Locals Reveal 10 Insider Tips for Moving to Washington, DC

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Updated on March 27th, 2024

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Are you thinking about moving to Washington, DC? The District of Columbia may be known for the city’s rich history and iconic landmarks. However, there’s so much more to living in Washington, DC.

The bustling city of DC is full of vibrant culture, international flavors, and historic neighborhoods to explore – such as Georgetown and Cleveland Park. It’s no surprise DC is an appealing place to settle down. If you’re looking to buy a house in Washington, DC or rent an apartment in the city, you’re most likely interested in hearing what DC residents have to say about the city. From the locals themselves, here are 10 tips for moving to Washington, DC.

Empty streets of downtown Washington DC

10 tips for moving to Washington, DC

1) Embrace the political culture

“Everyone here is very up-to-date on politics,” shares Nicole Schaller, Assistant Editor of District Fray, a source for lifestyle and entertainment news in the DC area.  “It is the city’s favorite pastime, and we sometimes treat it like a playoff game or championship. I have been to many bars to watch U.S. Presidential debates and hearings. It is not uncommon to enter a rideshare and the driver wants to discuss the breaking news story of the day as NPR plays in the background. The best part is that the District often feels like an international hub, with so many different cultures coming together to learn and grow from one another.”

If you’re new to the city, Schaller also has a few local spots she recommends checking out:

  • Emissary Cafe in Dupont Circle (great for remote working if you don’t have WiFi when you first move in)
  • Peirce Mill, Rock Creek Park (great for runs, walks, and biking)
  • Gypsy Kitchen Rooftop in Logan Circle
  • Renwick Gallery near Downtown
  • Dew Drop Inn (favorite dive bar) near Brookland

2) Take advantage of endless arts and culture opportunities, DC has to offer

Courtney Whittington, Owner/Founder of DC Area Moms explains, “This beautiful city has so much to offer residents with cultural events and world-class museums.” It’s home to a vibrant arts and culture scene, with a wide range of opportunities for visitors and residents to engage with the arts. 

The Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum complex, offers a wealth of art, history, and science exhibits, as well as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the National Portrait Gallery. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is another major cultural destination, offering performances of theater, dance, and music. Additionally, the city is home to several smaller theaters and performance spaces, as well as galleries and art museums such as the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Phillips Collection, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Washington, D.C. also hosts many annual festivals and events that celebrate the arts and culture, such as the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the National Cherry Blossom Festival, and the DC Jazz Festival.

3) Purchase a WMATA SmarTrip pass to explore your new city

“Washington, DC is a city rich in history that is easy (and often free) to explore,” states Washington, DC-based content creator, Kaylannk. “I recommend you purchase a WMATA SmarTrip pass and start your exploration. 

The WMATA SmarTrip card is a rechargeable fare card used for public transportation in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area, including the Metro subway system, buses, and select regional trains. With SmarTrip, riders can save money with off-peak fares and transfer discounts, making it a convenient and cost-effective option for transportation in the Washington D.C. area.

“Your first stop on the metro should be Foggy Bottom,” continues Kaylannk. “There you can spend the day in Georgetown and spend the night at the Kennedy Center for a show. You can spend the day in Georgetown shopping, viewing historical landmarks, walking along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, or my favorite dining along the waterfront at Sequoia DC. You can end the day of leisure by taking the Kennedy Center shuttle bus to your night show.”

Cobblestone road in Georgetown

4) Visit DC before making the move

Travel blog Lady Out of Office suggests visiting Washington, DC before making the official move.

Exploring Washington, D.C. prior to your move can prove advantageous. You can gain insight into the city’s diverse neighborhoods and communities, immerse yourself in its culture and leisure activities, utilize the public transportation, and get to know the locals. With this valuable knowledge, you can determine the most suitable area to live in and have an idea of what to expect once you relocate to the nation’s capital.

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay during your visit, “Check out Sofitel DC Hotel, a luxurious and French-inspired family-friendly stay in the heart of DC,” says Lady Out of Office. “The hotel is two blocks or about 6 minutes from the White House, about a mile from the National Mall, and 2 miles from the United States Capitol.”

5) Live in a walkable neighborhood

“Pick a neighborhood that you can walk around in,” recommends DC-based creative director, stylist, and wedding planner Elizabeth Carberry. “One that you can find everything you need within a few blocks of a brisk walk. It’s the best way to take in the city from Capitol Hill to the Mall, to TenleyTown. Finding a neighborhood to have your local coffee shop, grocery store, hardware store, gym, or kids playground in walking distance will make all the difference. 

Carberry shares her experience living in DC, “I’m partial to Logan Circle, as I was a resident for more than 10 years of that neighborhood. In our early twenties we had Stoney’s for Sunday football games, Whole Foods, and Flow Yoga for a sweat. As we grew older we had Slipstream for breakfast and coffee, Batch 13 for a bottle, Le Diplomate for a bite and then Garrison Elementary School playground, all within walking distance.”

Check out some more walkable neighborhoods in Washington, DC

6) Take advantage of the city’s abundance of nature

“The city is very walkable and bike friendly,” says local blogger Jessica Folmar of Diamond in the District. “There are tons of national parks (the most of any city per capita) and walking, biking, and hiking trails that are easily accessible from most residential neighborhoods.”

She goes on to share, “In addition to the walking trails near the monuments, there are a number of public golf courses that are open to the public with great views. Rock Creek Park and Teddy Roosevelt island offers hiking trails that offer an escape from city life. Lastly, the water views of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers can be enjoyed from many rooftop bars or nature trails.”

A biker cycling on the biking trail along the Potomac River, an activity many people partake in after moving to Washington DC.
azndc via Getty Images

7) Live like a local, but explore like a tourist

“If you’re thinking of moving to Washington DC, my best tip is to make the most of your move by experiencing as much of the city’s culture as possible,” recommends Trever Faden, CEO of DC property management company Atlas Lane. “Enjoy a thriving ethnic food scene, from Afghan cuisine at Lapis in Adams Morgan to Los Hermanos in Columbia Heights for Dominican bites. Plus, the Smithsonian offers free admission to all of their DC museums.”

8) Be prepared for the cost of living 

The cost of living in Washington, D.C. is generally higher than the national average. Housing is one of the biggest expenses, with the median sale price in the city being $630,000 which is significantly higher than the national average of $388,100. Rent prices are also high, with the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Washington, DC being around $$2,452 per month.

However, the city does offer many free or low-cost activities such as visiting the Smithsonian Museums, attending events on the National Mall and many local parks. Overall, Washington, D.C. may have a high cost of living, yet its cultural and professional opportunities make it an appealing place to live and work for those who yearn for a cosmopolitan city.

9) Enjoy the city’s wide variety of delicious food

One of the most notable aspects of the D.C. food scene is the variety of cuisine available. “With over 175 foreign embassies and international residences, you can find just about any food you’d like from Thai and Ethiopian, to Salvadorian and Italian, and everything in between,” says Monica Barnett, a local wardrobe stylist and lifestyle blogger of Blueprint for Style.  “There’s over 20 Michelin-star restaurants you have to check out, but start with a visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street for a famous half-smoke and go from there.” 

10) Learn about the history that surrounds you 

Take the time to learn about the history of your new house and neighborhood. There is so much to uncover about DC beyond its national significance. As you put down roots, you will feel a deeper connection to your new home by knowing more about its vibrant culture and history. Places like the DC History Center and the DC Public Library are great avenues for this type of discovery.

“From the monuments and memorials that line the National Mall to the inspiring speeches and debates that take place on Capitol Hill, the city is filled with reminders of the sacrifices and achievements of those who have shaped our nation,” explains Jeff Lockard, Senior Vice President of Lockard + Smith. “The world-class museums, galleries, and music venues make our city an ideal place to explore and gain new perspectives on history, art, science, and much more. Life is stimulating and fulfilling in our nation’s capital city.”

The Lincoln Memorial Monument
Bkamprath via Getty Images

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Moving to Washington, DC? Explore the city’s many neighborhoods

Whether you’re looking for an affordable Washington, DC suburb or you’re drawn to the idea of living in a lively neighborhood, one thing is for certain: The DC housing market has something for everyone. 

“A tip for moving to Washington DC is getting an idea of the different personalities of each neighborhood to figure out which one suits where you are in life right now,” suggests Heather Bien, a local writer and lifestyle blogger. “When I was younger, I loved the busyness of living in between Adams Morgan, U Street, and 14th Street, but now I love the quiet charm of Capitol Hill’s historic streets. Within just a few blocks, I can quickly walk to specialty grocery stores, the farmers market full of artisans and vendors at Eastern Market on Saturdays and Sundays, and lots of shops and restaurants.”

Here are a few popular DC neighborhoods that you should check out:

Capitol Hill

“The Capitol Hill neighborhood is a great place to live because of its walkability and “small town” feel,” says travel blogger Sarah Hubbart of The Wandering Road. “The best way to get to know it is by going for a stroll to search for street art, peruse the many local shops, or enjoy the green space at Lincoln Park. No weekend is complete without a stop by Eastern Market, the longest-running farmers market in the city.”

Check out the recent history of life on Capitol Hill as shown by posts on the micro-news blog, Capitol Hill Corner, offering photos and covers openings and closings of restaurants and retail outlets as well as community activities. Other issues covered include those related to new residential and commercial construction, liquor license applications, bike lanes, traffic, and parking.

Three-story brick townhome for sale in Capitol Hill

Adams Morgan

While the neighborhood of Adams Morgan is sometimes known for its bar and club scene along 18th Street, it’s also a charming neighborhood to call home. Tall townhouses on shady side streets allude to the area’s past, as the diverse community are the reason for its vibrant present. The artsy neighborhood is home to a row of colorful storefronts, sidewalk cafes, bustling restaurant scene, cozy coffee shops, and trendy bars.

Two-story, white brick painted townhouse with red door for sale in Adams Morgan

Anacostia

With stunning views of the Anacostia river and the Capitol, this historic neighborhood was one of the first neighborhoods to be incorporated in the Nation’s Capital. There’s something here to appeal to everyone —from the scenery to culture to historical sites and more. The area is home to a variety of businesses, restaurants, and cultural attractions, including the Anacostia Arts Center and the Anacostia Playhouse. There are also a number of green spaces such as Anacostia Park, the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, and the National Arboretum. Anacostia is a vibrant, up-and-coming neighborhood, with a growing arts and cultural scene and a strong sense of community.

Two story single-family home for sale in Anacostia

Brookland

Brookland is known for its historic architecture and a variety of housing options. This quaint, small-town neighborhood is home to a mix of single-family homes, townhouses, condos, and apartments, making it a great place for people of all ages and backgrounds. Brookland has many amenities, including a bustling commercial district with restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, and more. It is also home to the Catholic University of America, giving the neighborhood a college-town feel. Brookland is conveniently located near public transportation, with the Red Line Metro and Metrobus stops nearby. There are also plenty of parks and green spaces in the area, making it a great place to live.

Single-family home for sale in Brookland

Columbia Heights

Columbia Heights is an eclectic neighborhood located in the northwest quadrant of Washington, DC. It is bordered by Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, and U Street and is just a few blocks away from the bustling 14th Street corridor. It is also home to the historic Tivoli Theater, the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza, and the 14th Street retail corridor. Columbia Heights is known for its cultural diversity, vibrant nightlife, and friendly atmosphere.

Single-family home for sale in Brookland

Georgetown

Georgetown is an affluent neighborhood in Washington, DC with a rich history and strong cultural identity. It is located along the Potomac River, just north of the National Mall, and is home to some of the most prestigious universities and institutions in the country, including Georgetown University, the Potomac Institute, and the Corcoran School of Art. Georgetown is known for its cobblestone streets, iconic waterfront views, and charming tree-lined sidewalks. It is also home to a variety of upscale dining, boutique shopping, and nightlife options. The neighborhood is known for its diversity and is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

Townhouse for sale with green shutters in Georgetown.

Congress Heights

Congress Heights is known for its beautiful green spaces, including the nearby Anacostia Park, which is perfect for outdoor activities like fishing, kayaking, and camping. There are also plenty of cultural attractions to explore, including the Congress Heights Arts and Cultural Center, the SEED Public Charter School, and the historic Payne Memorial AME Church. The Congress Heights Metro station provides convenient access to downtown DC, and the area is served by a number of bus lines. With its mix of cultures, easy access to Washington DC, and variety of outdoor activities, Congress Heights is a great place to call home.

Two-story brick townhouse for sale in Congress Heights

Dupont Circle

Dupont Circle is a vibrant and historic neighborhood in Washington, DC located in the heart of the city. It is a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike, with a variety of restaurants, nightlife, and cultural attractions. Dupont Circle is also home to numerous embassies and prominent institutions, including the Phillips Collection and the Textile Museum. The area is well-known for its beautiful architecture exuding European charm, including many embassies, residences, and government buildings. The Dupont Circle Metro Station is conveniently located in the neighborhood, making it easy to explore the rest of Washington, DC.

Taupe colored townhouse for sale in Dupont Circle

Woodley Park

Woodley Park is a historic neighborhood in Washington DC, located in the northwest part of the city. Woodley Park is known for its mix of residential and commercial buildings, including large and small apartment buildings, single-family homes, and embassies. It is home to a variety of restaurants and shops, as well as the Omni Shoreham Hotel, the historic Wardman Park Hotel, and the DC War Memorial. The neighborhood is well-connected to the rest of the city, with multiple Metro stations nearby, as well as a variety of bus lines. The area is also a popular destination for tourists, with attractions like the National Zoological Park, the National Cathedral, and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Brick townhouse for sale in Woodley Park

Petworth

Petworth is known for its historic architecture and vibrant independent businesses, as well as its friendly and welcoming atmosphere. The area’s tree-lined streets, charming row houses, and ample green space make it a great place to live and work. Petworth is also home to some of the city’s best restaurants, bars, and shops, as well as popular parks and recreation areas. With its convenient location, it is also a great spot to explore the rest of the city by bus or Metro.

If you are represented by an agent, this is not a solicitation of your business. This article is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional advice from a medical provider, licensed attorney, financial advisor, or tax professional. Consumers should independently verify any agency or service mentioned will meet their needs. Learn more about our Editorial Guidelines here.
James Dalpee | Redfin Real Estate Agent

James Dalpee | Redfin Real Estate Agent

Serving homebuyers and sellers in the DC area, James Dalpee is a top real estate agent at Redfin with the latest market insights and local expertise. With years of experience as a real estate agent in the greater DC area, James Dalpee possesses a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the local market.

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