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Things To Avoid In Washington, D.C.

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.


01 Don't rely on cars

United States Capitol and the Senate Building, Washington DC USA Pgiam / Getty Images

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.


02 Don't try to do too much

Capitol Building, Lincoln Memorial sborisov / Getty Images

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.


03 Don't be afraid to explore

Colorful row houses in Washington DC, USA benedek / Getty Images

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.


04 Don't be rude on the Metro

Washington DC Underground zodebala / Getty Images

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.


05 Don't get caught behind a class trip

Inside the Lincoln Memorial as seen from the other side. Bill Chizek / Getty Images

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.


06 Don't forget to plan for the weather

Weather Washington DC Bill Chizek / Getty Images

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.


07 Read and respect the signs

World War II memorial Washington DC BackyardProduction / Getty Images

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.


08 Don't forget to venture off the mall

Jefferson Memorial at dusk WLDavies / Getty Images

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.


09 Don't shop at Pentagon City

Motion blurred customers walking in shopping mall olaser / Getty Images

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.


10 Don't trust your hotel's distance estimates

US flags around the Washington Monument NetaDegany / Getty Images

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.


11 Don’t stand left on the escalators

Stand on the right sign on escalator stairs Travers Lewis /

In Washington, D.C., escalator etiquette is taken seriously, especially in Metro stations. Always remember to stand on the right and walk on the left. This unspoken rule helps keep the flow of busy commuters smooth and prevents bottleneck situations. Ignoring this can not only earn you some annoyed looks but also disrupt the local pace of life. Plus, adhering to this rule shows respect for the city's norms and can make your transit experience more pleasant.


12 Don’t expect the Metro to run late at night

Washington DC, USA. Circa November 2011. Subway coming in at Metro Center Station. Lux Blue /

While the Metro is a convenient way to travel around the city, it's important to note that it doesn't operate deep into the night. Plan your evenings accordingly and check the last train times to avoid being stranded. For late-night outings, consider alternative transportation options like taxis or ride-sharing services. Keeping an eye on the time can save you from unexpected late-night travel hassles.


13 Don’t block intersections while driving

Washington DC, USA - June 9, 2019: Pedestrians and traffic on city streets. ako photography /

Driving in D.C. can be challenging, and one common mistake visitors make is blocking intersections during red lights. This not only causes traffic disruptions but can also lead to fines. Always be mindful of traffic signals and keep intersections clear to ensure smooth traffic flow and avoid unnecessary stress. Understanding local traffic patterns can also help in navigating the city more efficiently.


14 Don’t forget to look up from your phone

Closeup portrait of young African American man in light blue t-shirt using his smartphone. Man looks at photos, videos in his mobile phone.

While navigating the streets of D.C., it's easy to get engrossed in your phone, whether you're following a map or capturing photos. However, remember to look up and take in the city's beauty and history. Not only is this safer, but it also allows you to fully appreciate the unique surroundings and architectural marvels of the capital. This practice also ensures you don't miss out on impromptu encounters and sights that are often overlooked.


15 Don’t miss the DC monuments at night

US Capitol Building at night, Washington DC, USA.

The monuments of Washington, D.C., take on a whole new persona after sunset. The illuminated landmarks, including the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, offer a serene and awe-inspiring experience. Make sure to set aside time to witness these iconic structures under the night sky – it's an unforgettable sight. The nighttime ambiance adds a layer of tranquility and grandeur that's not present during the day.


16 Don’t overlook museums away from the National Mall

The Newseum building in Washington DC, United States

Beyond the famous Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, D.C. is home to many hidden gems. Museums like the National Postal Museum and the Newseum offer unique and engaging exhibits. Venturing a bit off the beaten path to these lesser-known museums can lead to fewer crowds and more discoveries. These museums often house specialized collections that provide deeper insights into American culture and history.


17 Don’t disrespect the monuments

November 7, 2019 Arlington Memorial Cemetery, Washington DC, USA. Guard of the National Guard at the memorial Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

When visiting the city's numerous monuments and memorials, it's crucial to maintain a respectful demeanor. These sites are not just tourist attractions but also places of historical significance and reverence. Keep noise levels down and avoid inappropriate behavior to honor the memories and events these monuments represent. Remember, these are solemn sites that commemorate pivotal moments and figures in American history.


18 Don’t sleep in to beat the crowds

Washington, DC, USA - June 24, 2022: Visitors to the Lincoln Memorial, on the western end of the National Mall in Washington, DC.

An early start in D.C. can make a significant difference in your sightseeing experience. Popular spots like the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are less crowded in the morning, allowing for a more relaxed visit. Plus, witnessing the city wake up adds a special charm to the exploration. Early mornings offer a fresh perspective of the city, with softer light for photography and a more laid-back atmosphere.


19 Don’t underestimate the amount of walking

Washington DC, June 2017, United States: a crowd of people crossing a city street at the pedestrian crossing in downtown Washington DC

Despite the convenience of public transportation, Washington, D.C., is a city best explored on foot. Be prepared for a fair amount of walking, and wear comfortable shoes. Walking not only gives you a closer look at the city's details but also helps in discovering quaint neighborhoods and hidden cafes. This approach allows you to stumble upon local favorites and charming streets that you might miss when using public transport, enriching your overall experience of the city.


20 Don’t ignore the city’s green spaces

Rapids Bridge at Rock Creek Park

While D.C. is known for its urban landscape, it also boasts beautiful green spaces. Places like Rock Creek Park and the U.S. National Arboretum offer a tranquil escape from the city bustle. These areas are perfect for picnics, leisurely walks, or just a quiet moment amidst nature's beauty. They also provide a chance to see a different side of the city, one that balances urban life with natural serenity, and are great spots for bird watching and nature photography.


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