Local’s Guide: When to Visit Washington, DC
When would a local recommend their families and friends visit? Probably in the fall, when the weather is cooling off and the crowds are thinning out. Plus, many neighborhoods and organizations host special events and activities in the fall so there are bonus (and often free) activities.
The great thing about DC is that there is always something going on—whether it’s the blooming of the cherry blossoms or the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. And the most popular destinations are open—and most are also free!—year round. (For example, the Smithsonian is open every day but Dec. 25.) That means that when planning your trip, you can really consider your preferences when it comes to weather and crowds. May and October usually offer beautiful weather, but can be crowded (particularly May). Can’t stand crowds but don’t mind the cold? Visit in January or February where your reward for braving the wet weather is empty museums and cheap hotel rooms.
When is the Best Time to Visit Washington, DC Cherry Blossoms?
Washington is famous for its cherry blossoms. This is an incredibly popular time for tourism, and due to the trees’ narrow blooming window, there are usually about two weeks to catch them in bloom. Peak bloom changes yearly, but generally falls within late March to mid-April (you can find estimates of peak times online). Interested in seeing the blossoms but don’t want to fight the crowds? Stay off the Tidal Basin (unless you get there before 8 am) and head to the National Arboretum or Meadowlark Botanical Gardens for beautiful blossoms with smaller crowds.
When is the Best Time to Visit Washington, DC for Families with Kids?
Spring is a popular time for trips to DC for school groups and families, so you will find long lines and big crowds at many of the popular destinations. If you can stand the heat, the crowds thin out in August making pre-back-to-school vacations a better time for visiting with kids. Or, wait until the fall when crowds are smaller and DC hosts a variety of (often free) festivals offering additional kid-friendly activities, such as the National Book Festival.
When is the Cheapest Time to Visit Washington, DC?
High season in DC is springtime, starting from the blooming of the cherry blossoms and carrying through graduation season, and is starting to include the fall, when visitors are taking advantage of the beautiful weather. Travelers will find accommodations cheaper in the heat of summer—July and August—when many avoid the heat and humidity that characterize DC summers. Winter is also a good time to find deals, outside of the major holiday weekends.
How Many Days are Needed to Visit Washington, DC?
The DC area has so much to offer, people live here for years and don’t do it all. For first time visitors, plan at least three days to explore the main tourist attractions in DC. Allot one day entirely for visiting the National Mall and Capitol Hill, where, fortunately, the monuments and the Smithsonian museums are free. Other attractions such as Arlington National Cemetery, Old Town Alexandria, or Georgetown require going a bit farther and will fill up the rest of your visit. For returning visitors, think outside the box and spend some time at Great Falls or Lincoln’s Cottage.
When is the Best Time to Visit DC in the Summer?
Summer weather in DC trends towards hot and humid—sometimes brutally so. You can also expect afternoon/early evening thunderstorms to occur regularly in summer. However, despite the weather, summer can be a great time to visit DC (just be sure to carry lots of water, sunscreen, and an umbrella). Of course, visitors and locals alike flock to 4th of July celebrations, particularly the fireworks on the National Mall. (Tip: Staying in NW DC? You might have a great view from an upper floor of your hotel to catch not only DC’s fireworks, but various fireworks in northern Virginia along the horizon as well.) August tends to be a slow time in DC—Congress is out and many locals head out of the city—so if you can stand the heat, this tends to be a cheaper time to visit.
When is the Best Time to Visit DC in the Spring?
Spring is the most popular time to visit DC, thanks to the combination of the city’s famous cherry blossoms, spring break trips, and graduation ceremonies at the area’s many colleges and universities. If you’re interested in the cherry blossoms, peak blooms are generally between late March and mid April. If your goal is to avoid the crowds, early March, while still cold and wet, is a slower tourism time, as is late April, when the city is post-cherry blossoms and pre-graduation time. May is one of the loveliest months in DC, but accommodations are expensive and scarce due to the influx of the friends and families of those graduating.
When is the Best Time to Visit DC in the Fall
Fall might be the best season to visit DC. The crowds thin in September as families head back to school, though the Thanksgiving holiday is one of the most crowded times at local attractions. September often remains as hot and sticky as August, but October usually has some of the best weather you’ll get in DC. More and more people are catching on to this though, so fall is no longer among the cheapest times to visit. However, fall tends to see a lot of local festivals and celebrations, so there are extra, and often free, activities for visitors, such as the H Street Festival or the Library of Congress’s National Book Festival. One thing to keep in mind in planning a fall trip is that, unfortunately, the end of the government’s fiscal year at the end of September is a popular time for threats of shutdown, meaning—if carried out—many of the main attractions may be closed.
When is the Best Time to Visit DC in the Winter?
Winter is one of the cheaper times to visit DC, if you avoid the major holiday weekends (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Martin Luther King Jr weekend). Tourism, outside of an inaugural year, is incredibly low during winter, so you’ll find you practically have the place to yourselves. Bear in mind that the weather can be extremely variable during DC winters—from oddly mild days in the 60s to blizzards. Make sure to keep an eye on the forecast while you’re packing, and to bring layering options. Also, DC tends to be unequipped to deal with large amounts of snow, so if you brave a DC winter, be prepared that certain transportation options and/or attractions may be closed due to inclement weather.