There are a nearly infinite amount of things to do in our nation’s capital, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to wander a bustling metropolis, or get lost in a sea of history. For the intellectually curious, the city’s museums are unparalleled in the nation. For the culture kid, there’s a slew of bars, clubs, and art houses to slake your thirst. D.C. really does have a little bit of something for everyone. Of course, with all those exciting possibilities right at your fingertips, there are also a lot of ways you can make a misstep that has an irrevocable impact on your trip. So with that in mind, here are a few things NOT to do while visiting Washington, D.C.
1. Don’t Go During the Summer
New York doesn’t have anything on D.C. during the summer. It’s hot, muggy, and packed with tourists trying to squeeze in a vacation before their kids head back to school. If you can possibly avoid it, go during October or the early Spring. It’s even worth it to take your kids out of school for a few days. Trust us, there’s more than enough educational opportunities in D.C. to balance out a few missed days.
2. Don’t Drive; Take the Metro
Washington D.C.’s metro line is big, clean, and extremely extensive. The odds are good that for an average tourist, anything and everything you could possibly want to reach is about three blocks away from a metro stop (max). So do yourself a favor and don’t worry about renting a car, because the traffic is terrible and the city is confusing as hell to drive in.
3. Don’t Skip the Jefferson Memorial
Though it is located near a metro stop, the Jefferson Memorial is a little outside the scope of the National Mall. It looks like it’s butting up against the Lincoln Memorial in a lot of pictures, but it’s not. You have to make a special trip to see the thing. Do it, because it’s totally worth it.
4. Don’t Go to Pentagon City
Located right on the city’s metro line, you might be tempted to get a little tourist shopping done at Pentagon City. Don’t do that, it’s really just a huge freaking mall. There’s little cultural significance to it beyond the fact that it’s seriously massive. If you want to get some good shopping done, head to Georgetown. It’s full of funky boutiques you can’t find anywhere else. Or you could just blow your souvenir money at a Gap. Your call.
5. Don’t Go to Arlington National Cemetery…
. . . unless you’re visiting a someone you know who has passed away, or attending a funeral. Though it’s home to JFK’s crypt and eternal flame, Arlington is also an actual, working cemetery that’s going to be filled with people mourning. In other words, don’t go to a real cemetery in a tourist mindset. It’s rude. Unless you’re visiting Arlington to pay respects to those who served and sacrificed their lives in battle, it’s best just to skip the 30-minute train ride (both ways), and concentrate on something fun in the city.
6. Don’t Skip the Postal Museum
Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s a museum dedicated to the post office. What could possibly be fascinating about that? As it turns out, a whole lot. Not only is the museum typically quiet (because who wants to go to a postal museum, right?), it’s conveniently located right on the Mall. It’s also home to an incredible amount of history that celebrates the intrepid folks who established the United States’ postal system. Then at the top of the museum, is a viewing platform that will give you some incredibly unique views of the Mall.
7. Don’t Spend All Your Time in the Smithsonian
I can’t stress this enough: Don’t be afraid to wander around the city. It is incredibly easy to get sucked into the city’s string of jaw-dropping Smithsonian Museums, but there really is a ton to see and do in Washington, D.C. so don’t try to make the whole thing a purely educational experience. If you can afford to spend an entire month in the city, then by all means you should spend hours at its expansive list of museums. However, if you’re in town for a week, make sure to hit one or two interesting branches of the Smithsonian, but keep some hours open to simply wander around.
8. Don’t Rely Too Heavily on Your Plans
For everything in Washington, D.C. that you know you want to do (hit the Lincoln Memorial, see the White House, etc.) there are ten things in the city that you didn’t know existed. What’s more, it is a constant playground for festivals of every kind, as well as parades and outdoor gatherings. There’s a lot to do, so you shouldn’t feel hamstrung to see everything in the National History Museum, when there might be actual history happening down the block.
9. Don’t Go To the National Mall on the Weekend
The National Mall is a really stunning piece of history. A deft combination of some of the country’s most enduring monuments, and some of the world’s most creative landscape architecture, the National Mall is something every American should see at least once. Except on a Saturday. Then, the place is crawling with locals and tourists alike, who are wandering around in a daze just gumming up the works. The National Mall on a Tuesday is perfect.
10. Don’t Pass Up the E Street Cinema
Okay, here’s a little undercover factoid: D.C. is home to one of the best independent cinemas in the world, the E Street Cinema. Tucked into an expansive basement in the middle of the city’s commercial district, the E Street Cinema is always playing the newest and most exciting works of independent and foreign cinema. Seriously, if you’re a cinephile, it’s not something to be missed.