Updated on April 13, 2019 by Asher Fergusson
What should I bring on my Washington DC trip?
Packed with things to do and things to learn, Washington, DC, is a top travel destination for visitors of all ages. But depending on where you’re from, the crowds, the transportation, and the weather in the nation’s capital can all be a shock. To be prepared for your first trip there, you’ll need to make sure you bring all the Washington, DC packing essentials.
This Washington, DC packing list has everything you’ll need, as well as a list of things NOT to bring. Down at the bottom, you’ll also find some tips on what to wear in Washington, DC, and how to pack for different seasons, as well as some general FAQs.
A visit to Washington, DC, can be an overwhelming, and even exhausting, experience. Just know that you might have to be patient and exercise your sense of humor at times, but any inconveniences will be well worth all the interesting sights you’ll get to see.
Other packing list items to consider bringing to Washington, DC
Rain jacket: Women’s and Men’s
Medium-weight jacket: Women’s and Men’s
Swimsuit: Women’s and Men’s
Boots: Women’s and Men’s
Hat: Women’s and Men’s
Gloves: Women’s and Men’s
Facial cleansing wipes
Steripod toothbrush cover
TSA-approved plastic bag
Vitamins: Women’s and Men’s
Stain remover wipes
What should I wear in Washington, DC?
The best clothes to wear in Washington, DC,will depend on what time of year you visit. During the city’s notoriously hot and humid summers, loose-fitting clothes made from lightweight, breathable fabrics will make the weather a bit more bearable. In the cold and often snowy winters, on the other hand, you’ll want a coat, a scarf, a hat, and gloves to stay warm. Regardless of the time of year, though, it’s a good idea to pack clothes that can be layered; even in the coldest temperatures, you’ll start to warm up when walking around, and mayend up wanting to remove a layer or two. Year-round, the typical Washington, DC, wardrobe tends to be a little bit on the dressy side. Bring some nicer outfits to blend in with the locals, especially for going out in the evenings. Still, unless you know you won’t be doing much walking, you’ll also want some comfortable shoes for Washington, DC – your feet will thank you.
Spring in Washington, DC: March, April, May
This is a pleasant time of year to visit, with moderate temperatures and relatively low humidity. You’ll want at least a lightweight jacket, though, and closed-toed shoes will be a better choice early in the season. May is also the rainiest month of year, so don’t forget your umbrella.
Summer in Washington, DC: June, July, August
Summers here are extremely hot and humid, so bring sandals and choose clothes that are as lightweight as possible. Breathable fabrics like linen, rayon, and cotton blends will be the most comfortable. Sunscreen is another must-have item this time of year.
Autumn in Washington, DC: September, October, November
September is still hot and humid, but temperatures quickly drop off after that. A lightweight jacket should be sufficient in autumn, but opt for closed-toed shoes if you’re visiting later in the season.
Winter in Washington, DC: December, January, February
Temperatures in the winter are frequently below freezing, so warm winter clothing is essential. Plan to wear sweaters or other warm clothes, and pack a coat, a hat, a scarf, gloves, and boots.
What NOT to take to Washington, DC
2) DON’T TAKE unnecessary valuables – Some of the touristy parts of Washington, DC, are prone to pickpocketing, so don’t risk it by bringing valuable or sentimental items you won’t actually need.
3) DON’T PACK heavy books – Pack more than just one or two books, and you’ll start to feel the weight in your bag. If you plan to do some reading on your trip, save space and weight by bringing a Kindle instead.
5) DON’T PACK overly casual clothes – People in Washington, DC, tend to dress relatively formally much of the time. To avoid sticking out as a tourist, pack outfits that look polished but are still comfortable.
6) DON’T BRING lots of cash – There’s no reason to carry a bunch of cash around and risk having it get lost or stolen. Withdraw what you need from an ATM once you arrive, or just use your credit card for purchases.
FAQs about travel to Washington, DC
1) What’s the best time of year to visit Washington, DC?
Because the city’s summers and winters are both so extreme, the best times of year to visit Washington, DC, are mid-spring and mid-autumn. During these months, the temperatures are moderate and the humidity is low, and it’s alsomuch less crowded than in the summer.
2) What neighborhood should I stay in?
The Washington, DC,metropolitan area is large, spanning both the District itself and parts of neighboring Maryland and Virginia, so there are many great neighborhoods to visit. Staying in the Capitol Hill area will give you the closest proximity to all the major sights, and it’s a great neighborhood for people who prefer quiet in the evenings. Georgetown is less accessible but is known for its top-notch shopping and dining scene, not to mention beautiful views over the Potomac. Adams Morgan is a largely residential neighborhood, and is quiet during the day but lively at night. DCers are known for their brunching habit, and Adams Morgan has some of the best brunch spots. Penn Quarter, host to a number of festivals, is the place to stay if art is your priority, as it’s home to many different theatres, museums, and art galleries. H Street in the northeast has a rougher past and is a less-visited area, but is one of the city’s up-and-coming neighborhoods; it’s full of character and charm, as well as great bars.
3) How does the public transportation system work?
The metro system in Washington, DC, has six color-coded lines and is the easiest way to get around the city. Riding the metro requires a SmarTrip card, which can be purchased online, at a station, and at various stores. Metro fares are between $2 and $6, depending on the distance and time of day, and one-day and multi-day passes are available; just do the math to see if they make sense for you.
For getting to locations that aren’t on the metro, Washington, DC, has the country’s fifth-largest public bus system, which connects to local bus systems serving all the surrounding areas. Many visitors also take advantage of the DC Circulator, which offers frequent service and access to many of the city’s top sights for just $1. The city recently added the DC Streetcar as well, with one line currently running from Oklahoma Ave. to Union Station and several others planned. As of now, the streetcars are free.
4) How can I save money in Washington, DC?
Washington, DC, is one of the country’s most expensive cities, and the cost of a trip there can easily start to add up. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to slash your spending if you’re willing to think a little bit outside the box. For example, the city has a number of hostels, which will probably be the cheapest option for accommodations, especially if you’re traveling alone. Airbnb rentals are often cheaper than hotels as well, and if you’re lucky, your host will give you some insider tips on things to do and see.
Restaurants in Washington, DC, also tend to be expensive, but you’ll save a lot by avoiding places that cater to tourists. You can also pick up groceries for some of your meals, and pack a picnic if the weather’s nice or cook up a couple dishes in the kitchen at your hostel or Airbnb.
While some of the city’s attractions are pricey, many of them have deals and specials that will get you in for less. Don’t forget that all the Smithsonian Museums are free, and Washington, DC, offers tons of other free things to do as well, especially during the warmer months.
5) Which Washington, DC, city pass is the best?
There are several Washington, DC, city passes, offering admission to different combinations of attractions plus various other perks. To choose the best one for you, or decide if it even makes sense to get one, figure out which attractions you want to visit and how much they cost individually.
The Washington, DC, Sightseeing Pass is valid for seven days and includes a one-day hop-on, hop-off bus tour, as well as your choice of 1, 2, or 4 attractions from their list. Passes start at $49. The FreeStyle Pass DC covers your choice of up to 5 attractions, plus 2 days of hop-on, hop-off bus access, and it also includesa guided night tour. Passes start at $69. The Washington, DC,Explorer Pass offers a list of 20 attractions, and sells 30-day passes for your choice of 3, 4, or 5 attractions. Passes start at $54. Lastly, with Smart Destinations’ Build Your Own pass, you can choose however many attractions you want off their list of 20, and get 20% off compared to paying individually.
6) What are the best museums in Washington, DC?
There are so many museums in Washington, DC, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s been to them all. To start with, there are 17 Smithsonian Museums in the city; most are located around the National Mall, and all are free to enter. Among the most popular are the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Museum of American History.
The city also has many other museums that receive rave reviews, including the National Museum of Art, which is probably the most prominent. In addition, the Newseum is an interactive museum tracing the history of communications in the U.S. and analyzing the role of the media in our society. The International Spy Museum is another unique option, as the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to espionage. The National Geographic Museum hosts changing exhibits featuring the impressive work of National Geographic explorers and photographers. Lastly, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the U.S.’s official memorial to the Holocaust, is a must-see.
7) What are the top monuments to see?
The National Mall, the heart of Washington, DC, contains eight of the most famous monuments in the U.S.: the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Roosevelt Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Several other important monuments are located in Arlington, VA, including the Pentagon Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, and the Marine Corps Memorial.
8) What are the top government buildings to visit?
The two top government buildings to see in Washington, DC, are easily the White House and the U.S. Capitol. Free tours of the White House are available to visitors, but must be reserved at least three weeks in advance. Free tours of the Capitol can be booked through the Visitor Center, or some Senators and Representatives offer their own tours to constituents. The Library of Congress is also open to visitors and offers free walk-in tours, and the National Archives Museum is free of charge. The Supreme Court Building doesn’t have tours but is open to the public, including the courtroom.
9) Where can I get off the beaten path in Washington, DC?
Washington, DC, is a city full of tourist attractions – but there are plenty of other things to do if you want to get off the tourist trail. Explore one of the city’s new up-and-coming neighborhoods, like Logan Circle, the H Street Corridor, or Edgewood. Visit one of the many markets, such as Union Market for artisan products and local food, or Eastern Market for food, handicrafts, and community events. Get outside and enjoy Yards Park on the Anacostia River, Meridian Hill Park in Columbia Heights, or Rock Creek Park in the northwest quadrant of the city.
10) What are the top day trips from Washington. DC?
If you’re looking for a break from the city, consider one of these great day trips from Washington, DC. Go for a leisurely drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, or head to Shenandoah National Park to drive the famed Skyline Drive. To get outdoors and enjoy nature, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park and Gunpowder Falls State Park each have over 100 miles of trails.
For history buffs, the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Antietam National Battlefield, and Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine are all less than an hour and a half away. Wine lovers should head down to Charlottesville, where the Monticello Wine Trail boasts over 30 wineries. Or if you prefer beer, take a self-guided brewery tour along the Brew Ridge Trail instead.