The USA capital, Washington DC is a bastion of history, culture and art. Home to Smithsonian Institute (a network of museums and research institutions open to the public), world-class music and theatre venues, and a thriving food scene, Washington DC is an ideal choice for a USA city break.
Washington DC uses the American Dollar ($). $1 = £0.77 and / €0.92 (as of 2022).
Top 5 things to see
Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool
The impressive Lincoln Memorial towers above onlookers as they explore his stone temple decorated with excerpts from the former president's most famous speeches including the Gettysburg Address. Take in the view of the Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument in the distance from the steps where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the iconic "I Have A Dream".
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Since opening in 2016, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture has been the hottest ticket in town. The museum takes visitors on a journey of the Black American experience - starting from the harrowing journey enslaved Africans brought to the colonies to the Civil Rights Movement to the present day Black impact on pop culture. The museum is free, however you must pre-book time slot tickets.
National Museum of American History
Another museum belonging to the Smithsonian Institution's network, the National Museum of American History is a treasure trove of artefacts. You can gaze at Judy Garland's ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, Julia Childs' Cambridge kitchen, gowns of First Ladies and more.
Library of Congress
An underground passage from the Capitol Building leads to the world's largest library. Modeled on the Paris Opera House, the Library of Congress houses thousands of books, manuscripts, illustrations and more - ranging from three complete Gutenberg Bibles to Thomas Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence. Visitors can explore the interior on their own or join a guided tour for even more information.
International Spy Museum
Perfect for James Bond enthusiasts, International Spy Museum is full of interactive exhibits from real and fictional espionage - think the Astin Martin DB5 from Goldfinger, the Enigma cipher from World War II, and a KGB poison dart umbrella.
Washington DC Sightseeing Pass
Washington DC is unique in that many of its major attractions are free to visit. However, for activities like sightseeing buses, cruises, and bike tours as well as some museums - there is the Washington DC day pass.
1 day = $89.
2 days = $149.
3 days = $199.
Where to eat and drink
Washington DC has undergone a bit of a foodie renaissance over the last 15 years. The political scene certainly overshadowed the food and drink scene for decades, but now chefs and restaurateurs are holding their own in the nation's capital.
Ted's Bulletin is a small local chain that creates an elevated all-American diner experience. Though open for lunch, dinner and happy hour, the all-day breakfast is the real star of the show. Pancakes, steak and eggs, hash, benedicts - all the classics. Be sure to order the beloved homemade poptarts which can't be missed.
Martin's Tavern is a historic wood-panelled eatery in Georgetown. Serving simple, classic dishes, Martin's has been at the forefront of DC politics for generations. Its past is marked in its booths - you can sit in Madeleine Albright's booth, the first woman US Secretary of State, or in the same booth where JFK proposed to Jackie.
Busboys and Poets is a cultural hub with a few locations across DC and the surrounding neighbourhoods in Maryland and Virginia. Come for brunch and stay to browse the bookshelves and listen to talks from activists and authors.
Centro DF offers weekend bottomless brunch with a Mexican twist. One of the best bottomless brunches in the city, for $39 sip on bottomless cocktails and Mexican small plates for two hours.
Ben's Chilli Bowl has been a D.C. landmark for over 60 years. The original location is on U Street is a cornerstone of the city's Black community and is worth a visit for both the food and the detailed murals of notable visitors, politicians and locals. If you're going for a classic, you'll order the chili half smoke.
Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken serves exactly what you think it does - juicy fried chicken and out-of-this-world doughnuts. Calorie counting does not exist here.
Call Your Mother Deli is a brightly coloured deli and bagel chain dotted across the city. You could get a classic bagel and schmear, or push the boat out and get one of their killer bagel sandwiches or door-stopper sandwiches on challah or rye. Be mindful that their DC locations close at 2pm.
Oyamel celebrates Mexico's diverse regional cuisine with delicious antojitos, tacos and cocktails served in a buzzy, elevated dining room. It's on the pricey side, but completely worth it - whether for dinner or happy hour.
Medium Rare offers a twist on a classic prix fixe menu. The French-inspired restaurant serves rustic, fresh bread before a two course set menu of lovely simple salad and culotte steak and frites cooked to your liking. Vegans fear not - they do have a vegan friendly portobello mushroom option. You'll get two servings of your main before you're tempted by the dessert menu.
Annie's has been serving classic American fare for over 70 years and has been a staple of Dupont Circle's LGBTQIA+ community since the 1960s.
For the adults
Madam's Organ has been a neighbourhood staple for over 30 years. Spread over three floors, the blues bar has nightly live music and janky junkyard decor that just makes you feel at home. It's everything a local should be - more than just a bar, it's also an active part of the community, contributing to/hosting local youth programmes.
Smoke & Mirrors on the roof of the AC Marriott Hotel is one of the city's best cocktail bars. The menu serves the classics and a few flashy tipples, but you're really there for the incredible views over the Capitol Building and D.C.
Off the Record is a hotel bar, epitomising the city's 'be seen and not heard' vibe; if the walls of Off the Record could talk they'd have more than one scandalous story. This is the spot to rub shoulders with power players while sipping on excellent classic cocktails.
Hank's Oyster Bar is a fabulous seafood restaurant but we've included it here thanks to its excellent wine and beer list and well made cocktails that accompany lovely dishes from the sea (especially at happy hour!).
The US has a tipping culture - service staff make minimum wage and many rely on tips. If service is good, 15% is the minimum standard.
Washington DC is a fairly safe city overall. However, it is still important to keep aware and stay vigilant, particularly at night around the metro and train stations.
Two Passports Top Tip: Washington DC is a happy hour town!
Thanks to a culture of constant professional networking and a legion of young professionals and interns on Capitol Hill, happy hour is a way of life in DC. You'll find deals on small plates and drinks ranging from half off wine to dollar wings. Find one that suits you best, or if you find somewhere for an after dinner drink head back the next day and see what they have to offer.
When to Go
Low Season: December to February
Crowds thin as the temperatures drop. You'll find good deals on the city's hotels and you can also explore top restaurants during Winter Restaurant Week.
Shoulder Season: September to November and March
Mild temperatures and sunny days make exploring the nation's capital a holiday well spent. You'll find more tourists and school tour groups, but hotels will still be reasonably priced.
High Season: April to August
Washington DC has a fairly long high season thanks to its iconic cherry blossoms dotted along the Tidal Basin on the National Mall - peak bloom is usually in April and brings crowds and a series of great events. Summer continues with 4th of July and festivals. The crowds and high temperatures bring high hotel prices.
How to Get There
The below is just a brief overview of Washington DC's airports. For more information on these, as well as helpful tips on how to travel into the city, check out our Guide to Washington DC's Airport!
Dulles International Airport (IAD)
IAD is Washington DC’s primary international airport. Served by all the big airlines like Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Air France, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, you’ll be able to find a direct or connecting route into the city from around the world.
Located 27 miles south-west in Virginia the best route into the city from IAD is by bus and metro. Options include the Metrobus 5A ($7.50), or the 981 or 983 Fairfax Connector buses to Wielhlen-Reston metro station then change to the Silver Line and travel into the city by metro.
Ronald Reagan International Airport (DCA)
DCA is in Arlington, 4 miles south of Washington DC. DCA predominantly caters for United States with some routes to the Bahamas, Canada and Puerto Rico. Because of this, DCA will be your best bet if you’re travelling from another part of the US.
Public transport options from IAD
IAD does have a Metro station. You can grab the Blue Line from just outside the airport and head straight in to the city. Of course, you can take a ride share or a taxi if money is no object, but in this case, the Metro would be our recommendation.
Baltimore International Airport (BWI)
BWI is Washington DC's second international airport in Baltimore to the north, with connections to Latin America, the Caribbean, and a handful of European flights. If you aren't planning on a double city break by visiting Baltimore too, you can either get a taxi or train to Washington DC.
Public transport options from BWI
Taking the train avoids any chance of getting stuck in traffic, plus there's a free shuttle that will take you from the airport to BWI train station. You can either take the Marc train or the AMTRAK.
Two Passports Top Tip: Take the Marc train. At $7 it's much cheaper than AMTRAK and only 10 minutes longer.
Travelling by train
Washington Union Station is the major train station serving all routes across the country. It's a beautiful building, and something to visit whether you're boarding a train or not.
Washington Union Station is on the Red Line too, so it's an easy change to the metro if necessary.
Travelling in the city
Washington DC balances a fine line of being small enough to be walkable, and too big to walk.