Visiting Washington DC: 7 things that Surprise Visitors

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.

Things that Surprise Visitors to 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?

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.

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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