A Budget Traveler’s Guide to a Weekend in Washington DC

A Budget Traveler’s Guide to a Weekend in Washington DC*Some of the links contained in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.*
I like to call myself a weekend warrior. I work full time but that doesn’t mean I can’t travel. It just means I need to take full advantage of my weekends. The best thing about living in New York City is being able to plan a last minute getaway. One of my favorite things to do in spend a weekend in Washington DC.
If you live on the East Coast DC is the perfect weekend getaway. There are so many things to do, it is fairly inexpensive and it is pretty accessible. So if you are looking for a weekend getaway that won’t break the bank I would suggest you consider spending a weekend in Washington DC.
Weekend in Washington DC

Your Guide to a Weekend in DC

How to Get to Washington DC

Depending on where you are coming from there are many ways to get to DC. If you live in the Northeast getting to DC on the cheap is easy. Even if you are flying I have found some pretty cheap flights to DC as well.

Getting to Washington DC By Bus

Bolt Bus and Megabus are my to go tos when I am looking for a cheap getaway. Did you know that Megabus has a fare finder tool that gives you the opportunity to search for cheap bus tickets to anywhere. I love this feature because similar to how I play travel roulette with flights, you can play travel roulette with bus tickets.

The key to finding cheap ticket is to plan ahead. If you stalk both sites like I do, you may be lucky enough to find dollar fares. The sooner you plan the better chance you have of getting the deals however I have been lucky enough to find them even last minute.  I always start my planning here. Even if you are not sure whether the dates would work I would highly recommend booking your ticket anyway if you come across one of those coveted dollar fares.

Getting to Washington DC By Train

This option is a bit more expensive however if you are ok with spending the money the Amtrak is a great way to get to DC. Be on the look out for discounts. I have seen fares for $39 roundtrip. The trip is about under 4 hours which makes it quicker than the bus. You also don’t have to deal with traffic so might be worth the cost.

Both the Buses and Trains leave you in Union Station. Union station is DC’s transportation hub so getting to and from Union Station is incredibly easy. You can get around on the DC Circulator or take the metro to anywhere you need to go. It is incredibly convenient.

By Car

You really do not need a car in DC and I wouldn’t recommend driving in DC as parking can be a huge pain in the  …. But if you must drive I would suggest possibly picking a hotel just outside of the city that offers free parking. From there you can utilize public transportation to get in and out of the metro area.

By Plane

There are three airports to choose from in DC. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (airport code: DCA), Washington Dulles International Airport (airport code: IAD) and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (airport code: BWI). This means you have a ton of options to score a cheap ticket to DC if you prefer to fly.  I have seen flights from NYC for around $100.

Reagan National is the closet to the city center and is everyone’s first choice. What I love about this airport is that fact that it has a metro station which means you can get into DC fairly cheaply.

Dulles is my second choice. It is a bit further out however you can take a shuttle bus to the MetroRail which makes it easy and cheap to get into the city.

The last option is BWI. This is the furthest of the three and I do not normally fly out of this airport as I do not find it very convenient. But it is nice to know it is an option. Transportation into the city can be pricey from here so even if you find a good deal make sure to factor in transportation costs to and from the airport. 

Things to Do

One of the best things about DC is that most of the sights are free. There is no need to really have a big budget for this. That makes me a very happy traveler.

Go on a Bike Ride

DC is fast becoming very bike friendly. And it is a great way to see all the sights.  You can rent a bike but I would recommend taking advantage of DC’s bike share program. For $8 a day you can grab a bike from any of the stations. Rides are in 30 minute increments. So grab a bike, head to your next destination, park the bike and enjoy. And for $8 a day it is a cheap way to see the city and get your workout all in one shot.

Check out the Smithsonian Museums

You can spend the whole weekend visiting each of the over 15 Smithsonian Museums. They even have a zoo and a castle. The best part is that they are all free. That is music to this budget traveler’s ears. Of course the museums can get very crowded so make sure to plan ahead. I would recommend going either really early or near closing time. You might not make it to all 15 in a weekend (if you do let me know because you are my hero), but it is worth trying to visit at least one or two.

Free Walking Tours

I can count on one hand how many times I have paid for a tour. I personally think tours can be boring. However I am a huge nerd and when I travel I like to learn about everything. With so many resrouces on the internet it is easy to DIY your own walking tour.

If you are not up DIY-ing your own walking tour you an download a free walking tour from Frommers or check out a DC guide from the library. It really is that easy. And the money you save. Well you can use if for my next favorite thing to do. EAT!!!

Weekend in Washington DC

Where to Eat

Food- This is the most important right. So the whole time we were in DC we followed two rules. Boozy Brunch and Happy Hour  There are deals to be had.  Here are some of my finds:

Bar Charley– Brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday. For 24.99 you get an entree and your choice of unlimited Mimosas, Bloody Mary’s, or Gansett Tallboys. One of the most popular items on the menu is the Hangover Burger. Sounds like my kind of brunch.

Bistro Cacao– If you fancy some French cuisine you should check out this place. Not only do they offer a great brunch deal but the food is good. Brunch entrees start at $11. Add $10 for unlimited mimosas.

Medium Rare– They do a prix fixe for brunch. For $27.99 your get a two course meal and unlimited mimosas. Might be a bit more than you’re willing to pay however the menu has choices like Steak Frites and Eggs Benedict with a steak and mushroom hash. Add unlimited mimosas and this ends up being a really good deal.

District Commons– This is one of my fave spots in DC. I usually go for dinner for they have a great brunch. Entrees start at around $12 however add $16 and you get unlimited Mimosas or Bloody Mary’s for two hours. That is music to my ears. If Happy Hour is more your thing they also have happy hour that is available everyday of the week. Monday through Friday from 4-7 pm and 10-11 pm, Saturday 4-7 pm and Sunday 4 pm to close. Most cocktails, wines and beers are starting at $5. I love how that number sounds.

Acadiana– They do a great happy hour at the bar that has deals on both food and drink. You can do drinks and small plates for five bucks each which is a great deal at this top rated restaurant in DC. Happy Hour is Monday-Friday 11:30am – 7:00pm  and Sunday: 3:00pm – 9:00pm. That is probably my favorite part. A happy hour on a Sunday. Count me in.

Boqueria-I love this place They also do a happy hour from 3-7pm with drinks and small plates starting at five bucks. This is a really popular spot and their happy hour gives you an opportunity to try some of their amazing bites without breaking the bank.

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab– Half price drinks and Cocktail Hour Bites for under $5 makes this a great Happy Hour. Happy Hour is everyday from 2:30pm-6:30pm which makes it a perfect place to stop for a late lunch (or early dinner).

Where to Sleep

Hotel- Something that most people do not know is that getting a hotel on a weekend in DC for under $100 is actually easy. Most of the hotels in the area are business hotels which means that everyone checks out on Friday and doesn’t come back to Monday. This means you can take advantage of deal on those hotels. I use sites such as TripAdvisor to find deals. I also always look for refundable rooms. If for some reason I find a great deal before I figure out my transportation I can snatch it up without having to worry about losing money on my reservation.

Embassy Suites– One of the best things about the Embassy Suites is the breakfast. One of my travel tips is if you are going to stay at a hotel find one that offers breakfast. They also do an evening happy hour which I love as well. Free Breakfast and wine. Count me in.

Hyatt Place– If you are looking for the comforts of home or traveling with the family the Hyatt Place is also a great option. The rooms are very spacious and they also include free breakfast. Anytime I stay at the Hyatt Place I almost don’t want to leave my room. It is that good.

Kimpton Hotel- If I am not staying at the Hyatt when I visit DC you can find me at a Kimpton property. They have several properties to choose from all over DC. And what I love is that they are all different. Definitely a great option for the budget minded traveler.

Washington DC Hotel Deals! SAVE when you check rates with TripAdvisor.

What to Pack

Now let’s talk clothes. Because you will most likely be walking around I would highly recommend wearing something comfortable. When I pack for a weekend anyway I always try to pack pieces that will do double duty. For example, for a day of sightseeing I wanted to keep comfortable in a pair of Seychelles Ankle Boots, and my fave J Brand Black Skinny Jeans. I tried to dress it up with a silk button down that I could take into the evening without have to go back to the hotel to change. In the summer time swap out the black jeans for a pair of linen shorts or a romper and crocs. (I love my crocs).



*Some of the links contained in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

The Ultimate Guide to a Weekend in DC. Where to eat, sleep and play.

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