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Frequently Asked Questions

BEFORE YOU VISIT...

If you're interested in touring the White House or the U.S. Capitol during your visit, contact your congressional representative or senator at least two months prior to your arrival.  All White House tours must be arranged through a member of congress; tours of the U.S. Capitol may be arranged upon your arrival, but you can avoid waiting in line by making advance arrangements.  International visitors should contact their embassies in Washington, DC for guidance.

Tickets to some of the city's most popular ticketed attractions like the Washington Monument, the International Spy Museum, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum can also be arranged in advance.  Check the attractions listing at www.washington.org

 

Geography

Located midway along the eastern seaboard of the United States, south of Maryland, north of Virginia and 233 miles south of New York City, the Washington, DC metropolitan area refers to the District of Columbia, plus 7 Maryland counties (Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's), 5 Virginia counties (Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon, Prince William and Stafford) and 6 Virginia cities (Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax City, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park).
 
The District of Columbia is 67 square miles and is divided into 4 quadrants: Northwest, Southwest, Northeast and Southeast. The U.S. Capitol building marks the center where the quadrants meet. Numbered streets run north and south. Lettered streets run east and west (there are no J, X, Y or Z streets), becoming two-syllable names, then three-syllable names as you travel farther out from the center. Avenues named for US states run diagonally, often meeting at traffic circles and squares.

 

Elevation

Highest is 420 feet; lowest is sea level.

 

Population

The population is approximately 572,000 in Washington, DC proper and 5.4 million for the entire metro area.

For more information, go to the  U.S. Census Bureau.

 

Climate

Experience the glory of all four seasons here in Washington, DC. Warm weather usually prevails from April until as late as October. Winters are short here, with more rain than snow. Monthly high and low average temperatures follow (Fahrenheit/Celsius):
 

Month High Low
January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

44/5

46/8

54/12

66/19

76/25

83/29

87/31

85/30

79/26

68/20

57/14

46/8

30/-1

29/-1

36/2

46/8

56/14

65/19

69/20

68/20

61/16

50/10

39/4

32/0

 

Parking

Parking is restricted during rush hours and some weekend hours (check posted hours on street signs). If your vehicle is towed Friday after 7 pm, or any time on weekends, you won't be able to retrieve it until Monday after 9 am For details, contact the DC Dept. of Motor Vehicles, 301 C St. NW, Washington, DC 20001; phone: (202) 727-5000.
 

 

Sales Tax

Washington, DC: Sales tax is 5.75%. DC hotel tax including sales tax is 14.5%. Food and beverage tax is 10%.

Maryland: Sales tax is 5%. Hotel tax varies by county with most counties averaging between 5% and 8%.

Virginia: Sales tax is 5%. Hotel tax varies by county with most counties averaging between 9.5% and 10%.

 

Answers to questions about visiting the White House, U.S. Capitol, Museums & Monuments and more!

Q: Which attractions require tickets?
A: Many of Washington, DC's major attractions are open for the public and do not require tickets, including the museums of the Smithsonian Institution and the National Zoo, the National Gallery of Art and the national monuments and memorials.  Washington, DC's most popular ticketed attractions, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Washington Monument and the International Spy Museum, allow visitors to avoid waiting in line by pre-reserving their tour tickets for a small fee.

Visitor's can pre-reserve individual tickets for the Washington Monument for  a fee of $1.50 per ticket by calling 1-877-444-6777 or visiting www.recreation.gov.  For groups, call 1-877-559-6888.  If you do not pre-reserve your tickets to the Washington Monument, plan to arrive early in the morning for ticket distribution.  Tickets are distributed at the 15th Street kiosk (east of the Monument) beginning at 8:30 am daily.  Lines may form much earlier in the morning.

Timed passes are need for the permanent exhibition at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Passes are free and are distributed daily beginning at 10am on a first-come, first-served basis.  You can pre-reserve tickets for a small service charge through Tickets. com (for groups of 21 or smaller).  Groups of 21 or more qualify to make a scheduled visit  to the museum for the Permanent Exhibition: The Holocaust or the current Special Exhibition.  Group reservations are free and must be submitted using the Museum's online reservation system.  Requests are processed on a first-come, first-served basis, and may be submitted 24 hours to 12 months in advance of the visit date.  It is highly recommended that groups who wish to visit during the spring and summer months complete their reservations well in advance of their visit date due to high demand during that period.  Visit www.wshmm.org or call (202) 488-0400 for additional information.

The Bureau of Engraving & Printing requires tickets for its tours from March through August only; these tickets are only distributed on the day of your visit, beginning at 8am.  Lines form early, and during peak season, tickets are often distributed by 9am.  Reservations are required for Groups which take place 11:00 am to 12:15 pm.  (50 people max per tour)  Complete a Group Reservation Request Tour Form by visiting www.moneyfactory.com and fax it to (202) 874-6331.  The Bureau is closed on weekends, federal holidays and the week between Christmas and New Year's Day.

The U.S. Capitol is open to the public for tours Monday through Saturday.  Tickets are also required to tour the U.S. Capitol.  To guarantee availability, you should reserve your tour in advance online at www.visitthecapitol.gov.  You may also want to obtain Gallery Passes from the office of your Senators or Representatives.  Visit the web sites at www.senate.gov or at www.house.gov for further information.  Tickets and reservations are not required to visit the Capitol Visitor's Center itself, including the Exhibition Hall, the Gift Shops and the Restaurant.  International Visitor's should contact their embassy in Washington, DC for guidance.

Tour of the White House are only available by advance arrangement through your member of Congress.  You can contact your representative or senator's office up to six months in advance to request a tour.  More information is available at www.whitehouse.gov

Visits to Ford's Theatre National Historic Site do require tickets.  Tickets can be reserved by visiting www.fords.org or through Ticketmaster.  Ford's Theatre, the Ford's Museum and the Peterson House are open year-round, including weekends and holidays.  The site is closed on Christmas Day.  Additionally, if the Federal Government should close to inclement weather, the site will do likewise.

While the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Museums do not require tickets, you may want to check schedules in advance to take advantage of guided interpretive tours, lectures, IMAX movies and other programs.


Q: When do the Cherry Blossoms bloom?
A: The National Cherry Blossom Festival is planned to coincide with the blooming of the trees.  Peak bloom dates usually occur in early April, though weather conditions can accelerate or delay the bloom dates.  For information about the festival, visit www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.


Q: What are the future dates of the National Cherry Blossom Festival?
A: The 2010 Festival will be March 27-April 11, 2010 with the parade on Saturday, April 10, 2010.


Q: What events are planned for Memorial Day Weekend?
A: As you might expect, Memorial Day weekend is a popular time to pay respects to veterans at the Vietnam, Korean and World War II Memorials, along with Arlington Cemetery and the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps Memorial.

On Sunday, the annual Rolling Thunder bike rally pays homage to the nation's veterans, particularly those still missing in action or prisoners of war, as more than 250,000 motorcyclists ride from the Pentagon to the Capitol.  On Sunday evening, you can also catch a free concert by the National Symphony Orchestra, beginning at 8pm on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.  On Monday, visitors can catch the National Memorial Day Parade, stepping off at 2pm on Constitution Avenue.  Special wreath-laying ceremonies take place at the memorials during that day.


Q: What happens on the Fourth of July?
A: The Fourth of July is a very exciting time to be in Washington.  There are festivities throughout the day, leading up to a spectacular fireworks display at night.

The National Cathedral offers a free concert of patriotic music beginning at 11am.  The Fourth of July Parade travels down Constitution Avenue, beginning at 12 noon.  During the afternoon, you'll find many interesting activities taking place on and near the National Mall.  The National Archives' family-friendly programming includes a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence and special appearances by costumed historical characters like Ben Franklin and Martha Washington.  The Smithsonian Folklife Festival will also be in full swing with music, performances, crafts and cuisine.  There will be concerts by military bands taking place on the grounds of the Washington Monument.

An evening concert featuring an all-star cast begins at 8pm on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol.  The National Symphony Orchestra also performs during the spectacular fireworks show, which begins just after 9pm.  No alcohol is permitted on the Mall, and guests should expect to pass through security check points.  The celebration takes place rain or shine.


NOTE: Security screenings at federal buildings, monuments, and museums prohibit the following items:

  • sprays (aerosol and non-aerosol)

  • food and beverages

  • oversized bags of any kind

  • knives of any length

  • razors

  • box cutters

  • mace

  • pepper spray

  • any battery operated electronic devise (White House & US Capitol tours)