Washington, DC, is surprisingly senior-friendly and affordable, making it a good budget travel destination. Many popular museums, memorials and government buildings do not charge admission. The public transportation is easy to use. If you can find an affordable place to stay and choose your restaurants carefully, a trip to the District of Columbia doesn't have to break the bank.
Getting To Washington, DC
Washington is served by three airports: Reagan National Airport, Dulles International Airport and Baltimore / Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, which is on a train and light rail line that connects to Washington's Union Station. Several bus lines, including Peter Pan Bus, BoltBus, Megabus and Greyhound, connect Washington, DC, with Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Atlanta and many other cities. You can also travel by Amtrak passenger train to Union Station.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of hotels in and around the District of Columbia. Unless you visit during a festival or special event, such as the spring Cherry Blossom Festival, you will usually get the best hotel rates on weekends, when business travelers go home. Many visitors choose hotels outside the District to save money. If you select a hotel in Maryland or Virginia, consider staying near a Metro station to save yourself the agony of a Washington commute.
As in any large city, safety should be a top consideration; some areas in the city's northeast and southeast quadrants are not safe at night. Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle and the National Mall area are among the District's safer neighborhoods.
DC Dining Options
You can find affordable restaurants near almost every attraction in the District. Several Smithsonian museums have fast-food restaurants or cafés on-site. The Old Ebbitt Grill, Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street, and Union Station's bustling food court are popular with tourists and locals alike.
Washington, DC, also has a thriving food truck scene. Use an app such as Food Truck Fiesta to learn where to find food trucks during your visit. You can also save money by eating during happy hour – another popular local tradition – or by packing a picnic and carrying it to the Mall or the National Zoo.
Getting Around Washington, DC
Washington, DC, boasts an extensive Metrorail ("Metro") and Metrobus system. Most visitors choose to take the Metro, but you should consider taking the DC Circulator bus if you want to go to Georgetown, which lacks a Metro stop. The DC Circulator also serves Union Station, the Mall and the Washington Navy Yard, which is very close to Nationals Park. The Circulator Bus is free to ride.
All Metro rail cars, stations and buses are wheelchair-accessible. Metro station elevators are somewhat problematic, as they tend to break down. If you are a wheelchair user, check WMATA's online elevator outage report before you leave your hotel for the day.
The free (as of this writing) DC Streetcar connects Union Station with H Street and Benning Road NE.
Uber, Lyft and Taxicabs
Uber and Lyft drivers and taxicabs abound in the District. If your hotel is far from a Metro station, taking Uber or a taxi to or from the station is your safest alternative at night.
Driving in the District
You can certainly drive in the District. However, all-day parking is expensive and overnight parking can be hard to find if your hotel does not offer it. As you drive, look carefully for pedestrians and cyclists, both of which abound in Washington, DC. Red light cameras are a fact of life here, so you will need to pay attention to traffic lights and signs.
Cycling and Walking
With the advent of Capital Bikeshare in the District, cycling has become incredibly popular with tourists and locals. Washington, DC, is fairly flat, particularly around the National Mall, so many visitors choose to cycle or walk from place to place. Pay attention to traffic, particularly during the summer months, when out-of-town drivers are struggling to navigate the District's streets and avenues.
DC's Senior-Friendly Attractions
The US Capitol, National Mall – home to Washington's famous memorials – and Smithsonian Institution museums are the District's most popular free attractions, and they all have accessible entrances. The National Archives, International Spy Museum ($22.95 for adults, $17.95 for seniors, but worth it) and Arlington National Cemetery are also senior-friendly. Touring the White House is only possible if you are in a group of ten or more and make arrangements several months in advance.
Expect security screening at most museums and attractions and in all government buildings. Minimize hassles by leaving belts with large metal buckles, shoes with metal shanks, and anything that looks like a weapon at home.
DC Events and Festivals
Washington's most popular events include the Cherry Blossom Festival in April and the Independence Day celebration held on the National Mall each July 4. Holiday celebrations center around the National Christmas Tree, also on the Mall. During Christmas week, New Year's week and the summer months, you can attend free concerts at DAR Constitution Hall, the National Mall, the Kennedy Center, the National Gallery of Art and local universities.