Welcome to the United States capital city – Washington, D.C.
While it’s not technically a state – it is the “District of Columbia.”
The constitution clearly outlines the specific requirements for the nation’s capital size and space limitations.
Washington shares a metro area with Virginia and Maryland and is the core of most government entities in the country.
This is also a city rich in history and monuments, with more than 20 million people visiting each year.
While many people are drawn to the National Mall, White House, and the U.S. Capital building, there are neighborhoods that feel nothing like a buttoned-up town of politicians, and D.C. actually has some great nightlife if you like to let loose.
There are also waterfront neighborhoods with fresh seafood, eclectic art houses, and a district to explore your creative side.
Whether you’re looking for trendy, hipster, cultural, or laid-back neighborhoods, Washington has something for everyone, and if you can’t find it here, there’s plenty more to explore across the river.
To see what’s trending on social media, search #MyDCcool for the latest posts.
Tours are also available by boat, ranging from fancy dinner parties looking at the skyline to exploring the cherry blossoms.
You can even cruise between the biggest spots in history.
Warnings & Dangers in Washington DC
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
Washington has a medium risk with a high crime rate but seems to be holding steady instead of seeing another surge. This city is crowded and moves fast, so you'll need your big-city safety skills and great situational awareness, but there's not a risk large enough to stop you from seeing the sights.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
Nearly 60% of people in D.C. ditch cars and opt to get around by public transportation. Washington has a rail and bus system, with stops in all the different neighborhoods. There's another system that can take you between Virginia and Maryland too. Taxis and rideshares are plentiful, and bikes are available for rent. The bridges to Virginia have bike lanes, so you can safely cross state lines if you want.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
You'll need to treat this as a medium risk, especially when using public transportation. Getting off and on the system can be a prime opportunity for pickpockets, since people are already being bumped into. Lower your risk by keeping all personal items close by. Use a cross-body purse and put your wallet in a jacket pocket or front pants pocket with a thick rubber band wrapped around it. That way, you'll feel the friction if someone tries to remove it.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Washington can be hit by hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, and major winter storms. All of the weather risks here come with plenty of warning, but you should review the emergency management plan before you come, just to ensure you're ready for the worst.
MUGGING RISK : MEDIUM
The robbery rate here is almost four times the national average, and even as it remains steady, the criminals are getting more violent and aggressive. Don't walk around at night unless you're in a well-lit area, preferably with a group of people. If you are confronted, just follow the instructions. Your only goal should be to save your life. Try to remember as much as possible without looking the criminal right in the eye.
TERRORISM RISK : MEDIUM
Unfortunately, Washington, D.C., is one of the biggest targets in the country and has already been attacked during 9/11. You should use extra vigilance here and do your part to help report any suspicious activity. You can report 24/7 to iwatchdc.org.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Scams in D.C. start before you even leave home with booking website scams. Study the warning signs of fake websites through the FTC website or stick to familiar sites you know are legitimate. If anyone approaches you in DC with an item, asks to use your phone, or needs help breaking down a large bill, just say no. It's sad that you can't just be helpful to people around you, but most of the people who approach you will be trying to scam you out of your money.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : LOW
Women should use the best safety precautions and avoid being out at night alone if possible, but nothing indicates women are at a greater risk than other genders. Part of being safer in D.C. is walking confidently, "like you own the town," as they say.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2022 Water Quality report shows full compliance with all federal standards and no violations. You can review freetapwater.org to find clean water around D.C. if you carry a refillable bottle. Also, it's worth noting that the city is working to replace all lead pipes by 2030. Lead pipes are one of the last risks for water contamination before it comes out of the tap.
Safest Places to Visit in Washington DC
Washington.org is the official tourism website for the District of Columbia.
The website includes a live chat function to ask questions as you review different sections.
Review the neighborhood map on the website, too, so you can see where each one is.
You want to stay close to where you’ll be visiting, and getting a cheaper hotel in a distant neighborhood will cost more in transportation fees.
From that website, look at the Washington D.C. Sightseeing Pass option.
This will offer bulk discounts on attractions, and some even include public transportation in the price.
By planning in advance, you’ll learn more about the city’s layout and be more comfortable getting between the different areas.
You can also order a Visitor’s Guide, get a DC Insider monthly newsletter with discounts, and/or get the DC on the Go-Go weekly email.
Each of these offers insight into city events with special deals and seasonal events.
The National Mall and Capital Hill are so popular and well-known that I don’t want to dive deep into those topics.
As a solo traveler, I’ve walked the National Mall several times and never once felt uncomfortable.
Well, except for when I wore two-inch heels instead of comfy shoes.
Adams Morgan is the neighborhood for you if you’re looking for nightlife.
You’ll find Michelin-rated restaurants here with unique shops.
There’s also the uber-chic LINE DC hotel housed in a church over a century old.
If you want an all-day brunch, even in the middle of the night, check out the Diner DC.
Dupont Circle is a sophisticated neighborhood with great people-watching disguised as relaxing.
I can’t help but laugh the first time I was in Dupont Circle.
I saw the cutest squirrel scurry by in a blur, and I commented to my colleague, “That was the largest squirrel I’ve ever seen.”
He paused a few moments before he said, “That was a rat.”
Rats aside, you’ll love this charming slice of history, and the 17th Street section is famous for its LGBTQ+-owned businesses.
Georgetown brings cobblestone streets and a sense of history as fresh baked bread scents fill the air.
There’s a canal that runs through the neighborhood, or you can go to the park along the river.
This is a shopping destination too, but don’t let that keep you from seeing some of the historic homes and museums in this neighborhood.
Another thing to remember when visiting D.C. is to schedule extra time than you normally would at a museum.
Since many of the attractions here, like the National Arboretum, represent a national scale, they will be much larger and more detailed than a museum in Peoria.
Places to Avoid in Washington DC
The easier way to stay out of dangerous neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., is to stick to the areas designed for tourism, entertainment, and history.
While the southeast section of the city is among the more dangerous, there are some pockets just north of the tourist areas a tourist who doesn’t know the city well could end up in.
Here’s one of the best ways to address this question that I’ve seen in my journalism career.
The Metropolitan Police Department has a “Crime Cards” system that is quite remarkable.
You will complete this sentence: “I want to explore ((types of crime))) over the past ((enter a time frame)) on a ((type of display)) map.”
The heat map function is very helpful because you can zoom in on the area and see the crime layer over the map layer.
You will get dashboards of information about that area, like how much crime has been up or down in the past week/month/year.
Then at the bottom of the page, you have all the contact information for the seven districts of the police department.
I am unsure if I could think of a better way to help you see the higher-crime neighborhoods during your visit.
Another great example, even when looking past violent crime, was that I discovered the neighborhood with the greatest risk of my car being broken into is Logan Circle.
Knowing that – I can use extra caution when I visit there, or maybe I’d opt to use a rideshare instead.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Washington DC
- Sign up for DC Police Alert. Use your hotel address so you can get notifications about crime in the area where you are staying. This is also a great way to avoid being a bystander at a crime scene, trying to get someone to tell you what’s happening. You’ll likely want the DC Alert app to get notifications of weather threats, road closures, and other civil emergencies.
- Download the DC311 app as well. This is a city app connected to all the departments and geo-targeted reports you can make for issues like a pothole or fallen tree branch. You can also check for any water quality issues here.
- If you have any crime information of a non-urgent nature, call the tip line at (202) 727-9099. You can be anonymous. Even if you aren’t 100% sure the information you have is helpful, you’d be surprised how much the smallest detail can help police. You can also text the tip line by putting 50411 on the TO: line. You won’t get a response since it’s anonymous, but the messages are monitored 24/7.
- If you or someone you see is the victim of a hate crime, there’s a hotline for that. Call (202) 727-0500. Washington, D.C., has a zero-tolerance policy for hate crimes.
- It’s worth reading the Safety & Prevention section of the police department’s website. The details are more than just “be aware of your surroundings.” The site goes as deep as telling you how pickpockets work, so you can be more prepared to avoid them.
- It turns out I wasn’t just very perceptive when I saw that rat in Dupont Circle. Washington, D.C., is known as one of the “rattiest” cities in the country. Searching online, you can see some pretty disturbing videos of the rats in action. There’s even a rat hotline you can call to report a sick or injured rat or to alert them to an infestation. That number is (202) 535-1954. It should go without saying but never feed or touch a rat.
- Even the idea of swimming in the Potomac River is a political debate, but you should avoid it – even on a hot day. If the water quality isn’t bad, the current might be. You can find other pools and places to cool off without getting in the dirty water. There are parts where it’s illegal to swim as of this publication, but those rules are going through the city council, so they might change by the time you arrive. Just – don’t.
- U.S. residents and foreign nationals can take White House tours, but it takes some leg work. Americans will need to request tickets through their congressional representatives’ offices, and those visiting internationally will need to request the tickets through the U.S. Embassy in their home country. You can request the tours as far as six months ahead of time, but you won’t be able to get them within three weeks of your visit.
- Some Metro stops are known for higher crime rates, muggings, or thefts. If you are using the Metro, always stay in a car with more people and avoid empty cars. Don’t put on headphones and/or stare at your phone. Stay aware of your surroundings and give that “don’t mess with me look” if you have one. Criminals are, more than anything, looking for a crime opportunity. Don’t give it to them.
- Never watch someone’s bag for them, even if you’re checking into a hotel and they need to “run to the restroom.” An abandoned bag could be holding a chemical or other dangerous weapon. If you see someone drop a bag and walk away, report it immediately. You never know which politician might be at that location. While it might sound overreactive, we just can’t afford to be anything but vigilant in today’s global climate.
So... How Safe Is Washington DC Really?
I could go on and on about specific crime data et al., but the police do a great job of laying that out for you online, and you’ll be able to get much more updated data than I have from 2021 (the official numbers, at least).
You should know that Washington has a high violent crime rate – about 65% higher than the national average.
Thefts are more than two-and-a-half times the national average.
The major concern for law enforcement in D.C. isn’t if crime is going up or down.
The crime that is happening – even when statistics remain steady – is getting more dangerous.
“It’s not just [the] snatching of the purse, it’s putting a gun in somebody’s face and robbing them, and that’s what people feel.
That’s what people fear.
That’s what people see in communities, day in and day out,” police Chief Robert Contee told the D.C. Council.
Another factor right now is that the criminal code in Washington is being redefined as of this publication.
This will be a complete overhaul of the original criminal laws written more than a century ago.
Opponents say the reduction in minimum time for certain crimes could put offenders back on the streets to re-offend.
Others claim the new code is too punitive and simply locks up a problem but doesn’t solve the root cause of crime or help an offender be rehabilitated.
Now, as a tourist, you won’t need to get into the weeds of the policy changes.
You should just know that your safety largely depends on having common sense and situational awareness while researching the different areas and limiting your time out at night alone as much as possible.
How Does Washington DC Compare?
|Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)||43|
|Siem Reap (Cambodia)||63|
|Phnom Penh (Cambodia)||61|
|Niagara Falls (Canada)||87|
- Visas - The U.S. State Department oversees the visa process, and everyone visiting from outside the country will need either a visa or a visa waiver. The department has a robust visa website explaining the process and a simple module to help you search for the right one.
- Currency - All purchases will be made in U.S. Dollar currency. You can exchange money here if you'd like, but credit cards are widely accepted and encouraged. Credit cards offer the best fraud protection, even more so than debit cards.
- Weather - D.C. is a pretty conservative fashion town with business professional attire if you're here for any kind of work event. You will want comfortable shoes for all the walking you'll be doing. Winter will require insulation and warm outerwear, and summers can be hot and muggy. Spring is beautiful, especially when the cherry blossoms bloom, but if you're prone to allergies, bring medication for it.
- Airports - Ronald Reagan International Airport is just four miles away, but as I look at the traffic map during rush hour - it will take at least 30 minutes to get there. One thing to note about this airport is that planes taking off must make a sharp turn when they get to a certain altitude to get out of White House air space. It can be a little surprising if you aren't prepared for it. Dulles International Airport is another option, but that's about an hour away.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance offers peace of mind when you travel for a cost that's about 5-10% of your total flight cost. If you buy insurance when you book the trip, you'll be protected starting immediately - even if you need to cancel.
Washington DC Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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