floats, marching bands, military units, and of course a ton of red white and blue.

We really like to go to see the Washington Nationals play on Independence Day. What’s more American than seeing the national pastime in the nation’s capital? This game starts early in the day, so you will have plenty of time for other Independence Day activities afterward.

Coming to Washington DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

Smithsonian Museum Tips for Washington, DC Visitors June 18, 2017

Smithsonian museums are a core part of the Washington, DC visitor experience. Get the most out of these by following our eight top Smithsonian museum tips.

1. Plan your Smithsonian visit in advance

There are so many Smithsonian museums and individual exhibits that it can feel overwhelming to navigate. It is really helpful to look at the websites for the Smithsonian museums in advance so that you can see what exhibits are going to be on display when you arrive. There are also smartphone apps for these museums that you can download and bookmark your favorite exhibits.

Another important Smithsonian museum tip is to check to see if you need a ticket for a particular museum or exhibit. Since it’s opening if you want to attend the National Museum of African American History and Culture you need a free timed ticket. Check out our blog post for specific details about getting one.

2. Don’t overdo it!

Since the Smithsonian museums in DC are completely free, visitors often try to cram in as many as they possibly can during their trip. This often leads to exhaustion. Think of it another way, if you went to a different city that didn’t have free museums, you wouldn’t go and buy a ticket to every single museum in town and then try to cram all of them in during your trip. You’d probably pick one, maybe two, of the museums that interest you the most and visit those. That’s the same strategy you should pursue in DC as well.

Smithsonian museums are free but they’re also huge, which means you’re going to do a lot of walking, which is physically draining. You’re also going to do a lot of reading, which is mentally draining. So, this is the reason for picking two or three museums for a one-week long trip or one to two museums for a weekend trip. And remember that while these museums are excellent educational opportunities, kids don’t have quite the same stamina or attention span as adults.

3. Go against the flow.

Because many of them are free, some Smithsonian museums can get very crowded. This is especially true for the big three museums: Air and Space, Natural History, and American History. These are some of the most visited museums in the entire world. You can use a few basic strategies to avoid the heaviest crowds. For example, if you’re visiting a museum when it first opens at 10:00 a.m. go straight to the exhibit that’s farthest away from the door. Most people naturally walk into a museum and then go straight to whatever exhibit is closest to them. You can go up in the elevator to say, the top floor, and start seeing the exhibits up there to get maybe an hour or two with fairly limited crowds.

4. Use the “back doors”

This is a Smithsonian museum tip that a lot of Washington DC locals have used for years. Most Smithsonian museums on the National Mall have two entrances. There is one facing the grassy park called the National Mall, and another facing either Independence or Constitution Avenues, depending on which side it’s on.

Tour buses only unload on the National Mall side and there is nothing worse than getting stuck behind a busload of 8th graders on a school field trip. Museum security is kind of like airport security where they will ruffle through your bag and make you walk through a metal detector. Going through the non-bus door doesn’t guarantee that you won’t have to wait in a line but it does reduce the risk that you’ll get stuck behind a huge group.

5. Leave the National Mall

Even though most Smithsonian museums in DC are located right on the National Mall, there are some other really great museums elsewhere in the city. A few blocks north of the Mall you’ll find the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, two different museums that share the same building. The Portrait Gallery is exactly what the name suggests, a museum of portraits, including the very popular Hall of Presidents.

Across the street from the White House on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue you’ll find the Renwick Gallery, which is an art museum that focuses on crafts and other decorative art, and it hosts a lot of cool rotating exhibits.

A personal favorite of ours is the National Postal Museum which is located right next to Union Station. A lot of people take for granted as a mail is kind of bland, but the Postal Museum is a really interesting look at American history through the lens of the postal service. And if you’re a stamp collector you’re going to love it here. They have some of the most amazing stamp collections in the entire world. And one of our favorite Smithsonian museum tips is you can buy stamps at the gift store here 7 days per week,so you don’t have to make a special errand to one of our post offices.

6. Seek out Good Food

The National Mall is not known for having great food. But don’t despair! One of the best Smithsonian museum tips around is to eat at the “culture” museums.

Every museum is going to have a little cafe. They’re fine, you’ll get fed, but you also probably won’t have a very memorable meal. The exception to this is at the Smithsonian American Indian Museum, which is highly recommend if you’re in the area or if you can get a ticket, the Sweet Home Cafe at the African American History and Culture Museum. Both of these “culture” museums use food as a way to immerse visitors in the experience.

And unless there’s some sort of fast food connoisseur, don’t eat at the McDonald’s at the Air and Space Museum. Nobody wants to pay museum prices for the same Big Mac you can get anywhere else in the world.

7. Take advantage of Highlight Tours

A lot of the Smithsonian museums offer free highlight tours a few times every day. These are led by trained and knowledgeable tour guides. If you think you might be interested in a museum, but aren’t quite sure about some of the exhibits, a highlight tour is a great way to get an overview. The one downside is that since these are free tours the group sizes can get fairly large. But, do not let it deter you from taking one.

8. Take advantage of extended hours

Most Smithsonian museums close at 5:30 p.m. every day, but there are a few exceptions. The Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum are open until 7 p.m. every day. In the summer select museums offer extended hours and stay open for two extra hours until 7:30 p.m on selected dates during the summer. If you’re going to take advantage of one of these Smithsonian museum tips, it is extremely important that you check the extended hours calendar on the Smithsonian website. This is to make sure that you know which dates are having extended hours for which museums.

Coming to Washington DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

How to Ride DC Metro: 10 Dos and Don’ts May 21, 2017

Every visitor to Washington, DC should brush up on how to ride DC Metro. There are a lot of written and unwritten rules, but don’t worry, follow these dos and don’ts and you will become a Metro pro in no time.

1. Do get a SmarTrip card

This used to be a suggestion but now it is a requirement. If you visited DC prior to 2016 you probably paid for the Metro using a paper fare card. It was a piece of cardboard, had a couple cute pandas on it, and would print your balance on the card every time that you used it. Go ahead and put it in a scrapbook because you’re not going to need it anymore. The good news is that SmarTrip cards are just as easy to get at the old paper fare card.  

When you arrive at your first Metro station look for one of the orange and blue colored fare machines. You’ll need to decide if you want a single fare card or multiple. If you’re traveling with a family, you will need multiple cards. Unlike in other cities, every person in the group needs their own SmarTrip card. Then you’ll need to decide if you want to add money or buy a pass.  

For a typical tourist we recommend starting off by adding the $8 default value and topping up your card as you go. Unless you’re going to ride the Metro all the time a pass probably isn’t worth the money. You can pay using either cash Or credit or debit card. Try to use exact change if you have it.

Once you’ve got your card, walk up to the fare gate, tap it against the target and go through once it opens. When you get to your destination you’ll do the exact same thing to exit.

2. Don’t stand on the left

This is probably the single most important piece of advice you’re going to get when it comes to how to ride DC Metro. When you’re riding a Metro escalator, never, ever stand on the left side. If you’re walking you walk up on the left side and if you’re standing you stand on the right side. Simple enough!  

One of the reasons why tourists get such a bad reputation among locals here is because they don’t follow this simple rule. On a similar note, if you’re coming from the airport or Union Station when you’re riding the escalator, put your suitcase in front or behind you. That way if someone’s trying to walk up they’re not going to get blocked by your luggage. Or find an elevator and use it.

3. Do download a Metro app

There are a lot of Metro apps out there and people have varying opinions on which one is the best. Some apps have more bells and whistles than others, but at the end of the day they all basically do the same thing: tell you how long you have to wait for your train.

Yes, there are electronic boards in every station that technically give you this information; but they have a really annoying habit of scrolling through a bunch of announcements when all you’re really looking for is the amount of time until the next train.

Our favorite Metro app is called MetroHero. Regardless of which app you choose, just make sure you also download a jpeg of the Metro map to your phone. That way if you’re in a tunnel, or you have spotty service you will always be able to access the map even when you’re online.

4. Don’t ride during rush hour

There are two reasons to avoid riding the DC Metro during rush hour.

First, it actually costs more money to ride Metro during rush hour than it does at any other time. That’s because metro fares are based on the distance that you travel and whether it’s rush hour or not. More importantly, DC is a working city and people commute so it gets slammed and can feel pretty miserable to ride during rush hour.

5. Do plan for delays

A lot of people come to DC absolutely love our Metro system. Typicall that’s because it is so much better than what they have back home. That hardly means that it’s perfect though and the truth is that Metro is in pretty bad shape. Unfortunately, some locals now consider Metro unreliable.

So if you have tickets to an event, dinner reservation, or a scheduled tour, just plan to arrive a few minutes before it’s supposed to start. It’s much better to arrive early than it is to be disappointed because Metro let you down.

6. Don’t block or hold the doors

Other than standing on the left this is one of the biggest offenses that someone can make on the Metro. The important thing to know is that Metro train doors are not like elevator doors. You can’t hold them open by putting your hand in. And if you do try to hold it open the door is going to close right on your arm. Metro operators usually try to get the doors closed a few times before they eventually give up and kick everybody off the train. Trust us, you don’t want to be the one who inconvenienced hundreds or even possibly thousands of travelers because you messed with the doors.

7. Do wait for people to get off the train before you try to board

When a train pulls into the station and you see some empty seats it is tempting to rush in as fast as you can and grab them before anybody else can. However you really need to wait until everybody is off the train first before you can try to get on. Metro doors are not very wide and it becomes a huge mess when people aren’t even off the train yet and other people are already rushing into the car. So just have a little patience you’ll get on the train. Don’t worry.

8. Don’t wait for the fare gates to close in front of you before you go through

This trip hack is particularly useful during rush hour or after a game or any other busy period when there are a lot of people trying to move through the Metro at the same time. All you have to do is stand behind the person in front of you who’s going through the fare gate. Once they’ve tapped their SmarTrip card, tap yours and go on through. You don’t actually have to wait for the gate to close before you can tap. Doing it this way will save a lot of time. Locals will also really appreciate that you’ve been clued in to this little hack.

9. Do avoid transfers and bad routes

Sometimes transfers are unavoidable and that’s OK. But a lot of times people actually make unnecessary transfers. A lot of the problem stems from the fact that the Metro map is not to scale. It doesn’t help that some stations have names that are confusing and make you think you need to use one station when you should really use another.

Say you want to ride the Metro from U Street to the Air and Space Museum. A lot of folks would look at the Metro map, ride the green line to L’Enfant Plaza, transfer to the Orange, Blue, or Silver lines, then get off at the Smithsonian station. This is a total rookie mistake! The walk from the Smithsonian station to the Air and space Museum is actually twice as far as the walk from the L’Enfant Plaza station, not to mention the time that you wasted making a transfer to a line and riding a train that you didn’t have to.

This is the reason why apps like Citymapper are so helpful. They do all the work for you. So, you don’t need to know all this information to figure out which station is actually closest to the destination where you’re trying to go.

10. Don’t stop at the top of a Metro escalator

It can be disorienting when you are at a new Metro station in a new neighborhood. The first thing you want to do when you get off the escalator is pull out your phone and use Google Maps to figure out where you are. But people are still coming up the escalator behind you and if you don’t move you’ll cause a pileup!

It’s totally fine if you need to check your surroundings once you get off the Metro. However, make sure to walk a few yards away from the station and away from the escalators before you take out your phone or take out your map to figure out where you are.

Coming to Washington DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

Monuments in DC: 7 Tips for Your Visit May 14, 2017

Seeing the memorials and monuments in DC on the National Mall is one of the most popular things to do in Washington. Here are seven tips to consider when you visit.

1. See the monuments in DC in the morning or the evening

Locals will tell you that it’s better to see the memorials and monuments in DC after sunset. However, morning is a fantastic time to see them as well. Most museums open at 10:00 a.m. and the National Mall is very peaceful and relaxing in the hours beforehand. The National Mall is generally the busiest between about noon and 3:00 in the afternoon. Come in the morning to beat the crowds or in the evening to beat the heat.

2. Eat before you go and don’t forget water

The National Mall is not exactly known for good dining options. It is probably best to just eat before you come down to the National Mall. If you are visiting in the morning, wake up and have a nice breakfast. If you’re coming in the evening, find some dinner first or a snack to tide you over. Remember to bring water with you on a hot summer day. You are absolutely going to want to bring that stay hydrated.

Water fountains on the National Mall are infamous for not working. This gets frustrating when the water is warm. There are a few concession stands and food trucks around the national mall where you can buy a bottle of water. But it is easiest and best if you come prepared.

3. Sign up for a guided tour

This is the best way to see the memorials and monuments in DC. There are no shortage of tour options. Guided tours include walking tours, bike tours, Segway tours, bus tours, boat tours and so many more! There are private tours like the ones we offer, which are limited to a single group. And on the other end of the spectrum there are “pay what you want” tours that are open to everybody. These often do not even require a reservation and you can pay what you want at the end of the tour.

4. Download the National Mall app

If you decide not to go the guided tour route, then having the National Mall app on your phone will be a big help when seeing monuments in DC. The most useful thing about the National Mall app is that it shows you the location of all the sites. It also shows you some of the smaller monuments that you might not even know you want to see. You can use the app and tap on any of the sites so that when you go to the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial, you can learn a little bit about it.

5. Figure out the most efficient route

On a map, the monuments memorials can look pretty close to each other. It’s an illusion. If you do want to see them all you’re going to do a lot of walking. On our monuments tour it is about three miles from start to finish using the most efficient possible route. If you don’t plan ahead, you can wind up walking for even more miles! If you don’t plan to do a guided tour, grab a map in advance and plan out your route for the day.

6. Take advantage of public transportation

In this case this is not about Metro. In 2015, DC launched a Circulator bus route on the National Mall. It is a big red bus and easy to spot. The route has stops at Union Station, the museums, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, the MLK Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial. The best thing about Circulator is that it’s cheap and the SmarTrip card that you bought to ride Metro works on Circulator too.

7. See the less popular sites

Don’t skip less popular sites like the Albert Einstein Memorial or the DC War Memorial. A few of our personal favorites include the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial and the George Mason Memorial. It is not even like these are off the beaten path. They are right there on the National Mall!

Coming to Washington DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

Hotel Deals in DC: Tips for Getting a Great Price May 7, 2017

Washington, DC hotel prices can cause visitors serious sticker shock. But they don’t have to! These are our top tips to help you find the best hotel deals in DC. Plus check out our curated list of recommended hotels.

Date flexibility is key!

Hotel deals in DC can vary. Like everything in life, the price for hotel rooms is driven by supply and demand. In a given year, the supply of hotel rooms in DC is fixed, but demand fluctuates, sometimes significantly from day to day.

The key to navigating this is to understand that hotel pricing in DC is a function of the number of leisure travelers and the number of business travelers in town on any given date. Leisure travel is easy to predict. Most tourists come to Washington, DC when kids are off from school. This means spring break, summer break and holiday break have heavy tourist crowds.

On the other hand, it is very hard for the average person to predict when there are going to be a lot of business travelers in DC. Some conferences and conventions can bring thousands or tens of thousands of people to Washington, DC for a single event! One of the biggest mistakes some visitors make is that they jump on an airfare sale when they see cheap plane tickets but lock themselves into dates with high hotel prices.

Use “flexibility date search” to identify the best dates

Some hotel chains will allow you to perform a “flexible date search”. Others will show you daily rates on a calendar. This doesn’t work for every hotel chain but it works fairly well for Marriott hotels. When you search this way it should become clear fairly quickly which dates are going to be slow and which you should avoid at all costs.

Book your hotel direct

Forget about the third party websites. They can be useful for doing your research and looking at reviews and traveler photos; but when it comes time to book, go directly to the hotel chain where you want to make a reservation. Hotels really do not want you to use third party websites because when you do, the hotel has to pay commission. Some hotel chains are actually taking this a step further by offering lower rates on their own website if you create an account with their rewards program and log in before you book.

Choose refundable rates

Make sure to choose a refundable rate. This may seem counter intuitive because non-refundable rates are always cheaper. However, unlike airfare, where the difference might be hundreds of dollars per ticket, hotel discounts for non-refundable rates are usually much smaller.

Even if you wind up paying a little more, think of it as an insurance policy. If you book the non-refundable rate and something comes up and you can’t make the trip, you are not getting any of your money back.

The other reason to book refundable rates is that, just like airfare, hotel rates go up and down. Once you’ve booked a non-refundable rate, you’re locked in. If you booked a refundable rate, and the rate drops or another hotel starts running a huge sale, you can rebook and pocket the difference.

What about Priceline, Hotwire, etc.?

Lots of people have saved a ton by naming their own price, or by taking a gamble on Hotwire. It’s true that in some cases these can result in big savings, and it feels great when you get lucky and it works out. Kind of like how it must feel to win the lottery. However, these websites come with some pretty big risks. The most obvious one is you don’t actually know which hotel you are booking. So, you might not be happy with it after it’s revealed.

The other reason it’s not ideal is the hotel is not going to go above and beyond for you. They are not going to give you an upgrade. They are not going to put you in a room with a good view. They are probably going to give you whatever room they had left over.

Most importantly, if something goes wrong, it is much easier to deal with a problem if you book direct. The on-site staff is usually able to help with it right there, or provide a you a refund or a partial refund if you need one. Whereas if you book through a third party website you have to deal with an extra middleman. 

Check out our recommended hotels

With over a hundred hotels in Washington, DC and even more in the suburbs, trying to research which is best can feel daunting. We’ve curated a list of some great options in eleven different areas of the city. Even if you decide not to book one of these hotels, it’s a good place to get started.

Coming to Washington DC, and want us to take you on tour?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

Washington DC apps: must-have apps for visitors April 30, 2017

Smartphones are a crucial part of travel these days. Where you use an iPhone or rock an Android, these are eight of our favorite Washington, DC apps to make sure you download before your trip.

1. MetroHero: a must-have for riding DC Metro

At some point during your Washington, DC trip you will probably ride the Metro. There are many free Washington DC apps for the Metro. However, MetroHero is the best Metro app in our opinion. It shows the location of every single train in the Metro system. With MetroHero, you can also find your station and get live updates for the next trains. You will also be able to see any alerts and elevator or escalator outages.

Download MetroHero: Apple | Google Play

2. Ride hailing apps: Uber and Lyft

Ride hailing apps have become popular in recent years. Washington DC cabs have not always had the best reputation. So, Uber and Lyft have taken over. These apps are (often) a cheaper alternative to cabs and out of town visitors may feel comfortable using these apps from back home. Both apps offer options to carpool with other people. This helps reduce costs, but don’t carpool if you are in a hurry because it is slower.

Download Uber: Apple | Google Play
Download Lyft: Apple | Google Play

3. Smithsonian Mobile: museum information at your fingertips

Before Leaving for your trip to Washington DC, be sure to download Smithsonian Mobile. This is a crucial DC app if you plan on checking our our museums. Smithsonian Mobile includes information about every exhibit in every Smithsonian museum. This can help you plan in advance which exhibits to see without feeling overwhelmed once you get here. In the app, you can favorite different exhibits and figure out which exhibits sound most interesting. You can also see new and upcoming exhibits so, you know what is coming up during the dates of your trip.

Download Smithsonian Mobile: Apple | Google Play

4. Yelp: find the five star restaurants

For many travelers, “eating their way through the city” is an important part of the experience. Restaurant recommendations are hard. Everyone has a different price range and different tastes. The Michelin Guide lists about a dozen DC restaurants and is a great place to start. However, these restaurants are hard to get into without a reservation and they are expensive.

For lower-key restaurants, Yelp is your friend. The Yelp app uses your location to find restaurants around you. You can filter restaurants by type and price. Also, there is a map you can use to see the places closest to you. With the map, you can also get walking directions right to the restaurant.

Download Yelp: Apple | Google Play

5. Citymapper: navigate Washington, DC like a pro

Citymapper is huge in Europe, especially London and other big cities. It is available in U.S. cities but has not caught on quite as much. It works by using your phone’s GPS to figure out where you are. Then, you tell it where you want to go, and it will calculate a list of transportation options. Citymapper will give you the best suggestions based on price and time. There is also a Metro option which will tell you how to walk to your closest Metro station and how to walk to your final destination. In addition, Citymapper will tell you whether to sit in the front, middle, or back of the train for the fastest transfer, if necessary.

Download Citymapper: Apple | Google Play

6. NPS National Mall: explore America’s front lawn

Many national parks come with their own apps, including the National Mall in Washington DC. With this app, you can see a map of all the sites on the National Mall, including the big ones you know you want to see and some smaller sites you might not even know about! If you prefer a list instead of a map, you can browse the sites that way too.

Download NPS National Mall: Apple | Google Play

7. SpotCycle: a helpful sidekick to Capital Bikeshare

In Washington DC, riding a bike is a great way to get around! Capital Bikeshare is a cheap and easy way to access bikes in DC. However, the most stressful thing about using Capital Bikeshare is riding your bike to your destination and then realizing that you cannot end your trip because the dock is completely full of bikes! SpotCycle can help you avoid this because you can find out in advance if there are docks available at your destination.

Edit: After the video and post were created Capital Bikeshare launched their own official app. We now recommend this instead. SpotCycle still works fine, but the official Capital Bikeshare app has the same features plus it allows you to actually check out bikes. Pretty cool!

Download Spotcycle: Apple | Google Play
Download Capital Bikeshare: Apple | Google Play

8. TapIt: stay hydrated!

On a hot humid day in Washington DC, hydration is key. You can save money and get plenty of water with the app TapIt. TapIt is a project among our local water utility and local businesses. The goal is to promote tap water as an alternative to bottled water. If you are wondering if DC tap water is safe, yes. It has vastly improved in the last decade.  

Download TapIt: Apple | Google Play

Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.

Copyright 2017-2020 Trip Hacks Travel LLC. All rights reserved.