First-Timer’s Guide to Washington, DC

Travel Guide

 First-Timer’s Guide to Washington, DC

When first planning your trip to DC, reach out to your Congressman.

First-Timer’s Guide to Washington, DC

When we first moved to DC, I was fortunate enough to work in the Senate as a Constituent Services Representative and tour coordinator. I was like a local travel agent, people! The best part is that every single office on Capitol Hill has a tour coordinator who is willing and able to reserve tours for their constituents. Tours they are able to reserve include:

The White House

The only way to get a tour of the White House is through your Congressman. In order to have a chance of getting a tour, you need to send in your request at least three months in advance. The tour coordinator will then need to send in your security information to the White House. At that point, the request is completely out of their hands. The White House may deny your request, but if you get in, it is completely worth it!

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The Capitol

If you are able to go during the week, your Congressman’s office will be able to set up a private tour of the Capitol. You will be able to see the underground tunnels that connect all of the House and Senate office buildings to the Capitol. More often than not, you will be taken to rooms that you don’t often see on the public tour. Don’t forget to ask about Capitol Dome tours. They are hard to get, but definitely worth the ask!

The Library of Congress

If your representative’s office has connections with the Capitol Police, you can actually get a behind the scenes tour of the Library of Congress. You’ll be able to go up into the dome of the building, the famous Reading Room and the rare books section.

Other tours they can reserve

  1. The Holocaust Museum
  2. National Archives
  3. Bureau of Printing and Engraving
  4. Private tour of the monuments with the Department of Interior
  5. The Pentagon

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Be ready to walk folks!

The biggest mistake any tourist can make is to forget good walking shoes. DC is the biggest optical illusion of all time. All of the monuments look like they are so close together, but there is quite a bit of space in between each of them. Not to mention when you finally get to a monument or the Smithsonian museum, you’re going to have to walk all around there too!

Not everything is free, but it’s pretty darn close.

For those traveling to DC for the first time, it may come as a shock that admittance to the monuments and Smithsonian museums are completely free. I recognize that getting to DC can be an expense, but once you are there, it is a freaking steal! You have all of these historical sites at your fingertips for free! There are, of course, some sites that do cost money. Here are the ones that I think are worth the cost.

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George Washington’s Mt. Vernon

Mt. Vernon is technically not in DC. However, it is an incredible tour. I could spend all day there. The land is kept to be as authentic as possible. They still have a blacksmith and the gardens are beautiful. There is even a small farmer’s market where you can buy fruits, vegetables, or herbs from George Washington’s garden. It’s totally kid friendly and so much fun!

Note: You can purchase your tickets online at a slightly discounted rate. 

The Newseum

This is a newer museum and features news articles from important events throughout history. They have a fascinating 9/11 exhibit. There is also a daily rotating exhibit where they show the front page of a newspaper from every state.

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4th of July in the Nation’s Capital

I figured I should mention something about spending the 4th in the capital of the country. The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays. I feel that everyone should experience a Washington, DC 4th of July at least once, but boy does it get crowded. I often compare it to New Years in Times Square. I have only a few suggestions.

In order to get a hotel, you will have to book your trip at least a year in advance. I would suggest looking at AirBnb or staying a little further outside the city.

Get familiar with the metro system. It definitely has its faults, but it is the easiest way to travel when the roads get backed up.

If you’re interested in avoiding the crowds, but still want to see some fireworks, try staying for Arlington’s Birthday Celebration. They typically celebrate it the weekend after the 4th of July. I swear they watch the fireworks show on the Mall, then do everything they can to beat it. The best place to watch these fireworks is in Old Towne Alexandria, right on the edge of the Potomac River. Old Towne is lovely and I could spend a whole day there, too.

My Favorite Places

I know I loaded you with information, but I wanted to make a list of my absolute favorite places to visit in DC. I have lived here for three years and my list of things to see is still a mile long, but that is what I love about being here. You’re never bored! Anyway, here are some of my favorites that are popular, but still a little bit off the beaten path.

Breakfast in Eastern Market

Over the weekends they have the best blueberry pancakes and crab eggs benedict I’ve ever had.

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Capitol Hill Bookstore

This bookstore is owned by an older man who has collected books his entire life. He has stacked them floor to ceiling and sells them at a discount price.

Dutch Country Farmer’s Market

This is an Amish market in Laurel, Maryland that is to die for! The food is incredible and you can buy lunch, sample different treats, and just walk around. It is a bit of a drive outside of Washington, DC, but so worth it!

Annapolis, Maryland

Charming homes, a historical neighborhood, the “Most Beautiful Doorway in America,” and the Statehouse where George Washington handed in his resignation as Commander in Chief. All free, and all wonderful.

George Washington’s Mt. Vernon

I know I mentioned this one already, but I can’t get enough of this place! Did you know he bred dogs and named one Sweet Lips? True story. I learned that at Mt. Vernon. They also have George Washington’s dentures, the hand railing on the stairs in his home is original so you can touch the railing that George touched!


Washington, DC has some seriously good food. Some of our favorites include:

  1. Founding Farmers
  2. Ted’s Bulletin
  3. Bonchon
  4. Tortilla Coast
  5. Gadsby’s Tavern (George Washington used to eat here!)
  6. Mei Wah

I hope this gives you some ideas and makes you want to visit Washington, DC. It is on of the greatest cities and I hope you’ll love it as much as I do.

What recommendations do you have for first-time visitors to Washington, DC?

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