top of page
  • Amanda Mercer

WASHINGTON D.C. SOLO TRAVEL: A Complete Guide 2023

Updated: Dec 2, 2023


View of the Word War II Memorial and the Washington Monument via the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
View of the Word War II Memorial and the Washington Monument via the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

1842, a 45-year-old Viennese housewife named Ida Pfeiffer wanted to explore the world – on her own. But she was a 45-year-old housewife - in a world where only men could follow their curiosity; act bravely; and travel independently. A woman travelling solo…it simply wasn’t done.


So, Ida told friends and family that she was going to visit a friend in Constantinople. Instead, over the course of 9 months, she followed her own curiosity and traveled by herself across the Black Sea to Jerusalem, south to Egypt and finally through Italy toward home.


She kept going. Over the next 16 years, Ida circumnavigated the world twice. She sailed oceans and rivers, trekked through jungles and deserts on horseback, scaled peaks, and braved all those who criticized her for doing it. [Read Ida’s Book: A Woman’s Journey Round the World ]


Traveling alone, can seem nerve-racking, frightening, and discomforting. It might even draw criticism. But it can also be inspiring, invigorating, life changing and ultimately enviable.

If you are just starting to consider solo travel or have been enjoying the experience for years – a great place to start or to continue your journey is Washington D.C.


 

TABLE OF CONTENTS


 

Why a Trip to Washington D.C.?

 

The Capital of the United States of America is ideal for history buffs, foodies, art lovers and those seeking an immersive cultural experience. The city is a repository of America’s history with iconic monuments, memorials, and a plethora of museums. It tells the stories of the nation’s founding, our wars to preserve democracy, political scandals, and the incredible activism to achieve equal rights for all its citizens.


Image of a woman listening to an audio guide on her phone as she walks through the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C.
Taking a tour - whether self-guided or with a group- is a great option for the solo traveler. Photo: Korean War Memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

 

Why is Washington D.C. Great for Solo Travelers?

 

Washington D.C. is ideal for the first-time solo traveler as well as the experienced explorer. It is walkable; it has a fantastic tourist infrastructure; it's easy to get around; and it has an incredible number of entertaining, educational, and enjoyable things to do - in safe locations.

 

The Essentials

 

WHEN TO GO


Yet another great thing about solo travel - you choose when to go! No compromises!


To help determine what meets your wants, a good place to start is by checking out the season and crowd size (outlined below) & the weather by month.


We also recommend looking into D.C.’s Calendar of Events. There could be a large event (like a rally) you would rather avoid – or one that you would like to join.


TIMES TO VISIT

PEAK SEASON: Late March to Early April (Cherry Blossoms)

SHOULDER SEASON: Late April to mid-May & Late August to mid-September

LOW SEASON: Early January to Mid-March and Mid-May to late August.



 

GETTING THERE


There are three airports within relatively easy access to D.C.:

  • DCA (Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport) is only 4 miles south of D.C. and has a metro stop connected to the terminal.

  • IAD (Dulles International Airport) is about 30 miles outside D.C. and with traffic the drive is about an hour.

  • BWI (Baltimore/Washington International) is just 32 miles from D.C.

Traveling by train is also a great option. Union Station D.C. is centrally located with a metro station. Check out Amtrack for schedules.


 

WHERE TO STAY


There are hundreds of choices in and around D.C. at every price level. Keep in mind weekends are generally less expensive because the business travelers have gone home. Also consider staying in Alexandria or Arlington (great spots on their own) and then taking the metro in. WDCA Hotels helps match travelers to area hotels/accommodations.


Because at BARDEUM, we love history, here are a few Hotels with History to consider for a stay or just to pop in for a drink and an appetizer: [Neighborhood in Brackets]


  • THE WATERGATE HOTEL - The name is synonymous with one of the country's biggest political scandals. But before that, the luxury hotel was a playground for the rich, famous and powerful. For 360-degree views of the Potomac River, the Washington Monument and the city skyline, check out the hotels' rooftop bar Top of the Gate. To enhance your experience, we recommend watching All the President’s Men before you go. [FOGGY BOTTOM]

  • THE MAYFLOWER HOTEL opened in 1925 and has played host to many inaugural balls. Visitors have included Winston Churchill, Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt, J. Edgar Hoover (dined there daily for twenty years), and Charles Lindbergh. [GEORGETOWN]

  • THE HAY-ADAMS HOTEL sits on the site of two elaborate, Romanesque homes built for great friends John Hay, personal secretary to President Abraham Lincoln, and Henry Adams, a historian, Harvard professor, and the descendant of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. For years their homes served as one of Washington's leading salons, alive with stimulating discussions about literature, art, science, and politics. Famous guests such as Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Henry James, and the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens stopped in from near and far. After their deaths, the homes were razed to build The Hay-Adams House, an Italian Renaissance-style hotel which continued to attract prominent visitors and the Washington Elite. [HAY-ADAMS]

  • THE WILLARD INTERNATIONAL opened in 1816 and played a part in significant events in our nation's history. Abraham Lincoln stayed here for the ten days prior to his inauguration; Julia Ward Howe wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic here; Ulysses S. Grant coined the term “lobbyist” here as he sat in the lobby, annoyed by self-promoters, as he tried to enjoy his cigar and brandy. [DOWNTOWN]


 

GETTING AROUND


D.C. has a great metro system.


Taxi's are readily available as are the ride share apps Uber and Lyft.


Also consider a Hop On - Hop Off bus tour - particularly when you first arrive. It will help orient you to the city and ease any of that initial arrival anxiety. A great option in DC is Big Bus Tours.

TIPS FOR SAFETY:

  • Arrange check-ins daily with a friend – give them access to your location via text messaging or even better through a free app like Life360.

  • Ask hotel staff to mark a map with areas to avoid - day and/or night.


TIPS FOR BATHROOM BREAKS:

  • Museums. The Smithsonian Museums are all free to enter. You don't have to browse to use the restrooms.

  • Hotel lobbies. You don’t need to tell them you’re not staying there. Shhh!


 

WHERE TO EAT


Washington D.C. has Globe-trotting Cuisine. You can sample a different ethnic food at every meal if you so desired. Food Truck mania has hit D.C. Track their real time locations at Food Truck Fiesta. Here are a few places with history: [NEIGHBORHOOD BRACKETED]


  • BEN’S CHILI BOWL – has hosted former presidents, celebrities, comedians, and served as a meeting place for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other Civil Rights Movement leaders. It also stayed open during the race riots of 1968 [U-STREET]

  • MARTIN'S TAVERN This is where JFK proposed to Jackie in booth number three!

  • THE MONOCLE is a go to lunch spot for politicians - eaves drop on the nation's legislative gossip.

  • OLD EBBITT GRILL Washington's oldest saloon established in 1856. Notable plots and scandals were discussed here - including the Iran-Contra Affair.


TIPS FOR DINING SOLO: This can cause the most anxiety for solo travelers. Here are some suggestions to make it easier:

  • Practice at home

  • Start with Lunch

  • Eat at the Bar

  • Bring a book or magazine


The Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. with a quote from Amelia Earhart

WHEN ANXIETY HITS


Okay, let’s be realistic, if you are going on your very first solo trip - it’s more likely than not that at some point during either the planning stages or while you are there, anxiety will hit. Here are some suggestions to cope, rally, and move forward:


BEFORE YOU GO


  • Do some pre-planning. Make a list of at least one place to see or do per day; pick out several restaurants or coffee shops to visit. Knowing you have some set plans can help settle your worries.

  • Find a friend who is supportive (someone who has traveled solo, if possible) and talk through your worries. Sometimes just saying them aloud can help you figure out a solution yourself.


WHILE YOU'RE THERE


  • Phone a friend who is supportive of your desire to travel solo.

  • Find a place that you enjoy spending time at home – browsing in a bookstore; having a latte and a croissant at the coffee shop; shopping at a thrift store. Doing something familiar is a good reminder that you’re not really so far from what makes a place feel like home.

  • Write it down. Sit in the hotel lobby or a nearby park and journal. Write down your fears and then remind yourself that you have already made it this far – You are awesome! You are brave! You can do this!


 

CAPTURING YOUR MEMORIES


Check out some suggestions from a professional for taking great Travel Selfies with your phone.


 
The Best Things to do in Washington D.C.
 

Probably the best part of solo travel is getting to do and see exactly what interests you. Below is a list of interesting and worthwhile places to visit in D.C. based around topics of interest. We love the idea of immersing yourself in a specific aspect of history including, but not limited to: Military History, the Founding of America, Art & Music, Spy Craft, Black History, LGBTQ Culture & History, and/or the Lives of the Rich & Famous of D.C.


Take a walking tour, wander through every Smithsonian Museum, or immerse yourself in D.C. Culture. Do it all at your own pace. [Neighborhood in Brackets]


 

MILITARY HISTORY

  • AIR & SPACE MUSEUM [National Mall]

  • ARLINGTON CEMETERY. Simple white headstones mark the graves of American soldiers beginning with the Revolutionary War. Visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier representing those we lost in war whose remains could not be found or identified.

  • MARINE CORP BARRACKS. The oldest active post in the Marine Corp founded by Thomas Jefferson. Experience their majestic Friday Evening Parades

  • NATIONAL MALL

    • KOREAN WAR MEMORIAL Download BARDEUM's self-guided walking tour of this moving memorial and listen to a true story of the heroic acts of a 17 year old American soldier caught up in one of the most horrific battles of the Korean War. Unforgotten by Hampton Sides (On Desperate Ground).

    • VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL Behind Enemy Lines by Eric Blehm (Legend, Fearless).


Listen to an audio sample from BARDEUM's Audio / Visual Tour Behind Enemy Lines by Eric Blehm for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Step inside the story of a true event.


  • WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL Experience this Memorial as you step inside the story of a dentist, Benjamin Solomon, who was forced to take on an entirely different role during the Battle of Saigon. Field of Fire by Gregory A. Freeman (The Forgotten 500)


 

THE FOUNDING OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

  • LIBRARY OF CONGRESS The Nation's oldest federal institution was created by President John Adams. It contains more than 103 million items--books (about 20 million), films, maps, photographs, music, manuscripts, and graphics--from all over the world.

  • NATIONAL MALL

    • JEFFERSON MEMORIAL Step inside the story of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence as you wander the memorial. To Begin the World Again by Laura Kamoie (America's First Daughter, My Dear Hamilton)

    • WASHINGTON MONUMENT Retiring Becomes Him by Edward J. Larson allows visitors to listen to the story of one of the most remarkable events in the history of war, revolution, and politics - General George Washington retired - when he could have simply stepped into the role of King. Listen as you walk the grounds of the monument.

  • NATIONAL ARCHIVES. Examine the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights [Downtown]

  • EXCURSION - MOUNT VERNON George Washington's Home


 

ART, MUSIC & LITERATURE

  • ART MUSEUMS

    • FREER-SACKLER MUSEUMS OF ASIAN ART [National Mall]

    • HIRSHHORN MUSEUM. Modern art featuring Rodin sculptures, Warhol and Miro [National Mall]

    • KREGER MUSEUM See the works of Picasso, Van Gogh and Monet [Northwest DC]

    • NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART [National Mall]

    • NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART. [National Mall]

    • PHILLIPS COLLECTION. Modern Art featuring from Renoir to Rothko [Dupont Circle]

    • REYNOLDS CENTER FOR AMERICAN ART & PORTRAITURE. Georgia O'Keefe & Edward Hopper [Downtown]

  • ARENA STAGE A pioneer of the regional theatre movement

  • KRAMERS BOOK STORE

  • POLITICS & PROSE BOOKSTORE

  • NATIONAL BOOK FESTIVAL. Annual event held in September celebrating all things literary. See and hear from your favorite authors. All free.


 

SPY CRAFT

  • FBI HEADQUARTERS Enjoy the FBI EXPERIENCE - a self-guided tour at FBI Headquarters featuring interactive multimedia exhibits, content, and artifacts [Downtown]

  • INTERNATIONAL SPY MUSEUM

  • THE MAYFLOWER HOTEL EDGAR BAR & KITCHEN The site of many dead drops, stings and arrests. J. Edgar Hoover ate lunch here every day for twenty years. [Georgetown]


 

BLACK HISTORY

  • CONGRESSIONAL CEMETERY offers a self-guided walking tour of the graves of famous African Americans. [Capitol Hill]

  • DECATUR HOUSE MUSEUM – One of the country's only preserved slave quarters [White House / Foggy Bottom]

  • FREDERICK DOUGLAS NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE [Anacostia]

  • NATIONAL MALL

    • LINCOLN MEMORIAL Stand on the same spot of ground where MLK Jr. gave his I have a Dream speech on August 28, 1963 and listen in. Listen to the I Have a Dream Speech

    • MLK JR. MEMORIAL

  • NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY & CULTURE A not to be missed museum. **Important reminder - you need to reserve your spot!**

  • NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN ART. [National Mall]

  • TUDOR PLACE HISTORIC HOUSE & GARDEN "preserves the stories of six generations of descendants of Martha Washington, and the enslaved and free people who lived and worked at this Georgetown landmark for nearly two centuries."

  • U STREET & LOGAN CIRCLE CORRIDOR. The historic center of the city’s African American Arts & Culture including "Black Broadway" where jazz thrived and the center of the 1968 race riots.

    • AFRICAN AMERICAN CIVIL WAR MUSEUM

    • HOWARD THEATRE

    • HOWARD UNIVERSITY

  • EXCURSION - FREEDOM HOUSE MUSEUM This building served as the nation's second largest slave trade center. The museum tells the powerful and tragic stories of the enslaved people who passed through here. [Old Town Alexandria]


 

LGBTQ HISTORY & CULTURE

  • CONGRESSIONAL CEMETERY offers a self-guided walking tour of the graves of famous LGBTQ Americans. [Capitol Hill]

  • DUPONT CIRCLE is the heart of the city's LGBTQ Community with an extensive history of activism.

  • CAPITAL (GAY) PRIDE FESTIVAL Annual celebratory event held annually in early June

  • NELLIE'S SPORTS BAR – Drag Brunches


 

THE LIVES OF THE RICH & FAMOUS OF D.C.

  • CONGRESSIONAL CEMETERY [Capitol Hill]

  • GEORGETOWN Walk through this exclusive Washington Neighborhood, shop, and dine at high end establishments.

    • DUMBARTON HOUSE is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and displays period decorative arts (furniture, silver, ceramics, etc.) giving visitors a sense of a life for the wealthy in the early 1800s.

    • TUDOR PLACE HISTORIC HOUSE & GARDEN "preserves the stories of six generations of descendants of Martha Washington, and the enslaved and free people who lived and worked at this Georgetown landmark for nearly two centuries."

  • HILLWOOD ESTATE, MUSEUM & GARDENS Founded by Marjorie Post visitors can experience the wealth and luxury of one of America's most well-known businesswoman, socialite, and philanthropist.

  • KENNEDY CENTER Rub shoulders with the who's who of Washington D.C.

  • THE WATERGATE HOTEL [White House / Foggy Bottom]

  • EXCURSION - MIDDLESBURG was established in 1787 and was the home of many prominent and wealthy Washingtonians - including John and Jackie Kennedy.


 

229 views0 comments

Subscribe to get exclusive updates

Thanks for subscribing!

bottom of page