Where to Stay in Washington, DC

SD › Best Places in Washington, DC
Updated: July 22, 2021

See Also

The Best Areas to Stay in Washington, DC

    Washington, DC is known throughout the world as the capital of the United States, the home of the White House, US Congress, and Supreme Court. The city was founded in 1791, the land donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia – the “District of Columbia” remains a wholly federal jurisdiction, unattached to any US state and therefore without representation in Congress. Unsurprisingly, DC is packed with sights and attractions, but it’s also gained a reputation for its culinary and cultural scenes in recent years, with several neighborhoods emerging as destinations beyond the traditional hub of Downtown.

    Downtown Washington, DC is the commercial heart of the city, packed with attractions just north of the White House. It’s also the central hub of the city’s Metro, making day-trips relatively straightforward from here. The National Mall forms the southern boundary of Downtown, home to heavy-hitters such as the Lincoln Memorial and Smithsonian Museums. The neighborhood at the eastern end of the Mall is Capitol Hill, named after the Capitol Building, while up-and-coming NoMa lies to the northeast. Just east of Downtown are the popular tourist areas of Penn Quarter and Chinatown. North of Downtown, the 2 famous road junctions of Dupont Circle and Logan Circle give their names to adjacent neighborhoods, while hip Adams Morgan is just north of Dupont. To the west, further along the Potomac, leafy Georgetown is the city’s historic, upscale neighborhood, home to the celebrated Georgetown University.

    We’ve also covered 2 adjacent cities in Virginia: Arlington, which is just across the Potomac from Downtown, best known for Arlington Cemetery and the Pentagon, and Alexandria, a historic town a little further south. Though independent of the city, both fall squarely within the Greater Washington suburban sprawl.

    • DC’s Metrorail is a convenient and safe way to see the city, with the main hub at Metro Center in Downtown Washington and 6 color-coded lines: Red, Orange, Silver, Blue, Yellow, and Green. Fares range between U$2-6, depending on time of day and how far you ride (day pass $13).

    • The DC Streetcar is a free light rail service that runs from Union Station to Oklahoma Avenue along H Street NE and Benning Road.

    • Washington, DC has a humid subtropical climate – summers are notoriously hot and humid here, something that takes many visitors by surprise (the average July temperature is 79.8°F). Conversely, winters can be chilly, and there is often snow (average annual snowfall is 15.5 inches). By far the best time to visit is spring or fall, when the temperatures are mild to warm – in March/April there’s the added bonus of seeing the city’s famous cherry blossoms, though hotels tend to be most expensive at this time.

The Best Places to Stay in Washington, DC

Best Neighborhoods in Washington, DC for…

  • Best Neighborhood in Washington, DC for First Timers: Downtown or Penn Quarter
    First time visitors to DC are better off staying in the heart of the city, close to all the major museums and sights and within walking distance of the National Mall. Downtown and the adjacent Penn Quarter neighborhoods lie just north of the Mall, with a decent spread of bars and restaurants throughout and excellent Metrorail connections for sight-seeing further afield. All the tourist bus tours start and finish here. Accommodations tend to be expensive, but there are a few cheaper options and chain hotels, especially in the Penn Quarter.
  • Most Romantic Neighborhood: Georgetown
    Historic Georgetown is crammed with beautifully restored red-brick and clapboard homes from the 18th and 19th centuries, its leafy cobblestone streets home to indie boutiques and plenty of romantic restaurants. Our favorites include the 1789 Restaurant, tapas at Bodega, and cocktails at Alex Craft Cocktail Cellar – legend has it JFK proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier in old-school Martin’s Tavern in 1953. It’s also fun to check out the live jazz and blues at Blues Alley. Georgetown Waterfront Park is a lovely place to stroll along the Potomac, while Dumbarton Oaks Park boasts tranquil gardens and an art museum. Some of the city’s most romantic (and expensive) hotels are also here – Rosewood, Four Seasons, and The Ritz-Carlton.
  • Best Neighborhoods for Nightlife: H Street Corridor, Adams Morgan, & Georgetown
    East of Union Station, the H Street NE corridor boasts one of DC’s liveliest late-night scenes, anchored by the Atlas Performing Arts Center, H Street Country Club, Biergarten Haus, and Copycat Co. Adams Morgan is a popular bar crawl destination, anchored by mainstay Madam’s Organ. We also like Jack Rose Dining Saloon for the whisky, Green Zone for Middle Eastern-flavored cocktails, and Reveler’s Hour for the wine. Georgetown is also a good bet for nightlife, with plenty of bars along M Street and Wisconsin Avenue popular with well-heeled DC elites as much as the students at Georgetown University. We like Church Hall and Georgetown Piano Bar. Logan Circle’s 14th NW Street and the adjacent U Street are also popular nightlife zones.
  • Best Neighborhoods for Food and Restaurants: Logan Circle
    In recent years, DC has evolved into one of the nation’s most dynamic culinary destinations with an incredibly diverse range of options, from fine dining to gourmet doughnuts and Filipino brunch spots. The 14th Street corridor running through the heart of Logan Circle is a hotspot for foodies, with an especially eclectic range of options. We like the Vietnamese flavors at Doi Moi, tapas at Estadio, Stephen Starr’s French bistro Le Diplomate, and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace for seafood. Just to the north, the U Street corridor features iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl. Penn Quarter is another foodie hotspot, notably home to José Andrés’s stable of restaurants; there’s also the H Street NE corridor, and Adams Morgan, with favorites such as Tail Up Goat, Mintwood Place, and Federalist Pig.
  • Best Neighborhood for Shopping: Penn Quarter and Logan Circle (14th St)
    Staying in Penn Quarter means being within walking distance of DC’s premier mall, CityCenterDC, with 10 acres of cafes, galleries, and stores from Paul Stuart and Kate Spade to Hermès and Burberry. F Street is the main shopping drag, anchored by Marshalls and TJ Maxx, with Macy’s department store and Nordstrom Rack nearby, along with Banana Republic, Anne Taylor, Zara, Anthropologie, and many other major fashion brands. Smaller indie stores include handmade jewelry specialist Mia Gemma. For a wider choice of specialist stores and indie boutiques, checkout Logan Circle and 14th NW Street, where Salt & Sundry sells unusual kitchen goods and locally made crafts, and Little Leaf which specializes in plants, paper goods, and gifts. Miss Pixie’s sells vintage home decor and furnishings, while Cork & Fork is the place for all things wine. An outpost of local fashion accessory chain Lou Lou is also here. Georgetown is also great for shopping, with indie specialty shops and home design to high-end boutiques and international retail chains.
  • Best Neighborhood for Local Vibe: Adams Morgan
    This northwest DC neighborhood (aka “AdMo”) feels a million miles away from the National Mall and the heavily touristed districts of the city center. It’s a big nightlife destination but is also fun to explore during the day, with tree-lined streets, quirky boutiques, and a culturally diverse population. Tryst coffeeshop is a hip local hangout, with Perry’s a favorite spot for brunch. Cool shops include Meeps Vintage (2104 18th St NW) and Mercedes Bien Vintage (2423 18th St NW), as well as vinyl store Smash Records. One of our favorite spots is Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House.
  • Unsafe Areas of Washington, DC
    Washington, DC has become a lot safer since the 1980s and 1990s, but there are still some areas to avoid. In general, the neighborhoods to the east and southeast of Downtown experience the highest crime rates (such as Deanwood and Brentwood). In terms of areas that tourists are likely to visit, take care in NoMa and at night along the U Street corridor. Downtown is safe during the day, as is the well-policed Metro, though again, care should be taken at night.
  • Safe Areas of Washington, DC
    Dupont Circle, Adam’s Morgan (though things can get chippy at night outside bars), Logan Circle, Capitol Hill, and Georgetown tend to be relatively safe day and night, with a heavy police presence.

The 10 Best Neighborhoods in Washington, DC for Tourists

1. Downtown Washington, DC

North of the White House and Lafayette Square, Downtown DC is the city’s commercial core, with a blend of high-end shopping and must-see sights, dining, and nightlife. Highlights include the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery and the National Museum for Women in the Arts. Metro Center station is also here, a primary hub for the city’s public transportation, making it a good base for exploration of the region. Culinary highlights include seafood restaurant Estuary, managed by the Voltaggio brothers; shrines to fine dining Plume and Central Michel Richard; and iconic Old Ebbitt Grill. Staying in this neighborhood is expensive – some of the city’s most luxurious hotels are located here and budget options are rare.

2. Penn Quarter & Chinatown

Washington’s tiny Chinatown lies just east of Downtown, primarily the short strip of H and I streets between 5th and 8th Northwest streets. Marked by a traditional Chinese gate – the Friendship Archway – on H Street, the neighborhood is best known for its Asian restaurants and souvenir shops. Chinatown borders the larger Penn Quarter (named after Pennsylvania Avenue, the wide boulevard marking its southern boundary). Main attractions here include the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum (both housed in the same building), plus Ford’s Theatre, where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. Nearby is Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office Museum, dedicated to the Civil War nurse and founder of the American Red Cross. Other highlights include the US Navy Memorial, Capital One Arena (home of the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards franchises), Madame Tussauds, and the National Building Museum, plus the Shakespeare Theatre Company and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

3. National Mall

A huge cross-shaped swathe of green in the heart of the city, south of Downtown, the National Mall is the primary focus for most visitors to Washington, DC. The strip is crammed with American icons, anchored by the Lincoln Memorial and US Capitol at the western and eastern ends respectively, as well as the Washington Monument, the White House, FDR Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, WWII Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and all the premier Smithsonian Museums. Highlights include the National Museum of African American History & Culture, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the National Air and Space Museum, and the American History Museum, among many others. There are no hotels on the Mall itself, but there is a convenient cluster just south of the park – though there’s much less choice when it comes to eating and drinking here. Otherwise, most hotels in Downtown or the Penn Quarter are within easy walking distance.

4. Capitol Hill

The area at the eastern end of the National Mall – surrounding the US Capitol, Library of Congress, and Supreme Court – is known as Capitol Hill and is primarily an upscale residential area. It’s one of the most historic neighborhoods in the city, lined with 19th-century rowhouses. Attractions include the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Eastern Market (built in 1873), and Barracks Row, a strip of stores and restaurants that also date back to the late 19th century. There’s only a handful of places to stay in Capitol Hill (apartment rentals are more popular), but there is a cluster of hotels in its northern section, between the Capitol and Union Station.

5. NoMa

The “North of Massachusetts Avenue” neighborhood (north and east of Union Station) is one of the up-and-coming districts of DC, home to hip restaurants, Gallaudet University, and the fashionable H Street Corridor of bars, cafés, and independent boutiques. It’s also the home of Union Market, a warehouse-like specialty food hall which is adorned by several iconic murals, notably the one smothered in multicolored hearts by street artist Mr. Brainwash. Though it’s a cool neighborhood to visit, there’s not a lot of choice in terms of accommodation – most hotels are set on or near New York Avenue, but they do tend to offer good value compared to the rest of DC.

6. Logan Circle

Logan Circle is just north of Downtown, named after the traffic roundabout at its heart, and is one of DC’s famous hubs (in this case, of Rhode Island and Vermont avenues). It’s primarily a residential neighborhood, increasingly fashionable in recent years with a younger crowd. Most of the action takes place along the main drag, 14th Street NW (between M and U streets), which is crammed with restaurants, indie stores, and bars. It’s also one of the city’s nightlife hubs – Barcelona Wine Bar is one of our favorites for tapas and drinks, while the legendary Black Cat hosts indie bands and themed dance nights.

7. Adams Morgan

Adams Morgan is a culturally diverse neighborhood in northwest DC, best known for its nightlife and eclectic dining scene. The main drag is 18th Street, a strip of bars, restaurants, and independently owned stores. There are no real sights here – it’s really just a cool place to hang out, but there are some good hotels and for anyone that’s been to DC before, it’s definitely an interesting place to stay off the beaten path. Some of our favorite spots include Lost City Books, DC Arts Center, and Line DC, a boutique hotel artfully created out of the 1912 First Church of Christ, Scientist building. Our favorite places to eat include Roofers Union and Tail Up Goat.

8. Georgetown

Georgetown is DC’s historic and romantic neighborhood, founded in 1751, decades before the capital was formally established. Over the years, it’s become one of the city’s poshest places to live, and today some of the city’s most luxurious (and expensive) hotels are located here (with a couple of exceptions noted below). M Street is the main drag, peppered with stores, galleries, and restaurants, while famous Georgetown University anchors the western end of town. The neighborhood is littered with stunning historic 18th and 19th-century mansions and major attractions including Tudor Place Historic House & Garden, Dumbarton House, and the Old Stone House. At night, we like the Blues Alley Club for live jazz and blues and the Berliner for German beers.

9. Arlington

Just across the Potomac River from Downtown, Arlington, Virginia is best known for Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for over 400,000 US military members as well as President John F. Kennedy. It was established after the Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, formerly the home of Confederate General Robert E Lee. The US Air Force Memorial and Iwo Jima Memorial are also in Arlington, along with the Pentagon, National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Hotels are spread throughout the area and can make a cheaper alternative to staying on the DC side of the Potomac, though the eating and drinking options tend to be not as good, and a car will be more useful here as things are spread out.

10. Alexandria

Another old Virginia town, Alexandria was founded by Scottish settlers in 1749, and its cobblestone streets and colonial buildings provide its biggest allure today. Just 7 miles south of Downtown DC (and connected by Metrorail) along the Potomac, it feels like a different world, home to the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, old churches, the Carlyle House Historic Park, Lee-Fendall House Museum, and the historic waterfront. It often gets packed on weekends with day-trippers checking out the shopping and dining scenes. A short drive or bus ride away is Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. Alexandria is a great place to stay (though usually not cheap) – it’s only a relatively short Metro ride away from central DC.

Read More

Get All New Content

My Travel Newsletter