Washington city guide
Even before bringing sports into the equation, Washington, D.C. and the Capital Region are must-visits on most travelers’ lists. Its significance in domestic and international affairs is unquestioned, of course, and its place in American history and culture is almost unrivaled. Washington’s role as the center of government makes it unlike any other major city in the country.
But sports plays a big role in life in the District, as well, with all the major sports leagues represented, a pretty strong college scene and an array of interesting venues in which to watch the games. But with so many options for things to do in your spare time, you may find planning a visit to be a daunting task, especially if it’s your first time to D.C. Read on for some tips and advice for how to make the most of your trip.
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With the exception of the Redskins’ FedEx Field, just east of the D.C. border in Landover, Md., all of Washington’s pro sports venues are within District limits. However, none are really near each other, so some planning is needed if you plan on seeing games at more than one of them over the course of your trip. It isn’t a difficult task, though, if you know where you’re going (which is more complicated than it sounds in D.C. — more on that later).
Speaking of FedEx Field, rumors abound that the Redskins are looking to leave Landover and build a new stadium back within Washington’s borders. That remains a few years off but is something worth noting.
D.C. United of MLS boasts a new stadium, Audi Field, which opened in Washington’s Buzzard Point neighborhood near Nationals Park in 2018.
• Audi Field: Home of D.C. United. Located at 100 Potomac Avenue SW.
• Capital One Arena: Home of the Capitals and Wizards. Located at 601 F Street NW.
• FedEx Field: Home of the Redskins. Located at 1600 FedEx Way in Landover, Md.
• Nationals Park: Home of the Nationals. Located at 1500 S. Capitol Street SE.
Three airports serve the Capital Region:
• Dulles International Airport (IAD) is the primary entry point and is a hub for United Airlines, serving just about every major U.S. destination and many international ones. However, its distance from D.C.’s center is a point of contention among locals.
• Reagan National Airport (DCA) is just across the Potomac River from Washington — you get a close-up view of the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument on approach — but serves mostly regional destinations.
• Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) is located 30 minutes north of the city but offers several rail options for travelers to reach D.C.
For travel up and down the Eastern Seaboard, rail is preferred by many. Amtrak and commuter rail services MARC (for destinations in Maryland) and VRE (for destinations in Virginia) all converge at Union Station, from which transfers are available to the Washington Metro (more on that below).
Washington lies along the Interstate 95 corridor that runs near just about every major East Coast city, but 95 splits into a loop around the city known as the Capital Beltway (if you’ve ever heard a sports event involving a D.C. team referred to as the “Battle of the Beltway,” this is what it’s referring to). Washington’s network of streets and highways is notoriously confusing and visitors are typically advised to avoid driving into the city whenever possible.
Where to stay
Central D.C., particularly the area between the Capitol and White House and near the National Mall, has the highest concentration of hotels — and these are the most expensive. If you’re on a budget, you may find it worth it to search other areas of town (Dupont Circle, Georgetown and the Anacostia waterfront area near Nationals Park, for example) or nearby suburbs for cheaper lodging options. If the hotel is near a Metro stop, access to most points of interest in D.C. is not an issue.
Do yourself a favor, ditch the car and rely on the Metro, which takes you to nearly all places worth visiting in the city — including all pro sports venues. Get off at the Gallery Place/Chinatown station for Capital One Arena; Navy Yard-Ballpark for Nationals Park and Audi Field; and Morgan Boulevard for FedEx Field (though it’s a mile walk from there).
If you find yourself far from a Metro stop, such as at the Lincoln Memorial or other far-flung spots on the National Mall, bus service and taxis are frequent around town.
Parking spots are accessible but limited at both Capital One Arena and Nationals Park and fans are encouraged to use Metro (many fans will park and ride from a station in the suburbs). FedEx Field has a large parking lot but it’s notoriously hard to get in and out of it because of the volume of traffic on the relatively small access roads.
See how government works
Especially if it’s your first visit to D.C., you’ll want to at least get a glimpse of the U.S. Capitol and the White House. On most days at the Capitol you can do even more than that — go into the visitor center and join a guided tour. Or better yet, write your congressman or congresswoman in advance for a personal guided tour (likely led by a staff intern) and an opportunity to observe the House and/or Senate chamber if they’re in session.
Check out U.S. history
The good news is that most of Washington’s attractions are on the National Mall or within walking distance of it; the bad news is there are so many attractions that even two or three full days is likely not enough to fully experience the best of them. Here is just a sample of what you can see: The Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Washington Monument, any of the 19 Smithsonian museums (such as the National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of American History and National Museum of Natural History), the National Archives (where the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights are kept on display), Ford’s Theatre (site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865) and independent museums such as the International Spy Museum and the Newseum.
Sample local eats
Arguably D.C.’s most well-known eatery is Ben’s Chili Bowl, which serves a local favorite called a half-smoke (a half-beef, half-pork sausage). You can get it “all the way” with chili, cheese and mustard. Its main location is at 1213 U Street, but Ben’s operates stands at Nationals Park and FedEx Field as well. Half-smokes can also be found at many of the food carts that operate along the National Mall.
The U Street Corridor is also well-known for its large number of Ethiopian restaurants — if you’ve never tried Ethiopian food (traditionally eaten with the hands), a visit to D.C. is as good a time is any. One favorite spot is Dukem (1114-1118 U Street), which also hosts live music on occasion.
Wander the streets around the Verizon Center, or Pennsylvania between the Capitol and White House, for fine dining spots frequented by government officials and lobbyists. The Capital Grille (601 Pennsylvania Avenue) in particular has a reputation for being an epicenter of the D.C. power scene.
The college basketball scene is quite vibrant in and around town, with Division I programs at Georgetown (home games at Capital One Arena), George Washington, American and Howard, as well as just outside D.C. at Maryland (College Park, Md.) and George Mason (Fairfax, Va.). Maryland, which plays in the Big Ten, is your nearest option for college football as well.
For more pro sports, head half an hour north on the Parkway to Baltimore, home of MLB’s Orioles and the NFL’s Ravens. Both teams’ stadiums are downtown and easily accessible by rail from Washington’s Union Station as well. Check out our Baltimore city guide for more information.