Washington, D.C. is an amazing East Coast destination that seamlessly balances history and culture. Not only are there a lot of free things to do in the nation’s capital, but it’s a central hub for art and shopping, which means something is always happening in DC.
If a trip to Washington, D.C., is in your future, keep reading to explore the best and worst times to visit, how much you can expect to spend while you’re there, and some of the best things to do while exploring the city.
Best Times to Go to Washington, D.C.
As the nation’s capital, DC is never quiet., but certain times of the year are busier than others.
Like many tourist destinations, the mild months of fall and spring are the best times to visit DC. However, if you appreciate cherry blossoms, then you may want to plan your visit for mid-March or April. Each year, local horticulturists keep the internet up to date with when they expect the cherry blossoms to go into full bloom. Start reading predictions in February to narrow down your visit windows.
Remember that one of the top travel hacks is to book your stay well in advance. This not only helps you save money, but also gives you an idea of what’s going on when you arrive. If you plan to book during peak tourist season, book early so you’re still able to lodge and dine at your top picks.
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Bad Times to Go to Washington, D.C.
For weather, consider that DC is known for both hot summers and cold winters. July and August are the hottest months, with temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s. December through February are the coldest, with temperatures typically in the mid 30s. February is when DC experiences the most snow, with an average monthly snowfall of 5.8 inches.
Considering all of these factors, you may try to avoid DC in January, February, May, June, July, and August.
Average Cost of a Washington, D.C. Vacation
The first step to creating a travel fund involves knowing what you are likely to spend in a new city. Budget Your Trip states that travelers spend, on average, around $30 a day on meals and $37 per day on traveling when visiting DC.
For lodging, the average price for a one night stay in a hotel is $181 a night, though you may be able to save money on hotels by joining the chain’s membership club or using other discounts, like AAA.
Therefore, for one week of traveling, you can expect to spend:
• $210 on meals
• $259 on traveling
• $1,267 on lodging
• $420 on meals
• $518 on traveling
• $1,267 on lodging
It’s worth noting, though, that you also need to get to DC for your trip. These costs don’t include plane tickets or gas money. If you are flying, you could use an airline travel card to get the most bang for your buck, or use online resources to get cheap flights.
You might also look into book now, pay later travel options when they are available, but be wary of winding up with too much credit card debt.
One last note: It may be wise to find out how credit card travel insurance works if your card issuer provides it. Otherwise, you might want to buy a premium to protect your plans and their cost.
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10 Things You Must Do in Washington, D.C.
This list of top things to do in Washington DC was curated from savvy travelers, in-the-know locals, and highly-rated travel reviews. All of the locations listed below should provide a fun and unique experience as you tour our nation’s capital.
1. Visit the White House
If you’re wondering how families afford to travel, one of the main ways they do it is by researching free popular destinations. The White House is one of them. However, to visit the White House, you will have to make a tour request through your member of Congress (or your country’s embassy if you’re visiting from out of the country).
Tour requests must be made at least 21 days beforehand and no more than 90 days out. Because White House visits are very popular, you may not get to visit on the exact day you want.
2. Marvel at the Smithsonian Museum
One of the best fun things to do in Washington DC is to visit the Smithsonian Museum — which is actually a collection of multiple museums concentrated in one area. The museums are free to the public, but some exhibits may require special tickets.
These locations are packed with the very best of American history, natural history, contemporary art, and air and space. You can zoom in on what captures your interest, or break up the museums between multiple days to get the full experience. (This network also includes a few of the attractions listed separately below.) si.edu/visit
3. See the Animals at the National Zoo
The National Zoo is home to over 1,800 animals and 360 different species, and is located on over 163 acres. If you enjoy seeing the wonders of the natural world, consider visiting the National Zoo. Stroll the grounds, and see everything from the famous giant pandas to Panamanian golden frogs. It can easily fill a few hours, and is only a 10-minute taxi ride from the White House. si.edu/museums/national-zoo
4. Shop and Snack in Georgetown
If you appreciate Federal architecture, cobblestone streets, and collegiate atmospheres, one of the best things to do in Washington DC is to visit Georgetown. It is in one of the oldest neighborhoods in DC, and Georgetown University is home to historic architecture and beautifully landscaped grounds. Plus, there is a lot of shopping and dining in the area to enjoy. The streets are lined with boutiques, cafes, and more.
5. Stroll the National Mall
There are numerous free things to do in Washington DC, but if you’re on a fixed budget and are researching how to save money for a trip, then visiting the National Mall is a must. Not only is it free to the public, but it’s beautiful as well.
The National Mall is where you will find many of DC’s most iconic landmarks, which includes:
• Lincoln Memorial
• Reflecting Pool
• WWII Memorial
• United States Capitol
• Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
If you also plan on visiting any of the Smithsonian exhibits, many of the galleries are at the National Mall.
6. Immerse Yourself in African History and Culture
You won’t need to make use of your credit card rewards to visit the National Museum of African History and Culture because admission is 100% free. However, you will need to schedule your visit, but this can easily be done online.
The National Museum of African History and Culture has a large array of exhibits that focus on African history, such as the Civil Rights Movement, the slave trade, music, pop culture, and much more. They also have a variety of workshops and live events throughout the year. si.edu/museums/african-american-museum
7. Enter the United States Capitol
So much history has been made at the United States Capitol. You can tour the Capitol free of charge and learn about the history of its halls. Tours typically run from 8:30 to 4:30, but they recommend making a reservation to ensure you get to visit on the day you want. They also have specialty tours that are around 45 minutes that focus on select topics pivotal to our nation’s history. visitthecapitol.gov/
8. Experience Washington National Cathedral
The National Cathedral has some of the best acoustics in the nation. Apart from tours and religious services, there are also a variety of cultural events at the Cathedral throughout the year that can allow you to enjoy music in this amazing setting. Check to see if there are any concerts while you’re visiting. You’ll be astounded by both the sound and the architecture. cathedral.org
9. Take a Walk in the Park
Also called Malcolm X Park, Meridian Hill is located in Columbia Heights. This park, located 1.5 miles north of the White House, is known for its cascading fountains, reflecting pool, statues, and scenic gardens. If you need some nature while visiting DC, put this one on your list. On Sunday afternoons, there’s usually a drum circle. Also: The park is dog-friendly, so if you’re traveling with a pet, this could be a great stop. nps.gov/places/meridian-hill-park.htm
10. Bask in Cherry Blossoms
Located in West Potomac Park, the Tidal Basin is home to the area’s cherry blossoms, which were gifted to the United States by Japan before WWII in 1912. People come from all over the world to admire them once they’re in full bloom, which usually happens in late March or early April. Even if you don’t normally appreciate such things, seeing thousands of these beautiful cherry blossoms is quite a sight.
There are many things to do in Washington DC all year-round, but visiting in either the fall or summer can be wise to avoid weather peaks and congestion. Many of the locations you can visit in America’s capital are free, which is a bonus as you take in art and history.
Whether you want to travel more or get a better ROI for your travel dollar, SoFi can help. SoFi Travel is a new service exclusively for SoFi members that lets you budget, plan, and book your next trip in a convenient one-stop shop. SoFi takes the guessing game out of how much you can afford for that honeymoon, family vacation, or quick getaway — and we help you save too.
Is there a dress code for White House Tours?
No, there is not a dress code for visiting the White House. You may choose to dress casually or formally. The choice is up to you.
Is DC a walkable city?
Yes, DC is a walkable city. It also has a healthy public transportation system. At wmata.com, you can view the rates for 1-, 3-, and 7-day unlimited passes.
Can you take photos within the White House?
Photos are permitted within the White House, but if you bring a camera the lens cannot be any longer than three inches. Pictures taken with your phone are also permitted.
Photo credit: iStock/SeanPavonePhoto
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