If you’ve never visited Washington, D.C., you might think that the only things worth seeing in the capital are the many monuments and neoclassical buildings that many people have come to know and love.
However, Washington, D.C. is home to many more things than just those attractions. It’s got fantastic restaurants, unique local shops, some of the best history and art museums, city tours, and several other fun, educational, and entertaining attractions.
Because you can find so much to do in Washington, D.C., you may find it challenging to decide on what to do if you’re visiting the capital for your first time.
To help you with that process, we’ve compiled some of the best attractions for you to choose from. We’ll also go over the best and worst times to visit the capital, as you can have very different experiences depending on when you go.
Why You Should Visit Washington, D.C.
The attractions you can find in Washington, D.C. are among the best that you can find anywhere, and for many, that alone is enough of a reason to visit.
If you’re someone who isn’t huge on checking out things like monuments, museums, or similar forms of recreational entertainment, you can still enjoy the city itself.
Unlike New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and some other large cities that attract tourists, Washington, D.C. doesn’t suffer from the issue of overcrowding nearly as much.
Depending on when you go, there will be more or fewer people, but it rarely ever reaches the point where walking feels like a chore.
The ease of transportation makes Washington, D.C. a place where you can have easy access to all kinds of things to do and also enjoy the city and walk the streets without constantly being surrounded by people on all sides.
With all this in mind, let’s get into the overall best time to pay a visit to Washington, D.C.
Overall Best Time to Visit Washington, D.C.
Out of all the seasons in a year, the fall is the best time to visit Washington, D.C.
The vast majority of people like to go on their vacations when the weather is nice, which means that you’ll almost always have to deal with large numbers of tourists if you plan to visit when everyone else does.
However, you can visit Washington, D.C. when the weather is at its best and not have to deal with navigating an overabundance of people. Visiting between September and November is the best overall time because it has no significant downsides.
The weather is just beginning to come down off the summer heat and humidity, so it’s still a good way away from reaching that winter chill that’s tough to endure.
So, you can still enjoy both the outdoor and indoor attractions that the capital offers. For example, if you want to check out the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, going during the fall is best because the animals are usually more active in cooler weather than in hotter weather.
You’ll also have the luxury of taking your time and not worrying about getting a nasty sunburn from the sun or a runny nose from the cold.
If you’re looking to go earlier in the year, visiting between March and May is ideal because the weather is tolerable enough for you to participate in any outdoor activities that pique your interest.
You can also enjoy the National Cherry Blossom Festival, a fantastic seasonal event that typically happens between March and April.
Cheapest Time to Visit Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, the cheapest time to visit Washington, D.C. is also the time when the weather is at arguably its absolute worst. If you didn’t know already, the capital is sometimes home to heavy snowfall, but this varies each year.
You might get caught in thick snowfalls that will ruin any outdoor plans, or you may experience reasonably cold temperatures during your visit.
Washington, D.C. experiences an inconsistent type of winter, which makes it hit or miss most of the time. If you’re planning on going during the winter, then best check the weather forecasts for the days when you’re going to visit.
The main tradeoff for dealing with inclement weather is the lower prices you’ll find for most attractions.
The individual prices may not seem that reduced initially, but the amount of money you can ultimately save across the entirety of a trip is substantial enough to make a difference. In addition to lower prices, you’ll also get faster access to everything due to the absence of large crowds.
You won’t find yourself waiting in any of the long lines that generally come with trying to visit many museums, monuments, or other major attractions.
Lower prices and shorter lines are a considerable upside, and shorter wait times mean you’ll get to visit and see more things during your stay.
Least Busy Time to Visit Washington, D.C.
The least busy time to visit Washington, D.C. is similar to the cheapest time to visit. You can avoid the influx of tourists that comes during the spring and fall months by visiting in the summer and winter months instead.
It sometimes changes yearly, but flights are often cheaper during the winter months if you’re flying into Washington, D.C. from out of state.
The only times when the prices generally don’t get cheaper are during the holidays when many people are traveling to see family and friends. You should also expect Washington, D.C. to be busier around the holidays.
So if you’re looking to go during the least busy times of the winter months, ensure you don’t plan your visit during the holiday season.
Summer is another good time to visit if you want to go when things aren’t at their busiest like they are in the spring and fall. Few people enjoy traveling during the hottest and most humid months of the year in the city.
However, you can count on kids from summer camps and summer field trips to visit the city throughout the summer.
Unfortunately, there is no reliable way to avoid these large groups. So, winter is still the least busy time to visit Washington, D.C. and it’s your best bet if that’s your main desire.
Worst Time to Visit Washington, D.C.
The worst time to visit Washington, D.C. depends on your primary concern. Is it crowds or the weather? In terms of crowds, spring and fall are the worst times to visit the capital because those are also the best times to visit for the best weather.
People will constantly be out and about during these times, so you can fully expect plenty of foot traffic. Getting into museums, monuments, and other popular spots for tourists will also prove time-consuming due to the sheer number of people.
You’ll likely have to contend with long lines everywhere you go, and it won’t be that much different regardless of the time of day. So, you’ll want to visit during the winter and summer to avoid this.
In terms of weather, the worst time to visit works in reverse, with the winter and summer being the times you want to avoid. It’ll either be too hot and humid or too cold for you to enjoy Washington, D.C.’s great outdoor offerings.
However, you won’t have any trouble accessing them since many people won’t be around. From a particular perspective, you can say that every time of the year is the worst time to visit Washington, D.C. in at least one respect.
So, you’ll have to decide what you consider more detrimental to having an enjoyable experience. We recommend avoiding the bad weather, as dealing with long lines and wait times is not as tedious.
Things to Consider
Before you set off for what’s bound to be a fantastic experience, there are a few things you’ll want to consider to make the most of your trip:
- Plan well. First and foremost, good planning will go a long way in how well or poorly your visit to Washington, D.C. goes. If you want to visit museums, monuments, and other popular spots, do your research ahead of time and figure out the best way to visit them. Ideally, try visiting locations close to each other all at once.
- Get a good hotel. You’ll want to have a comfortable place to stay for your trip, so take the time to look up the best hotels in the area. Read up on what they have to offer, check user reviews, and compare prices to see which ones have the best value. Don’t forget about the location either. You’ll want to get a hotel relatively close to the places you plan to visit to minimize walking time.
- Visit some free attractions. Washington, D.C. has many completely free attractions, and you should take advantage of them. Admission to the Smithsonian Museum is entirely free of charge, and you have plenty of options to choose from depending on what you’re interested in. The National Mall is another iconic spot that you can check out without paying a single penny.
- Don’t drive. While it’s perfectly fine to bring a car along with you to the capital, we don’t recommend you use it during your stay. You can get around the city well enough without driving, as everything is within walking distance of most hotels. In an event where you don’t feel like traveling to your destination on foot, you can also use the excellent public transportation system.
- Wear comfortable footwear. Because you’re likely going to be doing a lot of walking and standing during your trip, you should have the proper footwear for the task. Running shoes are often your best bet in this case, so if you don’t already have a pair, invest in one before you leave for your trip.
- Don’t do too much in one visit. One mistake people often make when visiting Washington, D.C. is trying to do too much in a single visit. We get it. It’s tempting to try and see as much of the capital as possible because there’s an overabundance of exciting things available. However, you’ll likely encounter long wait times for certain attractions, so factor those into your planning.
- Be Safe. Washington, D.C. is overall a relatively safe city, but like any city, you do need to be aware of where the bad areas are and how to avoid them. Also, take the same precautions you would when visiting any city you’re unfamiliar with. Keep your belongings close, watch out for suspicious characters, and stay in populated and well-lit areas at night.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some questions that you may still have about visiting Washington, D.C:
How many days are enough for visiting Washington, D.C.?
Five days is usually enough time to have a fulfilling experience visiting Washington, D.C. It gives you a chance to get out and see a good chunk of the capital’s attractions while also having plenty of time to relax.
What is the best way to get around in Washington, D.C.?
Walking is the best way to get around Washington, D.C. because everything’s relatively close. You don’t have to go out of your way to find cool things to do, which removes the need for having a car or using public transportation unless you have to get somewhere quickly.
Is it worth renting a car in Washington, D.C.?
You do not need to rent a car when visiting Washington, D.C. because you can get to everywhere you need to go on foot. The Metrobus system is also sufficient if you need to get a ride somewhere. So, you might as well save yourself the hassle of having a car and having to worry about parking and traffic.
Is Washington, D.C. expensive to visit?
Not necessarily. You certainly can spend a lot of money visiting Washington, D.C. if you spend every day going to the most expensive attractions and eating at the finest restaurants. However, you don’t have to do that when some of the best attractions like the Smithsonian Museum are completely free. Also, not having to use a car or public transportation means you won’t have to spend any money on getting around, and this is rather significant since many other cities don’t afford you the same luxury.
What month are the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C.?
The cherry blossoms bloom at different times each year, but they generally start in March or April. They are not blooming for a large window of time, so you will have to do some careful planning to give yourself the best opportunity to see them during a visit.
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Washington, D.C.?
The best times to visit Washington, D.C. area are between September and November or March and May.
You’ll experience the best weather conditions during these times, and while you’ll have to deal with crowds, that’s far less of a problem than having to deal with bad weather that makes it impossible to enjoy your time outside in the city.