Ask a Washingtonian what they like to do in their city and you’ll get a wide variety of answers. Ask what they like best about their town and you’ll likely get one response: There’s so much to do, and most of it is free.
From watching orangutans and seeing your member of Congress grandstand during a hearing, to riding to the top of the world’s tallest obelisk and taking in the works of great masters, it’s all free. So much of the city’s entertainment is gratis that it is not uncommon to hear locals grumbling over admission fees at commercial venues like the International Spy Museum  or the Newseum .
Washingtonians are definitely spoiled, but they appreciate their good fortune: “It’s an incredible place. I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” says Javier Loureiro, a Madrid-born transplant and concierge at the posh Four Seasons Hotel.
DC’s wallet-friendly climate, paired with its raison d’être as the U.S. capital, make it a top travel destination. Many come here to see the National Mall, loaded with iconic monuments and memorials. But the city is more than a collection of landmarks. Its neighborhoods host a wealth of museums, galleries, historic houses, and entertainment venues, many accessible by Metro or the low-cost Circulator bus.
Thanks to Washington’s original urban designer, Pierre L’Enfant, and later planners, DC is extremely walkable: Distances between sights are minimal, although they might seem longer in the summer heat.
In terms of safety, Washington is also relatively secure. It has shed its unsavory 1990s-era status as the nation’s murder capital, but out-of-towners should remain alert, especially at night.
Tourist areas stay busy and are well patrolled at nearly all hours, but the distances between often aren’t well lit; traveling in groups is recommended. As for attractions in fringe neighborhoods, including parts of southeast and northeast DC, it’s advisable to take a cab or drive directly to your destination if you believe it to be in a questionable area.
Three things are needed to enjoy Washington to its fullest: a good pair of walking shoes, some stamina, and a plan. Getting into some sights requires prior preparation, and in some cases, the legwork must be done months in advance. See each listing for details regarding ticketing and reservation requirements.
When drafting your plan, choose an area of interest or your personal top 10. Are you here for the history? The art? The halls of state? A little of it all? Chances are that you won’t see everything on your first or even second trip. It’s tempting to rush from one place to another, but try to forego a frenetic pace. Savor the greatness of this capital city; the best memories often happen during the unplanned moments.