Upon arrival in Washington, it's a good idea to take some time to get your bearings and figure out how you'll be getting around. Fortunately, the city has a first-rate transport system. The recently introduced DC Circulator buses provide cheap transportation for traveling across town, both North-South and East-West.
The city also boasts an excellent and extensive metro system, with five intersecting subway lines that access most attractions. Depending on how long you'll be staying, you can look into purchasing an affordable Metrorail pass for up to seven days.
Eating out on a budget
The nation's capital is a melting pot of different cultures and the food on offer certainly reflects that. The city offers everything from Greek to Vietnamese and from Indian to down-home Southern American cuisine.
Luckily, given all this choice, Washingtonian magazine publishes an extremely comprehensive yearly "Cheap Eats" and "Dirt Cheap Eats" feature that will keep your stomach and your wallet full. You can find the lists at www.washingtonian.com/restaurantreviews/3/index.html
And the places to drink?
Adams-Morgan, a neighborhood in the northwest, is the beating heart of the city's nightlife. Depending on what you're up for, you could catch some first-rate blues on an intimate rooftop patio, drink pitchers with the rowdy college set, or down Singapore Slings in a relaxed lounge area. Adams-Morgan, has it all, and is fast becoming the hippest district in town.
For the very definition of choice and variety, travel to the hopping U District and check out Brickskeller bar, which has the largest beer selection in the world. With nearly 1100 brews – many of them cheap – you can satisfy literally any beer-related urge you might have. The U District and nearby Dupont also have several other terrific bars and pubs that'll keep you out all night.
Great free attractions
Washington is overflowing with free attractions. The National Mall is home to several breathtaking monuments, including the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials and the stately Washington Monument. This huge grassy area also puts on concerts and festivals, and you might even witness a protest! A stroll around the Mall is both inspiring and totally free of charge.
Just down the road is the Smithsonian complex, a government-run collection of 18 museums and a zoo. Among the museums is the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Gallery of Arts, which houses one of the world's best collections. You could spend weeks exploring these museums... And the best part is they're all free!
Wonderful weather and great parks
The weather in Washington, especially in the summer months, is usually fantastic. As such, for the budget-conscious, it's definitely a good idea to take advantage of the city's many outdoor spaces and spend a relaxing day in the sunshine.
The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens comprise the last natural marsh in Washington, DC. These ponds along the Anacostia River are home to dozens of species of birds as well as thousands of water plants and flowers. The Gardens are remarkable, quite unique, and don't charge an entrance fee.
Visiting the National Arboretum is another fantastic thing to do in the city when the sun shines. There are over 400 acres of exotic plants and trees, all extremely well kept. There's even an area that houses the unique Bonsai, something of a rarity in the US. Bring a picnic lunch and park yourself on a blanket amongst the beauty.
Another good tip is to check out Rock Creek Park, home to a scattering of Civil War forts and a 19th century mill. If you feel in need of some exercise, the park has well maintained bicycle, hiking, and equestrian trails run past the forts and mill. My Washington hostel – Hilltop Hostel – was, very conveniently, just a couple of blocks away. Consequently when I was last in town, I used to spend a fair bit of my time wandering around it.
Washington, DC is a relatively small city in terms of square mileage, but what it lacks in physical size it more than makes up for with a seemingly endless injection of culture and character. In a single day you could witness historical landmarks, behold impressive monuments, take part in a protest, and cap it all off with a beer or two in posh Georgetown or Adams-Morgan – the perfect end to a perfect day.