Ultimate Travel Guide: Washington, DC
Updated: May 19, 2021
Washington, DC is a city filled with more than government and politics. There's lush national parks, beautiful architecture, Michelin-star restaurants, and much more. Here's my guide to making the most out of a trip to the District of Columbia!
For those of you that are new.. welcome to my blog! My name is Savanna Crowell and I'm a wanderer who likes to share travel tips and favorite destinations. If you are interested in knowing more about my background, travels, or dreams in life, check out the 'About Me' section of my website. And don't forget to follow me on Instagram @slc_travels to join me on my journeys!
The Best Places to Visit
The National Mall
Located in the heart of DC, this isn't your typical 'mall' filled with shopping stores! The National Mall is a long, grassy area home to iconic monuments including the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. At the eastern end is the domed U.S. Capitol building, and the White House is to the north. It's also filled with beautiful Smithsonian museums, and amazing parks (walk through the Signers of the Declaration of Independence it's beautiful!).
The added bonus is It's free to walk around and enjoy all of the sights!
Georgetown is my favorite neighborhood within DC. It is lined with beautiful historic buildings and homes. On top of that, it's home to all my favorite clothing stores and amazing restaurants.
After some shopping, don't forget to stop and see the C&O Canal and Georgetown Waterfront, another beautiful area that's free to visit! You can visit this area easily by driving and parking along the street or in a parking garage, or via the Metro (Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro stop).
The Tidal Basin might be one of my favorite places in the city to talk a walk, admire flowers and blossoms, and see beautiful monuments. It's a man-made reservoir located between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel (and just a short walk from the National Mall). It's part of the beautiful 'West Potomac Park' and is famed for hosting the Cherry Blossom festival each year.
It's free to walk around and enjoy and can be easily accessed by either driving (there's a parking lot on site) or with the Metro (take the Smithsonian Metro stop).
Here is where the capitol building resides along with Union Station, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court building. It's a beautiful neighborhood with even more beautiful buildings. It's a must-visit area while in DC!
Old Town Alexandria
Even though it's a city in northern Virginia, it's a must-visit while in the DC area. It's known for its Old-Town with brick sidewalks and well preserved 18th and 19th century buildings. While you're here make sure to walk down Main St. and check out some of the amazing restaurants and shops. Fun Fact: The founding father's of the USA dined at Gadsby's Tavern, and now it's a museum!
The wharf is one of my favorite areas for dining in DC. It's a very new and modern area that brings famous restaurants, new shops, and beautiful waterfront views together in one place.
Washington National Cathedral
The National Cathedral was built in 1907 after a two-century long plan, and is the most beautiful cathedral in the city. It's on a hill in DC and is so massive it can be seen from multiple locations throughout the city. It's gorgeous gothic architecture and even if you aren't religious is a beautiful place to visit.
The National Harbor
The National Harbor is a little outside of the city but is easily accessible. For a fun way to get here you can even take a water taxi from Alexandria! The harbor is a gorgeous waterfront area lined with local boutiques, restaurants, world-class gaming, and a ferris wheel that provides stunning views of the Potomac River.
Best Things To Do
Visit a Smithsonian Museum
With over 15 museums and galleries to choose from, there's one that can intruige any one. The most popular are the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum (which was featured in the movie Night at the Museum). I also recommend visiting the Smithsonian Castle which is particularly beautiful during springtime when the Magnolias are at full-bloom.
All museums are FREE, which is rare! Usually museums cost money, but these are some of the best in the world and they are free so I definitely recommend checking at least one out while you're in DC.
Hike through Great Falls National Park
Great Falls is a place that really caught me by surprise. It's a USA National Park and is located on the Maryland/Virginia border, about a 15 minute drive outside of DC. If you are looking for a place to hike or walk around this is the spot! If you're looking for a nice, beautiful walk to the falls I would recommend going along the Patowmack Canal Trail/River Trail.
The entrance fee is $15 per vehicle, or a $7 fee for someone on foot, bicycle, or horseback.
Visit the White House
Probably one of the things DC is most known for, the home to the President of the United States! There are White House tours that are actually FREE of charge, you just have to sign up for them in advance (also, they are put on hold right now due to covid). But, even if you are not touring the inside you can always walk around the South Lawn or walk by the street in front of it to take a picture.
Visit Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon is another home to a President, the first one actually! This is George Washington's home and is absolutely stunning. Whether you are someone who loves history or not, you will not regret a trip here.
You can purchase a ticket to tour the inside on www.mountvernon.org for $20.
Walk around Theodore Roosevelt Island
Theodore Roosevelt Island is a picturesque, nature-y island situated in the middle of the Potomac River and lying on the Virginia and DC border. This is another beautiful place to take a walk through nature, but what's special about here is there are also gorgeous monuments throughout the island that are dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt (26th President of the USA).
Another perk, a trip here is FREE!
Hike through Rock Creek Park
Yet again, another place to hike within the city! Rock Creek Park is beautiful and is perfect for someone looking for a hike or peaceful walk. It's honestly a gem of the city and such an escape from the metropolis miles away.
Rock Creek Park is FREE to enter and explore.
See the Flowers at the National Arboretum
The National Arboretum is definitely on the list of most instagrammable places in the city! There's such a variety of florals and plants to admire and also some beautiful sculptures. During spring, you can also witness the infamous Cherry Blossom trees here.
Admission is FREE.
Water Sports on the Tidal Basin or Potomac River
Such a fun and unique way to see this city is with pedal boats and kayaks. During the spring I would recommend renting a pedal boat on the Tidal Basin (around $32/hr), because witnessing the Cherry Blossoms from the water is such a beautiful and one of a kind experience! Another fun activity is to rent a kayak on the Potomac River. You can rent a single kayak for as low as $18/hr from the Key Bridge Boathouse.
There's plenty of amazing eats in and around DC. From Michele-star restaurants to diners featured in the popular TV-show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, there's restaurants for every kind of foodie and traveler.
Mission Navy Yard
Old Ebbitt Grill
City Tap Penn Quarter
Rewind DC (also good breakfast, diner type vibe)
Kin Imm Thai
Breakfast & Brunch
Call Your Mother
Mercy Me (also has yummy drinks)
Unconventional Diner (also delicious dinner menu)
Cafes & Bakeries
Residents Cafe & Bar
Big Bear Cafe
Residents Cafe & Bar
Cuba Libre (also amazing Cuban restaurant)
The Lot Beer Garden
Vegetarian & Vegan Restaurants
The metro rail is the fastest and a very cheap option for transportation within the city. It goes all throughout DC and even to areas in southern Maryland and Northern Virginia. If you are not able to rent a car while on your trip, I would definitely recommend taking this mode of transportation! A one-way ticket usually cost around $1.50-$4.