How Safe Is Washington DC for Travel?

Washington DC, United States
Safety Index:
56

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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?

CitySafety Index
Washington DC56
Orlando64
Las Vegas62
San Francisco61
Philadelphia60
Manama (Bahrain)54
Tianjin (China)67
Brussels (Belgium)60

Useful Information

  • 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.
Click here to get an offer for travel insurance

Washington DC Weather Averages (Temperatures)

Jan 1° C
Feb 3° C
Mar 8° C
Apr 13° C
May 19° C
Jun 23° C
Jul 26° C
Aug 25° C
Sep 21° C
Oct 15° C
Nov 9° C
Dec 4° C
Choose Temperature Unit

Average High/Low Temperature

Temperature / MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High
°C
681319252932312721159
Low
°C
-4-327121720191583-1
High
°F
434655667784908881705948
Low
°F
252736455463686659463730

Where to Next?

22 Reviews on Washington DC

  1. I live in DC. Stay away from South East DC and you should be fine. There is no reason for tourists to visit the South East part anyway.

    1. What area is that?
      Were coming up there on vacation in October what areas should we stay away from?

    2. A
      Anonymous says:

      Cool city

      You realize parts of Cap Hill are in SE, right? All of SE isn’t dangerous, there’s a Whole Foods on MLK now LOL. You must be a transplant.

  2. C
    Charles Stephens says:

    DC is a violent City without police protection.

    You people are lying, I’m watching a crowd of BLM threaten people trying to enjoy their meal…No police, the people who work in the restaurant are doing nothing…and a couple just trying to enjoy their visit are threatened with violence and hate… Clean up your City DC, until then everyone should boycott…

    1. A
      Anonymous says:

      Domestic terrorism

    2. N
      Nerys Rozhenko says:

      D.C, eh.

      I mostly agree, it is pretty much domestic terrorism. Other than that I like the city, overpriced as a Capitol should be, “Uptight woke fam” as you would expect there to be. Safe enough when there isn’t any terrorism happening.

    3. D
      DC resident says:

      Good, we don’t need your kind here.

  3. T
    The DS killed Kennedy says:

    Leave before dark

    Stick to the monuments and any place where the American flag is displayed and leave before dark. Situational awareness and don’t trust blacks.
    If you get harassed at a restaurant, don’t pay. A restaurant is supposed to provide a secure environment.

    1. D
      DC Native says:

      Beware of Whites

      Actually, in Washington DC, you’re safest if you don’t trust whites.

    2. N
      N. Rozhenko says:

      Making us ALL look bad now.

  4. P
    Playfair says:

    Consider the Whole Picture

    Most tourists should not miss DC, be they museum hoppers, foodies, architecture buffs, armchair historians or people watchers. I have lived in and near DC for perhaps half my life. As a resident and commuter, I feel that the capital of the planet should have better stuff. As a tourist, I like to see everybody and everything, even neighborhoods that are “dangerous.” I am a woman of color in my sixties and not the same kind of target I might have been as a younger person. While it is true that an area can change significantly at night and it is a best practice to wind down your foray at daylight’s end, generally, if I speak the language and feel comfortable with the culture, I’ll go out in the evenings, although I will not drink alcohol or appear flimsy when I do so. You could also hire a cab or take a special tour available in DC to see the town at night. It has been my observation both here and abroad (I have visited Europe, Asia, Mexico, Africa, and 45 states) that many non-touristy neighborhoods, including the very poor, often have people who are eager to prove a bad reputation false and act as ambassadors for their part of town. There will be people in any host country/town who are hostile and others who appreciate the visit. I once had a group of skid row men jump up from their stoop and wave me away from a one-way street where someone had turned the sign the wrong way as a joke. Don’t let racism or classism waste your time or spoil your adventure. In any big city you should be aware and guard your valuables, whether resident or tourist, and be aware of the “tone” on any street you visit as well as any active political vibes.

  5. A
    Anonymous says:

    Lived in DC for past 10 years, it’s pretty safe. Just watch out for those Nazis on Cap Hill👍

  6. A
    Anonymous says:

    Who do you believe

  7. D
    DC Experincer says:

    See What it is?

    DC is relatively safe, just stay away from Brentwood, Deanwood, Anacostia, Stadium-armory and the Southeast DC quadrant. Then you should be fine. I recommend you stay in a place like somewhere near Union Station, or somewhere you think it is safe, after all, it is YOUR DECISION.
    Hope that helps!,
    DC EXPERINCER

  8. N
    Niki dom says:

    No way ,very dangerous place

    My son had is truck stolen in 1400 block of Sheridan street, a 2004 white Cadillac escalade truck . September 12-13,2021. You would not believe the bull shit we had to go through. Cops said call all these districts, could not locate vehicle .then found out my son’s tag from MD was put on a stolen car and the stolen car in a accident. The cops you had to talk to many district cops .needless to say nothing has been done ,no phone calls from cops. This is all you surreal. I wouldn’t go to dc never .avoid that place like the plague.

  9. Are you people for real?!

    We were planning a trip to DC for the Cherry Blossoms but after seeing the blatant racisms in these reviews we question our decision. We are used to people that are much more kind and open minded than this group………

    1. We’ve recently moved away from the DC area. It is NOT safe. Union Station (THE major travel hub for trains and buses) has become a homeless haven and the mall is empty of all but the homeless. Even Starbucks has left the area because they can’t keep their employees safe. The most honest thing I’ve seen in this review is that DC is just as safe as Baltimore. THAT is true. As a child, I used to ride the bus lines all over DC by myself. For the past few years I’ve avoided the city like the plague. IF you decide to visit, stay in highly populated tourist areas and make sure there is a police presence. Do not use public transport — taxis are a safer bet. Be aware of your environment and do not accidentally wander out of the safer areas. Do not flash cash. Do not make eye contact with the homeless or anyone acting oddly. Good luck

  10. I
    Isabelle says:

    A mixed bag

    Washington DC is a mixed bag in my opinion. It has areas that are very safe and some well protected ones by police. Other areas not so much. Protests can get out of hand sometimes and become unsafe so be careful if you are there and encounter one. There are some pickpockets that will try to go for your phone mostly as that’s the easiest thing they can get. Be very careful in buses as pickpockets are almost always there trying to find someone to steal from. Muggings do happen here but not as often as you’d think. Just don’t go into bad neighborhoods and don’t wander around at night alone.

    If you practice a little caution and pay attention to where you are and who is around you, you will avoid pretty much all problems. Ok, with that out of the way, there are a lot of things to do or visit in Washington. Here are a few I like:

    National Air and Space Museum – here you will find the original Wright Brothers Flyer (from 1903). This museum is filled with very important pieces of history like the Apollo 11 command module. There are also flight simulators which you can use for a fee and these allow both adults and children to experience flying.

    Washington has a lot of must-see museums, but the National Air and Space Museum should be the first you visit. Others are the National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History.

    I also liked the National Zoological Park which is imho one of the better zoos in the US. seeing everything this has to offer can take the better part of a day, if you really want to experience everything.

    There’s much to see in Washington and it should be on your radar but it’s not among the top 10 places to visit in the US in my opinion.

  11. C
    Caleb Satchwill says:

    Cool, but not the best.

    For 5 years, me and my family used to live near DC, then we moved away to Minnesota. About 5 years later, we visited back in Maryland to visit old friends again. We went through the city, to explore. When we went under the bridges, there there were homeless people everywhere! Then in the streets sometimes, there would be protests about whatever is going on. Also, some parts of the city just look ghetto, and even sometimes dangerous. But i’m not saying that this city is a bad place. Overall, DC is America’s capitol. Also its pretty cool, its very historic, luxurious, and fancy. The President lives here, or crying out loud!

    1. A
      Anonymous says:

      But just know where you’re going, and you’ll be fine.

Rated 3.5 / 5 based on 22 user reviews.

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