Quick Guide to All Things Washington D.C.

While New York City is the city that never sleeps Washington D.C. is the city that never stops. There are always events, festivals, and shows happening throughout the 68-mile radius. While it is only 68 miles in total, it feels so much bigger. Read my travel guide to Washington D.C. for everything you simply cannot miss while visiting this eclectic and historic metropolitan city. Next thing you know you will be navigating D.C. with a breeze. 

Museums & Monuments

Museums 

Every travel guide to Washington D.C. must include the famous museums and monuments. The museums in D.C. are massive. Millions of visitors come to enjoy the world-class exhibits. Additionally, almost all of the museums in Washington D.C. are free to the public. 

Opening November 17, 2017, the Bible Museum is one of the newest large museums in Washington D.C. The museum’s location is couple of blocks from the National Mall. It takes visitors through the life of the religious leader Jesus of Nazareth and the impact Christianity has had on the world throughout the centuries.

Illuminated manuscripts are on display were my favorite to admire. These handmade manuscripts are texts of scripture painted with gold and silver and even though made in c. 500-c. 1600 CE they are still vibrant in color and brilliance. Since illuminated manuscripts included pictures they were used for visual tools during church services during the middle ages. Creating a manuscript took long hours to complete and symbolized a sign of spiritual devotion.

There are a total of six floors in the Bible Museum all containing different exhibits on the bible. When making your way through the museum don’t miss the rooftop garden and cafe. It has excellent views of the Capital building and skyline.

The Bible Museum
My Mom reading the Bible verses attached to each plant

The National Gallery of Art collects, preserves, and displays works of world-wide artwork throughout the centuries. Including paintings, sculptures, and more. Once inside it is easy to get lost. Pick up a map. Start at the Rotunda, turn left or right. After that, make your way through room after room of artwork. If there is a particular era you are dying to see go there first. The map will give you instructions on where pieces are depending on the time and style.

It is almost impossible to see everything in this museum in one day. As a result, be sure to see your favorite art first. The guards at each doorway are not simply there to tell you that you are getting a little too close to a priceless painting. They are helpful and knowledgable about the art on display. Feel free to ask one of them about which painting you are looking for and they will be glad to help.

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  • National Gallery of Art (West)

The National Gallery of Art West Wing is the building right next to the National Gallery of Art East Wing. They connect through an underground tunnel that sparkles with rotating twinkle lights. The West Wing displays modern art. As soon as I walk in I realized the whole building is a work of art. The building has spacious high ceilings, stairwell angles cut with precision, and glowing with natural light.

If you grew up dreaming of outer space and watching ‘Twilight Zone’, then the Air and Space Smithsonian Museum is for you. Large planes hang from the ceiling. I crane my neck to get a good look at them. The Air and Space Museum highlights all things NASA, space, and airplanes. As a North Carolina native I always check out the ‘First in Flight’ exhibit highlighting Orville and Wilber Wright. Don’t miss the Apollo 11 collection along with the aerial camera exhibits. 

National Air and Space Museum

The National Museum of American Indian takes visitors throughout the life and history of the Native American people. There are four floors and most of the exhibits are packed with information. Like many other museums in D.C. most of the exhibits are traveling and constantly changing. The one exhibit that doesn’t change is entitled “American”, and I highly recommend you not miss it. This display highlights Thanksgiving, Pocahontas, and the Indian Removal Act. It is truly eye opening to the life of an American Indian. 

Museum of Natural History

The Natural History Museum offers exhibits giving a glimpse into the world of science. Young children’s eyes grow wide over the 36-foot long squid, sparkling diamonds, and life-size skeletons of dinosaurs. I recommend first stopping by the Oceans exhibits to see the squid. Next, see the dinosaurs bones and finish off the trip by seeing the hope diamond on the 2nd floor. 

  • The Hillwood Museum 

The Hillwood Museum is Washington D.C.’s hidden gem. I heard about the museum from a local art fanatic who was gracious enough to share his secret spots with me. If you want to make your visit unique you must make a stop by The Hillwood Museum. Especially if you enjoy Russian art.

Monuments 

  • Washington Monument

The Washington Monument, the pinnacle of Washington D.C., was once the tallest building in the world. While other buildings have since surpassed the monument it stands as a historic reminder of the famous first President George Washington.

  • Abraham Lincoln Memorial

The Abraham Lincoln Memorial is an icon of Washington D.C. honoring the fifth president of the United States. Lincoln’s reign of presidency was during the emancipation proclamation, and he is regarded as the president to help end slavery.

  • Korean War Memorial

The Korean War was fought June 25, 1950 – July 27, 1953 between North and South Korea. The U.S. aided South Korea and sent troops over to help fight. Thousands of American soilders were lost. The Korean War Memorial honors all the soldiers who fought honorably and surrendered their life for the military.

  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Thomas Jefferson is another former president of the United States honored by a memorial. He was the third president of the United States and is most famous for writing the Declaration of Independence and being one of the Founding Fathers of America.

  • Martin Luther King Memorial

The Martin Luther King memorial is across the lake from the Thomas Jefferson memorial. This is one of the newest memorials to be place in Washington D.C. Martin Luther King is famous for his work during the Civil Rights Movement from 1955 until his assassination in 1968. He was an activist, Christian minister, and a motivational speaker. His most famous speech “I have a dream” given on the steps of Abraham Lincoln Memorial.

  • Vietnam Memorial

Many Americans tragically remember the Vietnam War fought during the years 1955-1975. The memorial was built in 1982 in honor of those who lost their lives during the Vietnam War. 

Can’t-Miss Museums & Monuments in Washington D.C.

Seasonal Events & Concerts

Summer 

  • Friday night Jazz in the Garden during summer months

Jazz in the Gardens is full of life and movement. Bands entertain guests as they sit on the grassy lawn sipping sangria and beer. Couples dance and sway to the sound of a buttery saxophone, and everyone is having a good time.

There is no better place to be on the Fourth of July than Washington D.C. Read my guide to a Fourth of July celebration here.

The Fourth of July Washington D.C.
Fourth of July at The National Archives
  • Summer Solstice

During the year all museums close at 5 PM, which never feels like enough time. During Summer Solstice the museums are open until midnight, allowing for much more time to observe every exhibit. It is a tradition that marks the beginning of summer celebrations.

  • Smithsonian Folklife Festival

During the summer there is a consistent number of festivals and festivities, but one you don’t want to miss is the Folklife Festival.

Fall 

  • Around the World Cultural Food Festival – August 29th

Residents of Washington D.C. come from all backgrounds and ethnicity’s, so it is no surprise that it would be the ideal city to host a cultural food festival. In fact, most people aren’t from D.C. It is practically a melting pot of cultures and hot spot for ethnic eateries and cultural inclusion.

  • DC State Fair September 8th

It seems like every State in the United States has a State Fair. Although Washington D.C. is not a State they have a state fair nonetheless. At the DC State Fair attendees can taste fair foods and pet the wild animals.

Winter

  • Enchant Christmas at Nationals Park

Of course, there are Christmas festivities happening all over the country in the month of December. Celebrate the holiday season at Enchant Christmas. 

  • Ice Skating at the Watergate Hotel

The infamous Watergate Hotel is also known as where the watergate scandal happened during the reign of President Nixon. However, scandal aside, the hotel is illustrious and located near waterfront Georgetown. During the winter an ice pond is created outside the hotel for guest and visitors to enjoy.

Spring 

  • Cherry Blossom Festival March 20-April 12th 

Arriving late April is a special time for a visit to Washington D.C. Cherry Blossom trees were given to America by the Japeanse as a peace offering. Never has peace looked so pretty in pink. The best view of the cherry blossom trees is near the Washington Monument. During the Cherry Blossom Festival there are events happening non-stop and it is one of the busiest times to be in Washington D.C., so be sure to book tickets far in advance. 

Year-round 

  • Concerts at Kennedy Center

Concerts at the Kennedy Center happen weekly. Films, theatrical performances, and operas are enjoyed at the Kennedy Center. Events change weekly so look who is performing when you will be in town. 

  • Meetups

Online Meetups is a great way to network, make new friends, and establish connections. I went to several events through the site for personal and professional outings.  

Markets

  • FRESHFARM Market

FreshFarm Markets come to several locations and sell local produce. Often times vendors will drive several hours to deliver fresh food into the heart of the city. Honey, vegetables, and flowers can all be purchased.

  • The Union Market

The Union Market is a modern marketplace with a variety of restaurants and a few small boutiques. At the Union Market 30+ businesses flourish by the increasing number of eaters hoping to taste something new.  It is open 8AM- 8PM most days of the week with the exception of Thursday-Saturday when it stay open and extra hour for late night visitors. 

  • The Eastern Market

The Eastern Market happens on Sunday, but both vendors and shoppers wish it could be help every day of the week. At the market homemade soap, jewelry, and fresh produce are sold. During my time living in Washington D.C. I went to the Eastern Market every Sunday for a late lunch after church.

Eastern Market Washington D.C.
Eastern Market

Rooftop bars

Officina is an Italian Restaurant and Market that overlooks the waterfront at The Wharf. I order an Aperol Spritz and enjoy the rooftop views with friends while boats whiz down the potamic.

POV is serves seafood, burgers, and craft cocktails, but what makes this bar so unique is the views. We wait in a long line in the lobby of the W Hotel. The hotel is extravagant and glamours. The line moves quickly and soon my friends and I are put on an elevator allowing only 9 people in at a time. When we arrive at the top they checked my ID and we smushed our way to the bar. That is when I saw it. We were right next to the White House. POV is the only place where you can look at the backyard of the President while sipping on a cocktail. The drinks are overpriced but the view isn’t.

Art & Culture

  • The Blind Whino

The Blind Whino is a cultural house and historic landmark. The building stood as a church when it was originally built in 1886. Then it was known as Friendship Baptist Church. After the mid-century urban renewal project, most buildings in the neighborhood were torn down, except for the church. Now it stands as a symbol of the neighborhood’s roots, which is predominately African American. Events, art shows, and even weddings happen at the Blind Whino.

  • Phillips Art Gallery

The Phillips Art Gallery is where locals go for viewing art. When conversing with an art fanatic who had lived in D.C. for many years he suggested the Phillips Art Gallery.

Politics and Prose is an independent bookstore and cultural hub for authors, writers, classes, and events. Often times there are famous speakers offering intellectual talks and lectures. 

  • Take a photography tour around the city

Capture you memories and get some stellar pictures by going on a photographic tour of the city. This could be self-guided or taken by a guide. Either way be sure to get as many pictures and memories as you can. As a photographer I highly encourage this. While I lived in D.C. I met up with several other photographers and shot images all over the city.

  • The Wharf

The Wharf is a new waterfront marketplace about a ten minute walk away from the National Mall. Rooftop bars, boats around the marina, and up-and-coming restaurants are what make The Wharf a hot spot.

  • Free networking events

I attended an event held by POLITICO focusing on empowering women in the workplace. A former U.S. Ambassador is the main speaker, and the wine and appetizers grandeur. In other cities, I could easily pay $30+ for networking events, which can add up quickly. This event and many others like it happen all over D.C. daily and are open and available for the public to take advantage of them.

  • Listen to a speaker at the Capitol Building

Most events in Washington D.C. are open to the public. If you are interested in hearing about the presentation of upcoming legislation and governmental proposals the Capital has hearing you can sit in on.

Unique Finds

  • Get a library card at the Library of Congress

Located in the lower level of the Library of Congress there is a station for anyone to obtain a library card for the Library of Congress. This will allow you access to the gorgeous area where all the book is stored. Without the card, this area is restricted. Additionally, this isn’t on every tourist’s agenda lines are short and the process is quick.

Library of Congress - Guide to Washington D.C.
Stairwell and ceilings in the Library of Congress
  • Kayak down the Potomac river 

While living in Washington D.C. I worked in Georgetown. Every morning as I was walking to work I passed by the Georgetown riverfront. While walking I see kayakers enjoying a morning row. The water on the Potomac River is calm and smooth perfect for a nice kayak ride, and there are several places you can rent kayaks or canoes nearby.

Tours & tourism

  • Walking tour of monuments at night

There is an element of wonder when viewing the monuments at night. Standing at Abraham Lincoln Memorial looking over the reflection pool to the Washington Monument has an ere of reference and honor that cannot be felt during the daytime.

  • Shopping and dining in Georgetown

Georgetown is the place for shopping and dining. There are leading retailers and boutiques to shop at, and plenty of top-notch restaurants in the area. 

Spots not to miss:

    • Georgetown Park 
    • The Washington Harbor 
    • Georgetown Shops 

Food to eat

Chia – 3207 Grace St., NW

Chia specializes in vegetarian tacos.

Falafel – 1210 Potomac St., NW

Falafel is a fan-favorite in the area. These delicious quick and easy falafel sandwiches are no fuss.

Martin’s Tavern- 1264 Wisconsin Ave., NW

The biggest draw to Martin’s Tavern is it is the location of where the former President John. F. Kennedy  proposed to his future wife Jackie.

Baked & Wired- 1052 Thomas Jefferson St., NW

You never know what you are getting with Baked & Wired. Each day their menu differs from the day before.

Georgetown Cupcakes- 3301 M St NW, Washington, DC 20007

Georgetown Cupcakes is a gourmet cupcake shop famous for being featured on a TLC reality show. Although some cake shops don’t live up to their fame Georgetown Cupcakes lived up to the hype. The cupcakes are just that good. The creamy icing and decedent cake made it the perfect afternoon treat.

Public transportation

Transportation in Washington D.C. is simpler than I expected. I was not familiar with how public transportation worked until I found myself in D.C. and in need of getting to another destination. Don’t be alarmed. Although it may be new to you, mobility in a large city isn’t complex. I might even argue it is easier and smoother than how I got around in the own personal vehicle while living in North Carolina.

The Metro is not as daunting as I expected. After the first week of living in D.C. I knew how to navigate my way around the metro entirely on my own. By riding the Metro you can be in another state within a matter of minutes. 

metromap Washington D.C. travel guide
Metro Map Washington D.C.

Public Transportation in Washington D.C.

The DC Circulator is a free bus that goes around several neighborhoods in Washington D.C. including Georgetown, National Mall, and Foggy Bottom. The Circulator only became free in the last year in attempts to help improve public transportation for lower-income individuals.

  • Uber & Lyft

Uber and Lyft are the quick new way to get around the city with just the click of a button.  They are the more expensive and luxurious alternative to riding the Subway. Be aware that taking Ubers or Lyfts can be dangerous. Uber released the data for the number of sexual assaults reported by a driver or rider and it is alarming. While most of the time of road around in confidence, after this information was released I never get into a car without the preparation of jumping out. It is sad we live in a world where human rights are violated but always be on guard when riding an Uber alone. Better yet, don’t ride one alone.

Thrift Shops

Current Boutique was an accidental find. One day I was waiting to a friend at Ted Bulletins and walked into this store across the street. Inside I found an array of unique and eclectic fashion pieces. The Current Boutique offers a selection of clothes that you won’t find anywhere else.

Reddz Trading is a resale clothing store for both men and women. Reddz Trading is a great place for people who love to help the environment by purchasing gently used clothing or for people who are hoping to clean out their closet and sell some clothing. The Reddz Trading I visited was in Georgetown, but there are two other locations.

Where to Stay

Knowing where to book a hotel is a crucial selection I must have skimmed over when reading another travel guide to Washington D.C., but don’t do that. Booking the wrong location could mean a long commute to the main attractions or worse an unsafe part of town.

  • Dupont Circle

Dupont Circle is the lunch place. There are numerous eateries around the circle. When staying there you won’t have to worry about finding grub. I stayed at a local Airbnb overnight, and I found a place to dine within five minutes walking distance.

  • Foggy Bottom

Foggy Bottom is another neighborhood in D.C. about a thirty minute walk from the Abraham Lincoln Memorial. 

  • Georgetown

Georgetown is an adorable town. You can shop in the town, enjoy coffee shops, and dine on the waterfront. While staying in Georgetown is pricier the area is regal. The townhouses in Georgetown are charming and quaint.

  • Chinatown

Several years ago Chinatown was the less expensive area to stay in, but over the years it has become increasingly popular as well and prices have risen. Chinatown is fairly close to everything as well. It is about a thirty minute walk and fifteen minute metro ride to the National Mall.

  • Navy Yard

The Navy Yard is the district where is oldest shore of the U.S. Navy is located. Additionally, the Navy Yard is destination for Nationals Park Major League Baseball Stadium. While the Navy Yard is the place to go for sports bars and beer gardens it is a very safe neighborhood to walk around in during the day.

  • Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill is where history happens. While staying at the Liaison near I slept a block away from the Capitol building and two blocks away from Union Station.

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  • Anacostia

Anacostia got it’s name from the Anacostia river. It is a historic neighborhood in D.C., but don’t let that charming title fool you Anacostia’s crime rate is 109% higher than the national average. Statistically in Anacostia you have a 1 in 19 chance of becoming a victim of crime. Although there are decent parts I would avoid Anacostia at all costs.

  • Friendship Heights

Friendship Heights is a commercial and urban residential neighborhood in Washington D.C. located a little further away from the bustle of the city. Friendship Heights is one of the safer neighborhoods of Washington D.C. and is about a twenty minute metro ride from the National Mall. Additionally, Friendship Heights has bistros, bars, and restaurants to try in the surrounding area.

  • Tenleytown

Tenleytown is a pleasant neighborhood for those who can’t pay premium prices for residency. It is further away from Washington D.C.’s most popular attractions. American University and the Washington National Cathedral are a close by Tenleytown, but everything else is a few metro rides away from this part of town.

  • Capital Heights

Capitol Heights is another neighborhood, like Ancostia, I would avoid spending excess time in. The metro stations in Capitol Heights are not safe. Although the crime rates are relatively low after chatting with locals I learned that Capitol Heights is one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in town. Unfortunately, Capital Heights is where the cheapest hotels and Airbnbs are, but I would pay a little bit of extra money and stay somewhere nicer.

Where to Stay in Washington D.C. & How to Avoid My Mistakes

Architecture & Skylines 

Washington D.C. is one of the first planned cities in America and is layered with beautifully crafted buildings and monuments.

  • Ride the elevator to the old post office/ clock towers rooftop

One of the best ways to view the skyline of a city is to make it to high ground. The Old Post Office/ Clock Tower attached to the Trump International Hotel is a great way to see these views. Walking around the Trump International Hotel find Starbucks. After that, there is a small door to the left of Starbucks. This door will take you down a hallway leading to the elevator you will take. After the first few floors, we switched to another elevator that took us to the top for ideal areal views of the city below. The rooftop also provides maps so you can figure out which rooftop belongs to each famous building. The National Parks employees were exceptionally kind and helpful if you were to have any questions.

Archway in Washington D.C. - travel guide to Washington D.C.

History 

To say Washington D.C. is rich in history is an understatement. It is the foundational city of the United States of America.

  • Apply to visit the White House through your States Representative

Visiting the White House isn’t as easy as walking up to the door. You have to plan your visit ahead of time and book a schedule through your State Representative. More than ever before there is security in the White House, and especially in the summer months tours are booked far off in advance. On a tour, you will go through the main house.

  • Read the original copy of the Declaration of Independence – National Archives

The Declaration of Independence is housed in the National Archives along with the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Magna Carta.

The Declaration of Independence is fading. When I saw it five years ago the ink wasn’t as faint as it is today. If you want to see the Declaration of Independence while it is still legible, now is the time to go. In a few years, the ink will probably fade completely.

Thomas Jefferson’s large book collection is on display on the upper level at the Library of Congress. Additionally, there are several rotating displays and exhibits in the area next to the library. You won’t want to miss those either.

  • Old Stone House

The Old Stone House is the oldest standing structure in DC. All history buffs will understand the significance of this tiny home in the middle of bustling Georgetown. This home allows us a sneak peek of what homestead life in colonial times was like.

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Washington D.C. has a unique mix between business and play. It is an atmosphere where historic events and nightlife fun can happen feet from one another. This travel guide to Washington D.C.  includes some of my favorite aspects of city, but if there is anything I missed feel free to email me or leave in the comments below.

I hope you find this travel guide to Washington D.C. helpful and enjoy the city as much as I do.

 

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