Difference between revisions of "Washington, D.C."
Revision as of 14:52, 16 November 2012
Washington, D.C., , the capital of the United States and the seat of its three branches of government, has a collection of free, public museums unparalleled in size and scope throughout the history of mankind, and the lion's share of the nation's most treasured monuments and memorials. The vistas on the National Mall between the Capitol, Washington Monument, White House, and Lincoln Memorial are famous throughout the world as icons of the world's wealthiest and most powerful nation.
Beyond the Mall, D.C. has in the past two decades shed its old reputation as a city both boring and dangerous, with shopping, dining, and nightlife befitting a world-class metropolis. Travelers will find the city new, exciting, and decidedly cosmopolitan and international.
Virtually all of D.C.'s tourists flock to the Mall—a two-mile long, beautiful stretch of parkland that holds many of the city's monuments and Smithsonian museums—but the city itself is a vibrant metropolis that often has little to do with monuments, politics, or white, neoclassical buildings. The Smithsonian is a "can't miss," but don't trick yourself—you haven't really been to D.C. until you've been out and about the city.
Washington, D.C., is an artificial, ad hoc city borne of politics, by politics, and for politics. It wasn't the first capital—Philadelphia tried its hand at national government in the years before (although the capital also moved around Baltimore, Lancaster, and York, as it fled British soldiers throughout the Revolutionary War). But Congress soured on the "Cradle of Liberty" after disaffected American soldiers, with the tacit sanction of the Pennsylvania state governor, chased its members out of the city to Princeton.
The vagrant government made brief forays into Annapolis, Trenton, and even New York City, but it had long become clear that the southern states would not tolerate a northern capital, and that the capital would need to be independent from the then powerful state governments. James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton agreed in 1790 to a compromise location on largely uninhabited land in the Mid-Atlantic. The exact location was up to George Washington, and he rather liked a spot that just happened to be next to his house at Mount Vernon. Pierre L'Enfant was charged with planning the new city, lying outside the jurisdiction of any state, and following rapid construction under his supervision, the young government arrived in 1800. Aside from a temporary relocation to Leesburg, Virginia, during the War of 1812 (when the British set the city on fire), the U.S. government had found its home in the District of Columbia.
The Alexandria port suffered disproportionately, since the government's plans favored Georgetown. Combined with fears that the federal government would ban the slave trade within the District (and it did), this led to the retrocession of the lands west of the Potomac back into the state of Virginia in 1846, thus spoiling the city's fine diamond shape, and leaving only the territory given by Maryland under federal control.
The nation's capital from this point on lacked the exciting tumult of its early years, although its compromise location on the border of North and South proved precarious during the Civil War. The Maryland government had Confederate sympathies, so President Lincoln preempted any thoughts of secession (which would have left the capital surrounded) by simply arresting and holding without trial the entire state government. To keep unruly Baltimore in check (Baltimoreans were not so sympathetic to the South—they are just rowdy folks), he sent artillery to sit on the city's Federal Hill, pointing cannon squarely at the central business district. The massive influx of money, administrators, troops, engineers, and forts to protect the capital during the war transformed the formerly sleepy capital into a busy urban center, set to grow for the next 150 years into one of the nation's largest metropolises.
D.C.'s culture is in no small part defined by a divide between black and white, native and transient, east and west. Compared to other cities, relatively few residents are native Washingtonians. Most recent census figures report that about 50% of the population has relocated in the past five years. The transient population is overwhelmingly professional, young, white, affluent, and highly educated—drawn to the city for its government-related work and booming economy. This is in stark contrast to the local African-American population, which has deep roots in the community, and much more socioeconomic diversity—some areas of the city rank among the nation's poorest, most alienated, and underprivileged, plagued with serious problems in the public schools and violent housing projects.
D.C., a.k.a the Chocolate City, was for the last half-century a solidly majority-black city, and has long been a national center of African-American culture. It was the first black-majority city in the country, and until the 1920s (when it was surpassed by New York) D.C. was home to the largest black population of any city. The famous U Street Corridor was known as Black Broadway, with native Washingtonian Duke Ellington performing in the clubs up and down the street. The District was long an attractive destination for African Americans leaving the South, as it was both nearby and a bastion of tolerance and progressivism in race relations, being the home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and the first city in the country to integrate its public schools. D.C. is also home to Howard University, one of the nation's most important historically black colleges. While Washington is no longer a strictly majority-black city, the persisting influence of African American culture upon D.C.'s identity cannot be overstated in the popular consciousness, the city government, local sports, popular and high culture, and, above all, the local intellectual and philosophical movements.
D.C., and particularly the metro area beyond the city limits, is impressively international. In the immediate metro area a whopping one third of the population is foreign born. The biggest immigrant group is no doubt from Central America, mostly from El Salvador. Latino culture finds its home in the city in Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights—both neighborhoods where you'll find all the various cultures of the city intermingling. D.C. also has a big African immigrant population, with an exceptionally large Ethiopian community (the second largest in the world after Addis Ababa), which has bestowed the city with a love for Ethiopian food, and which finds its urban center in D.C.'s own Little Ethiopia. The international culture extends well beyond the immigrant communities, though, to the big foreign professional population, as well as the brain drain of Americans from all around the country looking for work in the international relations field—D.C. is, simply put, the nation's most international town.
Local politics, and local anger at the relations between the city and the national government, are perhaps the glue that binds all Washingtonians together. The District of Columbia is under the ultimate control of the U.S. Congress. Since 1973, city residents have been able to elect a Mayor as well as representatives to the D.C. City Council. However, Congress retains the right to overturn laws passed by the city. The nearly 600,000 citizens residing in the city do not have voting representation in Congress because the District is not a "state." As a reminder to visitors that D.C. residents are taxed but are unable to vote for Congress, District license plates bear the slogan "Taxation Without Representation"—the same slogan used to denounce British rule before the Revolutionary War.
This is all a huge crock. There was no swamp here, and the weather is actually quite lovely throughout the year. The myth of bad weather in the capital comes from the fact that most visit at the height of the summer, when the pleasure of relatively moderate temperatures is completely drowned out by the miserable, impenetrable humidity. On a hot day on the Mall in July, you'll sweat like a dog, the kids will complain incessantly, and you'll want to spend as much time indoors as possible. It's not the best time to visit.
But the rest of the year is lovely. It's hard to beat spring in D.C. The northerly subtropical climate results in cool breezes, moderate temperatures, lush growth, flowers, budding trees, and, of course, the cherry blossoms. The most beautiful time of spring usually falls from April to mid-May. Domestic tourists know this, though, and you can expect the cherry blossom walk around the Tidal Basin to see (pedestrian) traffic jams that put the Beltway to shame. (A truly savvy tourist can escape the crowds but still enjoy the cherry blossoms at the National Arboretum.)
Fall, while not as gorgeous, rivals spring for perfect temperatures. It's also a lovely time for a walk in Rock Creek Park, where the dense forest bursts with multicolored confetti. Winter sees few tourists, but it's actually a great time to visit. While it's less attractive in December, the Gulf Stream ensures that the temperatures remain mild, with very sporadic snow. But the best thing about the season is that the museums are practically empty, and theater season is in full force.
It's worth considering the political climate as well. Before heading to D.C., research which events will coincide with your visit. Major international conferences, political events, or protests can hinder your sightseeing tour in dramatic fashion and also send lodging prices through the roof. The holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year's is a much calmer time to visit, when the U.S. Congress takes its extended vacation. This means fewer official visitors, elected officials, and staff members; the Metro becomes less crowded and there are overall fewer people in the city.
Washingtonians are avid readers, and not just of the news—each Metro car at rush hour is a veritable library. Nonetheless, there is little "D.C. literature" to speak of. The city's culture has always been overshadowed by national politics, and those looking for local flavor will find political works: political chronicles, political histories, political hot air, political historical fiction, and of course political thrillers.
In addition to the above, a trip to D.C. is a good time to pick up a presidential biography or two. Favorites include:
There is no end to the list of films set in D.C., as the nation's capital provides the essential backdrop to just about every political thriller and practically every alien invasion or other disaster movie set in the U.S. There are a proud few, though, that stand out either for their creation of national myths or for having actually captured something of the real culture of the city.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (IATA: DCA),  is the closest and most convenient airport to D.C., located three miles to the south in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac River. However, it can only serve destinations in the United States. International service is limited to airports in Canada and the Caribbean that allow U.S. customs preclearance. In addition, airspace and runway restrictions restrict the number of long-haul flights available at Reagan, especially to the nation's west coast.
To get to D.C. from the airport:
Washington Dulles International Airport (IATA: IAD),  is located 26 miles west of D.C. in Dulles, Virginia and serves as D.C.'s primary international and intercontinental airport. It is served by all major American carriers (including United Airlines, which has a hub at Dulles), as well as many international airlines. It is an architectural masterpiece, but unfortunately some functionality was scrapped in pursuit of aesthetics—you will have to take a train between the main building and the concourses. If you have extra time, consider taking the VRTA Air and Space Museum Shuttle  to see the Smithsonian Museum's collection of spacecraft and aircraft fifteen minutes away in Chantilly. The shuttle departs every 45-60 minutes 10AM-5:30PM daily, costing 50¢. (A taxi to the museum runs about $15).
To get to D.C. from the airport:
To get to D.C. from the airport:
Amtrak trains arrive from all over the country, particularly the Northeast Corridor (Boston-to-Richmond). All stop at Union Station (Red Line Metro), a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol Building. The Capitol Limited comes from Chicago, passing through Pittsburgh. A few lines also stop in adjacent Alexandria, Virginia, very close to the King Street stop on the Blue/Yellow Metro lines. If coming from the south, it might be easier to stop there, depending on your destination.
Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC)  provides weekday service to Baltimore's Camden Station and Penn Station, via the Camden or the Penn Line, both of which operate from D.C.'s Union Station. Only the Penn Line stops at BWI Airport. MARC also provides service on the Brunswick line towards western Maryland through the suburbs of Silver Spring, Kensington, Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Germantown, on the way out to Frederick and on to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
D.C. is primarily served by the coastal superhighway, I-95 from Baltimore or Richmond. It does not go into the city itself, dodging the District by running along the eastern portion of the Beltway (I-495). Coming from the south, I-395 serves as a sort of extension of I-95 going past the Beltway into the city. The intent was to run I-95 straight through the city towards Baltimore, but locals scuttled the plan, leaving this section's terminus in the East End.
I-495 is the Capital Beltway. The Beltway is reviled across the nation for its dangerous traffic patterns and impressive congestion (particularly during rush hour, when it rivals the Cross-Bronx Expressway in New York City as the most miserable highway in the United States). Still, the Beltway is often the only practical way to travel between suburbs. Because the Beltway is a circle, the direction of travel is often referred to by which "loop" is being used. The Inner Loop runs clockwise around the city, and the Outer Loop runs counter-clockwise around Washington, DC.
Other particularly notable routes include: I-270, which connects I-70 in Frederick to I-495 in Bethesda; I-66 starts at the western part of downtown and goes 75 miles west, ending near Front Royal, Virginia; US-50 traverses D.C. primarily along city roads east–west, heading east toward Annapolis and Ocean City (the latter by way of the Bay Bridge), and west across the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge into Northern Virginia and then all the way cross-country to Sacramento, California; the Baltimore-Washington Pkwy (also "B-W Pkwy") starts at I-295 in Anacostia, crossing Central Maryland, passing near BWI Airport and terminating in Baltimore. Note that connections between the southbound B-W Pkwy and the Southeast-Southwest Fwy in D.C. are difficult due to incomplete interchanges.
Inside the Beltway, I-66 is HOV-2 only (all cars must have at least two passengers) eastbound 6AM-9:30AM and westbound 4PM-6:30PM. The HOV-2 restriction applies to the entire highway, not just specific lanes. US-50, US-29, and the George Washington Pkwy are the alternatives.
Parking deserves special treatment. On weekdays, visitors to the city will have to pay for a garage spot. On-street parking is limited city-wide by meter or by residential zone. Metered parking is present throughout commercial areas, and meters will be limited to two hours during, roughly, daylight hours. Zone parking is free, but limited to two hours (starting from when you first park) in each zone per day, until 8PM. So, presumably, you could move your car around the eight zones throughout the day and then find a metered spot to ditch your car overnight, but that clearly would not be practical. Weekends are more accommodating to guests, as parking restrictions ease a bit on Saturdays, and are mostly gone on Sundays. Be forewarned, though, that the city has potential near-term plans to extend zone and meter restrictions into the weekends.
So if you are coming by car, what to do? Your hotel will likely offer you a spot in their garage for as much as $30/day, although you could probably get that rate down to $15 if you look around—the giant $20/day lot at Union Station is a good bet. If you have a friend in the city, they can go to their local district police station to get you a temporary visitor parking permit, good for fifteen days . You can usually find better parking rates just outside the city near outer Metro stops (three of which  have a very limited number of multi-day (up to ten days) parking spots: Greenbelt, Huntington, and Franconia-Springfield). And if you just don't want to pay for parking period, head over to a residential area in the suburbs near a Metro station to ditch your car, then walk or catch a bus to the station and head into D.C.!
The fabled Chinatown Bus, which served the thrifty immigrant populations of the various East Coast "chinatowns," revolutionized intercity bus transit throughout the region when the greater public caught on to the fact that there was a bus going to New York City for $10. The bus of legend has been replaced by a host of competing services offering a similar deal—a cheap, direct ride with a scheduled street corner pick up and drop off point. This has forced the bus giant, Greyhound, to adjust its rates downwards to stay competitive, although it remains the only real choice for anyone going to smaller cities off the well-traveled D.C.–Philadelphia–New York City corridor.
D.C. is a walking town. It's no surprise that it has been cited as the fittest city in the country for several years running; residents and visitors get a lot of exercise simply getting around the city! Even if you plan on taking the Metro, bus, or driving (not recommended) to get downtown, you will often find yourself walking for the remainder of the day. Most of the city's attractions are located near each other, such as the museums and monuments along the National Mall, which makes driving or taking Metro between locations either impractical or in some cases impossible. Therefore, when touring around Washington make sure to wear good walking shoes and, especially during the spring and summer, wear comfortable and light clothing, apply sunscreen, and drink lots of water. During the summer, visitors would be wise to visit air-conditioned museums during the day, saving monuments, neighborhood tours, and other outdoor attractions for the cooler early morning and evening hours.
Washington, D.C. has a variety of public transportation options that make the city extremely easy to get around without the use of a car. Trains, buses and bikes are affordable and widely used. The District Department of Transportation provides information about all modes of public transportation available in the city on their tourist-friendly goDCgo website .
The city is split into four quadrants of unequal size, which radiate out from the Capitol Building: Northwest (NW), Northeast (NE), Southeast (SE), and Southwest (SW). The NW quadrant is by far the largest and SW the smallest. Addresses in the city always include the quadrant abbreviation, e.g., 1000 H Street NE. Take note of the quadrant, otherwise you may find yourself on the exact opposite side of town from your destination!
City streets are generally laid out in a grid, with east-west streets primarily named with letters (A–W) and north-south streets named with numbers. Complicating the grid are the numerous diagonal avenues, many named after states, that serve as the city's principal arteries. The street numbers and letters increase with distance from the Capitol. The grid has a few peculiarities that are a legacy from the city's foundation. The City of Washington originally occupied only a portion of the total area of the District. As a result, outside of what is now often called the "L'Enfant City" streets do not strictly adhere to the grid system. However, you will find that many street names were simply extended where practical and, past the letter "W", east-west streets loosely follow other alphabetical naming patterns.
Curious to note, visitors to Washington will quickly discover that there is no "J" St. This is because, until the mid-nineteenth century, the letters "I" and "J" were indistinguishable when written. Following that same idea, "I" Street is often written as "Eye" Street, to distinguish it from the letter "L" and the numeral "1", and "Q" Street, is often written "Que," "Cue," or "Queue."
The Metro is D.C.'s rapid transit system and the central feature of the area's public transportation network. It is composed of five color-coded rail lines that run underground primarily within the District and above ground in much of the nearby suburbs. There are Metrorail stations in most major neighborhoods and at numerous locations downtown. Washingtonians are proud of their Metro system. It's clean, safe, user-friendly, and sports a surprisingly elegant and pleasing brutalist aesthetic.
One flaw, though, is irregularity of service caused primarily by near-constant weekend track maintenance and periodic breakdowns following a major collision in June 2009. Delays can reach up to 30 minutes without a clear indication of the next train arrival. The Metro also attracts very large crowds during major public events; expect jam-packed stations and trains on July 4 and during any major gathering on the Mall.
The Metro fare system  is complicated and varies based on day, time, and distance of trip. Up to two children (ages four and younger) may ride free per one paying adult. Seniors can get a discount, but it requires purchasing a special SmarTrip card (see below) from a booth at the Metro Center station; this is rarely practical or worthwhile unless staying in the city for quite some time.
*Riders using a paper farecard (see below) must add an additional $1.00 fee to all fares.
Fares are paid by purchasing a farecard at automated machines within stations. Posted guides will help you calculate the appropriate fare for your ride, but since the farecards are reusable and refillable, it's often easier to not worry about the fare; just put $5-10 on your ticket and refill as needed. Given the $1.00 fee on all trips using a paper farecard, travelers should consider buying a SmarTrip debit card  ($10 cost with $5 transportation credit), which works on the Metro as well as on Metrobus, the D.C. Circulator, and many other suburban bus systems (saving you the headache of correct change and providing a discount on transfers). The cards use radio-frequency technology and are used by simply touching the SmarTrip to a target on the fare gate. SmarTrip cards are also required for parking in almost all Metro lots . SmarTrip cards can be bought online, at Metro stations, and at all D.C.-area CVS stores. Parking is free on weekends and federal holidays.
Flat-rate Metro passes  are also available that give riders an unlimited number of trips within the system for a set number of days. These passes are available in each station at many of the automated machines that sell standard farecards. However, the passes are rarely a good deal for most tourists and some passes even come with restrictions on when they can be used, which can cause more of a headache than a regular farecard! The 7-day unlimited passes for bus ($16) or rail ($57.50) can be loaded onto a SmarTrip card (see below for details)—all others are issued as paper farecards.
The farecards and Metro passes are needed to both enter and exit the system. Therefore, keep them on you but away from other credit cards and electronic devices, especially cell phones, which can cause the farecards to demagnetize! If that happens, see a Metro station manager for assistance.
Metrorail lines are color-coded and, in some areas, two different lines may share the same track. Additionally, trains may terminate before reaching the end of the line, especially during rush hour. Therefore, be careful to note both the color and final destination indicated on the electronic displays and train cars before boarding.
When riding Metro late at night, be aware of when the last train leaves each particular station. This information is available both online and within Metro stations. The last trains of the evening continue to the end of their respective lines, even after the system has technically closed; there is no need to worry that a train will stop before you reach your destination.
Remember that absolutely no food or drink is allowed on trains or in stations. Metro employees, police officers, and even fellow riders will ask you to dispose of any food before entering. Violators are subject to fines or even arrest (including a rather outrageous incident from 2000 when a twelve-year-old girl was handcuffed for eating french fries). If you are carrying food/beverages, keep them closed and in a bag.
Rider etiquette is key to smooth travel in the heavily-used system. Try not to obstruct train doors when passengers are leaving the train. Keep belongings off of the seats. When using escalators in stations, stand on the right, and leave the left side free for those who want to pass. Strollers must be folded at all times on the trains and in elevators. These rules are especially important during the summer months when commuters are sharing the Metro with large numbers of out-of-town visitors.
Metro train doors do not auto-retract, and are somewhat notorious for pinning passengers and their belongings. Use caution; it's normally a better idea to wait for the next train than to attempt boarding at the last second. If you or your belongings are caught in the door, wait for the train operator to re-open them. Do not try to block the doors or force them open; this often breaks the doors and forces the operator to take the entire car out of service.
By Circulator bus
Once intimidating to visitors, D.C.'s bus system has become more visitor-friendly and reaches destinations that are hard to reach by Metro.
The tourist-friendly D.C. Circulator  buses are akin to shuttles since they operate on a predictable fixed route and schedule, and run principally between main attractions and the city's most popular neighborhoods for visitors. All D.C. Circulator routes run every ten minutes and cost $1. There are currently five routes:
And then there is the old reliable Metrobus , with hundreds of routes throughout the greater capital region. It's geared towards commuters and is not visitor-friendly as there is no central terminal, most stops do not show the route map, and routes take convoluted trips through residential neighborhoods. Nevertheless, Metrobus will take you places hard to reach via Metro or the Circulator, and can be a really convenient, comfortable way to travel if you know which bus to take. WMATA's website publishes maps and timetables for all individual routes , as well as system maps for its routes in D.C. , Maryland , and Virginia . Most routes cost a flat fare of $1.70 ($1.50 with SmarTrip card). (Seniors pay half fare, up to two children ages four and younger ride free per one paying adult.)
The following important routes provide reliable and direct service along the city's most well-traveled corridors, running about every ten to twenty minutes:
Metrobus has a very handy feature called NextBus. Every bus stop has a number written on it, which you can enter on NextBus' website  or by phone (+1 202 637-7000) to get a highly accurate estimate of when the next bus will arrive, including active tracking on Google Maps.
D.C. seems to be one of the last bastions of a free taxi market; there are tons of small cab companies to choose from. The largest operators in the city are D.C. Yellow Cab , ☎ +1 202 544-1212 (+1 202 TAXICAB), and American Cab Association, ☎ +1 202 398-0529. The D.C. government also provides an alphabetical list of all licensed taxi companies . Taxis cost $3.00 for the first sixth of a mile and 25¢ for each additional sixth of a mile. There is no rush hour fee, although meters do charge 25¢ for each minute stopped in traffic or traveling under 10 mph. Each additional passenger over the age of five is an extra $1.50, and bags range from an extra 50¢ to $2.00 depending on the size. Cabs almost always refuse credit cards, so bring cash. All D.C. taxis have the ability to print receipts on request.
The largest suburban companies in Maryland are Barwood , ☎ +1 301 984-1900, for Montgomery County and Silver Cab , ☎ +1 301 277-6000, for Prince George's County in Maryland; in Virginia, Red Top , ☎ +1 703 522-3333, services both ArlingtonCounty and Alexandria City.
Taxicab drivers are required to take passengers anywhere within the Washington Metropolitan Area, although they grumble about going out to Maryland and Virginia. D.C. cab fares for interstate trips are the same as the standard rates, except that there is no maximum fare. Please note that with the exception of rides to and from the airport, it is illegal for non-D.C. cabs to pick up passengers within the District; the same rule applies for D.C. cabs in Maryland and Virginia.
Driving in D.C. is difficult. Even most Washingtonians avoid driving downtown. Limited and expensive parking, ruthless parking enforcement, sadistic traffic circles, fines from automated red light cameras and absurd speed traps, a pothole epidemic, frequent street direction changes, some of the worst congestion in the country, street closures without warning—take the Metro. Forbes Magazine declared the D.C. metro area to have the worst traffic in the nation; Allstate Insurance reports that you are statistically more likely to get into an accident in D.C. than any other American city, with an accident rate 95.5% worse than the national average. And the grid is deceptively tortuous. Washingtonians will proudly tell you that the plan was intended to confuse invading armies (though it's actually a myth). For a fun challenge, try to drive on Massachusetts Ave from Wisconsin Ave to RFK Stadium—it's like riding a bucking bronco!
If for whatever reason you ignore all the above advice and do choose to drive in Washington, here are a few tips: Street parking downtown is limited to two hours only (even at meters), so be prepared to park in a private lot or garage, which cost anywhere from $10-25 per day. Avoid driving and parking during rush hour (weekdays, 6-10AM and 4-8PM), since this is when the majority of the city's traffic congestion, street direction changes, and parking restrictions are in effect. If you do park on the street, pay close attention to traffic signs. Most streets downtown restrict parking during rush hour and visitors often return to the spot where they parked only to find that their vehicle has been ticketed and towed!
Local opposition prevented the construction of interstate highways through Washington, steering resources towards building the Washington Metro system instead. The two freeways that feed into the city from Virginia, I-66 and I-395, both terminate quickly. Washington and its innermost suburbs are encircled by the Capital Beltway, I-495, which gave rise to the expression "Inside the Beltway."
Cycling is an increasingly popular form of transportation among D.C. residents. A 2009 survey found that Washington had the 5th-largest share of bike commuters in the country. Recent initiatives by the city government aim to make the District even friendlier towards bicyclists by adding dedicated bike lanes to streets (even iconic Pennsylvania Avenue now has them), introducing new bicycle traffic lights, and increasing the amount of available bike parking.
As a result, bicycling has become a great way for tourists to visit D.C.'s neighborhoods. The mid-city area (generally bordered by Massachusetts Avenue to the south, Columbia Road to the north, Connecticut Avenue to the west, and Georgia Avenue/7th Street to the east) features many quiet streets lined with bicycle lanes. In addition, both Capitol Hill and Georgetown neighborhoods feature architecture and amenities that are perfectly enjoyed by touring around on bike.
D.C. also became the first city in North America to start a bike-sharing service. That pilot program was replaced in 2010 by the new Capital Bikeshare  network, which has over 1,100 bicycles available at more than 100 stations across the entire city. Visitors may use the service for $7/day or $15 for 3 days, payable by using a credit card at the automated kiosks attached to every Capital Bikeshare station. The daily pass allows for an unlimited number of one-way trips—there's no need to return a bike to the same station where you got it! However, the service has heavy usage fees after the first half-hour, which escalate from $2-8 per half hour. This is intentional to encourage people to use the system for short place-to-place trips. If you plan on using a bike for an extended period, it is best to simply rent a bike from a local shop.
Be aware, however, that to the uninitiated cyclist, traveling by bike on some of D.C.'s streets may be downright harrowing. Locals all have horror stories of cycling through quiet, residential streets only to come across extremely-busy traffic on some of D.C.'s main commuter thoroughfares. Bicycling on the sidewalk is legal in D.C. except in the downtown Central Business District, which generally consists of the area between Massachusetts Avenue and the National Mall. However, biking in the street is perfectly legal everywhere in the city and bike lanes are available on many downtown streets. Ride The City: DC  can help you plan your routes to avoid the most dangerous areas for bicyclists.
Tourists may also take advantage of some of the Washington area's fantastic biking trails :
Washington's BikeStation  allows visitors to rent bikes, have their bikes repaired, or arrange for temporary storage in a controlled environment at Union Station. Cycling information can be obtained here as well. If you'd rather relax than pedal, there are several neighborhood-based pedicab companies that have a prominent presence at most tourist facilities. Rates are generally affordable and negotiable (although sometimes more expensive than taxis). D.C. Pedicabs , Capitol Pedicabs , and National Pedicabs 
The downtown core, including the Mall, is largely level terrain, with more hills and steeper streets generally as one rides west and north (although many neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River are also quite hilly).
If you are sightseeing, chances are you are on the Mall. The National Mall is a unique National Park, filled with an intense concentration of monuments, memorials, museums, and monumental government buildings instantly recognizable to people all over the world. The White House, the US Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the National Gallery of Art, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Natural History Museum, and the Holocaust Museum, are just a few of the top national attractions here, all within walking distance of each other. The tourist-designated sights are just half of the attraction, though—to walk down the National Mall is to thread the halls of world power in the modern era. Here the world's most powerful politicians and their staffs fill the grand neo-classical buildings of the three branches of US Government, making decisions that reverberate in the remotest corners of the world.
There are multiple maps along the Mall, especially by Metro stops, but the place is so jam-packed with things you'll want to see that you should probably take a map with you to avoid missing highlights obscured by other highlights. For a more detailed and larger map than the Wikitravel version, print out the official National Mall map (pdf) . The Mall is larger than it looks, and a walk from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial or the Tidal Basin will take a while and may wear you down a bit. Plan ahead what you want to see and concentrate your activities in one section of the Mall each day.
The eastern section, home to the majority of the museums, is covered in the National Mall article, as are the western portion of the Mall and the Tidal Basin. Many more museums await just north of the Mall in the East End, ranging from the new, flashy Newseum and International Spy Museum to the time tested National Portrait Gallery, American Art Museum, and the home of the Constitution at the National Archives. The White House is located in the West End, and the Capitol Building is on Capitol Hill.
While the Mall has more than enough sights to keep a traveler busy for a while, the city itself has plenty of big attractions for a visitor who wants to leave behind the sandy paths and flocks of tourists and pigeons of the Smithsonian. The National Zoo in Woodley Park is one of the nation's most prestigious, and the nearby National Cathedral is an awe-inspiring mammoth. Dupont Circle is home to much of Embassy Row, an impressive stretch of some 50 foreign-owned historic and modernist mansions along Massachusetts Ave, as well as several brilliant small museums, such as the Phillips Collection, the Textile Museum, and the Woodrow Wilson House. Another attraction that shouldn't be missed is the Library of Congress, which has some of the most beautiful architecture that can be seen in the city.
The historic neighborhood of Georgetown is another great sightseeing destination, full of beautiful old colonial buildings, the 200+ year-old Jesuit campus of Georgetown University, a pleasant waterfront, and the infamous Exorcist steps. By car (i.e., taxi), you can get to some of the capital's more far-flung and less-frequented attractions, like the National Arboretum in the Northeast, or the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in eastern Anacostia. By taking the Metro red line to Brookland-CUA, you can easily visit the magnificent Catholic Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. This is the largest Catholic church in North America.
Views and Panoramas
D.C.'s famous height restrictions—no taller than the width of the street the building is on plus 20 feet—have resulted in a skyscraper-less downtown, giving D.C. a distinctly muted feel for what is actually the heart of a huge metropolis. The obvious downside to this law is that it limits the supply of housing and office space, which sends the cost of living and running a business downtown soaring, sparking runaway suburban sprawl, which has helped cause terrible traffic congestion, erode the city's tax base (since suburbs are in Maryland and Virginia), and undermine the vitality of the city's downtown. On the upside, though, this means that you'll have a great view over the city if you make your way to just about any old rooftop or even a nice hill.
There are several classic spots to get a look out over the city. Starting with the cheapest and easiest, the Old Post Office Tower is free and centrally located, just off the National Mall in the East End, with a good view of the nearby federal buildings and a helpful map explaining what you're looking at. Also free, the Kennedy Center rooftop terrace (in the West End) provides a nice skyline somewhat removed from the city, with the Lincoln Memorial prominent in the foreground. The Washington Monument (currently closed due to damage caused during the August 23, 2011 earthquake) is another free option on the Mall, though as a vista point its small, bunker-like ports covered with scratched plastic make it less inspiring than might be expected. If you have some money, the Newseum (East End) is a good place to see a remarkable museum and get a close up view of downtown. Finally, the W Hotel (West End), just a block from the White House, has a rooftop terrace, bar, and lounge. While the bar and lounge are expensive, a single cocktail gets a table for several people long enough to take in the view, and suave cheapskates can simply wander around long enough to get a load of the White House from above (close enough to make out the Secret Service overwatch) before heading back to the elevator.
The District is home to many large parks that offer hiking and biking. Many of the downtown parks are crowded with soccer, football, rugby, kickball, baseball, and ultimate frisbee players. The Mall may be the most famous park, but there are several other beautiful places worth noting, like the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, the National Arboretum, Meridian Hill Park, and the C&O Canal Towpath.
Rock Creek Park
If you look on a map, Rock Creek Park is evidently the District's central respiratory system, bisecting the city north of the Anacostia River, and covering nearly 2,000 acres of thickly forested hills. It's a national park, full of deer (who overpopulate, due to lack of predators), squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, birds, and even a few coyotes. The paved biking/running trail is one of the nation's best, and it extends all the way from the Lincoln Memorial way out into Maryland (it also connects with the Mount Vernon trail in Northern Virginia). But there are tons more paths, from the hiking trail network to bridle paths, as well as a boatload of picnic spots, a golf course, a variety of Ranger-led/educational programs, and even a boat rental center on the Potomac.
There are plenty of nice outdoor spaces just beyond the park itself. South of Massachusetts Ave, you can take a path west out to the beautiful Dumbarton Oaks estate and gardens, and then on to enormous Archibald-Glover Park, where the trails can lead you as far south and west as the C&O Canal and Palisades Park. Following the main Rock Creek trail along the creek itself all the way south will take you under the Whitehurst Fwy and down to the Mall, where joggers avail themselves of the incredible path right along the Potomac beneath the monuments.
Roosevelt Island, ☎ +1 703 289-2500, . This is another one of those gems just far enough out of the way where most tourists miss out. The Teddy Roosevelt Memorial is at the center of the island, housing a memorial to the president as well as a couple fountains and several stone obelisks inscribed with his quotes. The rest of the island is a nice natural park of woods and swamp (the swamp has a boardwalk) in the center of the Potomac, with great views of Georgetown University on the northwest side and of the Kennedy Center on the east. What could be better befitting the great outdoorsman than an island park memorial!
To reach the island, walk down the stairs at the Rosslyn side of the Key Bridge—which connects Rosslyn with Georgetown—then head east on the trail (the Mount Vernon Trail) to the footbridge to the island. Rosslyn has the nearest Metro stop. By car, you can access the parking lot just north of the Roosevelt Bridge from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Pkwy only.
With all the government money around, D.C. is awash in free public events all throughout the year, but especially in the summer, many of them right on the Mall. A few highlights include:
With the recent addition of the Nationals, D.C. now has a professional team in each of the five major U.S. professional sports. While the local transient population tends to be too distracted by CNN to pay much attention to the games, the rest of the city and the vast population in the metro area stay plugged in, especially to the Redskins.
The Washington Redskins  are one of professional football's most established and storied clubs, boasting five NFL championships. Valued at $1.6 billion , the team is the second most valuable franchise in the country. The team plays at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. To get there, take the Blue Line Metro to the Morgan Blvd stop, then walk one mile straight up Morgan Blvd to the stadium. The team has survived movements and lawsuits trying to get rid of what some consider an offensive term for Native Americans. However, polls have found that the vast majority of American Indians do not find the team's name offensive.
The Washington Wizards  also play at the Verizon Center. The Wizards were known as the Washington Bullets until 1995, but the name was changed by then-owner Abe Pollin due to the unpleasant irony in the homicide-heavy 1990s.
The Washington Mystics  are the WNBA women's basketball team, and are (in)famously the league's regular "attendance champions." That is, they don't actually have winning seasons, but they do have plenty of fans. The team also plays at the Verizon Center.
The Georgetown Hoyas men's basketball team are far and away the most popular college sports team in the city, and they often sport a more exciting season than even the Wizards. The team also plays at the Verizon Center since the crowds for the Hoyas' games are too big for the University to hold.
Three other NCAA Division I teams play in the District, and a fourth plays in the immediate metropolitan area. The District also has the George Washington Colonials  in Foggy Bottom, the American Eagles  in Tenleytown, and the Howard Bison  in Shaw. The George Mason Patriots  are in Fairfax County, Virginia, just outside the city of Fairfax.
The Washington Nationals , a.k.a. the Nats, formerly the Montreal Expos, have been playing in DC since 2005 and at a new stadium by the Waterfront since 2008. The new franchise has finally pulled the city out of its ages old slump (they had been dead last in their division all but one season), with the acquisition of enormous new talent in 2010. Star pitcher Stephen Strasburg has brought baseball fever back to DC for the first time in 100 years, selling out games (at least until being sidelined by Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow) and leaving the city abuzz with baseball talk. Previous DC baseball teams include the 1901–1960 Washington Senators, who later moved to Minneapolis as the Minnesota Twins. Both the original Senators and their second incarnation in the 1960s (now playing in Arlington, Texas as the Texas Rangers) suffered from a singular inability to win, though. The first incarnation was quite successful for its first twenty years, but by WWII they earned the city the slogan "first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."
Americans often forget that the country has a professional soccer league, but that's not the case in D.C. D.C. United  is the MLS' most dominant team, with 4 MLS cups under its belt (out of the league's 13 seasons), as well as successful international competition in CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, where the club has both a CONCACAF championship and a Copa Interamericana. D.C. is a big soccer town, owing to the metropolitan area's very international population and its big Latino communities, as well as to a home-grown affection for soccer in this section of the Mid-Atlantic, and the games are high-energy and well attended. United are the last team still playing at over-the-hill RFK Stadium, though they are looking for a new home, possibly across the river at Poplar Point.
For your big-ticket downtown theater, there are basically two options: the enormous, government-run Kennedy Center in the West End and the private Theater District in the East End. The Kennedy Center also houses the Millenium Stage, with free daily performances at 6PM! (Truly, D.C. is spoiled for free activities.) The Theater District houses the Ford's Theatre, the National Theatre, and the Warner Theatre, all of which put on big, well-known Broadway and other dramatic performances, as well as the beloved and internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Theatre Company, which has residency at both the Lansburgh Theatre and brand new Harman Hall. On any given trip to D.C., it would be hard to do better than to see one of their performances. But in this Shakespeare-crazed town, you have your choice of Shakespeare theater companies—you can also see top-notch, smaller performances of the Bard's work at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre on Capitol Hill.
For smaller theaters with more local, less-known, diverse, and avant-garde performances, the options are more spread out. The Woolly Mammoth Theatre in the East End is the best known, but you can also try your luck away from the Theatre District in theaters as diverse as the Atlas Theatre on H St NE, the GALA Hispanic Theatre at the Tivoli in Columbia Heights, or the Studio Theatre in Shaw. If you'd like to soak up some great local flavor, look for one of the intensely physical, dance-heavy performances by the Georgian-owned Synetic Theater Company , which most often performs across the 14th Street Bridges in Crystal City.
Classical performances are a dime a dozen in D.C., largely thanks to the efforts of the Kennedy Center, where you'll find the Washington National Opera and National Symphony Orchestra in residence. The Kennedy Center dominates the local classical arts scene with its fame and money, to the point where there aren't really any other major venues in the city. There are more intimate concerts citywide on a regular basis (try the Dumbarton candlelight concerts in Georgetown!), but you'll have to hunt for them—the Washington Post's online Going out Guide  is probably the most comprehensive source for up-to-date listings. The concerts that are the most fun are a bit exclusive—if you are well connected, or simply very good at schmoozing, try to get an invitation to any of the daily social events at the embassies—the Europeans are always having magnificent chamber performances.
Pop & rock
Jazz & blues
It's a rather well-kept secret that D.C. holds one of the world's best jazz scenes outside of New York City and New Orleans. Blues Alley in Georgetown remains the flagship club, with atmosphere straight out of a Spike Lee movie. But the jazz scene is unquestionably centered in the historic African-American neighborhood of Shaw along and around the U St Corridor, where native son Duke Ellington once played along with the likes of Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald.
Blues lovers will have to look harder to find a good show. There is a good regular jam session across the street from the National Zoo, of all places, as well as one off in a Presbyterian church in Southwest. But the biggest event is clearly the annual outdoor summer Blues Festival at Carter Barron in Rock Creek Park.
D.C. has a long list of highly accredited universities. It's a political town, and the best known institutions are undoubtedly those with the political connections. Georgetown University, George Washington University, and the American University program are arguably the best academic programs period for those looking to cozy up to the Washington elite and/or launch a public career. They are also excellent bets for international students looking for a politics-oriented exchange program, as their international politics programs are consistently ranked among the world's best, producing world leaders from kings to African finance ministers (and a Bill Clinton for good measure). Other large and well-respected institutions include Johns Hopkins SAIS, The Catholic University of America, and the University of the District of Columbia, as well as universities with more specialized focuses: Gallaudet University is the world's only university for the deaf; Howard University is one of the nation's most esteemed historically black universities; and the prestigious and highly exclusive National Defense University serves the military elite.
Certain career fields find a natural home in D.C. While everyone knows that this is where politicians go, you can also find a fair share of diplomats, lawyers, lobbyists, journalists, defense contractors, and civil servants. Good fields for international visitors to pursue include the various NGOs, national lobbying groups, and for the select few, embassies and consulates. Many ambitious young people come to Washington for internships, and the huge student-aged population peaks in the summer.
With so many high-powered career types out to change the world, the need for child care is obvious. Nannies and au pairs, mostly placed through agencies, provide child care to many of Washington's elite; the city has the highest proportion of in-home childcare in the country. U.S. citizen nannies are especially sought after as government types carefully follow employment law to avoid problems with security clearances or negative publicity. Wages for legal U.S. residents with experience can top $800 per week, room and board included.
Few think of D.C. as a major shopping destination, but it will surprise you, having shrugged off its time-old, politically-influenced staid and bland culture over the past ten years. Beyond the expected souvenirs, the District's fashion scene has grown by leaps and bounds. The most exciting boutique, eclectic, and vintage shopping is to be had in Georgetown, Adams Morgan, and the U Street strip, with Georgetown being the most traditional, established, and famous of the three. For more traditional upscale shopping, the meccas are in Georgetown and Friendship Heights. Both are also excellent destinations for gift shopping, whether trendy-eclectic or high-end.
For traditional department stores, Metro Center has a big Macy's and Filene's Basement (surrounded by a good number of other smaller stores), and the closest and most accessible shopping mall is at Pentagon City, anchored by Nordstrom's, Nordstrom's The Rack, and Macy's, across the river in Arlington. Outlet shopping is a possibility, but the closest—Potomac Mills and Leesburg Corner—are still a good 40 minutes drive, and are difficult to reach without your own personal car.
Another recent surprise in the city has been the explosion of a large, cutting-edge art scene. Its heart beats just north of Logan Circle, but Georgetown retains the largest quantity of art galleries. The latter is the more popular for casual buyers, as the Logan Circle boutiques are contemporary and universally expensive. Both make for great browsing, though.
Book Hounds will find much to enjoy in the over-educated western portions of the city. Barnes & Noble has a lock on the bulk of the business, but specialty shops abound. Favorites include Kramerbooks, Lambda Rising, and Second Story Books in Dupont Circle, as well as some great options in Capitol Hill and the East End. If you are willing to make the trek, Politics & Prose in Chevy Chase has a rightful claim to be the city's favorite.
As you would expect, there are endless souvenirs found by the National Mall and nearby East End, many of them sold by street vendors, and even more of them a bit cheap and hokey. Several large, but pricey, souvenir shops are located at 10th & E St NW. A better bet are the Smithsonian museums, all of which have excellent gift shops.
Lastly, the city's one big market, Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, is a favorite Saturday or Sunday afternoon shopping destination for antiques, secondhand books, local produce, and works by local artists, photographers, and craftspeople. Even if you're not buying, it's a great time.
For cheaper dining, there are endless options scattered around the city. The two most notable "ethnic" enclaves include wonderful Ethiopian food in Little Ethiopia and some solid Chinese in what remains of D.C.'s disappearing Chinatown. Salvadoran cuisine is near-ubiquitous throughout the northern reaches of the city, with an unbelievable concentration of pupuserías in Columbia Heights. Pupusas are thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, optionally fried pork, refried beans, or all sorts of other things, then topped with a tart cabbage salad and an Italianesque red sauce. But truly, you can find just about any cuisine you want in this city if you look for it—D.C.'s international might draws representatives from all corners of the globe, and they all need ex-pat cafes and restaurants to haunt. A few cuisines seem to be missing (notably Southeast Asian & Korean), but they are just across the D.C. borders in Maryland and Virginia.
But despite featuring cuisines from all over the world, D.C. seems to lack a cuisine of its own. The city, realizing this, went through a brief period of soul-searching, wondering why it lacked any unique regional culinary traditions, and realized that it indeed has one: the D.C. hot dog stand. They're everywhere, especially around the Mall, and they sell the unique-to-D.C. smoked half-beef, half-pork sausages appropriately named half-smokes. They have a firm "snap" when you bite into one, are served on a hot dog bun, and are often topped with chili. Most hot dog vendors are mere shells of the half-smoke greatness served out of WWII-era aluminum shacks. If you want a true, quality half-smoke, you should visit Ben's Chili Bowl on U St, which is universally understood to serve the best.
Cupcake fever has hit the District in recent years, first as a local craze, and now a national one fueled by pilgrims lured by shows like Cupcake Wars and DC Cupcakes. The star of the latter show, Georgetown Cupcakes has lines running around the block, with patrons coming from throughout the city and now the whole country. Other cupcakeries that do not have their own shows, however, easily give Georgetown Cupcakes a run for their money in terms of quality. If you're in Georgetown and not up to the lines, try the delicious Baked & Wired or LA transplant Sprinkles instead. If you're downtown, hit the Red Velvet Cupcakery for some of the best little sweet muffins in the city.
Whatever bar or club scene you favor, D.C. has it aplenty. The hottest clubbing spots are in Adams Morgan around 18th St, Dupont Circle and nearby Logan Circle, and increasingly (and improbably) on K St near McPherson Square. Adams Morgan's scene is the edgiest (and likely most exciting) of the three, and draws a really young, diverse crowd. Dupont Circle's scene is probably the biggest and most established, with sometimes frighteningly upscale clubs catering to extremely wealthy foreign clientele, as well as a more happy-go-lucky gay scene. Logan Circle is less established as a nightlife hot spot than Dupont, but the two areas otherwise resemble one another.
If these destinations are all a bit too high-octane, you should definitely explore the clubs around U St and 14th St in Shaw, which cater to an older, diverse, and self-regardingly more sophisticated crowd. Shaw is also a fantastic destination for live jazz, with echoes of Ellington ringing out from nearly every restaurant, bar, and not a few world-class music venues on Saturday nights. Georgetown is another major nightlife destination, although the emphasis here is less on dancing and more on drinking. It has tons of bars, most of which have a "privileged" and sometimes rowdy collegiate atmosphere. Back on the topic of live jazz, Georgetown is home to the city's most prestigious venue, Blues Alley.
But that's hardly the end of things. D.C. at the end of the 90s and into the current decade went from being one of the blandest, shut-down-at-ten-o'-clock American cities to having a thriving nightlife scene pretty much city-wide. Aside from the north central neighborhoods listed above, Barracks Row, Woodley Park, and Chevy Chase each have their own nice "strips," mostly filled with upscale bars, that are worth visiting. The downtown nightlife is lacking, to put it mildly. Foggy Bottom, despite the huge quantity of students, remains pretty quiet, and the Penn Quarter is a den of tourist traps. If you're looking for nightlife downtown, research carefully.
Long lacking anything even resembling a bohemian neighborhood, a successful Adams Morgan club owner decided to manufacture one along H St NE around the newly renovated Atlas Theater in the Near Northeast. The result is strange. It may never be properly "bohemian," but the Atlas District is intriguing. It's a poor but quickly gentrifying neighborhood, and is dead quiet most of the week, but now there are blocks worth of crazy dining/clubbing options, and even a few upscale joints, that fill the street on Friday and Saturday nights. The biggest attraction has to be the Palace of Wonders, a vaudeville/sideshow/burlesque bar with sword swallowing bartenders and a "museum of oddities," but there are also a couple surprisingly cool rock clubs, a mini golf bar, Belgian mussels and pommes frites, and even an upscale wine bar and lounge. Streetcar service is expected to begin in 2014, with cars running from Union Station.
Gogo clubs (the funk/hip-hop genre, not dancing in 60s miniskirts) were once probably D.C.'s most distinctive nightlife scene, concentrated in Anacostia, but today all indoor gogo performances have been banned in D.C., due to a backlash at the staggering number of homicides occurring at clubs and events. If you're looking for live gogo today, look for big outdoor events or head out to the Takoma Station in a homicide-free section of the Northeast, which seems to get away with regular gogo acts by claiming to be a jazz club.
Most tourists in D.C. look for accommodations close to the Smithsonian, and accordingly the East End is where most tourists wind up. There are lots of restaurants and nightlife options in the immediate area, you can walk to the Mall, and you'll feel like you're at the center of town.
But keep in mind that proximity to the Mall is really not so useful as proximity to a Metro stop. For a more authentic Washingtonian experience, visitors might prefer to stay in one of the numerous hotels just a little further north in Dupont Circle or Logan Circle, or just east in the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood. These neighborhoods are real hot spots among locals for their upscale dining and nightlife scenes. Moreover, you can actually find weekend street parking and avoid the $25-55 nightly fee hotels will charge you to keep your car downtown.
The West End also offers upscale hotels close to the Mall, catering especially to the business travelers who bustle along K St during the day. The downside to the West End is that the downtown commercial area is deserted after dark. A bit further west is Georgetown, which is perhaps D.C.'s most charming neighborhood, with a wealth of smaller, expensive hotels in the midst of a great dining and nightlife scene. Take note, though, that Georgetown lacks a Metro stop (to keep out the riffraff), so you'll find yourself taking taxis or buses to get to the Mall and to other neighborhoods.
It's worth noting that Washington is a relatively small city, acreage-wise, and it's very easy and quick to stay in the close-in suburbs and take the Metro into town. You can save meaningful cash this way; suburban hotels are often substantially cheaper and D.C.'s hotel tax is an eye-popping 14.5%. Parts of Arlington and Alexandria, as well as Bethesda and Silver Spring, have easy Metro access into the District, and are worthwhile destinations in their own right.
While Washington rivaled other U.S. cities for the Murder Capital of America title in the early 1980s-1990s, violent crime has since fallen dramatically. Certain neighborhoods in the less traveled parts of the city (especially near public housing projects) are the main contributors to D.C.'s high murder rate, but as a visitor to the city you are extremely unlikely to be victim of a homicide—the vast majority of homicide victims in the U.S. are acquainted with their murderer long before the crime, and there simply are not that many murders to begin with—robbery is a more travel-relevant problem.
The trickiest aspect of staying safe in D.C. lies in the fact that the most dynamic neighborhoods, sporting great nightlife, dining, and diversity, are home to the majority of the city's muggings. Muggings are a problem in the north central neighborhoods of Shaw/U Street and Adams Morgan-Columbia Heights, in stark contrast to the popular belief that "gentrification" has somehow made the area safer. That's not to say that visitors should avoid these areas—on the contrary, it would be a shame to miss out on them—but that visitors should be vigilant. In particular, avoid walking at night on side streets—stick to the well-lit main commercial strips, travel in groups, and maintain a basic level of sobriety, and you won't run into trouble. Be extra vigilant in this area with your iPhones and iPods, as they are a very popular snatch-and-grab item around the Metro stations.
You will often hear people warn away people from visiting the "northeast" and "southeast" sections of the city, but this well meaning advice is far too generalized to be of any real use. While some neighborhoods do indeed have severe problems with violent crime, particularly near city housing projects, most areas in the east of the city (particularly in the northeast) are simply quiet, peaceful residential neighborhoods—with a good deal less violent crime than gentrified neighborhoods in north central D.C. And there are a bunch of great places to visit with NE or SE addresses: Capitol Hill/Barracks Row, the National Shrine, the National Arboretum, H St NE, Takoma, the Nationals Stadium, etc.
Lastly, the Metro is quite safe, and you should not shy away from using it at any time of the day.
Smoking is banned within almost all enclosed public spaces, including shops, restaurants, bars, clubs, and so on. Most, but not all, restaurants allow smoking in patio seating (if there are no ashtrays, ask for one to double check). There is always a bit of talk of sidewalk laws, which would require smokers to wander a certain distance from the bar door, but that remains just talk. Businesses relying principally on tobacco sales are exempt, so there are still tobacco shops, cigar bars, and hookah bars, but with the exception of the hookah, they're rare in this anti-tobacco town.
Talking on your cell phone while driving carries a $100 fine, and unlike in the rest of the country, that law is strictly enforced within the District. Pull over and put your car in park. Hands free devices are permitted, but if you get pulled over for another violation while using one, expect a hard line from the police, who are sick of dealing with accidents caused by distracted drivers.
Note that when visiting federal buildings and museums, you will pass through metal detectors and have your bags inspected. Some buildings (such as courts, etc.) even ban mobile telephones and recording devices. To tour federal buildings, such as the Capitol Building and the White House, you will usually have to go through the hassle of arranging an appointment or tour in advance (at least they're free!). Tours of the Capitol Building and the White House can be arranged by contacting the office of a Congressman or the Capitol Visitor Center .
Security here has no sense of humor. If you so much as utter the word "bomb," you will be in for a bad time. You give implied consent for your property and person to be searched when entering a government building or public event (sports, music). If you are not comfortable with the searches, you can always elect not to enter.
If all this security and procedure is starting to wear you down, get out of the city center and unwind. You'll find a slower pace on the waterfront, especially on Capitol Hill or Georgetown. As far as parks go, the Dumbarton Oaks gardens in Georgetown as well as Roosevelt Island just east of the Key Bridge (in Arlington) are both great getaways. Better yet, leave the city altogether and take a leisurely stroll in Old Town Alexandria, followed by a relaxing meal.
For health emergencies, George Washington University Hospital  is on Washington Circle in Foggy Bottom, adjacent to the Foggy Bottom Metro station. This is where former Vice President Dick Cheney went in 2004 for his irregular heartbeat, and where the President would go in event of a medical emergency. Other hospitals in the city include Howard University Hospital , Georgetown University Hospital , Washington Hospital Center , and the Children's National Medical Center . If you are looking for a quick walk-in clinic, try Farragut Medical & Travel Care, 815 Connecticut Ave NW, ☎ +1 202 775-8500, . M-F 10AM-5PM.
As in most of the U.S., Internet cafes are a rare phenomenon. However, the D.C. government operates a network of free, public WiFi hotspots across the entire city . WiFi is also available at D.C. public libraries and many local coffee shops (which are also nice places to relax). The libraries have public terminals for non-wireless Internet access as well. Failing that, you can also just hang around outside a hotel (or even inside the lobby) and take advantage of the WiFi provided to guests.
The one telephone area code throughout the District is 202, although you will also see a lot of Maryland (301 and 240) and Virginia (703 and 571) area codes. Pay phones are nearly extinct, with one handy exception—all Metro stations have at least one.
D.C. is home to more embassies than any other city in the world, and any country without one will have consular representation one way or another. Most are housed in beautiful old buildings (or impressive modern ones), especially those most prominently located along Embassy Row on Massachusetts Ave through Dupont Circle and Woodley Park. If you just want to visit one for the heck of it, try ringing the buzzer of one from a small, lesser-known country—they may well let you in and give a little tour! Each May, dozens of embassies open their doors to the public for the Passport D.C. festival , which showcases the buildings themselves, as well as exhibits, talks, and performances.
D.C. is, perhaps surprisingly, a fairly fashion conscious city; downtown and in the more fashionable districts (especially Dupont Circle, Georgetown, and U St at night) you will see fewer T-shirts and fewer still shorts. While the stereotypical drab formality trickles down from the politicians and those who must work with them, something approaching actual stylishness has been making rumblings in the past ten years, much to the surprise of longtime residents. Now, if you just want to enjoy being a tourist, don't worry—you'll be in good company! But if you prefer to blend in, a safe bet anytime of day are nice dark jeans and an un-tucked button-up shirt, and perhaps dark sneakers or something a little nicer and more stylish. Women will often blend in better in a nice pair of sandals, boots, or other nice shoes, and maybe skipping the T-shirt and sneaks in the evening.
For fine dining, expect to dress nicely. A good button-up shirt and slacks are a must for any nice restaurant. Ties are never a necessity, but the most formal restaurants (mostly steakhouses and French) will require men to wear jackets (but will usually have courtesy jackets on loan in case you forget). Women will be fine in a dress, skirt, or nice pants.
One inevitable problem with sightseeing in D.C. is that few major attractions will let you bring in bags, (or cameras, in the case of the White House) and baggage storage is rare for security reasons. If you want to avoid going back to your hotel to pick up your belongings, your options for storage are limited. Tiburon Lockers  (6AM-10PM, daily) offers baggage storage in Union Station for $3-6 per bag per hour or $13-48 per bag per day, depending on the size of the bag. The National Gallery offers free storage for only small bags such as handbags or briefcases. Otherwise, head over to a hotel in the East End and slip a $20 (minimum) tip to a bellman and ask nicely if he might store your bags.
Northern Virginia destinations
Just across the river