The American capital is a highly distinguished city, brimming with a self-importance that’s matched by its splendid monuments, excellent museums, fine theatres and myriad of restaurants. It’s packed with history and skullduggery, like the Declaration of Independence parchment, the Watergate building, the spot where President Lincoln was assassinated in Ford’s Theatre and the site where Martin Luther King Jr declared: “I have a dream.”
This is a city fuelled by power and politics, but in their downtime, the politicos also enjoy shopping, dining, nightlife and host of other activities that make this a vote-winning spot for non-political tourists too.
Pack good walking shoes, because this is a walking or biking city. Wide streets and stately avenues pass some of the most iconic sights on the National Mall, while other museums, theatres and fine gardens are all in nearby districts.
Public transport is well organised and regular, so you can stay out in the suburbs and still get into the city centre quickly and easily.
The biggest crime risk for tourists is mugging, mainly in some of the liveliest and most diverse areas.
Washington DC runs on Eastern Standard Time (EST), which is GMT-5 hours. It operates Daylight Saving Time, with clocks going forward an hour in March and back an hour in November.
The US dollar is the currency (each comprising 100 cents) and you can change money in banks, hotels and forex bureaux. Credit and debit cards are just as common as actual cash. Tipping is considered normal, not optional.
Peak season is late March to May, when spring brings cool breezes, pleasant temperatures and pretty cherry blossoms. June is hot and the city gets crowded. July and August are hot and humid – so much so that many tourists avoid DC during these months, so prices tend to drop. By November the winter chill has set in, although December’s festivities are warming to the heart and soul. Check the political temperature too before your visit – elections or international conferences can see throngs of people descend on the city and hotel rooms sell out.
Electrical sockets in the USA are type A, with two flat rectangular pins. The standard voltage is 120V.
You won’t find Internet cafés because nobody needs them. There are numerous cafés, bars and hotels with free wi-fi and the government runs a network of free public hotspots across the city.
You can walk to most of the city’s attractions, while public transport abounds for visits further afield. Metrorail underground trains run on six lines into the suburbs and are clean, safe and easy to use. The bus system is equally user-friendly, with DC Circulator buses running every 10 minutes to the main attractions and hotel districts along five routes. Taxis are everywhere, as the city has one of the highest cab-to-citizen ratios in the country.
Airport to City Center
SAA connects to Washington’s Dulles International Airport. You can reach the city by Metrorail, Metrobus, taxi or rental car. Metrobus 5A runs hourly to the Rosslyn and L’Enfant Plaza Metro stations in about 50 minutes. The Washington Flyer express bus travels to West Falls Church Metro station every 30 minutes and takes 25 minutes to reach it.
For South African Airways flight offers, visit our flights to Washington page.