Washington, DC should definitely be in your list of places to visit if you’re planning on traveling in the United States. I’d been there twice, and I’d happily go back! This post — part of my Solo Travel City Guide series — was written by a fellow blogger, Kay Rodriguez, of Jetfarer.com.
Ah, Washington DC — the United States capital. Full of middle school field trips, surly politicians, and ambitious young professionals, it’s a city that definitely has a lot going on…at all times.
Just hearing the city’s name probably brings to mind images of sparkling white buildings, the sweeping National Mall, and towering monuments. Because of its usual stereotype, you probably could have guessed that Washington DC is a fantastic getaway for families.
However, what you maybe haven’t realized is that solo travel in Washington DC is also a fabulous experience! One of my favorite things about it is that it has a very young professional vibe. It seems like so many people here are ambitious and excited to do big things in the world.
This also means that the local neighborhoods (far, far away from the tourist areas in the National Mall) are actually full of charm and energy. In this guide, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite (local) things to do in Washington DC as a solo traveler.
Arriving in Washington DC
There are a number of ways to arrive in DC, but the most popular are by plane, train, or bus. It has three major airports and one train/bus station, so I’ve included instructions on how to get into the city from each place here.
From Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA)
Exit the airport and follow signs for the metro. Take the blue or yellow metro line into the city center. Where you get off will depend on which neighborhood you’re staying in, so check the WMATA website or Google maps for the most accurate instructions.
From Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI)
Exit the airport and follow signs for the MARC shuttle bus. Board the shuttle bus and get off when you arrive at the MARC station. Purchase a one-way ticket at the kiosk and take the MARC train to Union Station (the last stop), where you can catch the red metro line to most places in the city.
From Dulles International Airport (IAD)
Getting from IAD to downtown DC can be tricky, but don’t let that discourage you and force you into taking a SUPER expensive taxi! Simply follow signs at the airport to the bus area (if you can’t find it, ask at the Information desk), then board a bus to Wiehle-Reston East.
Once you disembark at Wiehle-Reston East, you can board the Silver metro line that will take you straight into downtown DC.
Going to Washington DC by Train/Bus
Union Station, DC’s major bus and train station, is where Amtrak, Greyhound, and Megabus arrive from various cities around the East Coast. When you arrive at Union Station, follow signs for the DC metro and take the red line to your final destination.
Where to Stay in Washington DC
You have a lot of options when it comes to hotels in Washington, DC. What makes the difference in your stay is choosing which area to be based in. Here are some suggestions.
Choose Chinatown when in DC
One of the best and most central areas for travelers (especially solo travelers) is Chinatown. It’s far enough from the main stretches of downtown to feel local, but close enough to walk to the main attractions.
Here, you can find fantastic eats, nearby live music venues, and a buzzing neighborhood that always seems to be filled with life. Within Chinatown, I recommend the POD Hotel DC, a budget-friendly hotel with typical amenities, but at a very reasonable price point.
If you’re looking for a communal hostel vibe, the HI DC Hostel near Chinatown is one of the most widely known hostels in the city.
Stay at West End/Georgetown
One of the most charming and colorful areas of the city is Georgetown, home to its namesake university and a bustling waterfront. Here, the streets are lined with boutique shops, local bakeries and cafes, and some of the city’s best restaurants and bars.
Additionally, the views of nearby Rosslyn, Virginia across the river are absolutely stunning! A cute and cozy place to stay in Georgetown is The Georgetown Inn. It’s located in a very central part of the neighborhood that’s close to the Circulator bus stop, which you can take for just $1 to the city center and main attractions.
Find accommodation in Dupont Circle/Adams Morgan
If you’re looking for a young, hip vibe, there’s no better place to go than Dupont Circle/Adams Morgan. These neighboring areas are some of the most popular places for the city’s young professionals to live.
With the influx of young people came a bunch of new and interesting cafes, bookshops, and bars as well. Here, you can find underground art galleries (we’ll get to that later) and colorful farmer’s markets adorning the streets.
In the Dupont Circle/Adams Morgan areas, my favorite hotel of all time is The LINE Hotel. Situated across the main street in Adams Morgan in a beautiful, big building, The LINE is a favorite local hangout spot as well as a hotel for visitors.
Of all the hotels in DC, I’d recommend staying at this one for solo travelers because there are always interesting people to meet in the lobby and bar area.
For those on a bit more of a budget, the HighRoad Hostel and Suites is also a well-loved choice. Situated in a central area of Adams Morgan, the hostel is perfect for solo budget travelers looking to meet others.
Things to Do in Washington DC
For sure, there’s A LOT of things to do in DC. It’s such a big and interesting city that tourists don’t get to do anything other than scratch its surface when they stay a week. Here are some of the must-dos when you’re in the US capital.
Hit the Museums and Monuments
Yes, this is totally the most obvious thing to do in DC, but I really don’t think the museums and monuments are something first timers should miss.
There are several free and low-cost museums all around Washington DC, and all of the monuments are out in the open for travelers to explore. One of my absolute favorite museums to visit on my own is the Newseum – it’s chock full of fascinating exhibits about reporting and current events in the United States and around the world.
The museums are typically only open during business hours, so if you’re hoping to avoid the big field trips and tour bus crowds, head over on weekdays in the morning when they first open.
Since the monuments are open most hours of the day, the best times to visit to avoid the crowds are early in the morning (I’m talking, like, sunrise), or late in the evening, when the monuments are all lit up in the night.
Aleah: I visited DC twice, and on both times, I visited the same three museums: the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum, and National Gallery of Art. I could go back to those three again and again!
Thankfully, on my second visit last year (2018), I did manage to take in one more: the Library of Congress. It has spectacular interiors, and like the museums in DC, you can go in for free, too.
Tip: If you want to go in the highly-rated and much in-demand National Museum of African American History and Culture, check out their website on how to get a pass. They accept a limited number of visitors per day. I was never lucky enough to get one.
Sample International Food
One of the BEST things about Washington DC is the presence of many international groups. Aside from the embassies, which often host public events and talks for curious people, there are also hundreds of international restaurants all around the city.
From Eritrean food to Peruvian, Oaxacan eats to Szechuan spice, you can find literally any kind of food you’re craving if you look hard enough.
My favorite restaurant in the city for sampling international cuisines is Compass Rose. Located on 14th Street, an upbeat young neighborhood near Logan Circle, Compass Rose has a menu that spans the corners of the Earth.
Founded by a woman whose husband traveled and lived abroad extensively for work, she collected her favorite recipes from all over the world and founded Compass Rose to share them with the DC community. Here, you can try foods ranging from Georgia (the country) to South Korea, Portugal to Peru, and more.
Another, more low-key place to sample delicious international foods is at Union Market. This indoor market warehouse, located in the up-and-coming neighborhood of NoMa, is full of stalls with various types of international eats. Korean, southern-style American food, Burmese desserts, and more await you here.
Go for an Outdoor Wander
DC prides itself on having plenty of beautiful green spaces, and if you look hard enough, you can easily find them! Head to Meridian Hill Park on a weekend in the spring, summer, or fall for live music, picnickers, yoga, volleyball, and maybe even a communal drum circle.
You never know what you’re going to see or experience when you visit. Alternatively, head to Rock Creek Park or Great Falls for a more remote, tranquil experience.
At both parks, there are several trails and paths you can enjoy, surrounded by lush forests near the Potomac River. Within Great Falls, you can hike to the waterfall viewpoint or do a few rock scrambles…whatever suits your fancy.
Visit a Speakeasy
Within DC’s city limits, you can find plenty of bars, but some of the most unique ones you can visit are actual speakeasies. Located in hidden corners of buildings in highly populated areas, these speakeasies are a really fun way to go out for a drink or a snack…if you can find them.
My favorite speakeasy in the city is The Gibson. I’d say more about its whereabouts but I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you! Inside the Gibson, you’ll find prohibition-themed decor in a dark but kind of romantic area.
As a solo traveler, don’t be deterred by the romance of it all — it’s a perfect place to go solo, get cozy, and sip on a cocktail with a book in hand, or to people watch as people enter the speakeasy in surprise and delight.
Tour Offbeat Art Galleries
Of course, I’ve saved my absolute favorite for last: exploring DC’s somewhat “underground” art scene. While Washington DC isn’t known specifically for its artists and galleries, there’s actually a very lively creative scene within the city.
Dozens of local artists work together to bring street art, interactive art exhibits, and more to the city’s neighborhoods. To experience DC’s art scene yourself, my favorite places to view art in DC are Blind Whino and Dupont Underground.
Blind Whino is an art collective (workshop, event space + gallery) located in Southwest DC. Tucked inside a formerly abandoned church, the exterior is now painted all kinds of psychedelic colors. But even cooler is the inside of the building, which has open exhibits featuring local art exhibits and events. It’s a really cool place to spend a weekend afternoon viewing some really unique artwork.
Dupont Underground has a similar offbeat vibe, but is located in Dupont Circle in an old, subterranean streetcar facility. Now, they host regular art exhibitions and concerts that you can attend for a small fee. Coming here reminds me about how cool it is to repurpose unused space and turn it into something beautiful for the community.
Solo Travel Tips in Washington DC
Solo travel in Washington DC is safe and easy. Here’s how you can make your time there more enjoyable.
Go Where the Locals Go
If you’re traveling solo, chances are you won’t want to be surrounded by tourists and large groups 100% of the time. For solo travelers, I highly recommend spending less time in the main areas (museums, monuments, etc.) and more time exploring the neighborhoods, which have a much more relaxed and local vibe.
Within local DC haunts, you’ll have a much easier time meeting locals and getting a sense for the overall culture of the city. Plus, they’re usually less expensive for dining and shopping than in the more touristy places!
Take Public Transportation
Solo travel costs can add up if you’re not splitting with someone else. Taxis (and ride shares) in DC can start to add up really quickly, and aside from walking public transportation really is the best way to get around.
Fares typically range from $1 to $3.70 depending on the time of day, method of transportation, and your destination. You can simply put your destination into Google Maps and it will tell you exactly the best buses and metros to use to get there.
Pick up a SmarTrip card ($2 one time fee) at any metro station and load it up with a few dollars, and you’ll be good to go!
There are SO many places in Washington DC that offer shared spaces for eating, coffee drinking, and cocktail sipping. Don’t be shy — use them!
Communal spaces like long tables in restaurants and markets are MEANT to foster social interactions and new friendships. Some of the best places to do this are at Union Market and The LINE Hotel (both mentioned above), as well as the Eaton Hotel.
With its hidden bars, underground art, and energetic neighborhoods, DC is the perfect place to explore for a day or a week. Hopefully this guide has shown you that there’s a lot to see and do in Washington DC as a solo traveler, and even more to discover once you take the time to explore this beautiful city.
Kay Rodriguez is the blogger behind Jetfarer and USA Weekend Guide. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook, too. When she’s not traveling or writing about it, you can find her running at the park or searching for the best chai latte in every city she visits.