Best places to stay in Washington DC your first time
Forget the tired old cliché about Washington, DC , being home to nothing but stuffed-shirt politicians and lawyers having three-martini lunches at stuffy steakhouses — this historically black-majority city is a vibrant home to roughly 300,000 people who live and work in many diverse industries from the arts to hospitality to fitness and clothing and more.
Although the area around Congress and the White House looks like you’d expect from movies and television shows, with monuments and other imposing landmarks everywhere you turn, the rest of this sprawling city is divided into a host of interesting neighborhoods. Each one has its own personality and appeal, and you’ll have a great time staying in any of them.
Of course, what you want to get out of a trip to the U.S. capital might be different from what another visitor is looking for. That’s why I put together this post to share some insights about several of DC best neighborhoods to stay in when visiting. And I added some insider tips about the best hotel and other accommodation choices in each area.
When you get to the city you should still check out the icons like the Lincoln Memorial and the new (and insanely popular) National Museum of African American History and Culture. But set aside plenty of time to explore the rest of the District and you’ll be rewarded with unique boutique shops, some of the best restaurants in the nation, great concerts, huge parks, and plenty of other things to see and do that have nothing to do with politics!
Let’s get the obvious neighborhood out of the way first: Capitol Hill. Sure, the backdrop is Instagram-ready with such instantly recognizable buildings as the Capitol building and the Supreme Court in the background. And staying here gives you immediate access to the city’s biggest museums. But although this area houses the main offices of the federal government, if you walk just a few blocks you’ll suddenly find yourself in a cute residential area of two- or three-floor row houses, many with perfectly maintained front yards. It’s a low-key neighborhood with top notch restaurants and bars, but there’s no major nightlife here. During the daytime, be sure to explore the huge Eastern Market food hall and sample some treats from local vendors.
Three best places to stay on Capitol Hill:
- Capitol Skyline: decent quality rooms and one of a handful of D.C. hotels to have a pool, although this one is outside so if you want to stay here based on the ability to swim you should only come in the summer months (winters in the city can be brutal).
- Hilton Washington D.C. National Mall: you know what to expect from a Hilton; every room looks the same but they’re all of decent quality. This hotel is convenient to all the main attractions on Capitol Hill, and a perfect choice for a regular traveler.
- Liaison Washington Capitol Hill: Cute Art Deco hotel that’s also close to where you want to be if the goal is seeing the monuments and the other sites down by the National Mall. It’s also got an outdoor pool, but again only open in the warmer months.
I have criticized the District in the past as a city that becomes a ghost town after 5 pm when all the office and government workers go home to Virginia or Maryland, but as more and more people move into the city that’s slowly changing. If you’re staying in City Center, you’ll have prime access to national brand shops like H&M and the gorgeous new Apple store inside the former Carnegie Library. And there are some interesting dining options nearby, such as the Old Ebbitt Grill that has been serving up meals just blocks from the White House for decades. It’s also a brief walk to get to Capitol Hill to visit the museums and landmarks there.
Three best places to stay in City Center:
- Holiday Inn Washington-Central/White House: many hotels claim to be near the president’s home but this one really is just two blocks away and you can see the famous building from the hotel entrance. Expect standard Holiday Inn rooms with comfortable furniture and good amenities.
- Hotel Harrington: In case you’re traveling on a budget. Don’t expect luxury when you book here, but the prices are among the cheapest in the city. Very basic accommodation and you can skip the restaurant on the ground floor.
- W Washington D.C.: if money is no object then book yourself in to the W. Each room is uniquely decorated to the highest quality. And this place also boasts a fantastic (and very busy) rooftop bar offering you great views of some of the city.
Historically this used to a vibrant neighborhood for the LGBTQ community with many gay bars, bookstores, shops and other businesses. In recent years several of those places have shut, although it’s still a popular and welcoming area for people from all backgrounds. There’s a great mix here between interesting cultural sites including the Phillips Collection of art and the historical Woodrow Wilson House, and fun, welcoming bars packed with locals — the DC Improv comedy club is a long-running venue that often features nationally popular comedians.
Three best places to stay in Dupont Circle:
- The Tabard Inn: it’s like taking a trip back in time when you stay at this hotel, whose interior looks like a ski lodge. Has a range of rooms of all prices, and one of the best reasons to stay here is the amazing restaurant serving up great food.
- Kimpton Hotel Palomar: rooms here are pricier than the average hotel in the District, but in exchange you get luxurious furnishings and perks in the rooms like DVD players. And it’s among those few hotels with a pool, open on a seasonal basis.
- Beacon Hotel & Corporate Quarters: middle-of-the road hotel offering a range of rooms from standard queen and king beds through to full suites. Check out the weekend brunch, a lively event with unlimited buffet food and mimosas.
One thing you’ll notice traveling around the District is that the city loves its circles; several feature statues of figures from U.S. history surrounded by grass and benches where you’ll find locals relaxing on warm days. Logan Circle is very popular with those who like to wine and dine because it’s near the 14th Street NW strip of amazing restaurants. Studio Theatre, which routinely hosts top-rated plays and other performances, is also here. So if your idea of a perfect vacation is great food and drink while seeing some culture, Logan Circe is for you. It’s also close to the U Street Corridor, once known as “Black Broadway” where musicians like Duke Ellington would play, and the Lincoln Theatre still hosts performers for sell-out shows.
Three great hotels to stay in Logan Circle:
- DC Lofty: this one is a perfect choice when traveling on a budget. It’s like the kind of hostels found all over Europe, with several bunk beds to each room. Not the highest quality accommodations around but the price is hard to beat.
- Duo Housing Hostel: another low-cost, no-frills hostel that has a couple of perks including a free continental breakfast and a nice rooftop terrace. And again, great prices in a location that’s ideal for exploring the city.
- Mason & Rook Hotel: but if you’re looking for luxury in Logan Circle then I’d recommend this relatively new place. Trendy furnishings, a seasonal outdoor pool, and a location half a block from the busy 14th Street NW strip.
The notorious 18th Street NW stretch of Adams Morgan features bar after bar, so it’s perfect for those travelers looking for the biggest possible choice for late night drinking. It’s also famous for places selling “jumbo slice,” a ludicrously oversized piece of pizza that many revelers use to soak up the booze at the end of the night. But even with this reputation as a party destination, there are still several quieter residential streets and some affordable hotels in the area. Shopping is a great activity here, as during the day you’ll find independent bookstores and thrift shops. And the U Street and Dupont Circle subway stops are both just a short walk, making a perfect central location from which you can explore the rest of the city.
Three great places to stay in Adams Morgan:
- High Road Hostel: if you’d rather spend your money on exploring the District rather than your room, stay here. It’s a mixed-gender shared-bedroom and bathroom dorm type of hostel with simple amenities but very affordable nightly rates.
- The LINE Hotel D.C.: this place has more than 200 brightly decorated rooms and there are some excellent perks of staying at this hotel including three restaurants on site. Prices are higher than average but that reflects the quality of the accommodations.
- Washington Hilton: this hotel has the dubious honor of being the place where John Hinckley, Jr. made an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981. These days it’s still a hotel with comfortable rooms at competitive rates.
H Street NE
Washington, D.C., is divided into quadrants, and one of the most vibrant areas can be found on the H Street strip in the northeast party of the city. Catch the relatively new (and free) tram from Union Station and journey down this lengthy thoroughfare to see a mix of arts venues, restaurants, craft shops, and more. One of the big draws is the Atlas Performing Arts Center that has an impressive list of performers throughout the year. But H Street NE is just as popular with foodies, because here you can find cuisines from around the world — some of my favorites are the Swiss food at Stable, the delicious Taiwanese food at Maketto and pies both sweet and savory from Dangerously Delicious Pies (they’re dangerously irresistible).
Three great places to stay near H Street NE:
- Homewood Suites by Hilton Washington D.C. NoMa Union Station: it’s a fair walk to get from here to the main H Street NE strip, but the tradeoff for the trek is that you’ll be staying in a high-end hotel — and they serve a tasty hot breakfast.
- Phoenix Park Hotel: standard hotel with average-sized rooms at normal rates, but this venue has perhaps the best location for exploring H Street NE. It’s one block from Union Station where you can catch the free tram to get to the neighborhood.
- Washington Court Hotel: gorgeous rooms though the prices can run a little higher than average, particularly in the busy spring and summer season. Some of the rooms have amazing views of the landmarks, particularly the Capitol building.
Anacostia, so-called because it’s located in the city’s southeast by the Anacostia River, is perhaps less well-known than other parts of the city that get most of the tourist traffic. It has suffered in the past from a reputation as a high-crime area, but that’s an unfair and inaccurate label that does a disservice to a unique neighborhood that blends greenery (the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail is gorgeous on a nice day) with history (the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum that focuses on urban life) and culture (check out the shops and restaurants on Cedar Hill, which is also the home of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass). There aren’t many major hotels in the neighborhood, but there are some good options reasonably close.
Three best places to stay in Anacostia:
- Stay Alfred: benefits of booking your stay here include a large seasonal outdoor pool, large and well-decorated rooms, and close proximity to Nationals Park — so if you’re a baseball fan this is a place you should really consider staying.
- Thompson Washington D.C.: you’ll still have to make either a long walk or a short drive or subway ride to get to Anacostia from this hotel, but its central location is hard to beat. It’s a four-star hotel so expect four-star quality but also four-star prices.
- Residence Inn Washington Capitol Hill/Navy Yard: much like the Thompson Washington D.C. you’ll be staying over the bridge from Anacostia but still not too far away. And this hotel has reasonable rates compared to some others in the vicinity.
Foggy Bottom is home to Georgetown University and its associated hospital, so expect a large student population as several dorms are located in this neighborhood. But even though much of the area is devoted to residences, you’ll still find some one-of-a-kind restaurants and other things to explore. And it’s also home to the internationally renowned Kennedy Center where you can find a rotating list of ballets, operas, musicals, plays, concerts and more. Check out the venue’s website to potentially plan your trip around a performance. And on the pleasant stroll to the Kennedy Center you’ll also see the infamous Watergate complex from the 1970s scandal of the same name, which is two buildings divided into private condos and hotel rooms.
Three best places to stay in Foggy Bottom:
- Hotel Hive: ultra-modern hotel with a wonderful rooftop terrace to enjoy the view across into Georgetown as well as parts of downtown D.C. If you’re seeing a performance at the Kennedy Center this hotel is about a 10 minute walk away.
- State Plaza Hotel: simple but affordable accommodations in the center of Foggy Bottom, making it a suitable starting point for your exploration of the area. Has all the usual extras you’d expect including a gym, business center, and more.
- Residence Inn Washington: a big benefit of staying here is the free continental breakfast so you can get a good meal before heading out to see the sights. Very close to the Watergate complex and the George Washington University campus.
Separated from Foggy Bottom by bridges that take just a few minutes to walk across, Georgetown can seem like a world away from the rest of the city. This incredibly affluent area features Colonial-style houses on quiet leafy streets, although the busy M Street NW that cuts through the heart of the neighborhood is lined with boutique shops, high street fashion brands, fine dining options, and more. But that’s not to say Georgetown isn’t welcoming to just the big spenders, because it also features affordable places to eat and drink, a beautiful waterfront to stroll around and look over the Potomac River, and plenty of great photo opportunities on some of the cobblestone streets. Worth a visit even if you choose to stay elsewhere.
Three great places to stay in Georgetown:
- Four Seasons Washington D.C.: located at the very start of Georgetown by the bridge connecting to Foggy Bottom, this luxury hotel is the choice of many celebrities when they are in the city. Expensive but has the high quality of service and rooms to match it.
- The Georgetown House: a cute small boutique hotel right in the heart of Georgetown, so it’s a short walk to get to some of the best shops and restaurants that the city has to offer. Simple amenities and limited housekeeping, but affordable for the area.
- The Graham Washington DC. Georgetown: a Hilton Tapestry brand hotel, this four-star hotel is a good example of the type of price and quality of accommodation on offer in this neighborhood: elevated prices but a higher standard of room as well.
This neighborhood is perfect for lovers of nature and animals, because its main attractions are the impressive Smithsonian Zoo and the nearby sprawling Rock Creek Park — a green oasis in a neighborhood that blends residential with independent restaurants, bars and shops. Much like Georgetown, it’s an area home to high-income earners and many of the tree-lined streets house expensive homes and condo buildings. The zoo is a top draw for visitors from around the world, while Rock Creek Park is a great place to hike, run, or simply just relax. Come to Woodley Park if you’re looking for a more laid-back time during your visit to D.C.
Three best places to stay in Woodley Park:
- Washington Marriott Wardman Park: This hotel is HUGE and easy to spot from blocks away. It’s a very short walk from the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan subway stop, making it the perfect starting point for exploring the city.
- The Kalorama Guest House: If you don’t want to stay at a chain hotel, consider this cute bed and breakfast that has cozy rooms at a fair price. Accommodations are limited at just 12 rooms, so book quickly if you know you want to stay here.
- Kimpton Glover Park Hotel: It’s a little more expensive than the average hotel to stay here but you’ll very modern, incredibly sleekly decorated rooms with all the regular perks. Another bonus is a shuttle bus that will take you to certain destinations in the city.
If you’re wondering about the unusual name of this neighborhood, it’s simply based on the fact it describes a certain area north of Massachusetts Avenue NE. Here’s where you’ll find Union Station that serves Amtrak lines throughout the country, but is also a beautiful tourist attraction in its own right. The station has been preserved over the years and its marble-lined interior is packed with main street and independent shops selling beauty products, clothes, food and drink, and more. And speaking of food, the other big draw in NoMa is the relatively new Union Market — a massive food hall featuring local vendors. You can either sample a lot of different foods here, or get orders to go. My favorite is the comfort food place Puddin’ featuring classics like gumbo and grits, as well as perhaps the best bread pudding around.
Three best places to stay in NoMa:
- Courtyard Washington D.C.: if convenience to get around the city is your priority then there is no hotel in NoMa better situated than this. It’s adjacent to the NoMa subway stop and has decent quality rooms at lower prices than other neighborhoods.
- Hyatt Place Washington D.C: this venue has competitive rates given the size and quality of the accommodations, which are all modern and clean and comfortable. And like other hotels in the District it boasts an outdoor pool that’s open in the warmer months.
- Hilton Garden Inn Washington DC .: you’ve probably noticed that all the options in NoMa tend to be chains rather than boutique hotels. And this spot is no different, serving up the regular amenities you’d expect from a Hilton at typical prices for the company.