Frequently Asked Questions About Washington, D.C.

Things to Know Before Visiting the Nation's Capital

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••• Photo © Burwell and Burwell Photography/Getty Images

Planning a trip to the nation's capital? Here are the answers to many of the questions you may have.

I am visiting Washington, D.C. for just a few days, what should I be sure to see?

Most people who visit D.C. spend a majority of their time on the National Mall. For a short visit I would recommend taking a walking tour of the national memorials, choosing a few of the Smithsonian museums to explore and visiting the U.S. Capitol Building (reserve a tour in advance).

If time allows, explore Arlington National Cemetery, Georgetown, Dupont Circle and/or Adams Morgan. Read also, Top 10 Things to Do in Washington, D.C. and Best 5 Museums in Washington, D.C..

Should I take a sightseeing tour of Washington, D.C.?

Sightseeing tours are great if you find the right tour to match your needs. If you want to see a lot of the city in a short period of time, then a bus or trolley tour will guide you around to the popular attractions. For families with small children, seniors or disabled individuals, a tour can make it easier to get around the city. Specialized tours like bike and Segway tours can provide recreational fun for the young and active. Walking tours are probably the best way to learn about historical sites and neighborhoods.

More information: Best Washington, D.C. Sightseeing Tours

Which attractions require tickets?

Many of Washington, D.C.'s major attractions are open to the public and do not require tickets.

Some of the popular attractions allow visitors to avoid waiting in line by pre-reserving tour tickets for a small fee. Attractions that require tickets include the following:

How much time do I need to visit the Smithsonian and where should I start?

The Smithsonian Institution is a museum and research complex, comprised of 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoological Park. You can't possibly see it all at once. You should choose the museum(s) that you are most interested in and spend a few hours at a time. Admission is free, so you can come and go as you wish. Most of the museums are located within a radius of about one mile, so you should plan ahead and wear comfortable shoes for walking. The Smithsonian Visitor Center is located in the Castle at 1000 Jefferson Drive SW, Washington, D.C. This is a good place to start and pick of maps and a schedule of events.

More information: The Smithsonian - Frequently Asked Questions

How can I tour the White House?

Public tours of the White House are limited to groups of 10 or more and must be requested through one's member of Congress. These self-guided tours are available from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and are scheduled on a first come, first served basis approximately one month in advance.



Visitors who are not US citizens should contact their embassy in DC about tours for international visitors, which are arranged through the Protocol Desk at the State Department. The tours are self-guided and will run from 7:30 am until 12:30 pm Tuesday through Saturday.

More information: White House Visitor’s Guide

How can I tour the Capitol?

Guided tours of the historic U.S. Capitol building are free, but require tickets which are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. The hours are 8:45 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Monday - Saturday. Visitors can book tours in advance. A limited number of same-day passes are available at the tour kiosks on the East and West Fronts of the Capitol and at the Information Desks at the Visitor Center. Visitors can see Congress in action at the Senate and House Galleries (when in session) Monday-Friday 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Passes are required and may be obtained from the offices of Senators or Representatives.

International visitors can receive Gallery passes at the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Center.

More information: The U.S. Capitol Building

Can I watch the Supreme Court in session?

The Supreme Court is in session October through April and visitors may view sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Seating is limited and given on a first-come, first-serve basis. The Supreme Court Building is open throughout the year from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Visitors can participate in a variety of educational programs, explore exhibits and see a 25-minute film on the Supreme Court. Lectures in the Courtroom are given every hour on the half-hour, on days that the Court is not in session.

More information: The Supreme Court

How tall is the Washington Monument

555 feet 5 1/8 inches high. The Washington Monument is one of the country's most recognizable structures, a white-colored obelisk at the west end of the National Mall. An elevator takes visitors to the top to see a spectacular view of Washington, DC including unique perspectives of the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the Capitol Building.

More information: Washington Monument

How did Washington, D.C. get its name?

In accordance with the "Residence Act" passed by Congress in 1790, President George Washington selected the area that is now the permanent capital for the government of the United States. The Constitution established the site as a federal district, distinct from the states, giving Congress legislative authority over the permanent seat of government. This federal district was first called the City of Washington (in honor of George Washington) and the city around it was called the Territory of Columbia (in honor of Christopher Columbus). An act of Congress in 1871 merged the City and the Territory into a single entity called the District of Columbia. Since that time the nation’s capital has been referred to as Washington, D.C., the District of Columbia, Washington, the District, and DC.

What is the distance from one end of the National Mall to the other?

The distance between the Capitol, at one end of the National Mall, and the Lincoln Memorial at the other, is 2 miles.

More information: On the National Mall in Washington, DC

Where can I find public restrooms on the National Mall?

There are public restrooms located at the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial and World War II Memorial on the National Mall. All of the museums on the National Mall also have public restrooms as well.

Is Washington, D.C. safe?

Washington, D.C. is as safe as any large city. The Northwest and Southwest sections -- where most of the museums, shopping, hotels and restaurants are located-- are quite safe. To avoid problems, use common sense and secure your purse or wallet, stay in well-lit areas, and avoid less-traveled areas late at night.

How many foreign embassies are located in Washington, D.C.?

178. Every country that maintains diplomatic relations with the United States has an embassy in the nation's capital. Many of them are located along Massachusetts Avenue, and other streets in the Dupont Circle neighborhood.

More Information: Washington, D.C. Embassy Guide

When do the Cherry Blossoms bloom?

The date when the Yoshino cherry blossoms reach their peak bloom varies from year to year, depending on the weather. Unseasonably warm and/or cool temperatures have resulted in the trees reaching peak bloom as early as March 15 (1990) and as late as April 18 (1958). The blooming period can last up to 14 days. They are considered to be at their peak when 70 percent of the blossoms are open. The dates of the National Cherry Blossom Festival are set based on the average date of blooming, which is around April 4th.

More information: Washington, D.C’.s Cherry Trees - Frequently Asked Questions

What events are planned for Memorial Day weekend?

Memorial Day weekend is a popular time to visit Washington DC’s national monuments and memorials. Major events include the annual Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally (250,000 motorcycles ride through Washington in a demonstration seeking to improve veteran benefits and resolve POW/MIA issues), a free concert by the National Symphony Orchestra on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol and the National Memorial Day Parade.

More information: Memorial Day in Washington, D.C.

What happens in Washington, D.C. on the Fourth of July?

The Fourth of July is a very exciting time to be in Washington, D.C. There are festivities throughout the day, leading up to a spectacular fireworks display at night. Major events include the Fourth of July Parade, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, an evening concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol and the Independence Day Fireworks on the National Mall.

More information: Fourth of July in Washington, D.C.