Sangeeta Kocharekar

If you’re heading to the US and haven’t thought about adding Washington, DC to the itinerary, you really should. Once a place attractive only to history buffs or budding politicians, in the last decade or so, the American capital city has risen from that niche to emerge as a hip and happening metropolis.

The District or ‘DC’ as the locals call it now has shiny new neighbourhoods with trendy restaurants, bars and shopping precinct alongside its well-preserved historic areas. In the summer, on any given night of the week, you’ll find happy hours spilling onto the street, concerts taking over parks and streets filled with suits strolling home from work.

To help you navigate your way around town, we’ve put together this guide. From which neighbourhood you should stay in to the one thing to do that’ll make your trip there that much better, this has all the basics covered. Make sure you consider travel insurance to protect your travel through the US! Get a free quote here.

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white house dc

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Where should I stay in Washington, D.C.?

Like any major city, DC’s got everything from budget accommodation through to fancy five-star hotels. Your best bet for a glimpse at the life of a Washingtonian however is an Airbnb. As an added bonus, you might even get the chance to stay in a historic home.

If you’re planning on hitting the museums, stay near the National Mall. There, the W Washington, DC is a good option with its rooftop overlooking the White House. For a suburb with more of a nightlife scene, stay in Georgetown, which is home to two universities so is packed with ‘college’ bars and late-night eateries, or Adams Morgan, which in recent years has become more than just a nightlife spot. It’s now also got gourmet restaurants, boutique shops and a trendy hotel called The LINE.

Across the Potomac River is Arlington, Virginia and within in three other potential places to stay: Rosslyn, Clarendon and Ballston. Le Meridien Arlington is a good pick there. Getting back into the city will cost you cheap ride in an UberPool.

us capitol building

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What are the things to do in Washington, D.C.?

With all the cash you might be splashing on accommodation, meals and nights out, you’ll be happy to know that most of the museums in DC are free, including the Portrait Gallery, National Gallery of Art and National Museum of American History. Walking around the many monuments and memorials is of course free too so between doing that and checking out the museums, there’s plenty to do without having to spend a cent. Hot tip: do a monuments-by-night walking tour or if you’re feeling up for it, a run.

An Uber ride away from the Mall and downtown area, but also worth a visit is the Washington National Cathedral. The beautiful building offers general admission tickets or specialised tours. The behind-the-scenes tour sees you walking up hundreds of stairs to see stained glass windows up-close and beyond them, sweeping views of the city.

When you’ve soaked up enough history and are ready for something else, head to Georgetown for some shopping. The area’s main drag M Street is lined with fast-fashion, designer and boutique stores. Off it are quaint streets and laneways so be sure to stray.

abraham lincoln statue dc

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Where are the best places to eat in Washington, D.C.?

With political representatives from all over the world stationed in DC, naturally, that means the city’s got every type of cuisine represented too. French, Mexican, Ethiopian – you name it and DC’s got a restaurant serving it.

Highlights include Old Europe, a German restaurant along Wisconsin Avenue, the Cheesecake Factory, an American food-serving chain known for its heaping portions, and Mexicali Blues, a lively Mexican place in Clarendon. For an authentic DC food experience, head to Ben’s Chili Bowl.

Also worth mentioning are the main healthy fast food chains dotted around the city, including Sweetgreen, which lets you customise salads, Beefsteak, which celebrates vegetables and has developed somewhat of a cult-following amongst locals, and Chipotle, which has burritos so big, you’ll barely be able to hold them.

In terms of bars, most can be found cluttered near each other in areas around the city, making it easy to jump from one to another. Main hubs are U Street, Adams Morgan, and Georgetown, along with two neighbourhoods, Shaw and Wharf. Must-visits within them are live music venues 9:30 Club and the Black Cat, rooftop drinking spot in Wharf Whiskey Charlie and wine and cocktails bars Dabney Cellar, Dio Wine Bar and Nocturne.

adams morgan neighbourhood in dc

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How to get around Washington, D.C.

If you’re staying in Washington DC and don’t plan on taking any day trips, don’t bother hiring a car. The city’s public transport, buses and a Metro system, is reliable, easy-to-use and will get you to most parts of town. If it’s not too hot of a day, pick up a Capital Bikeshare bike to pedal your way around. Ride-share services, Lyft and Uber, are also readily available. If you’re not short on time, take advantage of their carpooling option for cheaper rates.

Important to note however is that the Metro closes at 11:30pm on weeknights so if you’re planning on going out on the other side of town and don’t want to spend a lot to get home, keep that curfew in mind.  

If you’re interested in exploring DC’s neighbouring states Virginia and Maryland, it might be worth hiring a car to see more of them as they’re a lot bigger than DC.

cherry blossoms in dc

Travel tips for Washington, D.C.

Don’t remember who exactly Abraham Lincoln was? Not quite sure of the role Martin Luther King Jr. played? You might want to brush up on your American history before you head over. The monuments and buildings will have much more of an impact if you understand their significance.

Though DC can be subjected to a snow blizzard every now and again and many of its summers can be best described as scorching, in general, its climate isn’t too extreme. The ideal times to visit however are in the spring and in the autumn. If you’re headed there in spring, you might be lucky enough to catch the Cherry Blossom Festival, which sees the trees the Japanese gifted the Americans in full bloom.

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Sangeeta Kocharekar is a freelance writer specialising in travel and life. When she’s not hunched over her laptop, she spends her days browsing plant stores and taking photos of beaches and brunches for Instagram. You can view them here.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the Policy Documents available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.

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