The Best Times to Visit Washington DC

Aug 12, 2019

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As our nation’s capital, Washington DC is a global political powerhouse and educational center, perfect for those looking for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how our country is run. But the city is home to much more than the state Senate, White House and politically-fueled arguments.

In Washington’s sundry neighborhoods, it is not difficult to find award-winning international cuisine, global and local culture, history, night life and art. While some choose to explore the city’s wide variety of museums and take part in enlightening tours, others paddle the Potomac River, wander among the Georgetown neighborhood’s colonial architecture and participate in festivals and events.

Regardless of your political views, Washington DC is always teeming with things to do.

The Best Weather in Washington DC

Like most cities in the mid-Atlantic region, summer in Washington DC can bring uncomfortably hot days, perfect for soaking up the air conditioning inside the Smithsonian Museum or another indoor attraction. July is the hottest and rainiest month, with average daily temperatures reaching the upper 80s and the city receiving over two inches of rain.

Winter occurs from December through February. Highs are often in the 40s, but freezing temperatures are not uncommon. During spring and fall, the summer crowds are no longer in full-swing and the days are warm and sunshine plentiful.

Spring

The Washington Monument in Spring. (Photo by JGI / Daniel Grill / Getty Images)
The Washington Monument in Spring. (Photo by JGI / Daniel Grill / Getty Images)

Each March and April, the National Cherry Blossom Festival — one of the city’s largest festivals — draws over 1.5 million visitors who come to see the blooming cherry blossom trees and to honor the American and Japanese cultures. The 4-week festival is comprised of over 50 events — most of which are free to the public. There is a wide variety of events and activities to take part in, like a blossom kite festival, live music and giveaways, parades and a street festival.

Summer

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival. (Photo by Tim Brown / Getty Images)
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival. (Photo by Tim Brown / Getty Images)

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which celebrates different cultures through art, music, food and dance, is another popular event that takes place for two weeks surrounding the Fourth of July. The goal of the festival is to honor cultural traditions through daily performances and activities on the National Mall. On Independence Day, things really kick off. The city celebrates with a fireworks show, free concert, a parade and other events. Since this can be one of the most crowded days of the year, it is recommended using the metro to get around the city.

Fall

The H Street Festival in Washington DC. (Photo by Stephanie Kenner / Shutterstock)
The H Street Festival in Washington DC. (Photo by Stephanie Kenner / Shutterstock)

Every September, the H Street Festival takes over 11 blocks on H street. This single-day 12-year-old bloc party has grown from 500 to 150,000 participants, and uses art as a vessel for economic growth in this historic neighborhood. During the party, there are 14 staging areas over 11 blocks featuring music of different genres, dance performances, fashion, poetry and more.

Winter

Ice rink skating in National Gallery. (Photo by krblokhin / Getty Images)
Ice rink skating in National Gallery. (Photo by krblokhin / Getty Images)

The Downtown Holiday Market, which is open daily for a month in November and December each year, celebrates the holiday season at 8th and F Streets NW. The Market boasts over 180 vendors selling food, crafts and souvenirs. There are also music performances and of course, Christmas songs.

When to Visit Washington DC to Avoid the Crowds

Washington DC — specifically, the National Mall area — tends to be crowded throughout the year. In the fall, winter and spring, large school groups wander the streets, learning about our political system. Rallies and protests can take place at any time, and governmental events often draw hoards of people and result in road closures.

Before visiting, make sure your dates don’t coincide with any events (unless that is your intention). And if avoiding the crowds truly is your main priority, avoid the National Mall entirely. November through February tend to be slightly less crowded than peak season, which occurs during the summer.

When to Visit Washington DC For Events

Between the festivals, rallies and political events, there is always something happening in Washington DC. To avoid spending the day looking for parking, we highly recommend taking the metro downtown.

The Best Time to Visit Washington DC For Outdoor Adventure

While Washington DC outsiders might rarely think of the capital as an outdoor-oriented city, there is actually no shortage of outdoor adventure. Rock Creek Park, the C and O Canal Towpath and Great Falls Park all offer great walking and hiking trails in the region. Many choose to paddle the Potomac River on kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards, which allows them to experience the city from a unique perspective.

Rock Creek Park, Washington DC. (Photo by WLDavies / Getty Images)
Rock Creek Park, Washington DC. (Photo by WLDavies / Getty Images)

Spring and fall are the best times to be outside, especially if you’re hoping to avoid the area’s extreme high and low temperatures. It can be busy in the spring, especially during the National Cherry Blossom Festival, but the weather makes it worthwhile.

The Cheapest Time to Visit Washington DC

Affordable Airfare

While the cheapest month to travel to Washington DC ultimately depends on where you’re traveling from, it is pretty safe to assume vacation weeks and holiday weekends will be pricier across the board, regardless of point of origin.

According to travel booking platform Skyscanner.com, the cheapest flights from New York City and Los Angeles can usually be found during mid to late summer. If traveling from Chicago, San Francisco or Dallas, you may have better luck waiting until September. By then, crowds will have dissipated and the summer heat will be on the decline. Flights from Seattle tend to be at their low in October.

Affordable Lodging

According to average daily rates collected by Priceline.com of hotels 2.5 stars and above, prices usually begin to rise in January and hit a high point of around $200 in April, before starting a decrease through the summer. They spike again in September and October before hitting a low of around $137 in December.

Bottom Line

Washington DC is the epicenter of our nation, home to plenty of politically-fueled events and attractions, cultural festivals and renowned museums, making it the perfect place to visit any time of year.

Featured photo by David Tato / Unsplash.

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