Everyone knows the 3 Ms of D.C.: museums, monuments, and The Mall. Add in the White House and you’ve got a full weekend of sightseeing and a tourist’s dream. But, maybe you’ve done the tourist thing and you’re ready to see the nation’s capital in a new light. IF that’s the case, you’re in the right place.
Seth has been here in D.C. for the past 5 years, but I’ve just been here since May. In the recent months, I’ve been making a goal of seeing as much of the city and surrounding towns as possible. So I hope you’ll indulge me and consider me a local enough to be telling you what to do and see in D.C.
Of course, D.C. is like any city with dozens of neighborhoods, hundreds of restaurants, and plenty of activities to keep you occupied, so we’ve focused on affordable outings that the typical DC resident may spend their weekend doing. If you’re like us, hopefully you enjoy simply walking around new cities and taking in their architecture and sights. If so, this list is right up your alley. It also helps keep costs down to not be jumping from one pricey activity to the next. So please, join us, and enjoy this home of ours!
Where you’ll stay:
My advice for any trip is to skip the hotels and go for local-style accommodations. AirBnB is my personal choice, but of course go where your budget and comfort level take you. There are plenty of neighborhoods you can stay in that will provide exciting nightlife, tasty restaurants, and great sight seeing. There are AirBnB private rooms for as low as $25/night, but most listings sit between $60 – $90/night.
If using AirBnB, you’ll see that the listings are kind of in groupings, so you’ll get a feel for where different neighborhoods are. Pretty much anything you find is going to be great, but I would personally recommend staying North of The Mall. I would also try to stick near Metro stops if you plan to hop around the city a good bit (which this post will have you doing) for obvious reasons. Either way, DC is very walkable and there are plenty of Metro stops around.
Getting around DC:
The Subway/train system in DC is called “Metro”. That was the one thing I had to get used to when I moved here- no one calls it the subway. DC’s Metro is unique in that your cost per trip is dependent on how far you ride, unlike the New York or Philly system. For that reason, when you visit, you’ll have to pay $2 for a hard plastic Metro Card that you can reload for your whole trip.
In addition to paying based on distance traveled, you also pay a different price on peak vs. non-peak times. During morning and evening rush hour, you’ll pay a bit more than you would during mid-day or weekends. On top of most Metro Card kiosks, you’ll find a chart showing the price to each stop, peak and non peak, from where you are. So you can find your exact fare before you ride, but it’s also very easy to mistakenly read the wrong price. You’ll swipe when you enter and exit the stations, and if you did mess up and don’t have enough money, it won’t let you through the turnstile. In that case, you simply head to the nearest kiosk and refill. Be mindful that some of the kiosks within the turnstiles only accept cash, so be sure to have a few dollars on you at all times.
It’s also important to note that most Metro stations have employees not only in the small enclosure near the turnstiles, but also employees, usually in red, staggered around and just outside the station to answer questions or provide directions. It’s one of the nicest perks I’ve seen in a public transit system.
You can simply add $X to your card to cover your trips throughout your stay. Or another option: Metro offers a day pass for rail only for $14.75 and two 7-day options if you plan to stay a few extra days. Most one-way trips are between $2 and $4, but take a quick look at the fare chart for where you plan to be travelling to, to see which option is best for you. There is also a vast bus network, but it’s not as commonly used by weekenders.
The stations themselves are very clean and pretty well-labeled if there are multiple tracks. You just need to know the final stop on the line in the direction you’re heading to know which sign to look for. Additionally, most stations have digital signs saying how far out each train is, which makes waiting much less stressful. Now let’s get going!
Assuming you arrive in the early evening of Friday, you’ll have plenty of time to start your DC experience. Once you get settled into your place, let’s start your weekend off with a a few drinks in one of the liveliest neighborhoods. Head up to the U Street Corridor and Adams Morgan in the northern part of the city. The Yellow and Green lines will both drop you right on U Street where you will find bar and restaurant after bar and restaurant. The entire street is full of drinking, great food, and plenty of young people having a good time.
A little walk or a quick Uber/taxi ride away from the U Street Corridor is Adams Morgan. My personal budget favorite in Adams Morgan is Shenanigans – on Fridays and Saturdays, just $10 will get you an open bar from 9pm to 11pm. We usually hit this place first to get the buzz going. After you’re done at Shenanigans, I will honestly leave it up to you to bar hop between the many places around. Some have live musicians, others have dance floors. Do know that many will charge a cover fee to get in, so be ready to pay up if you hit multiple places.
When you’re ready to head home, I recommend an Uber/Lyft/Taxi. The Metro closes surprisingly early on weekends and the trains run pretty far apart in the later hours of operation.
I will be totally honest that, in my personal opinion, the one thing that D.C. does not do well is brunch. Maybe I’m a little bias coming from Philly, where brunch is the city-wide past-time, but I find D.C. brunch to be overpriced, few and far between, and the bad kind of bougie. That being said, I recommend not wasting your time waiting in line (as you almost definitely will have to) and find a local cafe or coffee shop to grab a quick croissant or pastry near you. Even cheaper – whip up a quick breakfast in your hotel/apartment.
Better yet, fight your grumbling stomach and grab breakfast at your first destination: Eastern Market.
Eastern Market is located in Capitol Hill, one of the cutest ares of the city in my opinion. Eastern Market is an indoor and outdoor market with stalls selling art, crafts, food, and other handmade goods.
Around the market, there are also plenty of cafes and shops to pop in and out of on a nice Saturday morning. Grab a coffee and muffin, sit outside to people watch for a little bit, then browse the aisles of stalls.
When you finish at the market, take a stroll through the neighborhood and get a great tour of the D.C. housing styles of modern row houses flanked by historic colonials. If you want to see some classic D.C. sights that many tourists skip, head just a few block west and come upon the Supreme Court and Library of Congress from the back. On the way there, stop by Jimmy T’s. We personally haven’t had a chance to pop in yet, but it looks absolutely adorable from the outside. And hey, maybe it’ll have that great brunch we so desperately want.
Maybe I’m partial because it’s where I’m currently living, but for your next stop, we’re leaving the city limits and heading to Alexandria, Virginia. If you don’t know, the area in and around D.C. is known as the DMV – D.C., Virginia, Maryland. D.C. is surrounded by the two states, and most people that work in the city commute in from one of them. This means that a short car or train ride will take you to another state for even more adventures. For Alexandria, hop onto the yellow or blue lines to the Old City stop.
When you get off the Metro, hop onto the free King Street Trolley, which runs every 10-15 minutes from the Metro stop, down the main street of Old Town Alexandria to the water. If you’re okay with walking, I’d recommend hopping off around N. Henry or N. Patrick Street, and taking the remaining distance to the water by foot. There are dozens of shops, historic buildings, and bars to stop in along the way, so you’ll have plenty of breaks during your walk. Check out some mainstream stores like Lou Lou, H&M, Banana Republic, and Anthropologie, or stop in some of the one-of-a-kind boutiques and shops.
This is where you’ll be eating dinner, so feel free to stop in any place along the way you find. My personal recommendations would be:
After you’ve got some delicious food (and maybe a few drinks), hop on over to a haunted history tour to get some fun and facts while being led around the city by an appropriately-clad tour guide. I recommend booking your tickets in advance, but you’ll probably be fine with waiting until show time as well. Tip: save dessert for after the tour as your ticket will get you a discount at some local ice cream shops. Once you get your cone, head down King Street all the way to the water to see the boats.
Hop back on the free trolley up to the Metro to head home. You’ve had a big day and we’ve got more to do tomorrow!
We’re starting the day off with one of the cutest (and youngest) neighborhoods in DC. Home to it’s namesake university, Georgetown is full of shopping, restaurants, and plenty of adorable streets to stroll down. Grab a coffee and small breakfast at Blue Bottle Coffee down by the water and chat with some locals at their communal tables. Then, walk the streets of Georgetown and shop your heart out.
Popular chains like North Face, Abercrombie & Fitch, and H&M sit alongside local boutiques. If you’re like us, and you enjoy checking out local architecture more than store-hopping, head a few blocks away from the main drag, and walk through the charming residential streets. If you walk far enough, you’ll come upon the Georgetown University Campus, which is absolutely gorgeous.
The last stop here: the Canal. Definitely take a stroll along the water and get dozens of Insta-worthy shots. Unfortunately at the time of writing, the canal is under construction and therefore not filled with water, but hopefully when you visit it will be back up. If not, the cobble streets and charming bridges are still cute enough to be worth the walk. Lock 4 is one of the cutest area!
Assuming you’ll likely be leaving to head home soon, the last stop will be Dupont Circle if you have time. From Georgetown, either hop on the bus or hoof it if you’re willing, it’s about a 20-25 minute walk.
If you’re a foreign policy buff, you’re in for a treat. Just a few block off the circle are more than a dozen different embassies. They are grandiose and gorgeous to look upon. Most of my activities involve strolling and simply looking at buildings, so hopefully you’re not tired of that yet, but this one is definitely worth it!
If you want to pay homage to classic DC, stop into the National Geographic Museum. Unfortunately this one isn’t free like the museums along the mall, but at just $15 for adults, it’s not too bad. And with National Geographic in the title, you’re sure to be wow’d.
If you need one final meal before you hit the road, please check out Kramerbooks & Afterwords. Half book store, half cafe, they serve up great food for moderate DC prices and an adorable book store vibe. If you happen to have an AirBnB nearby, they also serve breakfast and are one of the few places we’ve had success at for brunch.
And there you have it! One local’s recommendation for a great weekend hopping around most of DC, and for relatively cheap. Of course, DC is like any city, and you could ask 100 locals and not one would recommend the same thing. So please, deviate from this list as you see fit and PLEASE let me know what you find along the way!