Washington, D.C. is the capital of the United States and is filled with someone of the country's most iconic buildings. From the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian to the National Library, there are countless cultural and historical attractions to experience. However, like any city, D.C. has plenty of quirks and unspoken rules that may not be immediately obvious to visitors. If you're planning a trip to Washington, D.C., be sure to avoid these blunders to help ensure you have a great time.
Complaining about the traffic in D.C. is a local pastime and for a good reason. City streets can get notoriously snarled, especially around some of the city's biggest attractions. Instead of relying on taxis or trying to drive yourself around, try to plan your itinerary so that you can walk or take public transportation as much as possible. Just be sure to stick to the right on escalators if you plan on standing still. Locals are notoriously strict about enforcing that unspoken rule.
It's tempting to try to cram as much as possible into each day, particularly in a place like Washington where most attractions are so close together. However, this may result in you missing out. Keep in mind that most museums and government-related sights close early, so you'll need to finish sightseeing by five or six o'clock in most cases. Check operating hours before you go, since they can vary.
While most people visit D.C. to see the most famous attractions, the city has a lot more to offer. Check out Fourteenth Street and H Street to select from a lot of restaurants favored by locals. During the day, explore some of the quirkier and lesser-known museums, such as the Spy Museum or the Newseum. No matter where you wander, there's a good chance you'll find a cool little boutique or delicious hole-in-the-wall restaurant to try.
The Metro, D.C.'s extensive and efficient subway, is one of the best ways for tourists to get around the city. However, locals also rely on it for their daily commutes, so there's little patience for rudeness or delays. Have your Metro card ready whenever you enter or exit the train, so you don't cause a delay by searching for it, and avoid blocking the doors if it isn't your stop. Never eat on the Metro, which is seen as a major faux pas.
Every spring, schools all around the United States organize class trips to Washington, D.C. While this is a great educational experience for the students, getting stuck behind a class of rowdy eighth graders can slow your journey down significantly. Most school trips occur in March and May, so consider planning your vacation for other months. If you do see a large group of kids, you may want to come back another time.
Even if your main goal is to see primarily indoor attractions, you'll probably find yourself doing plenty of walking outdoors to get to them. Be sure to plan for the weather. Sunscreen is a must, and bug spray is highly recommended since mosquitoes love the muggy climate. Consider bringing an umbrella for protection against the rain and sun alike, although if you're packing light, you can easily pick one up as you travel. Although there are plenty of places to buy food and drink, carrying a reusable water bottle can save you some money and ensure you stay hydrated. Be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes, too.
Washington, D.C. is a somewhat unusual destination since it puts crowds of sightseers right up next to some of the nation's busiest aides and politicians. As a result, some areas are off-limits except for official use. A prime example of this is the "Senators Only" elevator at the Capitol Building. Not all of these have guards who will stop you, so keep an eye out for warning signs and be sure to follow them. You can still be asked to leave for breaking the rules, after all.
Most of the major attractions in D.C. are located on the National Mall, so it can be easy to get tunnel vision. However, you'll miss out if you just stick to that. The Jefferson Memorial is a must-see attraction and located just a short Metro ride away, for example. Even if you want to see one of the museums on the Mall, consider looking for an entrance on the other side of the building. Most visitors go through the National Mall entrance, which leads to long lines. However, most of the attractions have a secondary entrance that doesn't open onto the Mall, and lines there tend to be much shorter.
Pentagon City has become a somewhat popular shopping destination for tourists, but it is largely made up of chain stores and outlet shops that you can find almost anywhere in the country. If you want to get some unique D.C. shopping done, head to Georgetown instead. This business district is full of quirky boutiques and locally owned shops, along with some fantastic restaurants.
Hotels and other businesses in Washington, D.C. are notorious for underestimating the distance from their locations to major landmarks. If you're booking a hotel that claims to only be a 15-minute walk from the National Mall or DuPont Circle, always double-check that on a map before signing up. Otherwise, you may find yourself stranded an uncomfortable distance from everything, which will really mess up your itinerary.