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What to Do in Washington DC (local’s tips_

Looking for advice on what to do in Washington DC? As part of our city guides series, we interviewed local DC resident Matt Long.

Matt shares with us his insider tips on things to do in Washington D.C. plus advice on where to eat, sleep, drink and explore.

What to do in Washington DC

Must See Monuments and Museums in Washington D.C.

DC is a city of great museums and monuments and it’s hard to go wrong.

Some of my favorites include; Udvar-Hazy extension of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, National Building Museum, Newseum and the International Spy Museum.

Another great thing about visiting DC is that all of the Smithsonian Institution museums (including the zoo) are free!

Newseum and the International Spy Museum are included in the Washington D.C. Sightseeing Pass, which will save you money on Washington D.C’s top attractions. See what else is included here.

Best Neighbourhood to Explore in Washington DC

Georgetown - Washington DC

A great area many tourists miss is Georgetown, because there’s no metro access. But this historic neighborhood is the most posh in the city, with stunning homes, great restaurants and the best shopping in town.

Getting Around DC

The metro is great for getting around town quickly and easily. I personally think it’s easy to understand, but I’m biased.

Parts of DC are walkable, but not all of course. The main tourist area around the National Mall is easy to navigate, but can be grueling on a hot summer’s day.

Where to Eat in DC

Washington DC food trucks
Food truck heaven

After years of suffering, DC is finally becoming a foodie town! Some of my favorite lower cost restaurants include; Good Stuff Eatery, We The Pizza, Ben’s Chili Bowl and Moby Dick House of Kabob.

On the higher end of the scale my picks are; Citronelle, Inn at Little Washington, Minibar, Vidalia and Bistro Bis.

Where to Drink in DC

For the best beer selection in town RFD Washington in Chinatown has everyone beat; they feature thousands of breweries from around the world.

Best Place to Drink with the Locals in Washington D.C.

Since DC is a political town, there’s no shortage of watering holes. To rub elbows with Congressional types, head to Hawk and Dove or The Capitol Lounge on Capitol Hill.

Best Area for a Night on the Town in Washington D.C.

Without a doubt it’s Dupont Circle, a mix of young Bohemians and polished professionals, there’s an abundance of restaurants, bars and clubs in this active neighborhood.

Where to Stay in DC

For the ultra-budget traveler, there are hostels in DC of course, but my advice for the moderate budget traveler is to stay outside of the District.

Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia is on the metro and a quick ride from the city. Because it’s not in DC though, the hotels tend to be less expensive.

Given the number of high-ranking officials who visit from around the world, there are plenty of high-end hotels:

For more places to stay in Washington DC choose from the largest range of hotels, apartments, and guesthouses with our partner You get free cancelation on most rooms, and in most cases you only pay when you stay.

Markets & Shopping in Washington D.C.

Locals all know and love Eastern Market, a DC institution. Built in 1873, Eastern Market was in continuous operation until 2007, when a devastating fire closed the
historic structure until it reopened in 2009.

Located just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol, during the week the market offers fantastic fresh meats, cheeses, and produce from a variety of local farmers and vendors.

It is on the weekends though that Eastern Market explodes into a frenzy of food and art. Every Saturday and Sunday vendors from all over the Mid-Atlantic descend on Washington to sell their arts and crafts, antiques, and food. It can get quite busy, so be sure to visit early.

Events & Festivals in Washington D.C.

Since we’re the capital city, there are always major events and festivals going on, but my favorite is the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This annual festival is a two-week international exposition of living cultural heritage and provided free of charge on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The always changing Festival overlaps with the Fourth of July celebrations and together the events showcase Washington at its best.

Favorite Side Trip from Washington D.C.

One of my favorite day trips is to nearby Mount Vernon, the George Washington estate. (entry included in the Sightseeing Pass)

It’s a beautiful property right on the Potomac and they’ve done a great job making the experience interesting and fun for everyone who visits.

For an overnight escape, Maryland’s Eastern Shore is only a couple of hours away. The Eastern Shore sits on the Chesapeake Bay and the many small towns lining this historic part of the state are fun to explore.

Best Time of Year to Visit DC

Abraham Lincoln Memorial - Washington DC
Abraham Lincoln Memorial

Fall is my favorite time in DC.

The weather is comfortable, many tourists have gone home and you can enjoy the city in a less-harried way. DC in the middle of summer is like walking through hell, avoid it if you can.

Getting There and Away

DC is lucky to be serviced by three major airports, although Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is the most convenient. Southwest Airlines has a growing presence, but there’s not a strong budget airline in the area.

Train and bus are both extremely easy to take from New York or Philadelphia. Bolt Bus and Megabus both run frequently and feature some cool onboard amenities.

Best “insiders’ Tip for D.C.

Even though it’s located outside of DC, near Dulles Airport, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is one of my favorite area attractions. Founded in 1966 as the result of a gift of 100 acres of Northern Virginia farmland, Wolf Trap is the only National Park in the United States devoted to the performing arts.

This massive facility offers year-round programming through the Barns at Wolf Trap and the Filene Center. The best time to visit is in the summer when a variety of acts, from Bill Cosby to Chicago, all perform onstage at the Filene Center.

The least expensive tickets at the Filene Center are, in my opinion, the most enjoyable – the lawn seats. Over the years, patrons have made lawn seating a tailgating event, bringing elaborate picnics to enjoy before the evening shows.

I Love DC because …

The White House - Washington DC

It’s a big city that doesn’t seem like it.

We don’t have skyscrapers and Washington doesn’t feel like a concrete jungle. Instead, we have amazing historic buildings, lots of green space and neighborhoods that have tremendous character.

Read More posts on things to do in Washington D.C.

Plan Your Trip to Washington DC

We’ve been traveling consistently for 17 years and have come to rely on a few trusted websites that save us money and time when booking accommodation, flights, and car rental. Below are our preferred partners:

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Flights to Washington D.C.

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).

Car Rental in Washington D.C.

  • is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.

BIO – Matt Long, travel writer, blogger and photographer of, one of the top blogs in the world. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook

Do you have any tips on what to do in Washington DC?

Share in the comments below.

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18 thoughts on “What to Do in Washington DC (local’s tips_”

  1. Didn’t realised there was so much to see in DC. I was in New York for my honeymoon in September and loved it, thinking of going back to the states and might include DC on a trip. Thanks for the post.

  2. I think Washington DC is a great town to visit. Good to get a local’s take on some of the best things to see and do there. Totally agree with Matt’s recommendation about Mount Vernon as a side trip, too.

  3. Great Article. I also live in DC and these are some wonderful tips. I would add that U street is a great area to go out in for Drinks/ Dinner -plus there is some unique shopping ther during the day.

    For cheap accomidations I would also take a look at Rosslyn in Arlington. You can take a $5 bus strait there from Dulles International Airport and it’s on two metro lines – both blue and orange (the same line as the Smithsonian stop. Plus its walking distance to Georgetown.

    Good luck getting a reservation at Minibar πŸ™‚

  4. Elizabeth, Great recommendation thank you! And you’re right about Minibar, but so worth it if you can snag a reservation. πŸ™‚

  5. Nice post. It inspired me to get back to DC. I live less than three hours away, but havn’t been there for a few years. My tip would be to use public transportation, like the MARC train, to get into the city. During the the summer, especially on weekends, traffic can be horrible.

  6. My boyfriend and I moved to DC in July 2010 after we graduated. It truly is a great city with tons of free attractions/shows etc. The Kennedy center has free shows every day of the year at 6pm – usually these are music based performances but just a little while ago they had a circus themed week. Also the Topaz Hotel by Dupont Circle has a free comedy show every Thursday at 8pm – they let newbies perform along with more established comedians – it’s a great show!

  7. Also, a lot of tourists go to see the monuments during the day, I personally prefer night. Especially for the Lincoln, Jefferson and Vietnam.

  8. I just love Washington D.C. I try to go there at least once a year. The monuments and museums are great to see, but there is so much more to do there. The city has its own culture and history. Every time I go I see something new.

  9. We visited DC for a week in 2006 for our honeymoon. We decided to go back for a week in 2007 and a week in 2008 just so we could experience everything. There really is a lot do do and see! We stayed in Adams Morgan the first time, just outside of Georgetown the second time, and in Arlington the third time. We took the Metro every time and it is SUPER easy to figure out! We visited museums, Arlington cemetery, did a ride along with the Metro Police, etc. It was just a blast every time we went! Another great side trip is walking around Alexandria, VA. Beautiful city and beautiful old homes! DC is definitely underrated as a vacation spot!

  10. Great guide to DC, even two years later! I’m taking a weekend trip there this upcoming weekend and was looking for some last minute trips. I’m definitely going to try a few of your food and drink suggestions (especially the chili bowl). I’ve thought about moving to DC for a few years and this weekend will be the true test of whether or not it’s really an option. I love what you say about it being a big city but not feeling like it. Exactly what I need. Thank you!

  11. Explorers will stop by a portion of the free and delightful patio nurseries that we have in Washington, DC. Simply outside the Smithsonian there are a portion of the loveliest regions in the city. The U.S. Botanic Garden is a short distance from the historical centers.

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