This edition of the Travel Like A Local series is brought to you by Julie, author of the blog Travel As Much and is all about Washington DC in the US. If you’re planning a trip to Washington DC and are looking for travel advice from a local, including the best places to eat, where to stay, must-do activities and off the beaten track destinations, this is the guide for you.
Hi Julie – tell us a bit about yourself! What city do you feel like a local in?
I’m the author behind Travelasmuch.com, and I live in Maryland with my husband, daughter, and our dorky rescue mutt. I feel like a local in Washington DC.
How long did you live there for?
I went to college at George Washington University in the heart of downtown Washington DC. After I graduated with a degree in International Affairs, I stayed in the area for almost ten years. I still make a trip to DC at least once or twice a year to see friends or attend special events.
What are your favourite places to eat?
Because it’s such an international city, there is no shortage of places to east in Washington DC. You can quite literally eat a different type of cuisine each night for at least a month! For barbecue, you can’t beat Federalist Pig. For tapas, I like Estadio. And I absolutely love the pizza at All Purpose Pizzeria.
Do you have a favourite place to study or work?
There are so many wonderful spots to enjoy peace and quiet in the middle of this city! When weather permits, my go to spot is finding an empty bench in one of the many parks.
What about when you want to relax? Do you have a favourite relaxing spot?
Walking through the exhibits at the National Gallery of Art is very relaxing to me. Most of the galleries have benches, where you can sit in front of a painting and enjoy it for as long as you want.
Is there a typical activity locals do in their free time?
The National Mall is a very popular sport – sort of Washington’s version of Central Park. Many people go there for recreational activities like flag football, Frisbee, jogging, etc.
What is your favourite activity or thing to do in Washington DC?
Every May, Cultural DC hosts an embassy open house weekend where selected foreign embassies open their doors to the public. The participating embassies will feature food & drink from their home countries, song and dance, native costumes, etc. It’s a chance to go all over the world in just one day!
Do you have a favourite photo spot?
The National Mall provides a lot of places for taking great photos (the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, World War II memorial, and other DC icons. The Tidal Basin (where the Jefferson Memorial is located) is another area that provides great photographic opportunities. If I have my zoom lens with me, I love to take pictures of the animals at the National Zoo.
When is the best time to visit Washington DC?
In the very early spring (late March-early April), when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. It’s stunning! Fall is equally pretty. I would avoid summer if possible because the heat and humidity can be oppressive in the summer months. Crowds are also much worse in the summer.
What’s one “touristy” thing in Washington DC everyone should actually do?
Go to the museums. They are among the best in the world, they have free admission, and they are open every day of the year except Christmas.
What’s one “off the beaten track” place people don’t normally know about but should know about?
There are a lot of points of interest that are nowhere near as known or as popular as the museums and monuments in the National Mall area. For instance, there is a bonsai museum at the National Arboretum. The Drug Enforcement Agency also has a museum which explores the history of drug crime in America. The Postal Museum is interesting but doesn’t receive as many visitors as the other Smithsonian-owned museums. Kenilworth Gardens is home to beautiful aquatic gardens that will make you forget you’re in a big city.
Any tips or tricks on how to navigate Washington DC?
My best advice is: do NOT attempt to drive in DC! They started with a really good road plan (number streets run north-south and letter streets run east-west) but then they fouled it up with traffic circles and diagonal streets and all sorts of confusion. The subway (Metro) will take you within walking distance of mostlocations in the city, and is fairly easy to use. For any other needs, I would recommend Uber or Lyft.
Any tips on how to visit Washington DC like a local so that travellers reading this can blend in?
It’s pretty hard to not look like a tourist in Washington. If you aren’t in business attire, it’s assumed that you are a tourist. The biggest thing that tourists do to drive locals crazy is standing on the left side of the Metro escalator. Washingtonians are almost always in a hurry, and they will walk down/up the escalator rather than lose 60 seconds to ride it.
What is the best area in Washington DC to stay in? Any specific hotels you can recommend?
Georgetown is probably the oldest and prettiest neighborhood in DC, but because of that, it’s also the most expensive. Additionally, there is no subway service to Georgetown. Foggy Bottom is the closest neigborhood and subway stop, and it is also nice. There are a lot of decent hotels between Washington circle and Dupont Circle, which are convenient locations for Metro and sightseeing. To save money, you can look for hotels in Arlington, VA, many of which will also have Metro access and lower rates.
What do you love most about Washington DC?
I love its rich history and the fact that there are so many wonderful things to see and do that don’t cost a dime.
Anything else you want to share about Washington DC?
It’s a wonderful place to visit no matter what your interests are – arts, history, food, outdoor recreation. Check it out!
Have you been to Washington DC? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below! I have never personally been to Washington DC but would love to go one day. I hope you will find this Washington DC guide as useful as I did in planning your own trip there.