How to Sightsee in Washington DC

Sightsee in Washington DC
Sightsee in Washington DC (Image: Katerina Fuller)

Washington DC is a sightseer-friendly city. Many attractions are free, public transportation is good and walking is a preferred method for getting around by both tourists and residents. There are companies that cater to group and individual touring needs and self-tours are easy to create. A guided tour is the best way to go if you have limited time and want to hit the high spots. Parking is difficult in many parts of the city so plan on taking the Metro and walking if you have more time.

Ride the Metro. There are Metro subway stops throughout the city and suburbs, and almost all tourist attractions are within easy walking distance of a Metro station. Print a map from the subway system's website or download a version for your iPod. One-day passes allow for unlimited rides on the subway. Buy a SmarTrip Card for transfers between trains and buses; you'll also need it to get out of the parking lot if you drive to a Metro station.

Take the Metrobus. Buses are reasonably priced alternatives to taxis and are great ways to get around when you don't want to hunt for parking for your car. Bus schedules are available at Metro Center, the hub of the subway system, and online.

Buy Tourmobile tickets. The Tourmobile is an open-air bus that stops at all the monuments, the Capitol, Mt. Vernon, the Frederick Douglass Home and Arlington National Cemetery. You can get on and off anywhere along the route without having to pay an additional fee.

Walk around historic neighborhoods like Georgetown and Foggy Bottom. Georgetown is home to shopping, restaurants and bits of history like the Old Stone House, the oldest surviving private home in Washington. The State Department, Kennedy Center and Watergate are in the Foggy Bottom area. Other great places to walk are Capitol Hill, the Southwest waterfront and the National Mall. The Mall stretches from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and is lined with museums.

Rent a paddleboat and take a leisurely trip around the Tidal Basin, home to the Jefferson Memorial and the famous cherry trees. The Cherry Blossom Festival takes place in the spring, when the thousands of Japanese cherry trees around the Tidal Basin bloom.

Drive around town. The street system in Washington is easy to understand. The Capitol is the center of the grid, with numbered streets going north and south, starting with First Street. The street name's suffix indicates which quadrant of the city you're in--NW, NE, SW and SE. Lettered streets run east and west alphabetically and then street names are alphabetical after the letters run out. Avenues named after states are diagonal, and intersections take the form of traffic circles.

See the sights from the water. Book an evening dinner cruise on the Potomac River and enjoy the monuments at night, watch airplanes at Reagan National Airport and take in the high-rises of Rosslyn, Virginia. Charter a private yacht for a small catered party while you're touring.

Sign up for a guided tour. Take a Segway tour or ride the DC Ducks, WWII amphibious vehicles that travel on both land and water. Visit the monuments with a guide who knows interesting trivia or choose a special itinerary that might include ghostly sights, African-American history or DC by night.

Tips & Warnings

  • Hotels are expensive in Washington so consider staying in the suburbs near a Metro station.

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