Eco-friendly travel guide to Washington, D.C. advises how to be a responsible tourist. Learn how to explore the attractions in a sustainable way and how to respect the local people and culture. Make your trip green by supporting locally owned hotels, organic restaurants and other businesses. Read more on how to protect the environment by making conscientious choices and how to travel green in Washington, D.C., United States of America.
- Air quality: 4 / 5
- Exploring by foot: 5 / 5
- Exploring by bicycle: 4.5 / 5
- Public transportation: 4.7 / 5
- Parks: 4.4 / 5
- Outdoor activities: 4.45 / 5
- Locals' English level: 5 / 5
- Safety: 3.96 / 5
- Accommodation: US$40 - $1,800
- Budget per day: US$130 - $2,000
- 1 Responsible Travel
- 2 Air Quality and Pollution
- 3 Respect the Culture
- 4 Top 10 Places to Visit
- 5 Explore
- 6 Eat
- 7 Drink
- 8 Activities
- 9 Accommodation
- 10 How to Get There
- 11 Moving Around
- 12 Sustainable Shopping
- 13 Recycling
- 14 Work and Study Abroad
- 15 See Also
Look forward to history and remarkable sights and attractions when you're in this city because a visit to Washington DC is nothing short of fascinating. With hopping neighborhoods, cutting-edge dining scene, marble monuments, and blue-ribbon museums, a visit to the nation’s capital is an amazing experience for as you'll be treated to some of the most exciting food scenes in the world, you'll find its ever-changing roster of cultural events to be captivating, and its eclectic neighborhoods worthy of exploration. Washington DC has grown to be one of the most dynamic cities in the United States of America beyond the fact that it's known for the Capitol, the White House, and a host of its other incredible museums and monuments.
Washington DC is fast evolving to an intriguing East Coast vacation destination as it's awash with a new energy, and while many outsiders see this nation's capital as slow and inefficient, it's indeed a "city of southern efficiency and northern charm," as aptly described by John F. Kennedy. Though Washington DC may be seen by many as just a stuffy government-driven town because of its high-profile politicos and marbled monuments, it's transitioning into a thriving cultural hub with its recent explosion of clubs, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants.
- It's all 'bout the season. Washington DC is an amazing city and you may want to visit this city when the flowers are in bloom and the weather is mild so, it's best to go in spring or fall. There are good times and better times to make your trip to this city enthralling and as this America’s capital remains to be a constantly delightful, educational, and entertaining destination, don't deprive yourself of the opportunity of catching some of the city's unique experiences. From the opening of the paddle boats in the Tidal Basin to the world-famous Cherry Blossom Festival, there are a series of events to look forward to and an abundance of festivals you stand to enjoy when you visit in spring.
- Do well to see the sights on land & water. The Potomac River does offer you an amazing opportunity to see some fascinating attractions and cool sights, and this is just to tell you that you should do beyond monuments and museums as a green traveler in Washington DC. If you want to tour the Potomac aboard an amphibious vehicle, going on the DC DUCKS Tour is a very good idea.
- Take a tour, it doesn't bite, trust me. You may want to consider the Old Town Trolley Tour if you want to see the best of this city but whichever way, you'll find dozens of different tours offered in this beautiful American city.' This particular tour; Old Town Trolley Tour, helps you get the history of the people and places you're visiting and you'll also get to enjoy interesting facts and stories from the tour guide who is a knowledgeable local. The beautiful thing about the tour is that it's flexible; it can be spread out even over a few days, and visitors can see all the sights with live narration in 90 minutes. It stops at more than 100 points of interest and it's the city's most comprehensive sightseeing tour. '
- Beware of crowds. As a responsible traveler in Washington DC, it would be nice of you to avoid contributing to the perpetual crowd in the city. The most popular sights that people come to see are probably the monuments and memorials, and if you come in the afternoon, you'll surely meet a lot of people. In lieu of this,' visiting after dark could be a better idea, especially since most of these top places don't have their doors shut when it's nighttime. The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, the FDR Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial are some of the several popular monuments you can enjoy visiting if you oblige to the Monuments by Moonlight Night Tour.
- Don’t drive. The public transit or the Trolley Tour are the best options if you're traveling from one area of the city to another and if you're seeing the sights within a certain quadrant, walking is a transit option you should boldly employ. Traffic in Washington DC can be very confusing, especially if you happen to be visiting the city for the first time, and aside from this, the traffic is also often high. The beautiful thing about all this is that you'll constantly find Washington DC to be among one of the top 10 most walkable cities in the United States of America. Getting a car to move around the city might appear needless and it isn't actually cool for sustainable travelers in Washington DC because you may be able to walk to most of what you want to see looking at the fact that many attractions are within close range. Washington DC is a very pedestrian-friendly city and the best way to see the District is not by relying on your car because there's the frightful traffic waiting for you and parking is also expensive.
Air Quality and Pollution
Although several key criteria pollutants monitored by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington DC meet federal attainment, the city's air quality still suffers from high ozone levels. Since at least 1996, ozone attainment levels have not been met by the District of Columbia and there's been a rise in the levels of ozone in the city. During the winter months, pollution events are not uncommon, irrespective of the fact that since 2009, federal attainment levels for annual and 24-hour PM2.5 has been met by the city. The most polluted months for PM2.5 in Washington DC are December, January, and February.
However, it's worthy to point out that over recent decades, there have been drastic improvements in the city's air quality. Still, there's a significant amount of pollution to the DC area contributed by the polluted air blown from Maryland and Virginia, but unlike other neighboring cities like Baltimore with a worse air quality, Washington DC has a better air quality. During the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, the city's air quality levels fell by 10 to 20 percent, and it's quite interesting that car traffic is getting reduced in the city as the city is improving green transport options like walking and biking.
Respect the Culture
Due to its high-power jobs and universities, Washington DC beckons to people from all parts of the country and places all over the globe. Thanks to its nightlife scenes, shopping, unfolding restaurant, and resurging neighborhoods resulting from its growing diverse population, it's now home to an array of diverse people and personalities beyond the usual power players, history buffs, petitioners, and lobbyists it attracts. Nevertheless, take note that there are unspoken customs you'll have to follow in this city whether you're a tourist or a D.C. transplant.
Some of the things that reflect the culture of Washington D.C. are its role as the largest city in the Chesapeake Bay region, its predominantly Black population, the presence of its federal government, and its status as the capital of the United States of America. Throughout the year in and around the District, you'll find a variety of food, nature, art, and cultural festivals taking place, and some of these events tend to offer you more insight about the city's culture.
Top 10 Places to Visit
All the places to visit in Washington DC reflect that this city has preserved the country’s long-lost history and DC is one of the places that will excite the history buff in you for it's home to some of the world's most interesting museums and monuments. During your trip to the United States of America, you ought to explore this city if historic stories of war, power, and glory catch your fancy. Washington DC has a variety of places of tourist interests and it offers its visitors an opportunity to catch a great blend of visual and cultural experiences.
The capital city of U.S., Washington DC, has nothing to do with the state of Washington because it's a federal district located between Virginia and Maryland, but it's never been a dull place to get outdoors. Washington, D.C. is nothing like other cities in the country with its tons of tourist attractions, large gardens, and small buildings. Designed to be a beautiful city with infinite attractions for visitors, It’s way more diverse than you might think as it houses everything from hundred-year-old oak trees and sprawling wilderness reserves filled with waterfalls to quirky little shops and boutiques.
And, while it's understandable that narrowing down the list of the best places to visit in this city could be overwhelming because of the plenty free museums, government buildings, historical monuments, and other top things to do and see, here are some top attractions to check out in Washington DC.
- The National Mall: When you’re in the area, you'll really want to cross it off your bucket list. It's iconic for the entire country as a whole, regardless of the boundaries of the District of Columbia, and it's one of the major points of interest in the United States of America. Snow piles up on the lawns in the winter and cherry blossom trees bloom over ponds and reflecting pools in the summer. Botanical gardens, art galleries, memorials, museums, and statues are some of the attractions here. The Lincoln Memorial is at the opposite end on the west and in the hazy distance of the east, you'll see the domed top of the U.S. Capitol Building. In terms of square footage, the Smithsonian Museums are the largest but the Washington Monument is the tallest and the White House is the most famous. Hosting dozens of iconic U.S. institutions, the National Mall is the first stop that you’ll want to make in this city.
- Library of Congress: For hours without paying a dime, you could entertain yourself. It's budget-friendly and it's one of the best things to do in Washington, DC. Everything is free here and as you'll find television and motion picture rooms in a building, you'll find an auditorium for live musical performances, and a performance theater in another building. Special events are often held at the library too. All the buildings here are worth checking out but the one with the ornate, golden-toned central reading room; the Thomas Jefferson Building, is probably the most famous here. The buildings here showcase incredible breathtaking architecture and this library has three buildings in total. Boasting all the things a knowledge seeker could want ranging from sheet music and newsreels to murals, paintings, photographs, manuscripts, and maps, you'll also find contemporary recordings for popular music, fragile books, and some rare materials at its shelves. It's the second-largest library in the world and it has more than 167 million items.
- Washington Harbour: Come here to let loose and have a blast and this place should be your next destination after you’ve had your fill of quiet museums and memorials. If you seek a fun and exciting time in the area, Washington Harbour is where you should be, and it's considered the “premier waterfront destination of DC.” You'll be entertained by the performance venues, lounges, galleries, and theaters here, and if you need accommodation, you'll find several hotels along the shoreline. There’s shopping and there's dining here too. Here, you can choose to simply wander on your own, bike or eat tour of the local hot spots, or take a walk if you’d prefer to stay on solid ground. But on the water, you can jet ski right there or get a rented canoe, but make sure you experience the phenomenal views of the river. This place is a destination that welcomes vacationers at any time of year and aside from the fact that it's generally fun and lively, it offers activities for every season; from ice skating in the winter to biking in the fall and boating in the summer to shopping in the spring.
- National Gallery of Art: This gallery holds an immense amount of meaning for the country and its scale and scope of its exhibitions will get you stunned. It's one of the top things to do in Washington, DC, and it hosts works of many famous artists. From busts and sculptures to portraits from different parts of the globe, it's home to dozens of art collections. Just as the exteriors are stunning, the interiors are impressive likewise! It’s actually comprised of two buildings: East and West. The West Building harks back to the past with reminiscent of ancient Greece and a neoclassical architectural style while the East Building features a geometric flair and made with pink marble. Situated right in the heart of Washington, it's regarded to be one of the best in the United States of America and it's hailed as “the nation’s museum.”
- The National Arboretum: When you’re near the capital, you’ll definitely want to make time for this place because it's a must-see destination. If you're a fan of history, beauty, culture, nature, or all combined, and you're planning to escape the grind of Washington, DC, this is where you should be. You'll find the National Capitol Columns standing in an open field here and there are lots of things to do here ranging from those involving the natural world such as nature museums and arbor houses to other tourist attractions Between reflecting pools, fountains, and statues, you'll be greeted by art collections, and you'll be led through gardens and groves via the walking trails. You'll be dazzled by every inch of this arboretum as you'll find everything from willow trees hanging over fields of wildflowers to tidy, well-trimmed bonsai collections. It's one of the most colorful and one of the most beautiful places to visit in the country with pleasing succulents, shrubs, trees, ferns, and flowers.
- CityCenterDC: You can’t ask for more from a vacation destination for this place will put you right on top of the beating pulse of the city. CityCenterDC is one of the city's top tourist places and it's a fine place for those who aren’t afraid of bumping elbows with strangers. Venturing further into downtown to have a good time is totally needless because the few hours you'll spend within these five blocks alone will be excitingly invigorating. There are several shops and cafés lined here and you'll be captured by the liveliness of CityCenterDC with the miles of traffic and usually crowds. Nevertheless, take note that CityCenterDC isn't for the faint of heart but for those who can contain the thrumming energy of a modern urban landscape. Yes, it's a busy place, and it's a single area with condos, offices, hotels, restaurants, parks, and shops. It's a massive commercial and retail space situated in the heart of downtown and it covers more than five blocks.
- The Pentagon: It can be a rare and exciting treat to visit the Pentagon but you must meet the criteria because not everyone is allowed to just pass through the front doors anyhow. To enter, you’ll need a government-issued photo ID, and you must schedule your tour at least two weeks in advance. Memorabilia, relics, and photos from the conflicts of the past are displayed here along with informative displays about the military's four branches. You can view Medal of Honor recipients when you go to the Hall of Heroes. Guided tours are available on weekdays from 10 AM – 4 PM.
- National Zoo: It’s situated right on the National Mall and it's a place for a series of fun activities combined with the pleasure of seeing tons of amazing creatures. The beautiful thing about this zoo is that it never charges admission and it's open every day of the year but on Christmas. Because you're not requested to pay a dime for entry, you can just walk up there tomorrow morning freely. There’s always something fun to do; from the “Boo at the Zoo” during Halloween to the “Woo at the Zoo” on Valentine’s Day, there's a wide variety of events and activities for visitors hosted at this zoo. Hosting a family of giant pandas, it houses over 2,000 animals. The sheer range of animals within the zoo will get you awed and if you’re an animal or nature lover spending time in this city, the National Zoo isn't a place you should miss out on.
- Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens: If finding hidden gems during your vacations and exploring little-known places are things that interest you, you should be here. It's a must-do for nature enthusiasts and checking out the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens is highly recommended if the hidden meaning of a lotus flower or the beauty of a floating heart is admirable to you. The annual Lotus and Water Lily Festival is a source of entertainment here and it offers visitors an opportunity to enjoy wildlife experiences, fashion shows, cultural lessons, dances, tours, and games. And, as this two-day event at the park adds to the fun, you'll find everything from water hyacinths and lotus blossoms to waterlilies and other several species that are quite rare for the region offered here. Go for the Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens if you’re looking for unusual tourist spots in this nation's capital.
- National Museum of Natural History: Here, you'll get to learn new facts and try new things even as you have fun because this place combines education and entertainment effortlessly. It's run by the Smithsonian Institution and you'll love this place whether you're into meteorology, paleontology, oceanography, or astronomy. The Hope Diamond is here, there's an Insect Zoo, and a Hall of Bones. You can explore the butterfly gardens, meteorite collections, fossil halls, and art galleries. At the center of a large, open-air rotunda, you'll notice a gigantic elephant roaring, and this is just a tip of what it has to offer with its amazing collections. You've probably seen this museum in a lot of movies.
Washington DC is a place where you can easily spend the whole weekdays or a long weekend exploring with its plentiful historic national monuments and delicious food. Hosting several amazing sights and history that aren't worth missing, Washington DC is a fine place for those looking for where to visit on the East Coast of the United States. While there are tons of attractions to explore in this city, spring and autumn remain to be the best times to visit because summer can be unpleasantly hot and humid.
Some of the best places to visit in Washington DC are best seen on foot because the northwestern quadrant along the National Mall houses a vast number of important things to see and do. Important monuments and world-class museums amidst other dozens of other tourist attractions are some of the places visitors can enjoy exploring in Washington DC and it's pretty interesting to know that visitors can as well access the White House and the Capitol which are part of the national symbols of the country.
City parks in Washington DC provide an escape from the busy city as they combine natural beauty and historical significance. There are lots of fantastic parks waiting to be explored and definitely, Washington DC has Kore to offer beyond its more pronounced monuments, museums, and politics.
- Meridian Hill Park: It has a perfect relaxing sport in the morning with people working out and from 3 pm to 9 pm, it has a Sunday drum circle. It has personal training sessions, circuit training, fitness, Italian-style garden, area for sports, yoga classes, and running groups.
- The Yards Park: Framed by quiet picnics, a scenic pathway, unique wooden benches, and shading trees, it has ample open green space. In the freshwater of its decorative water feature, you can enjoy splashing, wading, and cooling off. There are color-changing lights illuminating the fountain area and water scrims for kids and adults to enjoy with playful water jets featured at the Dancing Fountains. Throughout the year, it's an ideal place for festivals, special occasions, and recreation. This award-winning park has water features for all to enjoy the outdoors, it provides green space, and it's a premier waterfront destination.
There are over 20 National Parks in Washington DC!
Georgetown Waterfront Park is one of the best, fun national parks you'll find in the city. It has tour boaters, paddle boarders, plenty of benches for relaxation, running paths, and cycling paths. Georgetown Waterfront Park offers pollinator gardens, bio-edge, rain gardens, river steps and pergola, fountain, and labyrinth. Its charming rain gardens, beautiful fountain, and labyrinth are some of its notable design elements that make it beloved. Offering a wide range of on or near-the-water fun, it's a must-see fun spot in Washington DC.
Rock Creek Park, on the other hand, is a more popular national park in Washington DC. It's less than two miles from the bustling downtown area and it provides habitat for a myriad of animals. It's home to a planetarium, unique species of migratory birds, horse stables, and a wealth of hiking trails. It's one of the nation's biggest and oldest urban forests and it was established in 1890. It's the largest national park in Washington DC.
Theodore Roosevelt Island is another fine national park in DC but it can only be accessed by car through the Virginia side, though it's still technically part of DC.
Washington DC is landlocked but it's just few hours drive away from several nice beaches.
Washington DC is a prime center of nightlife, history, culture, and politics, and being the capital of one of the most attractive nations in the world, it has some of the best landmarks on offer.
- The White House: There are free self-guided tours from Tuesday through Thursday offered here that you can take advantage of and this property is owned by the National Park Service. It has been the official residence of every US president and it started with President John Adams in 1800.
- U.S. Capitol: For you to enjoy access to the U.S. Capitol, make sure you take necessary permissions in advance. Coming here already offers you an opportunity to visit the largest library in the world; the Library of Congress, which is another landmark on its own. The iconic events from history are portrayed by the beautiful paintings and sculptors in the building. Your interest is sure to be aroused by the U.S. Capitol with its long history if you're interested in historically important buildings. It's a politically important building and an architectural marvel.
- The National Mall: Botanical gardens, art galleries, memorials, museums, and statues are some of the attractions here. The Lincoln Memorial, which is another top landmark in the city, is at the opposite end on the west and in the hazy distance of the east, you'll see the domed top of the U.S. Capitol Building.
- Library of Congress: Boasting all the things a knowledge seeker could want ranging from sheet music and newsreels to murals, paintings, photographs, manuscripts, and maps, you'll also find contemporary recordings for popular music, fragile books, and some rare materials at its shelves. It's the second-largest library in the world and it has more than 167 million items.
When it comes to world-class museums, Washington, DC is in a league of its own because it has just too many and perusing the museums in this city is quite pleasurable because you don't need a dime to gain entry to most of them:
- National Gallery of Art
- National Museum of African American History and Culture
- National Museum of Women in the Arts
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
- Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Washington DC's melting pot of ethnicities and cultures is reflected by its restaurant scene, and as it attracts a diverse clientele given its status as the epicenter for American politics and nonprofits, it does have a little bit of everything. However, Cupcakes are a popular local treat, and smoked half-beef, half-pork sausages is a unique local cuisine in DC.
Traditional Local Restaurants
Some of the popular traditional local restaurants in Washington DC are:
- Martin's Tavern
- Old Ebbitt Grill
- GCDC Grilled Cheese Bar
- Stan's Restaurant
- Unconventional Diner
Vegetarian and Vegan
DC restaurants have always saved some room for vegans and vegetarians:
- Fancy Radish
- Fare Well
- Elizabeth's Gone Raw
Washington DC has some of the world’s best street foods and thanks to the food trucks in the city, you can enjoy some of the best street food in DC:
- Himalayan Soul Foods
- Captain Cookie and the MilkMan
- Arepa Zone
- Timber Pizza
- Swizzler Hot Dog Truck
Washington DC is a place for beer lovers and the city ranks first in heavy drinking in accordance with a recent survey of the drinking habits of Americans.
The tap water in Washington DC tastes great and you should feel safe to drink tap water in public places in the city.
There are several organic cafés in Washington DC and Coppi's Organic and Khepra's Raw Food Juice Bar are some of the best ones you'll find around.
With loads of high-quality breweries popping up around town, the beer scene in Washington DC is booming:
- Bluejacket Brewery
- DC Brau
- Right Proper Brewing Company
- Atlas Brew Works
- 3 Stars Brewing Company
- Hellbender Brewing Company
- Bardo Brewpub
From hiking and running to biking and lots more, outdoor enthusiasts have a plethora of outdoor activities to enjoy in Washington DC, and free outdoor activities are as well plentiful in the city.
Yoga and Retreats
Yoga and retreats are very much common in Washington DC and these are some of the best places you can trust for your yoga needs in the city:
- Embrace Yoga DC (home of Embrace OM)
- Bluebird Sky Yoga
- Lighthouse Yoga Center
- Yoga Del Sol
- Bhakti Yoga DC
- Hot Yoga Capitol Hill
Accommodation options are plentiful in this city but if you will be lodging in a hotel, know that downtown hotels are very expensive, especially when business travelers are around.
Green hotels are easy to find in Washington DC and some of your best choices include:
- Hotel Helix
- Phoenix Park Hotel
- Willard InterContinental
- Yours Truly DC
- Fairmont Washington D.C. Georgetown
Hostels and Guest Houses
Some of the best hostels and guesthouses in Washington DC are:
- HI Hostel DC
- Duo Housing
- DC International Hostel
- HighRoad Hostel Washington DC
Apartments can be quite pricey in some parts of the city but finding an apartment isn't a herculean task in the city and Airbnb options are available as well.
Your chances of finding a host for couchsurfing in Washington DC are high but do well to find a host before traveling to the city.
Rock Creek Park is one of the best places to go camping in Washington DC.
Other alternative options include Soapstone Valley Park and Battery Kemble Park
How to Get There
Depending on your proximity to the city, there are several options you can explore to get in.
Washington, D.C. is served by three major airports:
- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
- Washington Dulles International Airport
- Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport
Many bus companies operate service to/from Washington DC.
There are several long-distance trains like Vermonter, Silver Meteor and Silver Star, Palmetto, Carolinian, Cardinal, Crescent, and Capitol Limited serving Washington.
Washington is a major rail hub with Amtrak. You can get to and from Maryland with the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC), and between Union Station and points southwest, weekday rail service is provided by Virginia Railway Express (VRE).
Hitchhiking is strictly frowned at in Washington DC.
Driving to the city is easy, especially if you're coming from a place like Baltimore, Maryland or Richmond, Virginia.
Washington DC has a clean, safe, and efficient public transportation. Use it to get around and you'll be fine.
The best way to explore the different neighborhoods is by foot. And, yes. Waking is safe to a good extent in the city.
This city will encourage you to bike for a large portion of the day even if you plan on taking public transport because there are lots of dedicated bike lanes with plenty of bike parking available in most of the streets, and it's no surprise why Washington is ranked one of the top cities for bicycling in the United States.
There are several car rental companies in DC and you should be able to pick up an electronic vehicle at any of these places.
The DC Circulator buses run every 10 minutes. Bus fare is $1.75 and the buses travel extensive routes all over the District, Maryland, and Virginia.
Tram, Train and Subway
The Metrorail is D.C.'s intra-city train system and it features six color-coded Metro train lines weaving through the city. While fares can be as low as around $1.75 to $3.60, they can as well range from $2.15 to $5.90 during weekday rush hour and weekends.
Washington DC is a haven for sustainable shoppers with its plentiful eco-friendly stores and green markets.
Those looking for local produce and fresh foods in Washington DC will find places like Eastern Market, RFK Stadium Open Air Farmers' Market, and Union Market to be satisfying.
There are lots of nice flea markets in Washington DC;
- Flea Market At Eastern Market
- Georgetown Flea Market
- The Flea Market Store
- Dupont Little Flea Market
Second Hand Stores
Second-hand stores are quite plentiful in Washington DC;
- Thrifty's Georgia Avenue Thrift Store
- St Albans Church-Opportunity Shop
- Reddz Trading
- Rosario's Thrift Store
D.C. has several cute boutiques that feature ethically made items.
- Take Care
- Catch Can
The Department of Public Works offers single-stream residential recycling and collects recyclables once a week.
Waste in the city is managed in an environmentally-sensitive way by the Department of Public Works (DPW).
Work and Study Abroad
Washington is a fine location for work and study abroad because of its business atmosphere and some of the country's most prestigious universities it hosts in its area.
You'll find most of the universities in the city running the exchange student program and each school has its respective requirements that must be met.
Washington DC is a great destination for au pairs.
Volunteers will be faced with plenty of volunteering opportunities in DC because there are several organizations in search of volunteers to help them facilitate their good works in the city.