Where to Stay in Washington D.C.

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Washington D.C.David Mark from Pixabay

Washington is a showcase of sights and experiences, but where you stay in Washington D.C. will make a big difference to your visit. So use our detailed guide to the capital’s best neighbourhoods for visitors to find the perfect match for you, whether you’re here for the landmarks and the museums, or enjoy the bustle of this seat of power. Or a combination of both and more.

Neighbourhood Guide to Washington D.C.

Washington Neighbourhood MapBy Peter Fitzgerald, Attributi

As well as being the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. is also a showcase of some of the best things America has to offer. There’s great art, an incredible collection of museums, some of the best restaurants in the country, and an almost overwhelming number of iconic American landmarks, including the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Memorial, the Capitol Building, and the Arlington National Cemetery — which top the bill for grandeur. Scaling down a bit in size and you’ve got the Declaration of Independence, Henry the world’s largest elephant, the Hope Diamond, the Spirit of St. Louis, the Wright Flyer, one of the Lunar Modules from the Apollo space programs, a shawl worn by Harriet Tubman, and a robe worn by Muhammad Ali, da Vinci’s Ginevra de Benci, Picasso’s Family of Saltimbanques, and Abraham Lincoln’s top hat.

Almost everything you read about Washington D.C. mentions the amount you will probably walk when visiting. The majority of the city’s major sights are quite close to each other, and it’s often more of a faff to take public transport between them than to walk. Not that Washington D.C.’s public transport is a particular challenge, just that its streets are laid out in a regular grid, so it’s pretty easy to get around. When you do need to use public transport you have a choice of the Metrorail, the Circulator bus and the Metrobus service, and it’s known for being easy and convenient, as opposed to hiring a car and trying to park, which is known for being challenging and expensive. If you fancying hiring a bike, Washington D.C. is a good place to do it.

Around the National Mall

National MallDavid Mark from Pixabay

The National Mall is both a national park, and a thoroughfare. Don’t be confused by the headline, it’s a large man-made, tree-lined, pedestrianised area, incorporating the areas around the White House and the Capitol, plus the Lincoln and Washington Memorials. But as well as these buildings, and the parkland surrounding them, the National Mall is also home to the Smithsonian’s many museums (19 at the moment, including the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History and the Sackler Gallery). It’s also got several war memorials, and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King memorials. So this is a lot more than just a park, it’s sort of an expression of America, and a celebration of many of its icons. Plus it’s days and days and days worth of entertainment.

The National Mall’s museums have some excellent cafes, cafeterias and restaurants, but there are some in the gardens too, or you can head north to the East End, or south to the Waterfront area. The museums shops are also packed with excellent souvenirs. You’ll find the hotels and accommodation options ringing the outside of the park.

Pros and Cons

  • Pros: major sights, central, major museums, historic buildings
  • Cons: busy, touristy
  • Ideal For: sight-seers, first-time-visitors, museum lovers, history buffs, families

Discover our recommended hotels around the National Mall, Washington D.C.

Capitol Hill

Capitol HillDavid Mark from Pixabay

Capitol Hill is east of the National Mall, an elegant, well heeled neighbourhood popular with politicians and congressional staffers. As well as the Capitol Building, which is on one side of the neighbourhood, this is where you’ll find the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress. And the Botanic Gardens. On the far side of the neighbourhood is the Anacostia River. Mostly built during the 18th and 19th centuries, Capitol Hill is typified by its elegant townhouses, in a variety of styles. It’s a nice place to walk around, make sure you stroll by Un

ion Station, and the Eastern Market, which is a great place to do a spot of shopping and grab some food. If you’re looking for a more substantial dining experience look along Barracks Row. But if you don’t want to overhear folks talking politics over dinner or drinks then this is not the neighbourhood for you, because these streets, bars and restaurants buzz with it.

As well as Union Station, Capitol Hill has several Metrorail stations.

Pros and Cons

  • Pros: central, major sights, elegant, beautiful architecture, excellent bars and restaurants
  • Cons: can be expensive, lots of politics
  • Ideal For: history-buffs, sight-seers, politics aficionados, foodies

Discover our recommended hotels in Capitol Hill, Washington D.C.

East End and Penn Quarter

East EndFalkenpost from Pixabay

The East End and Penn Quarter sit between the White House and Capitol Hill, the Penn Quarter specifically around Pennsylvania Ave, where you’ll find the National Archives, the National Portrait Gallery and Ford’s Theatre (where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated), multiple other theatres and venues, and lots of bars and restaurants. This is a bustling hub of activity day and night, and one of Washington D.C.’s largest entertainment districts, with all the cafes, bars and restaurants you’d need to fuel theatre, museum and arts centre goers. As well as places to eat and drink, the East End has large department stores and farmers' markets.

The other neighbourhoods of the East End are Chinatown, Judiciary Square and Mount Vernon Square. Chinatown is also a lively spot of an evening, but it’s not as Chinese as Chinatowns in other major cities, including New York.

All these areas are all connected my Metrorail and buses, and you’re only a short walk from the National Mall and all its museums.

Pros and Cons

  • Pros: central, major sights, theatre district, great bars and restaurants, lively nightlife
  • Cons: busy 24hours
  • Ideal For: sight-seers, theatre-lovers, night-owls, couples

West End

West EndDavid Mark from Pixabay

To the west of the White House and the National Mall is the West End. The White House is the main sight, and even though it’s a working seat of power it’s actually fairly accessible, surrounded by parks and squares, so that you can almost picnic in front of it. Lafayette Park and Lafayette Square are excellent places to explore, the latter has several famous buildings and galleries.

Pros and Cons

  • Pros: major sights, central, historic, atmospheric
  • Cons: busy in the day, quieter in the evening
  • Ideal For: history buffs, sight-seers, politics aficionados

Foggy Bottom and Georgetown

Foggy BottomDavid Mark from Pixabay

Foggy Bottom is an old Washington neighbourhood, where you’ll find the headquarters of several large international organisations, some embassies, the Kennedy Centre and the Watergate Hotel. Georgetown which is further to the west, is another old neighbourhood, and these two are where you’ll find the colonial, redbrick mansions and great antique stores and designer boutiques Washington D.C. is known for. Both have also got some great independent cafes, bars and coffee houses, and high-end shopping and dining opportunities as well. Georgetown is also known for its French-syle patisseries and rows of 18th and 19th century townhouses, that give it a more European feel than other parts of the city. John F. Kennedy moved to 33rd and N Street in the 1950s when he was a senator, and since then this has been a hub of important cocktail parties. Foggy Bottom has a Metroline station but Georgetown doesn’t. It does have a university, though. And lots of green space.

Pros and Cons

  • Pros: historic, atmospheric, green spaces, great cafes and restaurants, luxurious, beautiful architecture
  • Cons: expensive, off centre
  • Ideal For: families, luxury-lovers, walkers, romantics, foodies

Click here for all our hotel recommendations in Georgetown and the best hotels in Foggy Bottom

Dupont Circle

Dupont CircleBy Flickr user Mike Maguire

Dupont Circle is a trendy, yet historic neighbourhood, to the north of Capitol Hill. It’s got a colourful and interesting collection of galleries, shops, bars, cafes and restaurants, plus a number of embassies, which suggest the elegance of the architecture and the calibre of the hospitality and shopping. Massachusetts Ave is one of the most glamorous streets in the neighbourhood. There’s also a gay community here, who’ve created a similar atmosphere to Greenwich Village in New York. When it comes to major sights, Dupont Circle is where you’ll find the Phillips Collection Galleries, the Hureich House Museum and Castle, and Woodrow Wilson House. The circle itself is a park, the sort where you’ll see people playing chess, and during the summer it often hosts music concerts. Dupont Circle is on the red Metroline, and the bus service is good too.

Pros and Cons

  • Pros: elegant, luxurious, central, close to major sights, great bars and restaurants
  • Cons: expensive
  • Ideal For: treating yourself, romantics, luxury-lovers, sight-seers, foodies

Discover our recommended hotels in Dupont Circle, Washington D.C.

The Waterfront

Washington WaterfrontBy Flickr user Prayitno

Washington’s Waterfront area sits between the National Mall and the Washington Channel. This is a lively neighbourhood, known for its great seafood restaurants and for being a hub for entertainment venues, including sports stadiums. But it wasn’t always thus, Washington’s Waterfront is one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods, built in the 18th century, and for much of its history it was a poorer neighbourhood and quite rundown, until, in the 1950s the whole place was razed, bar the 200 year old open air seafood market, the Municipal Fish Market, a row of traditional house on Wheat Row and a couple of churches. So this is one of the major sights today, along with the Navy Yard, which is the ceremonial headquarters of the U.S. Navy, which also has a museum. Because of all the venues, this is a really well connected part of Washington, and it’s on several Metrolines.

Pros and Cons

  • Pros: water views, central, lively, great bars and restaurants, produce markets, entertainment hub
  • Cons: busy
  • Ideal For: families, foodies, sight-seers, nightlife-owls

Click here for our pick of the best hotels in the Waterfront

To the south is Alexandria, on the Potomac River, which is Washington’s Old Town, in European terms, and has some of the grandest and oldest colonial architecture and many of the city’s finest restaurants, including Gadsby’s where Thomas Jefferson used to take his guests.