Road Trip in Washington DC

There is no city like our nation's capital. Packed with free museums, incredible monuments, and historic sights like The White House, visiting D.C. plants you deep into the United States' storied history. This guide will help you along your Washington D.C. road trip.

Driving in Washington, D.C.

D.C. Traffic Patterns

The only problem to overcome during a visit to D.C. is traffic. Washington, D.C. has historically complicated traffic patterns, including roundabouts, diagonal streets, and a significant park system transecting the city.

The most important thing to watch out for is the quadrant indicator for any address you obtain. Washington, D.C. is divided into four sections: NE, NW, SE, and SW.

FOR EXAMPLE: In the city, “7th Street, NE" and “7th Street, NW" are two different streets running parallel to each other in different sectors of the city. It would be normal to think it was one street that crossed quadrants—but that is not the case.

It's always good to look at a map of Washington, D.C. before getting in the car. Or even better, take advantage of their very comfortable Metro system.

Traffic Rules in the District

A great way to ruin a vacation is to get a ticket because you weren't aware of local driving laws. Though District of Columbia doesn't differ significantly from other states' general rules, it is always good to see what traffic regulations exist in an area you may not be familiar with.

Washington, D.C. publishes a useful driver's manual with information on its traffic rules.

Major D.C. Roads

Washington, D.C.'s major roads:

  • Interstate 495—I-495 is known by its colloquial name—the Washington Beltway. Encircling the whole city and then some, the Beltway is split between Maryland and Virginia. You'll often hear the terms “inner and outer loop" to reference the direction of the Beltway.
  • U.S. Route 50—Route 50, or New York Avenue, is one of the main arteries connecting people with the eastern border of the city and onto the Beltway.
  • Interstate 395—I-395 begins at Route 50 and is an important connector in and out of Virginia.
  • U.S. Route 29—Route 29 runs north/south parallel to 16th Street.
  • U.S. Route 1—Route 1 (aka Rhode Island Avenue) cuts through Washington, D.C. from southwest to northeast toward Baltimore, MD.

Activities & Sightseeing in D.C.

As the capital of our country and one of the most historic cities in the nation, there are plenty of things to do in Washington, D.C. Here are just a few suggestions.

Monuments & Museums

The National Monument sits at the base of the Washington Mall and is hard to miss. It kicks off a long trail filled with monuments built to honor some of this country's greatest historical figures and events, including:

  • The Vietnam War.
  • The Korean War.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • Thomas Jefferson.
  • Abraham Lincoln.

Walking or biking around the Tidal Basin where many of these monuments sit, and which is filled with cherry blossoms in the spring, is one of the quintessential tours to take in the city.

If your legs have any power left after that, it's a short walk to some of the most impressive museums in the country. The National Gallery, plus the various Smithsonian institutes, such as the Air & Space Museum—these are all located on the Mall and are free.

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The White House & Government Buildings

No trip to Washington, D.C. is complete without a stop at the White House. The iconic Pennsylvania Avenue address is not far from the main monuments and museums. Even if you don't plan to tour the inside, it's still fun to walk by and take a look.

The White House isn't the only government building worth checking out. The U.S. Capitol is another iconic building to visit and if you're lucky, you may even see leading politicians at work. Across the street from the Capitol is the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress, two more exceptional buildings among many to see.

Rock Creek Park & Georgetown

If you're looking for something less traditional, or would prefer to get some exercise in, Rock Creek Park is the place to go. Spanning a large swath of land inside the District, Rock Creek Park has trails for walking and hiking, bike paths and a modest creek to splash in. It's also adjacent to the National Zoo, another Smithsonian institution and a free activity kids are sure to love.

If you're in the mood for a little shopping in a quaint, old part of town, head over to Georgetown. This area is one of the most charming parts of the city, with beautiful water vistas, lovely old streets and houses to look at, and the historic Georgetown University to top it off.

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