Packing and What To Bring

There are several factors that will determine what you need to pack for your trip:

  • Time of year/weather (See Weather below)
  • Personal preference
  • Your evening entertainment

A pair of comfortable shoes is your must-pack item. This is a walking town, and if you fail to pack for it, your feet will pay. D.C. isn't the most fashionable city in the country but people do look neat and presentable; business attire tends to be fairly conservative, and around college campuses and in hip neighborhoods like U Street Corridor or Adams Morgan, styles are more eclectic.

The most important element to consider, however, is the weather: D.C.'s temperatures can be extreme, and the right clothes are your best defense.

Winters are cold but sunny, with nighttime temperatures in the 20s and daytime highs in the 40s and 50s. Although the city doesn't normally get much snow, when it does, many streets won't be plowed for days, so if you're planning a visit for winter, bring a warm coat and hat and shoes that won't be ruined by snow and salt. Summers are muggy and very hot, with temperatures in the 80s and 90s and high humidity. Plan on cool, breathable fabrics, a hat for the sun, a sweater for overzealous air-conditioning, and an umbrella for daily thunderstorms. Fall and spring are less challenging, with temperatures in the 60s and occasional showers. Pants, lightweight sweaters, and light coats are appropriate.

weather

D.C. has two delightful seasons: spring and autumn. In spring the city's ornamental fruit trees are blossoming, and its many gardens are in bloom. Summers can be uncomfortably hot and humid. By autumn most of the summer crowds have left and you can enjoy the sights in peace.

Winter weather is mild by East Coast standards, but a handful of modest snowstorms each year bring this southern city to a standstill.

Washington D.C. Weather

Temperatures are expressed in Farenheit Degrees.

time

Washington D.C. is in the Easter time zone. It's 3 hours ahead of Los Angeles, 1 hour ahead of Chicago, 5 hours behind London, and 15 hours behind Sydney.

SAFETY

Washington D.C. is a fairly safe city, but as with any major metropolitan area it's best to stay alert. Keep an eye on purses and backpacks, and be aware of your surroundings before you use an ATM, especially one that is outdoors. Move on to a different machine if you notice people loitering nearby. Assaults are rare but they do happen, especially late at night in Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill, Northeast D.C., and U Street Corridor. If someone threatens you with violence, it's best to hand over your money and seek help from police later.

Public transportation is quite safe, but late at night, choose bus stops on busy streets over those on quiet ones. The Downtown DC Business Improvement District's free guardian angel SAM service will walk you to a taxi, Metro, or your car until 9:30a May to October (until 7:30p November to April); just call their dispatch service. They operate in the White House area, part of Capitol Hill, Downtown, Penn Quarter, and Chinatown.

moneY

Washington is an expensive city, comparable to New York. On the other hand, many attractions, including most of the museums, are free. Prices in this guide are given for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens. Washington's hotel tax is a whopping 14.5%. Maryland and Virginia charge hotel taxes of 5%-10%. In D.C. and Maryland the sales tax is 6% and in Virginia 4% plus 1% in some local municipalities.

getting around

  • Metro Travel

Visit Metro's website and click on Metrorail maps to locate the station nearest your hotel. The Metro operates from 5:00a weekdays and from 7:00a weekends, until midnight on Sunday through Thursday nights and until 3:00a Friday and Saturday. Don't get to the station at the last minute, as trains from the ends of the lines depart before the official closing time. During the weekday peak periods (5:00a-9:30a and 3:00p-7:00p), trains come along every three to six minutes. At other times and on weekends and holidays, trains run about every 12-15 minutes. Lighted displays at the platforms show estimated arrival and departure times of trains, as well as the number of cars available. Eating, drinking, smoking, and littering in stations and on the trains are strictly prohibited.

The Metro's base fare is $2.15; the actual price you pay depends on the time of day and the distance traveled, which means you might end up paying $5.95 if you're traveling to a distant station at rush hour. Your best bet is to use a SmarTrip card, a rechargeable farecard that can be used throughout the Metro, bus, and parking system, to avoid a $2 paper farecard surcharge.

Buy your ticket at the SmarTrip or farecard machines; they accept coins and crisp $1, $5, or $10 bills. If the machine spits your money out, try folding and unfolding it lengthwise before asking someone for help. Many machines also accept credit and debit cards. You can buy one-day passes for $14.50 and seven-day passes for $59.25. To enter the Metro platform, insert your farecard into the slot on the turnstile and take it out again at the back - you'll need it to exit at your destination. With your SmarTrip card, just touch your card to the SmarTrip logo on the turnstile. Passes and SmarTrip cards can be purchased online or at the Metro Center sales office.

  • Bus Travel

Most of the sightseeing neighborhoods (the Mall, Capitol Hill, Downtown, Dupont Circle) are near Metro rail stations, but a few (Georgetown, Adams Morgan) are more easily reached via Metrobus, blue-and-white buses operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Bus No. 42 travels from the Dupont Circle Metro stop to, and through, Adams Morgan. Georgetown is a hike from the closest Metro rail station, but you can take a Georgetown Metro Connection shuttle to any Metrobus stop from the Foggy Bottom or Dupont Circle Metro stations in D.C. or the Rosslyn Metro station in Arlington, Virginia.

All regular buses within the District are $1.80; express buses, which make fewer stops, are $4. For every adult ticket purchased, two children under the age of four travel free. Children, ages five and older, pay the regular fare. You'll save $0.20-$0.35 and transfer bus-to-bus for free within a two-hour period by using a SmarTrip card, a rechargeable farecard you can use on buses and the Metro. Just touch the card to the SmarTrip logo on the fare box. You'll also get a $0.50 discount by using a SmarTrip card on bus-to-rail and rail-to-bus transfers.

The D.C. Circulator is another option for getting around the city; it has five routes and charges $1. The Potomac Avenue-Skyland via Barracks Row, Union Station-Navy Yard via Capitol Hill, and Woodley Park-Adams Morgan-McPherson Square Metro routes cut a path from north to south; the Georgetown-Union Station and Rosslyn-Georgetown-Dupont routes go east to west, Complete bus and Metro maps for the metropolitan D.C. area, which note museums, monuments, theaters, and parks, can be picked up free of charge at the Metro Center sales office.

Buses require exact change in bills, coins, or both. You can eliminate the exact-change hassle by purchasing a seven-day Metrobuss pass for $17..50 or the $5 rechargeable SmarTrip card online before your trip or at the Metro Center sales office, open weekdays from 8:00a to 6:00p. The SmarTrip card can also be used on the Metrorail system.

  • Taxi

Taxis are easy to hail in commercial districts, less so in residential ones. If you don't see one after a few minutes, walk to a busier street. If you call, make sure to have an address - not just an intersection - and be prepared to wait, especially at night. D.C. cabs are independent operators and the various companies' cars all have a different look, some better than others! If you're traveling to or from Maryland or Virginia, your best bet is to call a Maryland or Virginia cab, which generally are more reliable. But they're not allowed to take you from point to point in the District or pick you up there if you hail them, so don't be offended if one passes you by.

Beyond Times Square can book a private car and driver for airport transfers and a private car and driver for use while in Washington D.C. Contact us for more details.

Parking

Parking in D.C. is a question of supply and demand—little of the former, too much of the latter. The police are quick to ticket, tow away, or boot any vehicle parked illegally, so check complicated parking signs and feed the meter before you go. If you find you've been towed from a city street, call 311 or 202/737–4404 or log on to www.dmv.dc.gov. Be sure you know the license-plate number, make, model, and color of the car before you call.

Most of the outlying, suburban Metro stations have parking lots, though these fill quickly with city-bound commuters. If you plan to park in one of these lots, arrive early.

Downtown private parking lots often charge around $5–$10 an hour and $25–$40 a day. Most of the streets along the Mall have metered parking and although there are some free, three-hour parking spots on Constitution, Jefferson, and Madison avenues, these spots are almost always filled. There is no parking near the Lincoln or Roosevelt memorials. The closest free parking is in three lots in East Potomac Park, south of the 14th Street Bridge.

STREET SMARTS

Please be careful crossing the city streets. In many cities in the U.S., cars and bicycles yield to pedestrians. That is not always the case when you cross the streets of New York. Please follow and respect the crosswalks and directional lights. Be sure to look both ways, as rollerbladers and bikers do not always follow the proper street direction. Although you will see New Yorkers crossing in the middle of the street, do not follow their lead - cross at the corners.

INTERNET

Most major hotels offer high-speed access in rooms and/or lobbies and business centers. In addition, dozens of D.C.-area restaurants and coffee shops provide free wireless broadband Internet service, including branches of Starbucks and Così all over town. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Public Library and 23 other branches of the D.C. Library System offer Wi-Fi access free of charge to all library visitors. At Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café you can check your email for free on the computer located at the full-service bar (and it’s open all night on Friday and Saturday).

PHOTOGRAPHY

Photo opportunities await you at every corner in Washington D.C. Batteries and memory cards are available everywhere. We suggest you do not buy either in high traffic tourist areas, as the price will be more expensive. 

SHOPPING

Washington has three main gallery districts—Downtown, Dupont Circle, and Georgetown—though small galleries can be found all over in converted houses and storefronts. Whatever their location, many keep unusual hours and close entirely on Sunday and Monday. The Washington Post "Weekend" section (www.washingtonpost.com) and Washington CityPaper (www.washingtoncitypaper.com), published on Thursday, are excellent sources of information on current exhibits and hours.

Store hours vary greatly. In general, Georgetown stores are open late and on Sunday; stores Downtown that cater to office workers close as early as 5 pm and may not open at all on weekends. Some stores extend their hours on Thursday, while some in Adams Morgan and along the U Street Corridor don’t open until noon but keep late hours to serve the evening crowds.

TIPPING

In most restaurants, tip the waiter 16%–20%. (To figure the amount quickly, just double the sales tax noted on the check—it's 10% of your bill.) Tip at least $1 per drink at the bar and $1 for each coat checked. Never tip the maître d' unless you're out to impress your guests or expect to pay another visit soon.

If you're dining with a group, make sure not to overtip: review your check to see if a gratuity has been added, as many restaurants automatically tack on an 18% tip for groups of six or more.

Laundry

Laundry is available at most hotels, but there is a fee. Before you leave your clothes to be cleaned, please check the price list. There are also many dry cleaners all over the city.

Smoking

Smoking is not allowed in restaurants, bars, arenas, public transportation, public parks or any other public places unless otherwise marked. Many hotels are now 100% non-smoking.

Keeping the CIty Clean

Please do not litter. You might see locals doing it, but do not follow their example. There are garbage cans on many corners. Thank you

PUBLIC RESTROOMS

Restrooms are found in all of the city's museums and galleries. Most are accessible to people in wheelchairs, and many are equipped with changing tables for babies. Locating a restroom is often difficult when you're strolling along the Mall. There are facilities at the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, and Constitution Gardens, near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but these are not always as clean as they should be. The White House Visitors Center at 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue NW has a very nice public restroom.

Restrooms are also available in restaurants, hotels, and department stores. Unlike in many other cities, these businesses are usually happy to help out those in need. There's one state-of-the-art public restroom in the Huntington Station on the Metro. All other stations have restrooms available in cases of emergency; ask one of the uniformed attendants in the kiosks.