Last updated: 11:39 AM ET, Mon September 26 2022
The United Statues Capitol Building, Washington DC, USA. (photo via Tanarch / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Washington DC

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Washington DC, USA at the tidal basin with Washington Monument in spring season. (photo via SeanPavonePhoto / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Cherry blossoms in Washington DC. (Photo via SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

A town of many faces and many facets, Washington, DC is much more than just the place you went to on middle school class trips. The nation’s capital offers tourists not only an abundance of American history and awe-inspiring governmental monuments, but a powerful emerging restaurant scene, as well as a variety of museums, parks and exhilarating nightlife hotspots. With a mix of people so eclectic and diverse, it’s hard not to consider DC one of the true great cosmopolitan cities of the United States.

The city is split up into four main districts. The Downtown area is home to the National Mall, the White House, the Smithsonian (one of many museums), business and theater districts as well as many fine dining venues. This area is the most popular tourist area for obvious reasons. North Central has some of the trendiest and most diverse neighborhoods in the DC area. Dupont Circle has an eclectic collection of cafés, bars, nightclubs shops and galleries, as well as Embassy Row. DC West consists of a group of upscale neighborhoods, including historic Georgetown, and boasts attractions including the National Cathedral and zoo. DC East is where you’ll find Capitol Hill and the Library of Congress. Though it’s the main bureaucratic headquarters of town, this section also offers bohemian nightlife in the Atlas District and a Roman Catholic area called “Little Vatican”.

With the number of sites and museums seeming to outnumber the people, there are a few places to hit up that might not be on all the typical must-see-in-DC lists. The International Spy Museum is like peering into James Bond’s toy chest. This fascinating museum highlights high-tech gadgetry, notorious spy cases and gives visitors complicated mysteries to solve. The National Zoological Park, known as the DC Zoo, is one of the nation’s most-visited zoos which includes an extensive panda habitat and live gorilla cams. For the quintessential adventure through history, the downtown area is home to tourist-friendly attractions like the Washington Monument, the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, the Air and Space Museum and the Vietnam Memorial.

In recent years, Washington DC has become a gastronomic tour de force. For a fine dining French bistro with a casual atmosphere and moderate prices, check out Café du Parc, which is located next to the Willard InterContinental Hotel. For a raucous night of blues and southern cooking, head over to Madam’s Organ Blues Bar and Soul Food. The nightly live music and down home bar fare can be found nowhere else in the city. For cheap eats, try a chili dog and thick shake at Ben’s Chili Bowl, or a Middle Eastern late night bite at the Falafel Shop in the Adams Morgan section of town. For award-winning mussels and over 50 different Belgian ales, check out the laidback gastropub, Granville Moore’s.

The Washington DC area is served by three major airports. Ronald Regan Washington National Airport (DCA) is located in Arlington, Virginia, (10 minutes south of the city) and is the closest and most convenient choice for Washington DC travel. Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), located 26 miles outside the city in Dulles, Virginia, is another option for both domestic and international major airline carriers. There are several modes of ground transportation to DC -- the most convenient being the Washington Flyer coach which operates every half-hour and costs $10 one-way or $18 roundtrip. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) is located in 30 miles northeast of the city in Baltimore, Maryland. Though most commonly used for Baltimore travel, this airport is an alternative for those in the Maryland suburbs of Washington.

The public transportation system in Washington DC is one of the best in the county. The city’s subway system, called the Metro, is a clean and efficient way to navigate around the grid of DC. There are five intersecting rail lines which stop in all major neighborhoods, as well as multiple downtown locations. The lines are color-coded and tickets can be purchased by way of Metro farecards, which are located in all terminal stations. The bus system is a good choice for locations within the city that the Metro does not efficiently reach. As in most major cities, taxis are quite accessible, although they are one of the most expensive modes of transportation.