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© Mark Smith / Flickr
© Mark Smith / Flickr

A Solo Traveler's Guide to Washington, D.C.

Picture of Summer Whitford
Updated: 7 February 2017

“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berry

Traveling solo is exhilarating because you can explore a new destination on your terms without being encumbered by someone else’s wants, needs, or limitations, and this creates opportunities for intimate, personal experiences that are distinctly individual. From incredible parks for running and hiking to a smorgasbord of cultural, architectural, and historical sites, Washington, D.C. just screams solo travel. Almost anything people do as a group you can do alone and have just as much fun, so read on for how to plan, do, discover, and enjoy your solo visit to Washington, D.C.

Do your homework

Before you do anything, read as much as you can about Washington, D.C. and its history, attractions, museums, travel costs, neighborhoods, and transportation. Not sure when it’s best to go? Shoot for March to June or late September to early December; summers in D.C. are humid and hot – triple-digit hot – and winter is famously unpredictable with epic snowstorms one week and mild weather the next. Three terrific planning and information resources are Destination DC, Washington, D.C.’s official tourism and convention office, and TripAdvisor’s Solo Travel Forum and Washington DC Travel Forum.

Play it safe

The nation’s capital security concerns are a big part of daily life, and it’s not uncommon to have alerts, public demonstrations, crime, and other interruptions to activities. Destination DC’s comprehensive Safety Guide has details on the different security and safety organizations and programs, how to be safe while visiting, and resources in case of an emergency.

Where to stay

Nothing is as important as a good night’s sleep and a delicious breakfast; otherwise, you won’t have the energy you need to make the most of your stay. Choosing the right kind of hotel and neighborhood are paramount because not all of D.C.’s neighborhoods and hotels are close to museums, the Metro, and other attractions. The best neighborhoods include Dupont Circle, Upper Georgetown, and Penn Quarter.

Tip: Hotels in Washington can be pricey, but a perfect compromise is a boutique or lifestyle hotel. In Upper Georgetown, Melrose Hotel and Avenue Suites are good choices; they include breakfast, are close to Foggy Bottom Metro, and in the case of Avenue Suites, provide guests with options for yoga classes and a running buddy with a staff member. Dine at Melrose’s Jardenea Restaurant for a fabulous meal or relax at the elegant bar in the lobby; both are popular with residents and guests.

Tip: You can’t beat being close to the action in the Convention Center/Penn Quarter area, but sometimes you want to be just far enough away to avoid the noise; if so, consider staying at the Morrison-Clark Historic Inn. It’s just four blocks from the Mt. Vernon-Convention Center Metro station, and a short walk away is CityCenter DC in Penn Quarter, which has premium shopping and a variety of restaurants like Bibiana Osteria Enoteca and DBGB Kitchen and Bar.

Tip: Feel like a local when you stay at the Kimpton Hotel Palomar on P Street in Dupont Circle. If you are an adventurous eater, try the affordable and authentic Afghan food at Food Corner Kabob House – the name is weird, but the food is good – or enjoy the diversity of Turkish cuisine at Ezme.

Practical information

For everything you need to know about getting to Washington, airports, train stations, local transportation, etc., Destination DC has it in their Getting Around guide; it’s invaluable.

Tip: Learn a bit of Metro etiquette to avoid annoying the locals, especially during rush hour. Travel on the Metro before or after rush hour, and you’ll avoid crowds and save money on your fare, and be sure to stand to the right on the escalator to let people pass. And buy your Smartrip fare card in advance to save time and avoid long lines.

Go ahead and be a tourist

The most efficient way to visit Washington is to do all the touristy things first, and then explore the real city – the one the locals love. The cheapest and easiest way to do this is with a hop-on, hop-off tour. In no time at all, you can tick off your list of sites, plus this is a smashing way to meet a potential travel buddy or a new friend. If you aren’t simpatico with anyone, no problem. Just hop off and take a stroll along the Tidal Basin or ride a paddle boat. The gardens, cherry trees, and Jefferson Memorial are stunning. Once done, you can hop back on and head to the National Mall to photograph the views of the U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument. Hop back on Day Two, and plot your visit to the Smithsonian museums. Day Three, be a culture vulture and immerse yourself in Impressionist paintings, rare Tuscan Renaissance ceramic sculptures, and modern art at the National Gallery of Art, followed by a tour of the White House.

Tip: Take the hop-on, hop-off moonlight tour of the monuments; the views are spectacular, and it’s less crowded.

Tip: Use the National Mall and Memorial Parks App to find attractions; download a few transit apps to navigate the Metro system, and download the Smithsonian app to get updates on exhibits, view floor plans, and access tours and podcasts.

Don’t be lonely

Being in a strange new city alone can be daunting even for old hands. By choosing the right restaurants, activities, and tours, you can safely meet locals and other travelers by taking a walking food tour with fellow foodies, taking a class or attending a lecture, and attending wine tastings. If you want to connect with locals or other travelers before you arrive, find a platonic dinner companion, or share a tour or museum visit with a new travel buddy – there are apps for that. Try Tripr. It’s the first travel app that helps you plan who you’ll cross paths with on your trip; it helps you meet people while you’re there and can introduce you to a local for advice on things to do on your trip.