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Moving to Washington DC

Expats moving to Washington DC are often surprised by how small the city – arguably the most powerful and influential in the USA and indeed the world – can be. The massive concentration of agencies, departments, businesses, consulates and young eager professionals makes Washington DC so dense with potential that expats seem to be magnetically drawn to it.

Yet despite its iconic image as the centre of American power, Washington DC is also difficult to define, with ambiguous borders and a contrasting image. The district, which is officially neither a state nor a city, has little more than half a million people, yet the huge DC metro area borrows from neighbouring state land to create a metropolis ten times that size. 'DC' usually refers not only to the District of Colombia but to parts of Maryland and Virginia that feed into the city.

Within the city centre, the clean columns of the capital buildings are in stark contrast to nearby ghettos that make up one of the country's worst levels of poverty. While expats are likely to live in better neighbourhoods, realities of living in a city with such large discrepancies of income, as well as high crime rates, are unavoidably noticeable.

The cost of living in Washington DC is generally quite high, especially as good quality accommodation is in high demand and therefore expensive. However, those living close to the city centre will find that public transportation is fairly reasonable and there's really no need for a car when it comes to getting out and about. 

There are plenty of good schools in Washington. Expats are eligible to send their children to public schools which fall within certain residential boundaries at a negligible cost. There is also a good range of private and international schooling options, but fees are naturally much higher.

Washington DC, compared to other American cities, is particularly welcoming for expats. Most young professionals in DC have recently moved to the city to pursue careers before relocating again. There's a frantic energy of friendship-making fuelled by a large number of clubs, casual sports teams and nightlife. Newcomers are always welcome here.

Weather in Washington DC

Washington DC has a humid subtropical climate with four distinct seasons. The summer is hot and humid, interspersed with frequent rain showers; winters are very cold with snowstorms. The warmest months are July and August when temperatures average between 86°F and 91°F (30°C and 33°C). Over mid-December to mid-February, temperatures range between 20°F and 45°F (-6°C and 8°C). Probably the best weather is over March to mid-May when temperatures are mild, humidity is low and the city's cherry trees blossom.


Pros and Cons of Moving to Washington DC

While dwarfed in population by cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, Washington DC remains a huge drawcard for visitors to the United States. 
As the capital of the US, and home to multi-national organisations like the IMF and World Bank, Washington attracts a large number of international expats. Located on the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia, its location was said to be chosen by President George Washington himself in 1790.

Nowadays, it is perhaps most famous for being the seat of government, D.C. as it's sometimes known, has a wealth of history attached to it, meaning the city has developed into a dynamic and complex metropolis where both the past and the future are cherished. However, there are both positive and negative aspects of life in DC and here are some of them.

Cost of living in Washington DC

 + PRO: Salaries are high 

The high cost of living is often more than compensated by higher salaries. The average household income in D.C. is well above what’s earnt in many other cities in the U.S, and it needs to be to cover the high housing costs. 

- CON: Living costs are high too

Unless you are moving from another big city like New York, Boston or San Francisco,  you’ll find the cost of living in D.C. is fairly high. If you’re arriving from out of state, or abroad, you may have to pay a lot more for housing, food etc than you're used to. Generally costs get lower the further you live away from Downtown D.C. 

- CON: Wealth inequality

Although many expats will find lucrative high-profile employment opportunities, there  is a massive divide between the rich and the poor, with figures suggesting around a fifth of the city lives below the poverty line. This is perhaps reflected in the high crime rate; the district was once dubbed the murder capital of the US, but the violent crime figures have since got much better. 

Lifestyle in Washington DC

+ PRO: Cultural diversity

A wide variety of people live in Washington D.C. and the surrounding areas with politicians, diplomats and military personnel mixing with people working for banks, non-profit organisations and all kinds of other lines of work.  The population is generally well educated and the blend of backgrounds, nationalities, religions and ethnicities makes it an interesting place to live.   

+ PRO: Variety of neighbourhoods

Those working in D.C. have a wide variety of areas and suburbs to choose from, with housing varying from centrally-located apartments to suburban townhouses and family homes. Therefore those relocating to Washington can choose to live in an area that suits their lifestyle and family circumstance.

+ PRO: Cultural attractions

There's plenty to see and do in Washington DC. Once done with their day’s work, history and culture buffs will love all the attractions on offer. Furthermore, many of the city's museums and galleries offer free entrance to residents.

+ PRO: Plenty of weekend break opportunities

The city’s central location means that it’s easy to go on a weekend city break to places like New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. The surrounding countryside is stunning and offers loads of opportunities for those who want to get a dose of fresh air. There is hiking in the Shenandoa National Park, rafting on the Shenandoah River, and sailing in the Potomac or at nearby Annapolis. Virginia Beach is a four-hour drive from DC, for those who want to head to the coast. . 

- CON: Traffic and tourists

In contrast to the pace of life in Washington DC, the traffic tends to be slow. The public transport is good but those in the suburbs are doomed to drive. Additionally, because of all the great attractions, there are a huge number of tourists which can make the central areas around National Mall and Capitol Hill very crowded. 

- CON: Poor public schools

The public school system in D.C. is awful, but there are some excellent international schools. Many families move out to Maryland or Virginia to find better public schools for their children.

Weather in Washington DC

+ PRO: Spring and autumn are pleasant

Spring and autumn provide a welcome respite from often stifling summers. Pleasant balmy evenings and mild temperatures accompany these seasons, although spring can often change from warm to cold in a few hours.  Winters are cold.

- CON: humid summers

During the summer months, the weather can get hot, humid and uncomfortable. 

Working in Washington DC

+ PRO: High ceilings for career growth

There is a strong, diverse and dynamic job market in the capital as a result of the presence of government employers and contractors. While many may see the high competition for jobs as a negative, it breeds equally competitive salaries and benefits.

- CON: Demanding work environment

The salaries and room for career progression are certainly high in Washington DC. But the demanding work environment can come at the expense of time spent with friends and family.. Many employees work long hours, and those who value time with their loved ones may suffer.

Working in Washington DC

Washington DC has a strong economy, bolstered by federal operations based in the city which account for as much as 25 percent of the city's employees. However, because only US citizens can take up government jobs, expats will need to look to other industries if they wish to take up employment in Washington DC. Luckily, there are other options, with sectors such as tourism and service also making up a significant part of the city's economy. 

Job market in Washington DC

Though the largest employer in Washington DC is the US government, there are also several top area industries closely related to, but not actually part of, the government. This opens up potential jobs for expats in sectors such as defence contracting, lobbying, non-profit organisations and publishing. In addition, many expats work closely with governmental agencies and are employed by overseas companies or foreign governments.

Professional and business services are increasingly joining the federal government as top employers in Washington DC, with important sectors being scientific research, finance, healthcare and education.

Finding a job in Washington DC

Online portals are a good way to find a job in Washington DC as most major employers advertise vacant positions online, either on their own websites or through recruitment agencies. But above all else, networking is probably the most important aspect of a job search in DC. In a city of politicians and lobbyists, it’s often who one knows, rather than what they know, that will go a long way to securing that dream job.

It's worth noting that the cost of living in DC is one of the highest in the US and wages should be adjusted to compensate relocated expats.

All expats working in Washington DC must have a valid work permit for the USA.

Cost of Living in Washington DC

Washington DC is among the most expensive destinations in the USA, outranked only by a handful of cities. It is therefore important that expats moving to Washington negotiate a suitable employment package to offset their expenses. Here are some of the major costs expats can expect to encounter while living in Washington DC.

Cost of accommodation in Washington DC

Accommodation costs in Washington are generally quite high. However, as the city is home to lots of young professionals and university students, there are also a number of cheaper accommodation options such as studio apartments and house shares on offer for those on a budget.

Cost of transport in Washington DC

Luckily, there isn’t much need for a car in Washington, especially if living close to the city centre. Most residents opt not to have a car and use public transport or cycle to work instead. The cost of using public transport is based on the number of zones travelled, so those travelling long distances will find themselves shelling out a fair amount to do so. To save on travel costs, it's a good idea to purchase a weekly or monthly travel card.

Cost of entertainment and eating out in Washington DC

There are lots of opportunities to enjoy nightlife, entertainment and eating out in Washington but prices are high and these leisure expenses do add up over time. However, for those on a budget or looking to save their hard-earned dollars, there are lots of free cultural attractions available in Washington which can really enhance the quality of one's experience without breaking the bank.

Cost of education in Washington DC

Expats relocating to Washington with children will also need to factor in the cost of schooling. While expat children are eligible to attend public schools within zone boundaries, many expat parents choose to send their children to a private or international school. Fees at these schools can be extremely high, so expat parents would be wise to double-check that their budget can accommodate this cost.

Cost of living in Washington DC chart

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Washington DC in March 2021.

Accommodation (monthly)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

USD 2,400

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

USD 1,800

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

USD 4,400

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

USD 3,400


Eggs (dozen)


Milk (1 litre)


Rice (1kg)

USD 4.70

Loaf of white bread


Chicken breasts (1kg)

USD 11

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

USD 12

Eating out

Big Mac Meal


Coca-Cola (330ml)

USD 2.30



Bottle of beer (local)


Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

USD 80


Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

USD 0.14

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

USD 65

Basic monthly utilities (includes electricity, water and refuse)

USD 140


Taxi rate per km

USD 1.60

Bus fare in the city centre 


Gasoline/petrol (per litre)

USD 0.70

Accommodation in Washington DC

Washington DC offers a variety of high-quality housing options. However, the actual city limits are considerably smaller than most expect and many expats who move to Washington DC end up living in neighbouring Virginia or Maryland. These nearby states generally offer better options for suburban family living and cheaper accommodation.

Many neighbourhoods in Washington DC are full of students attending the assortment of nearby universities, or young professionals who have recently moved to the city to start their working life. Residential family homes are usually found farther out of the city centre, and vary in terms of quality and price, depending on their neighbourhood and proximity to public transport.

Because property becomes more expensive closer to the city centre, commute times via car are long. Therefore, accommodation near public transportation routes, such as the bus or metro lines, is highly sought-after.

Property prices and rent in Washington DC are among the most expensive in the country. It'll likely be the largest monthly expense for expats planning to relocate there.

Types of accommodation in Washington DC


Apartments are the most common type of housing in the city and range from single-room studio apartments to luxury multi-bedroom lofts and penthouses. Rent will naturally vary according to size and location, with the more expensive apartments being closer to the city centre. Practically all apartment buildings are equipped with modern facilities and amenities.


Another option for expats looking to rent in Washington DC are townhouses, which are cheaper than single-family homes but also generally have separate entrances and multiple storeys. These are often historical Victorian homes built in a row along one street, hence they are also referred to as rowhouses.

Single-family houses

Single-family houses are fully detached residences which may be best suited for a full family, as they normally include a garden and are located away from the city centre. Despite being predominantly in the suburbs, single-family detached houses are particularly expensive. It is therefore advised that expats realistically asses their housing budget before making any commitments.

Finding accommodation in Washington DC

Due to limited space in the city, expats are advised to begin the search for accommodation as early as possible. Knowing one’s price range and desired accommodation type is essential as it will clarify the search and simplify the decision-making process. It is worth considering factors such as space requirements, amenities and proximity to shopping hubs, public transport and schools.

Expats may want to find a local real estate agent who understands the local area and can help identify a home suited to their requirements. If considering living in the Maryland or Virginia suburbs, expats should keep in mind that agents require separate licences to work in different states. It may, therefore, be necessary to employ several realtors to scout the surrounding areas thoroughly.

Renting accommodation in Washington DC

With DC being such a small city, it follows that accommodation is in high demand. This has made accommodation expensive and harder to come by than in some other American cities. If an expat has their heart set on a place, they should act quickly as good properties don’t tend to stay on the market for long.

The rental process

As in most of the USA, to secure a rental property, potential tenants will need to obtain an application form from the landlord. Subsequently, the landlord will contact their chosen tenant and together they will sign a standard lease agreement. Having a US bank account will act in one's favour when applying to rent accommodation in Washington DC, especially for expats without a social security number.

Furnished or unfurnished

Most accommodation tends to be unfurnished in Washington DC, though furnished apartments are also available. Furnished accommodation usually includes everything from appliances to bedding and cutlery. Furnished accommodation is usually more expensive and typically work on a shorter lease term. Unfurnished accommodation rarely means a completely bare apartment or house. Properties usually still come with large appliances like ovens, washing machines and fridges.


Rental contracts are traditionally valid for a year with the option to renew when the term is over.


Usually, renters will be required to put down an amount equivalent to a month’s rent as a security deposit. This deposit is refundable once the lease has come to an end. If any damage has been done to the property, the deposit will be used to cover the cost of repairs.


Expats renting accommodation in Washington DC should check the conditions set out in their lease to find out the details on utilities. In some cases, the landlord may assume responsibility for utilities like gas, electricity and water, but tenants will usually be expected to pay for extras such as telephone services, internet and cable TV packages. Expats should spend some time looking into different service providers as one can often find a good range of inclusive deals for telephone and internet services.

Areas and suburbs in Washington DC

The best places to live in Washington DC

The capital offers a range of accommodation options. There are areas and suburbs in Washington DC to suit most expats, from those wanting to experience the buzz of city living to those preferring the quiet life in the leafy suburbs. Where an expat chooses to live in DC will ultimately depend on their lifestyle preferences and their budget.

Areas close to the city centre such as Adams Morgan and Georgetown are perfect for young professionals and students, while Dupont Circle and Anacostia offer a greater number of living options for expats moving to Washington DC with a family.

As a result of the city's unique location and proximity to the neighbouring states of Virginia and Maryland, expats will find that it's even possible to live outside DC and commute to work in the city on a daily basis.

Young and trendy areas of Washington DC


Washington DC has a fairly large student population and young graduates flock to the capital to start their careers. There are lots of areas close to the city centre that cater well for this demographic.

There are always new bars, eateries and trendy fashion boutiques springing up to serve the younger market. Rent tends to be higher close to the city centre and so these areas are most suitable to those with a higher disposable income.

Adams Morgan

This is a central area close to Washington DC city centre. Adams Morgan is a cosmopolitan part of Washington which has traditionally been popular with expat communities hailing from Central America, North Africa and the Caribbean. 

In recent years, much gentrification has taken place. This has resulted in the growth of high-cost housing complexes in the area, which has subsequently driven out some of the poorer immigrant communities. However, there's a strong multicultural atmosphere that remains in Adams Morgan, which is evident in the diverse range of international shops and eateries that can be found in the area.

There are lots of rental options. This is a popular area for young professionals as it's close to most workplaces in the city centre. It's also a popular nightlife spot and home to some of Washington DC’s top nightclubs and bars. Furthermore, the area is served well by public transport as it has a number of subway stations in close proximity.


Georgetown is a historic area in northwest Washington DC which is known for great shopping, nightlife and dining options. This neighbourhood is characterised by old houses, cobbled streets and trolley tracks, which are all part of Georgetown’s historic charm.

Georgetown is located close to the Potomac River. It's common to see residents walking, jogging and cycling along the canal path. The fact that this area is also home to Georgetown University means that there is a large student population and always plenty going on in terms of entertainment, sporting events and lectures. The area is also home to many foreign embassies, making it a popular neighbourhood for expats working in the diplomatic sector.

Family-friendly neighbourhoods of Washington DC


Each year, large numbers of expats are transferred to Washington DC for work on packages that allow them to bring their families along. The city is a great place to set up a family home. 

Washington DC has some of the USA’s top schools and universities. For expats moving there with children, being close to good schools will certainly be a priority.

Dupont Circle

This is a great neighbourhood in which to set up home as a new expat family in Washington DC. Dupont Circle has many different accommodation options on offer, with everything from large apartment communities to spacious family homes and condos. Dupont Circle is therefore an area suitable for a variety of people, from professional expats to those with young children. 

This neighbourhood has a vibrant entertainment scene and people come to Dupont Circle from all over Washington DC to eat at some of the city’s top restaurants. There are also lots of coffee shops, bookstores and art galleries in the neighbourhood.

There is a strong community spirit in this area and residents are often seen relaxing, playing chess or walking their dogs at the grassy circle. Good public transport links make travelling anywhere in Washington DC from Dupont Circle easy.

Due to the popularity of this area, rent is high. 


Anacostia is a previously neglected residential neighbourhood which lies alongside the Anacostia River in southeast Washington DC.

Anacostia is popular with families because of its proximity to some of DC’s best schools and availability of spacious housing options. It is also a good option for those who prefer to be further away from the hustle and bustle of the city or those on a tight budget as rents are very reasonable. Getting around Washington DC from Anacostia is easy as there are regular Metrorail services to the city centre.

Outside Washington DC


For those who work in Washington DC but prefer a quieter suburban life, there is also the option of living in parts of Virginia or Maryland.

Expats will find that certain parts of these neighbouring states are well connected to Washington DC by both road networks and public transport.

Rockville and Bethesda

Due to their proximity to the capital, the suburbs of Rockville and Bethesda, which are located in Montgomery County in the state of Maryland, have become popular spots for those working in Washington DC. Rockville and Bethesda have diverse populations and offer a variety of housing options from high-rise condos to modern family homes.

Rockville is only 25 minutes' drive from Washington DC’s city centre and is well placed on the I-270. Bethesda is located 20 minutes' drive from DC and is connected to the capital by the I-495. Both areas are also well served by public transport. While rental costs are not cheap in Rockville or Bethesda, many expats choose to live in these areas because the properties tend to be more spacious. In addition, these areas are located close to several good schools.


Alexandria in Virginia is an independent city located just seven miles (11km) south of Washington DC. It's a charming area steeped in history and there are lots of old buildings, churches and museums here. While the area doesn’t have the buzz of Georgetown or Adams Morgan, Alexandria does have a fair number of good restaurants and entertainment facilities.

This city is well located on major roads such as the I-95, I-395 and Route 1. When it comes to public transport, bus services link the city to Washington DC.

Healthcare in Washington DC

Washington DC offers a high standard of healthcare. However, as with all American cities, it's important to have medical insurance in Washington DC. Long-term care can be denied to those without proper medical insurance, although all DC hospitals are required to administer emergency care.

Residents of the greater metro area will also find quality medical care in the neighbouring states of Maryland and Virginia. Many of DC's best hospitals are teaching hospitals connected to the city's top universities.

There are plenty of pharmacies across the city, with many open 24/7.

Below is a list of some of the most reputable hospitals in Washington DC and its surrounding areas.

Hospitals in Washington DC

George Washington University Hospital
Address: 900 23rd Street NW, Washington DC

Holy Cross Hospital
Address: 1500 Forest Glen Road, Silver Spring, Maryland

Ivona Fairfax Hospital
Address: 8110 Gatehouse Road, Falls Church, Virginia

Johns Hopkins Hospital
Address: 1800 Orleans Street, Baltimore, Maryland 

Mary Washington Hospital
Address: 1001 Sam Perry Boulevard, Fredericksburg, Virginia

Education and Schools in Washington DC

Washington DC boasts a variety of schooling options, including public, charter, private and international schools. Expats are eligible to attend all types of school, though those opting for a public school may find their choices limited based on their neighbourhood of residence. 

Being the capital of the United States, DC offers some of the best education in the country. It's also home to world-class tertiary institutions such as the internationally acclaimed Georgetown University.

Nevertheless, public elementary and secondary schools have faced challenges of funding and staffing, leading to their quality being inconsistent and frequently dependent on the average income level of the surrounding area.

Both Maryland and Virginia, while being extremely close to DC, have separate respective school systems.

Public schools in Washington DC

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) governs all traditional public schools in Washington DC. Public schools accept students based primarily on their location of residence. Expats should, therefore, consider carefully where they settle in the city.

Despite numerous challenges, the city still offers some public schools that are among the most reputable in the country.

Charter schools

Expats also have the option of sending their children to public charter schools in Washington DC, which, despite being publically funded, function independent of government regulations. Such schools are run by the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB) and have more flexible academic programmes and curricula than traditional public schools.

Charter schools have grown in popularity over the past decade, largely due to the perceived flaws of the traditional public schooling system. However, they can be inconsistent in terms of quality and many have been closed down in the past for failing to maintain sufficient standards. That said, parents can rest assured that the ones that remain offer a higher standard of education than traditional public schools.

Private schools in Washington DC

Many expats opt to send their children to private schools in Washington DC. Such schools have complete control over their curricula. As such, it's recommended that parents familiarise themselves thoroughly with an institution before enrolling their children. The Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington (AISGW) is a collection of 19 accredited private schools in the DC area, providing expat parents with a way to determine a suitable establishment. 

Tuition fees vary considerably among private schools in DC and depend on a number of factors, such as location and the school’s financial endowment. Though this is certainly a pricier option than public school, there are significant perks such as high-quality teachers, effective services and a low teacher-to-student ratio.

International schools in Washington DC

There are two primary candidates for expats looking to enrol their children in an international school in Washington DC: Washington International School and the British School of Washington. Both of these institutions offer the International Baccalaureate Programme.

International schools are considerably more expensive than other schooling options. However, they're ideal for expats who aren't planning to be in Washington DC for a long period or whose children are moving from an international school in another country. International schools will provide a more familiar environment, association with other expat children, and continuity with their previous curriculum.

Thanks to the city's large expat community, particularly within the diplomatic sector, demand for international schools in Washington DC is high. Expats are advised to apply as soon as possible to secure a place for their children.

Lifestyle in Washington DC

The lifestyle in Washington DC reflects its vibrant array of inhabitants. As a city filled with politicians and lobbyists, plenty of time and effort is devoted to boasting about one’s expense account. Fat cats and 'yes men' alike pour their entertainment budgets into the DC scene and, at the very least, ensure that a lively lifestyle is readily accessible to locals and expats alike.

Expats in Washington can enjoy a wide enough range of entertainment venues, shops, activities and eateries to satiate their own unique cultural appetite while enjoying all the city has to offer.

Shopping in Washington DC

Shopping is a key activity for the well-heeled in Washington DC. The city's oldest neighbourhood, Georgetown, hosts several designer boutiques. Expats can enjoy a scenic shopping and dining experience at picturesque local retail centres such as Georgetown Park and the Washington Harbor.

Expats should drop in at the Georgetown Flea Market to browse its selection of antiques, jewellery, books, rugs, toys and linens. They could also head to Penn Quarter and Chinatown for a similar selection.

Another great shopping area is the Dupont Circle neighbourhood. It's full of bookstores and designer boutiques as well as vintage shops. Expats exploring the area can also enjoy the FreshFarm Market.

Eating out in Washington DC

Expats looking to grab something to eat in Washington DC will be spoilt for choice. Being an ethnically diverse capital city, the wide variety of restaurants and cafés cater to both local and international tastes of all budgets.

For the more enthusiastic foodies, the city hosts some vibrant food festivals throughout the year. Those looking for sizzling summer sustenance can check out the National Capital Barbecue Battle, while others may enjoy familiarising themselves with the culinary elite at the annual Taste of Georgetown festival.

Nightlife in Washington DC

The nightlife in Washington DC is vibrant, with plenty of variety. Atlas District is one of DC's trendiest areas, while other key areas for nighttime entertainment include Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle and Georgetown. Another particularly popular area is the Penn Quarter, which offers several wine and lounge bars.

Outdoor activities in Washington DC

There are many parks throughout Washington DC, which are usually bustling with happy families, doting romantics and chatty picnickers. Such parks are an ideal place to get away, enjoy the fresh air and throw a frisbee around in the sun.

DC is also one of the most bike-friendly cities in the US, with many exclusive bicycle lanes and trails that elevate cycling to a perfectly valid form of eco-friendly transportation.

The city also caters to sports enthusiasts of all types, with frequent opportunities to spectate not only baseball and American football games, but also soccer, rugby, tennis, ice hockey, and even lacrosse. The city boasts several major sports stadiums, such as the RFK Stadium and Nationals Park, which frequently hold matches for the city’s numerous professional teams.

For expats looking to play sports in Washington DC, there are plenty of health and fitness centres in and around the city that offer sporting facilities.

Although the outdoor activities within the city area itself may seem rather limited to especially adventurous expats, the many idyllic camping and hiking spots in neighbouring Maryland and Virginia should be more than enough consolation.

See and Do in Washington DC

There are plenty of iconic sights and must-see attractions in Washington DC. While those living there on a more permanent basis will likely become immune to the grandeur of statues and public buildings that rightfully impress tourists, the city's world-class museums are certainly worth repeat visits. Here's a list of the best things to see and do in Washington DC.

Recommended sightseeing in Washington DC

National Mall

The National Mall is a national park in the heart of the city. It constitutes a tree-lined strip stretching two miles (3km) from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and is surrounded by many of DC's key attractions.

US Capitol Building

The US Capitol Building is DC’s most popular landmark and home to the US government. It contains the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as the Supreme Court and one of the three branches of the Library of Congress — the largest library in the world.

White House

The White House has been the residence and administrative headquarters for every president of the United States since 1800. Tours are available and provide a fascinating insight into the House’s previous inhabitants.

Washington Monument

Located at the National Mall, this tributary obelisk is the tallest masonry structure in the world and offers great views of the city from the gallery.

Lincoln Memorial

Built in a Greek style as a tribute to the fathers of America's democracy, the Lincoln Memorial salutes the 16th US president, Abraham Lincoln. A number of important marches and speeches have taken place here, including Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Institution is the world's largest museum, education and research complex. It's made up of 19 museums and galleries of unparalleled quality as well as a zoo. Receiving approximately 30 million visitors a year, this attraction is a must-see.

National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art is the most popular art museum in North America and houses one of the world’s leading collections of artworks. Art buffs and casual visitors alike are sure to enjoy taking in the work of many of history's most renowned artists, such as Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet and more.

US Holocaust Memorial Museum

This museum is rated as one of the city’s best and is dedicated to studying and remembering the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis on European Jews from 1933 to 1945.

What's On in Washington DC

Washington is a historical and cultural centre of the United States and there are many great festivals and celebrations highlighting the country's diversity and honouring its heroes and significant achievements.

Here are some of the most popular annual events in Washington DC to look forward to.

Annual events in Washington DC

Martin Luther King Day (January)

The life of Martin Luther King Jr is honoured annually in January, the month of his birthday. A number of commemorative events take place around the city on the third Monday in January. Events include a wreath-laying service at the Martin Luther King Memorial and a parade. The day is also designated as a national day of community service.

St Patrick’s Day Parade (March)

Washington DC’s version of this famous event is a family day out to celebrate the unique culture of Ireland. Expect dancers and singers, Irish musicians, marching bands, pipe bands and floats.

National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade (April)

The annual Cherry Blossom Festival Parade is a fun and colourful event that takes place along Constitution Avenue. Floats, marching bands and celebrity performers put on a grand spectacle of music and entertainment in a celebration of spring.

Smithsonian Folklife Festival (July)

This unique Washington DC tradition is the city's largest annual cultural event, attracting around a million people a year. The festival aims to celebrate the heritage of different states and regions as well as international communities. Attendees can enjoy music and dance performances, storytelling, exhibitions, and delicious tastings of traditional foods.

National Independence Day Parade (July)

Washington DC is the place to celebrate the Fourth of July in America. The city comes alive with a huge and impressive parade, numerous music performances, arts and crafts festivals, a famous evening performance by the National Symphony Orchestra on the steps of the Capitol building, and of course a massive fireworks display.

National Book Festival (August/September)

The National Book Festival is an annual celebration of literature, involving a full day of book signings and performances, as well as a poetry slam and select film screenings. This festival is a great place for expats to feed their literary appetite and broaden their cultural understanding of the United States through representatives from across the country showcasing books from their states.

National Christmas Tree and Pageant of Peace (December)

This unique festival celebrating the holiday season takes place amidst decorated trees all around the White House Ellipse, with a Santa's Workshop and musical performances from bands, choirs and dancers. The celebration includes a National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, in which the president turns on the decorative lights and ushers in Christmas festivity across the country.

Frequently Asked Questions about Washington DC

Expats moving to Washington DC are sure to have queries and concerns about their soon-to-be home. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about life in the US capital.

Is Washington DC safe?

Washington DC may have more crime than expats would expect as the capital of the US. This is largely due to the disproportionate distribution of wealth in the city. Safety precautions, as taken in any cosmopolitan centre, should be used to minimise risks. Expats should be vigilant taking the metro late at night.

How do I find cheap accommodation in Washingon DC?

Although the cost of renting property is very high in DC, it can also be easy to find affordable short-term rentals at certain times of the year. There's a large student population in DC that usually vacates for the summer. Sub-letting apartments over university holidays is a cheap means of first renting apartments in the city. Universities also often rent out unused student housing during the summer months.

What is the job market like in DC?

The largest employer in Washington DC is the US government. However, there are also opportunities in sectors like defence contracting, lobbying, non-profit organisations and publishing. 

What is the weather like in DC?

Summer months of July and August get extremely humid with temperatures hovering around 86°F (30°C). The winter is coldest during December and January when temperatures can drop to freezing. There's also occasional snowfall during this time.

Getting Around in Washington DC

Washington DC is home to one of the USA’s most active populations, with many of the capital’s residents choosing to walk or cycle to work if they live close to the city centre. The city does, however, have a solid public transport network to assist commuters which includes various train and bus services.

New arrivals will find that most places in the city centre are located close to one another and so sometimes walking (rather than driving or taking public transport) can be the quickest way to get somewhere.

Public transport in Washington DC

Washington DC’s public transport network consists of trains and buses services. The public transport network is operated on an integrated ticketing system, which covers all modes of transport.

SmarTrip card

Expats who plan on travelling in and around DC frequently should consider buying a SmarTrip card. The card can be used on the Metrorail as well as on Metrobus, the DC Circulator and several other suburban bus services. It's possible to load flat-rate passes onto the card which give commuters an unlimited number of trips within a certain period. SmarTrip cards can be purchased and topped up online, at any Metro station and selected stores in the city.


The Metrorail lies at the heart of Washington DC’s public transport network. This system consists of six colour-coded lines which run primarily underground to serve downtown, and overground to some of Washington’s surrounding suburbs.

While Washington DC’s metro is clean, safe and user-friendly, commuters often complain about the irregularity of services caused primarily by track maintenance and periodic breakdowns.

DC Circulator

Washington DC’s bus system is useful for commuters as it allows them to reach destinations not covered by the city’s metro system.

The DC Circulator buses are shuttle services which operate on a fixed route and schedule. These shuttles primarily connect the main areas in the city centre with some of the popular residential neighbourhoods. The shuttles run approximately every 10 or 15 minutes.


Washington DC’s Metrobus service consists of hundreds of routes that cover the greater Washington DC area and serves areas that commuters can't reach using the Metrorail or DC Circulator services.

Taxis in Washington DC

There are a huge number of cab companies to choose from in Washington DC, and taxis can be paid for either by cash or card.

Drivers are required to take passengers anywhere within the Metropolitan area of Washington DC. However, most drivers are reluctant to travel out to Maryland and Virginia.

Cycling in Washington DC

The residents of Washington love to cycle and new arrivals will find that cycling is a great way to get around the city.

The city has an excellent bike-sharing system. The Capital Bikeshare network consists of over 3,000 bicycles that can be picked up and dropped off at any one of over 300 docking stations across the city. 

The government has taken steps to make Washington DC more cyclist-friendly by increasing the number of dedicated cycle lanes as well as the amount of safe bicycle storage facilities.

Driving in Washington DC

Driving in Washington DC is something that best avoided, if possible. With the many excellent alternatives available, the majority of the capital’s residents opt to use public transport rather than driving, especially in the city centre.

Those who decide to drive in Washington DC will find that parking is often expensive and hard to find. Traffic is routinely congested and navigation is made complex by the one-way roads dotting the city centre.