For my first trip to Washington DC, I didn’t know what to expect. Initially, I thought three nights in Washington might be too long. I thought I would get bored or run out of things to do.
BIG surprise! I was wrong. I was couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed my visit to DC!
For our trip, we stayed in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. We found this was a great base for exploring the city’s top attractions. I saved 50% off my hotel rate by booking through Hotwire. This is a great website for saving money on hotels.
Because hotel rates in Washington DC can be expensive, another smart way to save money on accommodations is to book through Airbnb. I have used Airbnb throughout North America and have always had a good experience. It’s great for groups, friends, or couples since prices are often cheaper than hotels.
Despite this being one of my least planned trips, it turned out to be a blast! However, there are several things I learned during my visit to the city. Here are ten things I wish I knew before my first trip to Washington DC!
Related Post: 3-Day Washington Itinerary For First-Time Visitors
1. Take advantage of the Washington DC Explorer Pass
Visiting Washington DC for the first time can be hectic. With so many great things to see and do, it can be challenging to plan an itinerary and determine which attractions to spend your money on.
The good new is you don’t need to plan your Washington DC trip alone. After doing a lot of research for my own vacation, I discovered the Washington DC Explorer Pass. This pass can be a great tool for planning your holiday.
I used the Explorer Pass, which helped me easily plan my itinerary and visit all the top attractions in the city. With the Washington DC Explorer Pass, I saved time, money, and enjoyed stress-free sightseeing.
PRO TIP: Buy the pass online to save time and hassle. To buy the Explorer Pass, click here to go to the official website. The pass is valid for 12 months from the date of purchase.
What’s included in the Washington DC Explorer Pass:
The Washington DC Explorer Pass is a multi-attraction card where you can choose to visit 3, 4 or 5 top attractions all for ONE low price, including Madame Tussauds DC, Big Bus Panoramic Night Tour, and the Newseum.
You also have the option to include a free Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour to enjoy at your leisure. This can be a smart way to get around Washington DC.
How to get your Washington DC Explorer Pass:
Step 1: Choose the pass which best suits your trip. You can visit 3, 4 or 5 different attractions for one low price. Save up to 47% off vs. paying at the gate. You can click here to purchase your Washington DC Pass from the official website.
Step 2: Download your pass instantly on any mobile device. Or you can print your pass at home.
Step 3: Simply show your pass at the attraction entrance and walk right in. Your pass is valid for 30 days after the first attraction you visit.
PRO TIP: Choose the 3 attraction pass if visiting for a couple of days. If staying 3 to 5 days, consider purchasing the 4 or 5 attraction pass.
2. Save money by visiting Washington DC on the weekend
The city caters primarily to business travelers, so hotels tend to increase their prices during the week and offer huge discounts on the weekend. I recommend searching for affordable accommodations on Airbnb. Prices are often cheaper than hotels, which means more money in your pocket for sightseeing and shopping.
CLICK HERE to get a coupon to use towards your next stay with Airbnb!
If you prefer to stay in a hotel, I recommend searching for cheap rates on Hotwire. I booked the Hilton hotel in Dupont Circle for 50% off the regular rate through Hotwire.
My must-have Washington DC accessories:
Click the product to shop
3. Buy a SmarTrip card for the DC Metro to save money
Getting around town is easy with the DC Metro. The city’s metro is quick and convenient for locals and tourists. Instead of getting a SmarTrip card, I made the mistake of paying with a paper farecard which costs me $1 more each trip. I recommend getting a SmarTrip card to get the best value when riding the DC Metro.
Another good option to get around the city is to take a Hop On Hop Off bus tour. There are 3 different loops offered. This makes it a fun way to visit all the popular landmarks and sights in the city, including the White House, Capitol Hill, and the Lincoln Memorial. You can click here to learn more.
4. The monuments and memorials are NOT as close as they appear
The National Mall is a lot bigger than many people think. I made this mistake when walking to the Jefferson Memorial. I’m glad I went though, because this was one of my favorite memorials.
PRO TIP: A better way to see the popular monuments and memorials is take a Big Bus Tour. This flexible Hop On Hop Off bus tour lets you to visit all the top landmarks at your leisure. Popular stops include the White House, Capitol Hill, Jefferson Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. You can click here to learn more.
Money-Saving Tip: You can save up to 47% off the Big Bus Tour when you purchase the Washington DC Explorer Pass. Simply show your pass on your phone and easily explore the city.
5. Wear comfortable shoes
I know this sounds silly, but wearing comfortable shoes are a must when visiting Washington DC. It doesn’t matter how much you ride the DC Metro, you will be doing A LOT of walking. Whether it’s walking the National Mall or walking through DC’s many museums, you’ll need comfy shoes. These are my favorite comfortable shoes to wear when traveling.
I also recommend wearing a backpack for your trip. This is my go-to backpack for traveling. It’s great for storing my camera, water bottle, hand sanitizer, snacks, travel essentials, and so on. It’s stylish and big enough to carry everything I need when exploring a new city.
6. The best gift shops are at the city’s museums
I always like to bring back a souvenir from every trip I take, whether it’s a luggage tag, something for my living room, or a cute tea cup. If you’re looking to visit some gift shops, a good bet is the ones at the museums. My favorite is at the National Gallery of Art.
I bought a serving tray from the National Gallery of Art for my coffee table. It’s a great conversation piece and it doesn’t look like it came from a museum gift shop.
7. Bring a refillable bottle of water with you
You can purchase bottled water from street vendors, however a better choice is to bring your own refillable bottle of water.. This will cause less waste and you can refill it at any water fountain. This is my favorite refillable bottle to bring when traveling.
The spring and summer months can get hot, so it’s important to keep yourself hydrated during a long day of sightseeing.
8. Visit free museums and attractions
If you’re on a tight budget, considering checking out some of Washington DC’s free attractions. This includes the monuments, memorials, national zoo and Smithsonian museums. One place that I highly recommend visiting is Ford’s Theatre where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
9. Don’t spend your whole trip at the Mall
While first-time visitors tend to spend the majority of their trip at the Mall, it’s worthwhile to visit DC’s other neighborhoods too. This includes Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Old Town Alexandira, West End, Penn Quarter, and so on.
10. Some attractions require advance planning
While many of DC’s attractions are open every day and allow you to visit them at your leisure, there are a few places the require reservation tickets and advance planning.
This includes the White House, the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Washington Monument. I recommend doing your own research first to see what’s required before visiting these spots.
Over to you — what are your tips for visiting Washington DC?
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