10 tips for your first trip to Washington DC

Traveling to the USA for the first time can seem like a difficult process. There are several documents you need, and applications to file, before you can be allowed into the country. For some countries, this can be quite an easy process, but for others applications are considered on a case-by-case basis. To help you get prepared for your first trip to Washington DC, here are 10 travel tips that will make things easier.

thomas jefferson memorial washington dc

  1. If you’re planning on taking in the sights, bring some good walking shoes. Stretching over 2 miles, the National Mall is a lot longer than people realize. This is where you’ll find all of the well-known sights, such as the Lincoln memorial, the Washington memorial, and the WW2 memorial. If limited mobility is a problem, try booking a bus tour from one of the local companies. These will take you all round the National Mall, and are a much easier way of visiting everything.

washington dc national mall

  1. The city is very difficult to drive around if you’re not used to American roads. It’s a network of one-way streets and diversions so leave your car behind. If you need to get around quickly, take advantage of the affordable and reliable public transport network.
  1. Going to Washington DC at any time of year is a great experience, but it’s best in the spring. The National Mall is lined with cherry trees, and they look incredible in bloom. Although there’s no set date for when this happens, try to aim for the beginning of April to get the best chance of seeing it.
  1. Planning a trip to the White House? Make sure you book well in advance, as waiting lists can be up to 6 months. You can book tours online, but make sure you look into this before booking the rest of your trip. Also, remember that security is very strict here. Make sure you bring all relevant travel documents, and be careful what you carry in with you. At the very least you’ll pass through a metal detector, but you might also be searched.

washington dc white house

  1. The National Zoo is located in Washington DC, and is home to pandas. For many people, this might be your only opportunity to see these beautiful creatures, so make sure you don’t miss out! There’s loads of other amazing wildlife to see here too.

washington dc national zoo

  1. If you’re looking for an interesting dining experience, try the café in the National Museum of the American Indian. All of the food is indigenous to America, and you can find things such as Bison chilli, wild salmon, and foraged mushrooms. The museum itself is fascinating too, and showcases the history of America’s native population before, during, and after colonial rule.
  1. The Metro is one of the cheapest ways to get around Washington DC, and it means you don’t have to sit in traffic for hours. It’s worth buying a SmarTrip card, which allows you to travel multiple times in a day. These can be bought at any station and topped up at any time.
  1. If you’re traveling to Washington dc national zoo from a foreign country, make sure you keep your travel documents with you. At the very minimum, carry your passport and any Visa forms you might need. Washington DC can have very tight security, which will be even tighter still at national monuments and the White House.
  1. Make sure you visit the Union Market, which is home to an amazing food market. There are so many different local dishes on offer; it might take you all day to sample your way through them. You can find anything from local oysters to Michelin-starred Italian food. This is a must-visit for the foodies out there.
  1. Make sure you visit at least one of the many museums the city has to offer. There are museums that focus on indigenous culture, along with the heritage and history of the US. All museums connected to the Smithsonian offer free entry, although some temporary exhibits might charge. It’s worth looking online to see what’s on offer, and to book tickets. If you’re going in the summer, make sure you check out the jazz concerts every Friday at the National Gallery of Art.

More photos of Washington DC

washington dc jefferson memorial
Washington DC Jefferson memorial
washington dc washington
Washington DC- Washington monument
Metro Washington DC
Metro Washington DC

Visa Programs

One of the easiest ways to get into the country is by filing an ESTA Application. This stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization, and is essentially a Visa waiver. An ESTA application covers you for:

  • Travel in the US for up to 90 days
  • Tourism
  • Certain types of business and transit

The ESTA application is only applicable to certain countries, and may require you to speak to your local USA embassy. It’s a much easier process than the normal Visa application, and can save a considerable amount of time and money.

Read more here – How does the ESTA differ from other US visas

To apply through ESTA, you need the following documents:

  • Valid passport from a Visa Waiver Program country
  • A valid credit card, or PayPal in order to pay the application fee
  • Your current contact information
  • Recent employment history, if applicable

The application can be done online, and can be done for either an individual or group. It isn’t applicable for all countries, and some have recently been excluded. The law has also been changed to exclude people who have traveled to certain countries since 2011, although this is usually done on a case-by-case basis. For the most current list of countries, and any exclusions that apply, visit the ESTA website.

The USA is a fascinating country, and Washington DC holds a large amount of its cultural heritage. If it’s your first time going, make sure you take advantage of the sights, but also the food and local culture. There are some great places to eat and drink, and plenty of shops to explore. If you’re an international traveler, make sure you confirm all travel documents well in advance, and that you carry them with you at all times.

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