There are three Washington, DC Airports – which is the best? Well, it depends. Read on to learn more.
The three airports in the Washington DC area are: Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA), Washington Dulles International (IAD) , and Baltimore-Washington International (BWI). There are pros and cons to each of these airports. Reagan National is by far the closest, just across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial. Dulles is considerably farther, about 25 miles from the National Mall and BWI is the farthest, about 35 miles away.
Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC is a great way to get around the city. However, if you’ve never used the system before there is a bit of a learning curve. Don’t worry! You will be riding like a pro in no time.
How much does it cost?
Unfortunately, the pricing is not entirely straightforward if you never used a bike sharing system like this before. The cost to ride is the membership fee plus the usage fee.
Let’s talk about the membership fee first, which you can think of as the fee you pay to get access to the bikes. There are a few membership options. Right now you can pay $2 for a single ride, $8 for twenty four-hour membership, $17 for a three-day membership, or $85 for a one-year membership. For a typical visitor any of the first three will work just fine.
Capital Bikeshare in Washington, DC also has a usage fee, which is what you pay based on how long you keep the bike checked out. This is where it starts to get confusing for some people. If you check out a bike, ride it around, and return it to a dock within thirty minutes, then you pay no additional fee. However, if you ride your bike for longer than 30 minutes, you pay $2 for the first half hour, then an additional $4 for the next half hour, Then an additional $8 for each half hour that you keep the bike checked out. So if you take a bike, ride around for three hours and ten minutes, and then return it, you’ll pay $38 in usage fees, plus the membership fee that you already paid when you started.
To avoid getting up charged it is imperative that you keep each of your rides to 30 minutes or less. Use Capital Bikeshare to get from point A to point B. Use a regular rental bike for joyriding around Washington DC.
How to check-out a Capital Bikeshare bike at a kiosk
When you’re ready to ride, approach the kiosk at any station and press the “rent a bike” button. The first thing it will ask you to do is swipe your credit card. After that, it’s going to show you a warning about the usage fees. You can click yes to accept since you’re now well versed now about how that works.
Then you pick what kind of membership you want to buy. You can take either one or two bikes per credit card, but if you select two you will pay double. If you have a gift certificate, you can enter it on this screen, but most visitors probably won’t.
It’s going to give you a summary of the transaction and the initial price. Press OK when you’re ready. The next two screens are where you enter the phone number and billing zip code associated with your credit card. After that you’ll confirm that you’re 18 years or older. Finally, you’ll have to read the terms of service, click OK when you’re finished.
Next you’ll be given the choice to either view the bike code on the screen or print a receipt with the code on it. If you have a good memory you can view it. Otherwise you can print it. Take your code to any bike, enter it on the keypad and once you get the green light you’re ready to go. It is easiest to pull the bike out if you lift up under the seat and then pull back.
When you’re done with your bike bring it back to the dock and push it hard to return it. If the return was successful you’ll get the green light and a pleasant beep. If you get a red light and a loud buzz you need to try again.
Are helmets required for Capital Bikeshare?
No. If you are an adult you do not legally need a helmet to ride a bike in the District of Columbia. But, helmets are strongly recommended. Remember that if you want to use a helmet you do need to bring your own.
Tip: avoid being penalized for a late return
If you arrive at a dock and it’s completely full, you can go to the kiosk and press the “time credit” button then swipe your credit card. This will give you an additional 15 minutes to find another dock without charging you for the time.
Use common sense when using Capital Bikeshare
Treat the bikes like you would treat your own bike. Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t do back home. For example, don’t ditch your Capital Bikeshare bike when you’re going to run into a store or a coffee shop or to go look at the Lincoln Memorial. You might not think that anyone would want to steal one of these bikes but if they do you’re going to be on the hook for $1,200. That is not worth the risk.
Use the Capital Bikeshare App
The Capital Bikeshare app lets you control your entire Capital Bikeshare experience. You can use the app to buy a pass, check out a bike, and do everything else on Capital Bikeshare without ever having to visit a kiosk.
What happens when you use Capital Bikeshare app for the first time?
When you launch the Capital Bikeshare app for the first time, it pulls up a splash screen and gives you two options. These are “get a pass” or “login”. If this is your first time you’ll click “get a pass”. Then the app will give you a choice of which type of pass you want. You can do the single trip, 24-hour pass, three-day pass, 30 day or annual membership. After you decide it gives you some basic information about how the system works.
Create a Capital Bikeshare Account
Once you’ve selected your pass options you will need to create your account and enter your phone number. Then you’ll have to create a password. Now you have to enter your name, birth date, and gender. After that it will give you a summary of your purchase. Then you will see the liability waiver. Make sure you read the entire thing and then click agree. Finally we get to the rental agreement, read it and agree.
You have to pay for your Capital Bikeshare rides so this is where you need to enter your credit card information.
Use the Capital Bikeshare app to unlock your bike
Once you start using the app you will never need to visit a Capital Bikeshare kiosk again. Use the map in the app the select the station where you are located, click the little pin, and then “unlock bike”. Just like the kiosk, the app will give you a numeric code that you can enter on the keypad to unlock a bike. When you’re ready to return the bike just push back into the dock. The app will actually give you a push notification to confirm that it worked.
Do we recommend Bikeshare?
For many visitors, the answer is yes. Biking is a great way to get around the city. That said, Capital Bikeshare isn’t always the best option. If you have kids in your group, Capital Bikeshare isn’t an option. If you want to keep the bike checked out for a long period of time, Capital Bikeshare would get very expensive. And if you need a lock, helmet or other accessories, you will have to bring your own, because Capital Bikeshare doesn’t provide them.
However, don’t worry. There are rental bike companies in DC that cater to families with kids, have daily pricing and rent helmets and all the other accessories. Don’t think you can’t ride a bike in DC just because Capital Bikeshare isn’t for you.
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You are planning to visit Washington, DC. Awesome! How many days do you need to see everything in DC? Well, the truth is, it’s impossible to see everything. But don’t worry, you can still do a ton of fun stuff, whether you’re here for a week or a weekend.
Let’s get this out of the way first: a single day is not enough. One day is simply not enough time and likely you’ll leave exhausted and disappointed by all the things that you missed out on. Don’t try to see Washington, DC on a layover between flights, or because it’s you’re on the east coast visiting another city. Plan a proper trip here. It’s worth it!
How much time it takes to see the monuments and memorials
When you come here for the first time you will want to see the monuments: Lincoln, Jefferson, World War II, and all the others. The monuments tours that Trip Hacks DC offer covers all the major monuments the National Mall. It takes about three total hours. If you’re self guiding your own monuments tour, plan to spend between three and five hours.
How much time it takes to see Smithsonian and other museums
When it comes to museums, the thing that you have to understand is that Smithsonian museums are huge. They are massive. If you are a history buff or an art lover you could spend an entire day in just a single museum. The Smithsonian has said that the average “dwell time” is about two hours at each of their museums. If you spent two hours at each of our museums it would take literally days just to hit them all.
If it’s your first time in DC, you will want to see the Capitol and take a tour. Hopefully, you can get a gallery pass or a floor pass. The Capitol tour takes about an hour and then you can budget another hour on top of that for the other stuff. If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll probably want to take them up to the National Zoo. This can last between anywhere from a few hours to an entire day.
If you want to go to Arlington National Cemetery and do a proper tour you’re looking at another three hours at least. A lot of visitors also want to go to Georgetown, which could be another half a day.
How many days do you really need to see all of this stuff?
You need to consider whether this is going to be the only chance you’ll have in your lifetime to visit Washington, DC or if you might come back for a future trip. If you’re only going to visit here once, either because you’re from out of the country and don’t think you’ll ever be back, you should plan to spend five to seven days here. That amount of time will give you a chance to see and do most of what you really want and not feel like you missed out.
If you live nearby or you think that you might come back to DC again in the future then a weekend trip of three days long should be fine. That will let you see all of your top choices and it will let you save a few things for your next trip.
Tip: Don’t overplan your trip
A good Washington, DC itinerary should leave some slack and should not be planned down to the minute. Sometimes, things take longer than you expect or you discover something really cool after you’ve gotten here.
One of the biggest mistakes that tourists make is that they overplan their trip or try to pack too much into a really small amount of time. At some point it’s more exhausting than enjoyable. Of course overplanning is not a unique problem to DC. However, we have so many free things to do that people do try to plan in more things than they would if they had to pay. Spending more time here and planning less into your trip will give you a better experience.
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Washington, DC welcomes over 20 million visitors each year. If you’re never been to the nation’s capital, these are seven things that tourists say surprise them about visiting Washington, DC.
1. Everything is free!
OK, not everything in Washington, DC is free. However, a huge number of things are! The National Mall, Smithsonian museums, Capitol, National Archives, U.S. Botanic Gardens, National Gallery of Art and National Zoo are all FREE. In most cities, you would have to pay to see attractions like these. Not only are these sites free but the quality is incredible.
2. Everything is expensive!
Yes, there is a lot to do and see for free in Washington. However, Washington DC has a high cost of living. For visitors, you will see this primarily in restaurants and bars. Sit-down and even fast-casual restaurants will probably be pricier than you are used to.
One of the many big differences between Washington DC and a city like New York is evident in the lack of cheap foods. New York City is a very expensive city as well, but you can still find dollar slices of pizza and inexpensive street food. Washington, DC does not have those options. The best way to avoid sticker shock is to expect that everything will cost more than you are used to.
3. Your favorite Hollywood TV show or movie isn’t realistic.
Unfortunately, all of the shows and movies that are set in Washington, DC do not accurately describe life here. One exception might be West Wing, which people who work in politics say is the most accurate. Other shows such as Blacklist or Bones are pure Hollywood fiction. Also, shows that are set in DC are almost never filmed here. House of Cards is filmed in Baltimore. Scandal is filmed in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles and Baltimore Metro systems often stand in for ours even though they look nothing alike.
4. There is an entire city beyond the National Mall
The District of Columbia has a population a little over 700,000 people (2018 estimate), and the metro area has a little more than six million people. Lots of people live here, but not on the National Mall. So, pick a hotel and stay downtown for the convenience. But venture out into some of the neighborhoods and experience a bit of the local culture as well.
5. It is very clean (relatively)
Many visitors comment about how clean Washington DC is, usually because the just came from New York City. New York is a great place for a trip, but it’s not the cleanest. Even New Yorkers will admit that the Big Apple has a very distinct look and smell. Compared to New York, Washington DC is not nearly as densely populated, so it’s much easier to keep tidy.
6. There are no skyscrapers
The tallest building in Washington, DC is the Washington Monument. It stands at 555 feet tall. The tallest residential and office buildings are only about 200 feet tall. The One First National Center in Omaha, Nebraska is almost 80 feet taller than the Washington Monument!
In fact just about every city in the United States has at least one building that’s taller than the Washington Monument. There is a false belief that we don’t have any skyscrapers because no building is supposed to be taller than the Washington Monument. However, it is the much less interesting Height of Buildings Act of 1910 that prevents DC developers from constructing any skyscrapers.
7. There are a lot of joggers
Washington DC is a pretty health-conscious city and a lot of people workout, either outside or at the gym. The National Mall is a magnet for joggers because honestly it’s a great place to run. It’s a big beautiful park with limited intersections and crossings, and it’s really safe!
Visiting Washington, DC and want to sign up for a guided tour?
When you visit Washington, DC you will probably get around the city differently than you do back home. Many visitors are accustomed to hopping in the car and driving to where they need to go. For visitors, don’t get that rental car at the airport! These are six Washington DC transportation options to get you around the city without one.
Washington, DC is a walking city. Many visitors set personal records on their Fitbits and Apple Watches because of how much they walk while they are here. The most important thing to pack for your trip to Washington is your the most comfortable pair of walking shoes. A lot of sites are quite close together. Also, it is such a cool experience to just walk around the city and see everything right in front of you. Rather than traveling around in a tube underground or from the backseat of a cab or an Uber. And the best thing about this Washington, DC transportation option is that it will never cost you anything!
2. Capital Bikeshare
If you’re more of a cyclist than a pedestrian, Capital Bikeshare is for you. Capital Bikeshare was one of the first bike sharing systems in North America. The pricing is set up in a way that the longer you keep the bike out the more it’s going to cost you. If you want a bike for going on a long distance ride or just a long joy ride around the city, It is recommend to use a regular rental bike from a place like Bike and Roll instead. Make sure to download the Capital Bikeshare app to check out bikes and find out where Capital Bikeshare stations are located.
Metro is one of the first things visitors think of when they think about Washington, DC transportation. Metro is often a great way to get around, but not always! The metro map is not to scale it sometimes looks like you need to hop on Metro to get from one place to another. In fact, for many spots downtown, walking would be quicker, simpler, cheaper, and easier. Make sure to check Citymapper or Google Maps before you get on Metro to make sure that it is actually the best option.
An often forgotten form of the DC transportation system is the bus. Most tourists at some point will get on a train and ride Metro, but far fewer will ever ride a bus. That’s too bad because often it’s a better option. In downtown DC, you’ll probably notice two types of buses: the Metrobus and Circulator.
Metrobus has longer routes that tend to be useful to locals. Circulator has shorter routes that serve popular tourist destinations like the National Mall, Georgetown, and Dupont Circle. The great thing about the Circulator right now is it costs less to ride than Metro or Metrobus.
5. Uber and Lyft
The process of hailing a ride has changed drastically over the past few years. Not long ago, the only way you could hire a ride was by going out in the street and hailing a cab. Tourists appreciated the convenience of taxis; however, at that time it was cash only and it was expensive. DC cabs also had a reputation of trying to rip people off.
Now with ride hailing apps like Uber and Lyft people are much more confident and comfortable hiring a ride because many have already done it back home. Using these apps or using a cab is a fine way to get around. Just do not assume that it’s the only way to get around. Over-reliance on Uber and Lyft is a phenomenon we have notice lately.
6. Water Taxi
This is probably the least known Washington, DC transportation option. When the Wharf opened in Southwest Washington in 2017 it included a major water taxi expansion. There are actually quite a few places located right on the water, including Georgetown, the National Mall, Southwest Waterfront, and the Navy Yard, and that’s just in DC. You can also take a boat south on the Potomac to get to Alexandria. The water taxi is a fun way to get down to Alexandria. If you want to make a short little day trip there.
Coming to town and want to sign up for a Washington, DC tour?
Washington, DC is a great family friendly travel destination! These are our five to tips and things to do in DC when you visit Washington, DC with kids.
1. National Zoo
The National Zoo is a fantastic place to bring a family. In addition to the pandas and the elephants, which are the fan favorites, there are some other really cool and often overlooked exhibits. The National Zoo has a farm just for kids, as well as the Amazon room which has some of the biggest fish you will ever see. The sea lions also often put on a great show for the children and there is also a splash pad where they can run around and have fun.
2. Take a duck tour or go out on a boat
DC Ducks is a tour of DC by both land and water. The tour uses an amphibious vehicle that drives around the National Mall and then it goes down to a marina. You get in the water and the tour shows you the sights from the river. Once you’re in the water, the captain will let the kids drive the boat and that’s a really fun feature.
For older kids, you can check out a kayak or canoe from the Georgetown or the Ballpark boathouses and see the sights from the water. There are no specific age rules about kids going out in a kayak or canoe, so if you think your kids can handle it and can fit into a life jacket, then go for it!
3. Take the kids to a museum
Washington, DC has a ton of museums and they’re almost all family-friendly. But some of them are definitely better for kids. One important thing to remember about these museums is that they are great educational opportunities. But They do require a lot of walking and a lot of reading. Kids tend to get worn out more quickly than the adults. A few of our favorites include:
National Postal Museum
Make sure to check out the underrated National Postal museum. It is rarely crowded and it’s off the National Mall – right next to Union Station They have one of the biggest and best stamp collections in the entire country. So, if your kid is a collector or you want to get them into a hobby, it is a great chance to show them what stamp collecting is like.
Museum of the American Indian
If you have small kids consider a museum that has a dedicated play space for children. Fortunately, there are a number of them in DC. The Museum of the American Indian has a great kids play area. Your kid can kayak, skateboard, and even build an igloo.
National Portrait Gallery
In the National Portrait Gallery, there is an exhibit now that’s hosted by a museum that is coming to DC student called Explore. Explore is going to be a dedicated Children’s Museum in DC when it opens. This little exhibit, for now, showcases what their museum will be about.
The Kogod Courtyard is great for kids as well. This is located between the Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum. This gallery has a little water feature and it has coffee to keep the parents energized. So, it is the perfect place to sit let your kids run around, relax and enjoy a beverage.
4. Spray parks and splash paths
These are particularly good in the summer months. When it gets really hot and you just want to go someplace cool down take your kids and let them run around in one of these. DC has so many spray parks. Although, there are some that are definitely better than others. For out-of-town guests and residents alike, we recommend the Yards Park. There is a shallow wading pool and a waterfall as well as small fountains for the younger kids.
5. Places to eat with kids
Washington, DC has such a huge diversity of restaurants that there is something for everybody. However, you don’t want to take your kids to expensive restaurants with white tablecloths. And you probably don’t want to be stuck eating pizza and hamburgers all week either. We have two recommendations for more unique foods that are great for kids.
DC has a huge Ethiopian population and as a result a ton of Ethiopian restaurants. The reason these restaurants are kid friendly is because you eat with your hands and everybody gets a little messy. Kids will find it fun and adults will also love that they are traveling to new culture without leaving the country. That is a great opportunity to introduce your kids to a new cuisine, especially if you don’t have Ethiopian food back home.
Ramen is great as well. No, we are not talking about those cheap packets you may remember from college. A great ramen restaurant is called Bantam King. Ramen is great for kids because it’s noodles and kids love noodles! Ramen is also a big foody trend right now.
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The Washington DC Metro may seem complicated to Washington, DC visitors. However, it is actually quite simple once you get the hang of it.
How do Washington DC metro fares work?
The Washington DC Metro seems like a really confusing fare system. What you pay depends on how far you travel and whether it’s peak time or not. The longer the distance, the higher the fare. Peak periods roughly coincides with rush hour. It’s from open to 9:30 in the morning and 3:00 to 7:00 in the afternoon every weekday. And it’s worth noting that this applies to when you tap into the system, not when you tap out. This is often why you’ll see people standing around at 6:55 in the afternoon.
For example, say you’re starting at Metro Center during an off-peak hour and riding the Silver Line towards Virginia. If you ride one stop to McPherson Square you’ll pay the minimum fare: $2.00. In fact you can ride as far as Rosslyn and still only pay the minimum fare. Then the fare starts increasing, $2.10 for Court House, $2.25 for Clarendon, and it keeps going up until you hit the maximum fare of $3.85 at McLean. So, you can go all the way to the end of the line for $3.85.
But of course that’s only during off-peak hours. If you ride during peak hours then the price goes up across the board, as high as $6.00 if you ride all the way to Wiehle–Reston East. It’s a good idea to avoid peak hours if you can. However, it is understandable that they make up about 40% of a total weekday. So, it’s not always completely reasonable to avoid them entirely.
Should I buy a 1-day or 7-day Washington, DC Metro pass?
For a typical tourist using the Washington DC Metro, your options in 2018 are: a 1-day pass for $14.75, a 7-day unlimited pass for $60.00, and a seven-day short ride pass for $38.50. The short ride pass only covers you for rides of up to $3.85 each (which is basically all non-peak fares and short peak fares).
So unfortunately, there is no universal answer to this question and you need to evaluate your own situation, figure out how many days are going to spend in DC, and how often you’re going to be planning on riding Metro.
The 1-day pass is almost never a good deal for anybody. But the 7-day pass could be a good deal if you are going to spend a decent amount of time in town and you’re going to be riding the Metro at least twice every day. Otherwise, it’s just easier to pay per ride and top up your SmarTrip card as you need to.
Should I order my SmarTrip card online before my trip?
The answer to this one is “no” with a few exceptions. In the past, you could only buy SmarTrip cards at a limited number of Washington DC Metro stations, from a limited number of vending machines ,or you had to go to a place like CVS to get one. It was a real pain.
Now, you can get a SmarTrip card at any Metro station so the transnational pain is mostly gone. If you buy a SmarTrip card online, you have to order it far enough in advance to make sure that you receive it before you leave for your trip. However,if you buy it too far in advance and then forget that you have it and don’t pack it, then you basically just bought an expensive souvenir.
There are a few exceptions. The first is if you want a commemorative SmarTrip card. They have these, for example, for the inauguration every four years, when a new museum opens and for our sports teams.
The other exception is if you want to use it to ride the bus but don’t really think you’re going to be riding the Metro. So for example if you want to ride the MetroBus from Dulles airport or BWI, and you don’t want to mess around with cash, then, you could order your SmarTrip online and have it loaded up and ready to go.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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!
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Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation's Capital.
Everyone wants to get the most out of travel experience; we know that planning a trip can be fun but sometimes stressful. The tips and travel hacks offered here will help you make the most of your trip and avoid missing out on the best things the city has to offer. Our trip planning e-book is the perfect resource for every first-time Washington, DC visitor.
If you're looking for a guided experience once you arrive, Trip Hacks DC specializes in private tours; but has public tours options as well. Visit the Guided Tours section to learn about some of the suggested tours and the trip planning resources section for help preparing for your trip. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions!