The 4-1-1 on visiting the nation’s capital
Washington, D.C., is way more than the government people love to hate. Almost 7,600,000 people live, work and play inside the city limits. So, set aside images you may have of bureaucratic suits and ties heading to the Hill and simply enjoy the city’s broad avenues, world-class museums, flourishing music scene and reputation as a food destination.
Best time to visit
Take your budget, the weather and crowds into consideration when you’re deciding on a best time for your visit to Washington. In the summer, the city is crowded and hot, but for many travelers, visiting then is the only option. Prices on the Mall for food and souvenirs are higher, and hotels charge peak rates. But, keep in mind that the monuments are just as beautiful in the off-season, that it’s easier to get a hotel room and that the city’s night life never shuts down.
Will I need an umbrella? Boots?
More than 300 species of trees give Washington its nickname: “City of Trees.” Daytime highs in the 60s and 70s with nighttime lows dipping only into the 50s make spring and fall the perfect times for strolling under their budding boughs. Summer, with highs reaching into the 90s and above, is hot and humid with sudden afternoon thunderstorms that cool the air only briefly. Winter can be blustery and cold, but the daytime temperatures average above 40 degrees, and heavy snow is uncommon. If you’re from someplace where winter equals snow, don’t be surprised to see the natives using umbrellas when the flakes fall.
Hate traffic? Love crowds?
Traffic circles stymie the otherwise complete logic of the Washington traffic grid, and the city is always crowded with commuters no matter the time of year. Leave your car at your hotel, and take the subway or bus to your destination. During the high tourist season, parking spaces around the Mall are difficult to find and expensive. Metro will get you within blocks of almost any destination. Use the trip planner on their website to get from point A to point B, and buy a SmarTrip card online. Monuments are open 24/7, year-round, with a few exceptions. Consider visiting them at night when there are fewer tourists. Some museums, particularly the National Museum of African American History, are exceptionally popular and difficult to get into. Check online for free tickets before you head out.
Are there any can’t-miss festivals?
The National Cherry Blossom Festival is a must-do for anyone who suffers from winter blues. In the springtime, the National Park Service has to simply guess when the cherry trees will bloom. They’re usually right, but a sudden change in weather can keep the blossoms from sharing the stage with the actual festivities. Millions of delicate pink flowers provide a backdrop for parades, parties and family-friendly activities. In December, the park south of the White House takes on a holiday spirit with the lighting of the National Christmas Tree, a huge yule log and nightly concerts. Late fall is the time to visit for a taste of the city’s diverse cuisines accompanied by live music at the H Street Festival.