Downtown, Washington, D.C. Travel Guide
- Convenient, central location close to the Washington Monument, the National Mall, and Smithsonian museums
- Home to the White House, Pennsylvania Avenue, Lafayette Park, and the heart of the K Street business district, which is full of lawyers and lobbyists during business hours
- Easy access to Metro Center Metro stop, a major transfer point on the Red, Blue, and Orange subway lines
- Many quality hotels across the price spectrum
- Downtown area can feel empty at night after office workers depart.
- Restaurants, cafes, and shops tend to close early at night and on weekends.
- Street parking is a blood sport.
What It's Like
Roughly bordered by Massachusetts Avenue to the north, 14th Street to the east, 21st Street to the west, and Pennsylvania Avenue and the White House to the South, what we are here calling downtown is sometimes known as midtown in order to distinguish it from the Penn Quarter area to the east. Pierre-Charles L'Enfant's original downtown design hosts government and corporate office buildings, as well as department stores including Macy's and Filene's Basement (D.C. classics Woodward & Lothrop and Garfinckel's are long gone). The area boasts an impressive amount of Beaux Arts, Greek Revival (U.S. Treasury Building), and Renaissance Revival (National Museum of Women in the Arts architecture for which the capital is well known. Vibrant by day, but often desolate by night, downtown is an excellent neighborhood from which to launch an exploration of D.C.'s major sites and museums.
Three Metro lines serve the downtown area passing through five stops. (Red Line stops are Metro Center and Farragut North; Blue and Orange Line stops are Farragut West, McPherson Square, and Federal Triangle.) Taxis are abundant and Metro buses are everywhere, but the downtown quadrant is pleasantly walkable.
Where To Stay
The downtown area contains a wide range of quality hotels across the price spectrum -- though, in general, D.C. is a relatively expensive hotel market. As throughout much of the city, however, prices tend to fluctuate dramatically between weeknights (when high demand from business travelers pushes prices especially high) and weekends (when hotels generally empty out and the hotels compete more for leisure dollars). You'll find some of the city's most historic and ornate hotel properties here, as well as some of its fanciest boutiques. The 144-room Hay-Adams, for example, is one of the most famous hotels in the city, and deservedly so --- among other notable guests, the Obamas stayed there for the two weeks leading up to the inauguration. The 193-room Donovan House is run by the uber-trendy Thompson Hotels group and has the high-design to prove it. The nearby Sofitel, meanwhile, is thoroughly European in style and substance -- hotel employees first speak to you in French --- and sits inside a historic landmark building from 1880 around the corner from Lafayette Square.