D.C. is a bucket list city that everyone should visit at least once. Experience the epicenter of the United States government, explore history in some of the best museums in the world, and taste the freedom with every step. Okay, that was a little cheesy but you get my point. Washington, D.C. holds a very dear place in the heart's of many Americans and it ranks as one of the top tourist destinations in the entire country. Whether you're part of an educational group or a celebrating student group happy to be finally rid of school for the summer (or forever, congrats!), then head on out to D.C. and save money with these tips.
When to Go
D.C. can get pretty busy in the summer months, and also when the courts and such are in session. Midweek bookings will generally be higher because of business travelers so for the best savings, have a weekend getaway in late summer when the heat drives most tourists out. Late June constitutes the shoulder season and while the temperatures are nicer, you do run the risk of slightly higher prices and larger crowds. D.C. in the spring and summer is absolutely lovely, though.
Hotels in the capital city are notoriously high-priced. Unless you're looking to split an exorbitant room fee with as many people as can legally stay in a single room, it's probably best to look further out of town. Even going a little out of the way, like to Arlington for example, will give you noticeable savings. Then you have the transportation problem, if you're that far out, so you should consider that when booking.
There are basically three ways to get around D.C.: the Metrorail or Metrobus system, taxis, and walking. There are roughly 6,000 taxis in the city, ranking it one of the highest taxi-to-citizen ratios in the country. As a rule of thumb, though, taxis will be more expensive on average than the Metro system and with a system as clean, affordable, and efficient as D.C.'s, there's really no reason to bother with cabs unless you have to. Also, steer clear of rental cars. It's a waste of money unless you're going to be traipsing on your own to uncharted lands where the bus can't reach. Parking is an expensive nightmare not to mention rental car fees and insurance so it's perhaps best to leave the driving to the conductors. The Metrorail and Metrobus systems are super convenient with a combined total of 823 routes, going to all your desired attractions, and they run till 3 am on the weekends.
As a capital city, D.C. has a lot of culinary diversity. They've got to keep those politicians fed! And since you probably don't have a politician's budget let's stick to the more budget-friendly yet delicious eateries in the city.
pizza makes it to the top of many "affordable eats" pages for their handcrafted pick your own pizza style of service. You pick the dough, sauces, toppings, and that's it! Or, you can pick a ready designed pizza like the Maverick with aged pepperoni, salami, mozzarella, and fennel Italian sausage. For breakfast, try A Baked Joint (pardon the double entendre) with tons of coffees and pastries, creme brulee French toast, cinnamon rolls, and more plus lovely outdoor seating. Or, the also highly recommended Wicked Waffle which "reinvents" waffles into sweet and savory concoctions like the Nutella banana waffle, strawberry cheesecake waffle, or the savory bacon, egg, and cheese waffle sandwich!
If you're a fan of international cuisine, try the Amsterdam Falafelshop where you get unlimited toppings for a super affordable price, and the reviews are sky high for the deliciousness factor. It's a great stop for vegetarians too! Simply Bahn Mi in Georgetown takes the cake for Vietnamese food in D.C. with everything yummy from fried bananas drizzled in chocolate to a lemongrass pork salad bowl, BBQ pork belly bahn mi sandwich, and garlic shrimp vermicelli noodle bowl.
What to Do for Free
Here's the unendingly good thing about an expensive city: free stuff. D.C. has an inordinate number of free attractions that, anywhere else, would rob you of your entire bank account in admission prices. Here are but a few of the top attractions which happen to be free:
- Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
- Smithsonian Museum of American History
- Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park
- ...the remaining 16 free Smithsonian museums and galleries
- National Mall
- Capitol Hill
- White House
- Arlington National Cemetery
- Lincoln Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- U.S. Supreme Court
- U.S. Botanic Garden
- Islamic Center of Washington, D.C.
- Eastern Market
- Library of Congress
- Mount Vernon Trail
- National Arboretum