Wide shot of Washington Monument with people looking from a far

Washington DCTravel Guide

Washington, DC, is the epicentre of power in the United States – something you won’t easily miss as you meander from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, then down the National Mall to the Capitol Building. This city oozes energy and ambition, but you’re also in luck if you want to find a quiet restaurant or a stylish wine bar to rest up in while you plan your next cultural adventure. Don’t miss DC’s notorious Happy Hour and if you want to enjoy this city like a local, pack a lot into your day and have some fun when the sun goes down. Planning a visit? Explore our Washington, DC travel guide. We’ve collected the best tips from our travel experts, and have all sorts of suggestions for things to do, the best time to travel, where to stay in DC, getting around and more.

Explore Washington DC

Where to stay in Washington DC?

Pondering where to stay in Washington, DC? You have a host of equally great regions to pick from. If you’re keen to be in the thick of the action, Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle and Penn Quarter are classed as some of the best areas to stay in Washington, DC due to their close proximity to all the major tourism precincts. Georgetown is home to historic options and high-end boutique hotels, while more budget-friendly lodgings can be found farther afield. Thanks to the public transport system being so efficient, most city precincts still feel close to the history and excitement.

World-renowned hotels sit comfortably beside boutique accommodation and bed and breakfasts in this historic area of Washington D.C. Georgetown offers a unique ambience and charm with great eats, amazing shopping, and simply astounding real estate. The former tobacco port is located on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and is one of the earliest settled areas of the greater D.C. region.

Dupont Circle is close to all the action, with accommodation to suite every taste and budget. Some of the biggest names in the hotel sector are within the region. Pick from boutique hotels, or five-star accommodation. Best of all, the major tourism destinations like the National Mall are easily accessible.

Foggy Bottom adjoins Georgetown and the Potomac River, offering easy access to both this historic region and the sights of D.C. What's more, the region is jam-packed with accommodation options so you can find lodgings to suit your budget. Stay in world-renowned hotel chains, or book some time in a more homely bed and breakfast or a boutique hotel.

Midtown is situated to the northwest of the National Mall between Foggy Bottom and Capitol Hill. Get excellent access to all the sights and sounds of Washington D.C., including the White House. Accommodation here varies from big-name hotels to apartments, with some boutique options on the side. The price tag also varies accordingly.

From serviced flats to five-star hotels and full-scale luxury suites, Capitol Hill places you close to the action and within walking distance of the major monuments and museums. The National Mall is just a hop, skip or metro ride away, and you're sure to be comfortably accommodated within the very heart of American democracy.

Close to all of D.C.'s tourism action but with a distinctly multicultural flavour all of its own, Adams Morgan boasts vibrant bars, exciting eateries, and enticing stores. Accommodation-wise, Adams Morgan also offers a lesser hit to the hip pocket than precincts closer to town, but it's still within easy reach of all the major sights of D.C.

As an arts and entertainment district with historic roots, Penn Quarter offers a mix of nightlife, city proximity, and a vast array of restaurants. The region is also home to a variety of upmarket accommodation options, without the high-end price tag. Some facilities are grand, others historic, but in either case there's a large range to choose from and any will place you just outside the heart of D.C.

Believe us when we say, this is just the start. Book your accommodation today!

  • National Gallery of Art Smithsonian in between trees
    • Red flowers in a square garden with Smithsonian in the background
    • Jefferson Memorial at dusk with water in front
  • National Gallery of Art Smithsonian in between trees
    National Gallery of Art Smithsonian in between trees
    National Gallery of Art Smithsonian in between trees
  • Red flowers in a square garden with Smithsonian in the background
    Red flowers in a square garden with Smithsonian in the background
    Red flowers in a square garden with Smithsonian in the background
  • Jefferson Memorial at dusk with water in front
    Jefferson Memorial at dusk with water in front
    Jefferson Memorial at dusk with water in front

Things to do in Washington DC

Whether you’re after history, art or stunning urban design, there are things to do in Washington, DC that cater to every taste. This is a location where museums and monuments sit comfortably next to upmarket eating precincts, world-class shopping boutiques, and carefully manicured parks. With so many sights and experiences to choose from, it’s a destination to settle into and explore at your leisure.

This is a place to pause and reflect on the price of liberty and freedom. The Lincoln Memorial overlooks the National Mall and pays homage to one of the most important presidents, and eras, in American history. Lincoln sits on permanent watch near the Potomac River, looking up towards Capitol Hill and paints an enduring image of Washington D.C.

Built to honour America's first president, the Washington Monument quietly towers over Washington D.C. This 555ft marble obelisk is the tallest monumental column in the world and features a fascinating construction history. Although building began in 1844, it stood unfinished for 23 years due to the American Civil War and a shortage of funds.

In an era of spin and fake news, Washington D.C.'s Newseum seems more relevant than ever. Highlighting and defending the importance of free expression, there are seven levels of interactive displays to explore, including 15 galleries and 15 theatres. See exhibits from historic newsworthy events like sections of the Berlin Wall and the broadcast antenna from the top of the World Trade Centre.

Described as a museum that goes ‘above and beyond', the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is home to exhibitions and collections that chart the history and progression of aviation. With a focus on the invention and development of flight – both in and out of this world – here you'll find the largest and most significant collection of aviation and space artefacts in the world, including the Apollo 11 command module.

The simple yet strikingly beautiful Vietnam Veterans Memorial honours over 58,000 Americans who gave their lives during the Vietnam War. Symbolising far more than the fallen, it reflects America's coming of age during the tumultuous period of the 1960s and ‘70s. The name of every soldier who lost their life is inscribed here, etched into a gabbro rock wall that reflects the National Mall.

From cursed diamonds to a life-sized display of human evolution, the National Museum of Natural History is home to over 125 impressive specimens, cultural artefacts, and most famous relics in the world. Enjoy interactive displays and enough facts to blow your mind. Find the Museum of Natural History on the National Mall.

Opened in 2002, the International Spy Museum offers an intriguing glimpse into the secretive world of espionage. This usually invisible profession is laid out for all to see through a huge collection of artefacts that wouldn't look out of place in a James Bond film – think guns disguised as torches and cameras hidden in combs. Fortunately, the museum itself isn't difficult to find, located in the Penn Quarter.

Home to the president and enshrined in global history, the White House and its grounds sit perpendicular to the National Mall. If you're looking to gain an in-depth appreciation of this iconic building, large swathes of the grounds are open for you to explore. Take time to browse in the visitor's centre, which includes artefacts and exhibitions that tell the story of the White House as a national symbol, stage, and home.

Instantly recognisable, the Capitol Building is the heart of US government and overlooks the National Mall. The beautifully landscaped gardens around the building are open to the public. Enjoy taking time out to view the ornate fountains and numerous monuments. Meanwhile, guided tours of the building's interior are also available, providing a more personal insight into the world's most influential democracy.

Casting a watchful gaze directly towards the White House is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. This hallowed monument sits on the shores of the Potomac River, paying tribute to the third president of the United States and one of America's founding fathers. Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and is widely credited as an architect of the American Revolution.

Spanning the neoclassical West Building and the contemporary East Building, the National Gallery of Art features thousands of significant artworks and sculptures dating from the Renaissance up to the present day. Each piece at the gallery has been privately donated or loaned to the National Gallery of Art for display. Expect to see European and American masterpieces. The National Gallery of Art is located on Constitution Avenue.

The National Museum of African American History is another venue run by the Smithsonian Institution. Opened in 2016, it's dedicated to documenting the African American experience – covering slavery and the civil rights movement – and tackles the bigger theme of what it means to be an American. Be prepared to spend a good amount of time here, as there are over 3,500 artefacts covering everything from African American music to politics to athletics.

As a living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is designed to inspire people to confront hatred and promote human dignity. The museum includes items, personal histories and footage from the Holocaust. It also extends to more recent events in Cambodia with a message to prevent history from repeating itself. You'll find the Holocaust Memorial Museum on the National Mall, just south of Independence Avenue.

Looking for an immersive experience? Then a tour is the way to go.

Washington DC travel tips

Visiting America’s capital is generally a safe and enjoyable experience, with just a few Washington D.C. travel tips to keep in mind. Like many nations, the US remains alert to terrorist activity with high security at airports and public places including the government buildings of Washington, DC though this shouldn’t generally affect your travels. The US travel advice can change but generally includes keeping an eye out for suspicious activities and being mindful of your personal safety. Medical treatment can be expensive, so be sure to take out comprehensive travel insurance prior to departure and ensure any required vaccinations are up to date. You can talk to your Flight Centre travel expert to arrange this.

Eligible Australians visiting America for less than 90 days no longer require USA visas. Instead, they can take part in the Visa Waiver Program and apply for authorisation via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). To be eligible, you must have an e-passport, a return or onwards ticket, and a passport that is valid for six months beyond your return date. This is only a guide, so be sure to check the USA immigration website before travelling.

American food is diverse and reflects the nation's strong history of immigration. From hot dogs, burgers and southern fried chicken to Italian, Mexican and French cuisine, there's an array of options. America also boasts high food hygiene standards, but as a general travel rule it's a good idea to assess the general condition of your dining venue before ordering.

You'll need to make sure you take a travel adapter for your electrical appliances when visiting Washington D.C., because American electrical plugs and voltage are very different to the Australian standard. US voltage is lower than Australia, (110-120v compared to 240v here), while the plug has only two parallel pins. Adapters are readily available at post offices and stores prior to departure, or at the airport.

Washington D.C. has three major airports, but the most widely used is Dulles International. It's located in Virginia, about an hour's drive from the city, and services all major international carriers. Get there by rail, bus or taxi and spend the time before your departure exploring over 100 restaurants and retail shops.

Currency used in Washington D.C. is the US dollar, which can be readily obtained prior to your departure from Australia or at money changers and banks within the USA. Credit cards are widely accepted (although check with your bank regarding overseas charges) and there are plenty of ATMs within the city, so there's no need to carry around large amounts of money.

Tipping is a big part of American culture. Expect a gratuity charge to be automatically added to your bill, as this money goes some way to topping up the lower wage rates that service workers earn. Generally, 15-20% of the bill total is a good figure to aim for when knowing how much to tip, or the restaurant may helpfully suggest an amount. It's a good idea to keep a collection of $1 bills handy for this purpose alone.

English is the national language of the United States of America, although there are linguistic nuances and the pronunciation or spelling of specific words may differ. You may find that harder ‘Z's replace ‘S's, amongst other nuances. By and large, communication is easy and people are more than willing to help if there's a term you don't understand.

Flights to Washington DC

Washington DC food and drink

The Washington, DC food and drink scene has moved with culinary fashions, so hip and happening districts sit alongside traditional and upmarket fare. Indulge in the Asian delicacies of Chinatown, then turn the corner to explore a bounty of new restaurants all adding to the city’s vibrant dining scene. Sample food that’s renowned the world over – dine alongside a member of Congress or slip out for a casual lunch of artisan sandwiches that beggar belief thanks to their size and fillings. To complement all the eateries, there’s a culture of social enjoyment throughout the city. Beer gardens, wine bars and artisan coffee roasters all provide rich backdrops for watching the world go by.

From Capitol Hill to Chinatown, Washington D.C. restaurant precincts serve up a wide variety of dining delights. Indulge your inner restaurant critic by heading to one of many up-and-coming eateries on 14th Street, or visit the neighbouring U Street and take a seat at the famous Ben's Chili Bowl diner. Chinatown and Penn Quarter offer a variety of acclaimed restaurants, while Capitol Hill provides crowd-pleasing eateries.

From the whiskey bars of Adams Morgan to the breweries of the Navy Yards, there are plenty of venues to sample the Washington D.C. nightlife. Kick back in the evening with a refreshing drink in one of the city's relaxed beer gardens. If wine bars are more your thing, there are plenty of upmarket establishments to choose from. Alternatively, soak up more of the city's culture by enjoying D.C.'s theatre scene.

An array of Washington D.C. food markets have you covered on the fresh produce front. For a true foodie's dream day out, pop to the Eastern Markets at Capitol Hill where you'll find delicatessens, dairy counters, and fresh fruit and veg. Meanwhile, a trip to Union Market will offer you a selection of satiating street eats and fresh produce at the weekly farmers' market.

The Washington D.C. coffee culture is almost as serious as the politics. A host of independent, artisan coffee houses have poured into the city in recent years. The benefit: you can be confident that you're never far from getting a good-quality caffeine fix, while the deliciously faint aroma from the roasting houses has become a welcome scent on many D.C. streets.

Get a real taste for the local cuisine by booking a tour.

Washington DC through your eyes

Where to shop in Washington DC?

Whether you’re looking for high-end fashion, a weekend flea market or a lazy Sunday stroll perusing Georgian antiques, the Washington, DC shopping scene is more than happy to scratch your shopping itch. It’s important for shopping districts to look as inviting as the stores that line them, so the regeneration of DC’s retail realm is a welcome one. A modern precinct in the heart of the city satisfies seasoned shoppers, while the much-loved flea markets and premium boutiques that sell handcrafted indie items means there’s a wonderful range of shopping opportunities to suit all budgets.

Each weekend, neighbourhoods across D.C. spring to life with lively flea markets selling an array of wares. Notable Washington D.C. markets include the Georgetown Flea Market, which takes place each Sunday and is famed for collectibles and antiques, while the Sunday edition of Eastern Market in Capitol Hill is perfect for discovering handicrafts, clothing and knickknacks.

Not sure what to buy in Washington D.C.? Let the many oversized shopping malls inspire your decision. No matter where you're based in the city, you don't have to venture far to indulge in this shopping haven. Downtown D.C. is home to the massive CityCenterDC, while Friendship Heights boasts four high-end malls connected by the Metro, and Tyson's Corner in Virginia is a shopping mecca of over 300 stores.

Seek out the latest Washington D.C. fashion at a host of shopping precincts that offer everything from hip to haute couture. Make the most of high-end boutique shopping with a trip to Georgetown. Find globally renowned retailers like Macy's in downtown D.C., and discover an old-school yet happening vibe in trendy U Street. For more classic offerings and tailored style, Dupont Circle should be on your shopping precincts radar.

Looking for a safe and simple way to bring your money when you travel? Our Travel Money Card has you covered!

When is the best time to travel to Washington DC?

The weather in Washington, DC plays a major role in determining the best time to visit as it varies greatly from season to season. Summers are hot and humid. Enjoy lush green foliage in the parks and green spaces and a relaxed atmosphere throughout the city. Winters are considered mild, but they regularly bring a blanket of snow. In between, spring and autumn are crisp and pleasant, and they provide a spectacular display of natural beauty. The best time to travel to Washington, DC really is a personal choice, with each season offering a unique opportunity to discover the national capital in all its spectacular seasonal glory.

Summer sees Washington D.C. in holiday mode as Congress takes a break and families embrace their annual vacation. It's also when the Washington D.C. temperature hits daily averages of 27°C, with the break of an occasional storm. Appropriate clothing: Shorts and t-shirts for sightseeing, casual dress wear and light jumpers for the evening. Don't forget: Sun protection.

Washington D.C. takes on a magical stillness come winter. It's even more mystical when it snows. This means the temperature gets cold, with a January average of just 4°C. Appropriate clothing: Winter clothing, including heavy, warm jackets, gloves, and a scarf. Don't forget: Layer your outfit – while it's cold outside, the internal temperature of buildings is often quite warm.

The ‘fall' is one of the most spectacular times to visit Washington D.C. with the vibrant autumn leaves on full display. The weather is generally pleasant, with days being warm and dry, and the evening air having a slight chill. Appropriate clothing: Casual shirts, pants or skirts and something dressier for the evening. Don't forget: A lightweight jacket or scarf – the temperature can change quickly.

From a cold, icy winter, Washington D.C. suddenly awakens into the full and spectacular bloom of spring. Days are generally cool and clear, but May brings the highest Washington D.C. rainfall of the year, so expect occasional but heavy rain showers. Appropriate clothing: Layered items including a coat – it can still get cold. Don't forget: An umbrella or raincoat for those occasional spring showers.

Don't miss out. Book your flight today!

How to get around Washington DC

Getting around the US capital is designed to be easy and Washington, DC boasts one of the most functional transport systems in the world. The underground MetroRail allows you to quickly get from place to place, with the MetroBus then servicing any additional stops. If you’re looking to really explore the monuments and museums then walking is the best way to take in the full scope of your surroundings. The majority of the city’s most famous sights are all accessible on foot from the central point of the National Mall.

Washington D.C. taxis are plentiful, economical, and easy to find. In fact, the city boasts one of the highest citizen-to-taxi ratios in the world. All taxis use a meter system and accept credit cards, debit cards, and cash. To make it even easier, you can download an app to find and hire a taxi, and to estimate the fare.

The Washington D.C. bike share initiative is a practical, swift, and innovative way to navigate the city. There are over 3,700 bicycles available from 440 easily accessible stations. To utilise the service you can purchase a single trip or short-term ticket, or take out a membership by signing up online or at a designated kiosk.

The underground MetroRail system is a highly efficient Washington D.C. public transport option. It services all major areas of the capital and stops within easy walking distances of monuments and museums that you're likely to visit. It's complemented by the equally functional MetroBus system, which provides easy transport to any areas not covered by rail.

Walking is one of the best ways of getting around Washington D.C. and gives you the opportunity to discover the city at a much more leisurely pace. Popular walking routes include the National Mall, Old Town Alexandria, and Arlington National Cemetery. Navigating the city while out on your wanderings is simple, as each of the streets are numbered running south to north and lettered when running east to west.

Let us help you organise your own wheels for exploring. Hire a car today.


What are the best parks in Washington DC?

From important public spaces to mansions with formal gardens, Washington, DC parks are a striking feature of the city. You’ll find a number of the most significant parks within the Capitol Hill vicinity, including the National Mall, Constitution Gardens, and a series of memorial parks. Each plays a role in the cultural fabric of America and gives citizens the space to honour veterans, celebrate legacies, and have their voices heard. Venture a little farther from the heartbeat of politics and you’ll discover the city’s renowned botanical beauty. Former private estates like Dumbarton Oaks and Hillwood Mansion are open for exploration.

Perhaps the most famous area of Washington D.C., the National Mall is a 3km stretch of public parkland that runs from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial. Among the well-kept lawns you'll find the statuesque Washington Monument, the Vietnam Veterans memorial, and the World War II remembrance monument. From here, it's a short walk to the White House and Smithsonian museums.

Not only is Lincoln Park and Capitol Hill the largest public green space in the area, but it's also home to two very important statues. To celebrate the abolition of slavery and importance of civil rights equality in the District of Columbia, a memorial to Abraham Lincoln and bronze statue of African American educator and activist Mary McLeod sit proudly on either side of the park.

Once the opulent home of American socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post, Hillwood Mansion Museum and Gardens offer the opportunity to explore a sumptuously decorated home and equally ornate gardens. The grounds alone feature 10ha of flowering, formal gardens adjoining Rock Creek Park. Take time to explore the mansion and you'll discover a treasure trove of 18th Century French decorating style and a bounty of artistic treasures.

The US National Arboretum is a spectacular and vast botanical garden located a 3km drive from Capitol Hill. Spanning 180 hectares, the Arboretum's collection of trees and plants from around the world, as well as public artworks, make this a fascinating place to explore on foot or by bike. Why not take a picnic lunch here?

Constitution Gardens provide a quiet place to take in the stately beauty of the Washington Monument and the view beyond to Capitol Hill. These scenic gardens were built for the 1976 US bicentennial. Enjoy meandering through the green space and over the footbridge to the island sitting in the middle of the small pond to enjoy a different perspective of the gardens. Find the Constitution Gardens between the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the White House, just off the National Mall.

Getting from park to park is so much better with your own wheels. Hitch your ride now!

Washington DC Frequently asked questions

It depends how many museums and sites you can cram into your days. Washington DC is home to 19 Smithsonian museums alone, and that’s not even including the Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History, which are also must-see attractions. Oh, and then there’s the White House. Aim for at least a week if you can as that will give you time to go at a slightly slower pace.

If there’s one thing you need in Washington DC, above all else, it’s comfortable walking shoes! You spend a lot of time walking in between sites so make sure you’re prepared. A refillable drink bottle is also a great addition to save you buying single-use plastic.

The hardest thing about visiting Washington DC is trying to narrow down the list of what to do. For those with limited time, be sure to check out the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, Washington Monument, the Smithsonian Space Museum and National Gallery of Art, to name just a few!

Life happens - we get it! Read more here

Washington DC is a relatively safe city for visitors. Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, Penn Quarter and Foggy Bottom are regarded as some of the safest areas to stay. Georgetown boasts some historic options and high-end boutique hotels, while more budget-friendly spots can be found a little further afield.

It’s pretty hard to beat springtime in Washington DC. Picture blue skies, no humidity and gorgeous blooming cherry blossoms bathing the city in soft pink splendour. The National Cherry Blossom Festival runs for a month and is a celebration of culture, art music and more.

Take a tour of the White House (tip, you’ll need to book well in advance) get a hefty dose of history and culture skipping between the many (many) Smithsonian Museums, take a peek at the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives, eat your way around the city, which includes plenty of Michelin starred dishes and delights, sip from the source at one of the many breweries or distilleries, visit giant pandas at the National Zoo and pay your respects at the Arlington National Cemetery. If you are politically inclined, you can even watch the Supreme Court in action if your visit coincides with the sittings from October to April. There’s no shortage of things to see and do in Washington DC, the hardest part will be trying to fit it all in.

The current requirements for travelling to Washington DC

Talk to a Washington DC Travel Expert

Our dedicated team of experts know all the ins and outs of travel and love sharing their knowledge. If you're looking for help planning specific sections of your trip or full itinerary planning, our team is ready and waiting to help create your perfect holiday.
Enquire now
Flight Centre

© Flight Centre Travel Group (Pty) Ltd. Registration No. 1994/000253/07.

*Prices are in ZAR and subject to availability. Please refer to specific product’s terms and conditions.