City break (noun): a short holiday spent in a city, such as when on business travel.
Before there was leisure travel, there was the city break—the short space of leisure time that grants you access to the cultural and culinary amenities that big cities offer. In this series from TripIt, we explore some of the world’s best cities for planning a quick getaway or extending a work trip.
Here are our tips for making the most of your city break in Washington, D.C.
Where to fly in
Travelers flying into the D.C. metro area have a variety of airports to choose from, including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), located less than five miles from downtown D.C. in Arlington, Virginia; Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), located 27 miles west of downtown D.C; and Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI), located 30 miles northeast of the city.
When choosing which airport is best for you, consider factors like your ultimate destination in the D.C. area; arrival and departure times; flight availability to and from your home airport; and your preferred on-the-ground mode of transport once you arrive.
Fortunately, once you’re on the ground, you’ll have access to a number of transportation options for getting to D.C. regardless of where you fly in. From DCA, you can take the Metro; it’s just a 20-minute ride from the airport to downtown D.C. From IAD, you can take the Metrobus 5A Route. And from BWI, you can take MTA MARC, MTA Light Rail, or Amtrak to get to D.C.
Taxis and ride shares are also available from all airports. Alternatively, you can rent a car to get to, from, and around the city.
Where to stay during your city break
Whether you’re headed to D.C. for work or fun, there’s a hotel that suits your travel style and budget. Choose from iconic (read: luxury) digs like The Hay-Adams hotel, The St. Gregory Hotel, Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown, Hamilton Hotel Washington, D.C., The LINE DC, or The Dupont Circle hotel.
How to get around
One of the great perks of visiting D.C. is its easy walkability. Plan accordingly by bringing comfortable shoes to traverse the city and explore its many sights (more on what to do, below!).
If walking isn’t feasible or desirable, hop on a Capital Bikeshare bike. Bike-share stations are located throughout the DMV—that’s what the locals call the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia region. Thanks to more than 600 stations and 5,000 bikes, renting a bike is not only an eco-friendly—and fun!—way to get around D.C., it’s convenient, too. Rides start at $1.00 to unlock a bike, and then $0.05/min for a bike or $0.15 for an eBike. Day passes are $8.
D.C. is also home to a convenient and clean subway system called the Metrorail (Metro for short). Metro fares start at $2.00; your trip total will vary based on the service, ride length, day, and time you ride. D.C. also has an extensive bus system. Regular routes are $2.00/ride; express routes are $4.25/ride. Combo rail and bus passes start at $13.00 for a one-day unlimited pass.
Ride-share programs like Uber and Lyft are also available to take you where you need to go.
Pro tip: Use TripIt’s Navigator feature to search transportation options available to you. It will show you the estimated costs and travel times for each option, so you can decide which works best. You can find Navigator within your plan details screens.
Where to eat
For dining experiences that are quintessentially D.C., be sure to visit Le Diplomate for French fare in the U Street Corridor and Old Ebbitt Grill in Metropolitan Square for brunch, lunch, dinner, or late night—the latter touts the title of Washington’s oldest saloon, and was founded in 1856.
Looking to check out a newcomer to the D.C. restaurant scene? Try ilili in The Wharf for a modern take on Lebanese and Mediterranean dishes. Want more Mediterranean options? Spots like Maydan (14th and U Street) and Rumi’s Kitchen (Mount Vernon Square) offer delicious, shared-plate options inspired by traditional and homemade meals from the Middle East and North Africa, and Persia—respectively.
Also located in Dupont Circle (in the aptly named The Dupont Circle hotel), The Pembroke serves classic American fare in a chic, light-filled setting. Or, head to The Imperial in Adams Morgan where mid-Atlantic flavors meet French cuisine. You can also grab a craft cocktail in the establishment’s basement drinking den, Dram & Grain.
What to do on your city break
From monuments to museums, America’s capital city is steeped in history and culture.
If this is your first time in D.C., start your trip by exploring the myriad monuments located along the National Mall. Iconic sights include the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington Monument (pre-book tickets if you want to head to the top), Korean War Memorial, World War II Memorial, and more. All monuments are free to visit; the Washington Monument charges a $1.00 service fee for the trip to the observation deck.
Want to immerse yourself in more cultural experience? Visit one (or a few!) of the city’s many museums. You can choose from those within the Smithsonian network, such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of American History, National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of the American Indian, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building, National Portrait Gallery, and much more. Outside the Smithsonian network, museums like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, National Geographic Museum, and National Museum of Women in the Arts are all well worth a visit.
Keep in mind that while many of these museums are free to visit (with some exceptions), most require a pre-booked, timed-entry ticket. You can send your reservation emails to TripIt to keep your bookings organized all in one place, get directions between museums, and even find a place to grab a bite nearby.
Want to pick up a book about your favorite slice of American history or art? Check out Politics and Prose (The Wharf), Capitol Hill Books (in Capitol Hill, naturally), and Kramers (Dupont Circle) to support local, independent bookstores in the process.
By night, head to Off The Record located in the basement of the Hay-Adams hotel (or at Dram & Grain, located in the basement of The Imperial—as mentioned above) for after-dinner cocktails. Or, head to The Eastern in Capitol Hill for a wine and cheese experience that’s certain to please.
Note: As destinations reopen around the world, be sure to consult and adhere to all local guidelines and travel restrictions, as they vary widely and will continue to change. One way to stay on top of changing guidelines is to consult the COVID-19 travel guidance feature in the TripIt app for destination-specific information, including testing and vaccination requirements, current infection rates, quarantine rules upon arrival, and other information you need to know before visiting the area.