6 Common DC Myths and Misconceptions

Most visitors from around the world see Washington, DC in TV and movies long before they step foot in the capital city. Since we meet so many visitors, tour guides hear a lot of DC myths and misconceptions. Here are six DC myths we’d like to put to rest.

Misconceptions about Washington DC

1. DC is just a bunch of government buildings.

This one couldn’t be further from the truth. Typically I hear this one when someone has just arrived into town and hasn’t ventured out past the National Mall yet.

Washington, DC is the seat of the U.S. government, so of course there are a lot of government buildings, but there are a lot of other things, too! Even downtown you’ll find plenty of hotels, restaurants, and private office buildings. 

I do recommend checking out some DC’s many neighborhoods, because you’ll get to see lots of things beyond the big government buildings. 

And since we’re on the topic of buildings, one DC myth straight out of Hollywood is that…

2. We all hang out at the Lincoln Memorial.

This one is pretty funny. In so many movies that are set in DC, there is at least one scene when the characters are hanging out at the Lincoln Memorial.

Now, tour guides like me go to the Lincoln Memorial all the time, but from the movies you would think we go there to drink our morning coffee or hang out with friends after work.

And while it is a cool spot to spend a few minutes on a nice day, we just don’t really go there all the time.

Speaking of nice days, another misconception is that…

3. DC weather is always nice.

Of all the DC myths, this is the one I take most personally. I honestly have no idea where this misconception comes from. Maybe it’s the fact that the most famous photos of DC are taken during cherry blossom season. Or at night.

Then again, maybe photographers just don’t take pictures of people sweating through their third shirt of the day in DC summer humidity.

Now, that’s not to say that DC never has nice weather. It’s just that it’s not consistently nice in the way that a city like San Diego is.

Washington, DC—like most places in the Mid-Atlantic region—has four distinct seasons. This means that depending on when you visit, you’ll either need to pack a coat or a lot of sunscreen. We have some spectacularly nice days in the spring and the fall, but the summer is reliably hot and humid.

There’s a lot to say on this topic, but if you’re looking to learn more, the Trip Hacks DC podcast already sat down with one of DC’s best meteorologists. It will give you the fullest picture of weather in DC.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s July and I need to go take my fourth shower of the day…

4. Everyone works in politics or government (or is a lawyer / lobbyist).

You could make these kinds of generalizations about just about any place and usually they’re not true. For example, everyone in Los Angeles is a Hollywood actor. Or everyone who lives in Iowa is a corn farmer. Or everyone in Houston is an oil baron. Obviously, all of these places have a diverse array of people who work all kinds of jobs.

In fact, when you visit DC, you will probably not interact with people who work in politics, law, or lobbying. You’ll mostly come across people in the service sector: your hotel staff, restaurant servers, and tour guides. 

Really the only time you’ll probably interact with someone who works in politics is if you sign up for a Capitol tour and it’s led by one of your Congress member’s interns.

Speaking of DC myths and politics…

5. We see the President all the time.

The reality is that once a president is in office, we almost never see him again. This is partly for security reasons, partly just because his schedule is packed. I got to see him exactly once: on the White House lawn when the Nationals won the World Series—and from such a distance that it was hard to even see him.

Washingtonians may have seen presidents in their hometown, but usually it’s when they were just candidates and on the campaign trail. 

And as far as campaigning for reelection, DC isn’t considered a “swing state,” so the President never really campaigns here in the city. 

So, if you’re looking to see the President in real life, your chances are actually much better if you live in Florida or Michigan than in the nation’s capital. 

Another related DC myth is that… 

6. DC is crazy on election day. 

Again, because there’s not much campaigning here, it’s really not crazy at all. It’s actually a pretty chill day. 

We go out and vote—for president if it’s a presidential year, but also for city council, school board, and any local issues that are on the ballot. Election night parties are also typically held in the city that the election winner calls their home. Not here in DC.

But while election day itself is pretty low-key, Inauguration Day in January is another story for another article.

About Trip Hacks DC

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!

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