The complete guide to: Washington, DC travel

May 28, 2018
Miller Cornelius

Washington, DC is a city that has something for every age and interest level. The museums here alone could have you coming back for months and still not have time to see everything. No matter the season, DC is jam-packed with events and attractions, from festivals to monuments to sports games. If you’re interested in paying DC a visit, we have you covered with everything you need to know about getting around and what to see and do.

Getting to and from DCA and IAD

If you’re flying into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), getting into the city is extremely easy. The DC Metrorail System has an elevated Metrorail station connected to the airport that can be accessed via the concourse level of Terminals B and C. From Terminals B and C there are two enclosed pedestrian bridges on the concourse level THAT take you directly to the station. If you’re leaving through Terminal A, take the airport shuttle bus to Terminal B or C to get to the station that way.

The maximum fare to any station on is less than USD 6 when you use a SmarTrip Card, which you can buy once you’re inside the Metro station.

On the flipside, Dulles International (IAD) doesn’t have an economical or easy way to get into the city. The easiest option is to rent a car, but if that’s not in your plans, you can also take a cab, which is about USD 80 depending on where in the city you’re headed. If you are looking for a cheaper option, you can take the 5A bus for USD 1.75 to the Rosslyn metro station and then hop on the blue or orange line into the city. Using public transportation can take about two hours, but will be much more cost-effective than a cab.

Getting around DC

Public transit is a great option for getting around the city depending on where you’re headed. For visitors staying on or around the Smithsonian Institute and the National Mall, walking is going to be the most practical option, so bring comfy shoes. The other option around the National Mall is the Circulator Bus. The Circulator runs in very specific small loops throughout the city; they’re clean, quick, and cheap at only USD 1 per ride.

Whether using the Circulator, a city bus, or the Metro, you’re going to need a SmarTrip Card. Washington, DC transit has gone paperless so the only way to catch a ride is with one of these cards. You can purchase them in any Metro station. The machines take cash or credit but no big bills when paying with cash. The cards cost USD 2 and then you can add money or purchase a day pass. The DC Metro system is charged like a taxi, meaning you pay for how far you’re going, and handily all the prices are listed above the SmarTrip machines so you’ll know exactly how much you need to add.


Any time you’re feeling like you just can’t walk for one more second there are plenty of taxis in the city. The taxis here are red and are metered.

Another option to consider for getting around is the Capital Bikeshare. These bikes are quickly becoming DC’s most popular form of transportation, especially for commuters and around the National Mall. You can choose from multiple options including a day pass for USD 8 or a 3-day pass for USD 17. All options give you unlimited rides.

Where to stay in DC

Our friends at Hostelling International are offering a 25% discount off Urban Adventures tours when you’re a HI member. If you need a place to stay while you’re in town, check out HI Washington DC. Centrally located in DC’s downtown near excellent bars and restaurants, it’s the perfect starting point for everywhere you’ll want to discover, including the National Mall and the White House. With complimentary continental breakfast, pool tables, books, games, movie nights and a private patio, guests will feel right at home.

lounge room in a hostel

Hang out in the HI DC lounge | Photo by Hostelling International

Things to do in DC

Washington, DC is a haven for anyone who’s a fan of music, art, and culture. As the home of the Smithsonian Institute, there are museums here covering everything. The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex. You can choose from museums like the Natural History Museum, Air and Space Museum, American History Museum, African American History and Culture Museum, and the Portrait Gallery, to name just a few. The best part is, the entire Smithsonian Institute offers free admission to its museums.

DC also boasts some amazing places to hear your favourite tunes, including Constitution Hall, the 9:30 Club, The Hamilton, and Blues Alley.  During the summer, the city takes their fun outside into the many parks with outdoor movies and concerts almost every night, not to mention the almost weekly outdoor food festivals.


If you’re tired of museums and culture, and sports are more your scene, DC doesn’t disappoint. What’s more appropriate than watching the national pastime in the nation’s capital? DC’s baseball team, the Washington Nationals, play in the Navy Yard and tickets start at just USD 5 during the regular season, and the stadium houses some amazing local food kiosks. Baseball season runs from spring through early fall.

If you’re visiting the city during the winter months, you won’t miss out. DC’s basketball team, the Washington Wizards, and the ice hockey team, the Washington Capitals, both play in the Verizon Center right downtown. Tickets for both teams vary depending on who they’re playing, but you can generally find tickets as low as USD 25 or 30.

Washington DC Day Tours

Looking for more things to do? Urban Adventures offers day tours in DC and beyond, all led by local experts that will give you a taste for local life in the capital city:

Washington DC Unveiled
Join our small group tours of the National Mall on board our all-electric Red Roadster — perfect for covering the huge area and many monuments in DC! Our local guide will give you the scoop on the White House, Capitol Building, Smithsonian, and more.

Monuments by Night
Experience a whole different side of Washington, DC during our Monuments By Night tour! Climb into our all-electric Red Roadsters and tour the National Mall in style while enjoying the moonlit magic of the monuments, White House, and Capitol Hill!

Politics and Pints
Stroll the streets of Washington, DC’s oldest residential neighborhood as we discover the birthplace of American politics. See the iconic U.S. Capitol Building, the Supreme Court, and Library of Congress. Engage is a lively discussion and debate about historic and current American politics, all lead by a local guide. Finish up with a drink on DC’s historic Barrack’s Row.


DC on the big screen

DC has been featured in hundreds of movies and TV shows, from action and comedy, to drama and classics. Wandering around the city, you might recognise locations from films such as Evan Almighty, The Firm, Forrest Gump, The Exorcist, St. Elmo’s Fire, or Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

DC on record

While most people think of NYC as the big East Coast music city, Washington, DC has inspired some of the country’s greatest musicians, especially in bluegrass and jazz circles. The city inspired the work of many artists including John Philip Sousa, Duke Ellington, and Marvin Gaye.

DC in books

There are so many books set in Washington, DC that you have a plethora of options for what to read to get in the mood for your trip. Some good DC-set reads include Heartburn by Nora Ephron, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu, and Advise and Consent by Allen Drury (which won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1960).

Get in touch with us

To find out more about Washington, DC or to book an Urban Adventures tour, email us at or call us at +1 202 810 1700. And be sure to follow us on Instagram and Twitter, or friend us on Facebook.