The ins and outs, quirks and curiosities of a city can take years to learn. If that doesn't quite fit into your time frame, you're in luck. With these tips, you'll manage your trip to Washington, D.C., like a pro.
1. Avoid driving. Legend has it that French engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant designed Washington's streets to confuse and frustrate enemy troops who might attack the city. Anyone attempting to navigate this city will understand why the legend persists. The city is divided into the four quadrants of a compass – NW, NE, SE, SW. The U.S. Capitol sits at the center of the quadrants, even though it is not at the center of the city, so Northwest is the largest area. The boundaries of each quadrant are North Capitol Street, South Capitol Street, East Capitol and the National Mall. That's where the street addresses start and become numbers and the letters of the alphabet. The lettered streets run east and west and numbered streets run north and south. To add to this directional befuddlement, the city also has many diagonal avenues (most of which are named after states) that run through a series of white-knuckle-inducing traffic circles. And beware the freeway ramps that appear out of nowhere and may take you across a bridge to Virginia before you know it.
2. Mind your Metro manners. The D.C. transit system prides itself on being one of the cleanest and most orderly in the country. A few simple dos and don'ts will help you navigate the Metro with ease. When on the escalator, do stand to the right and walk to the left, letting those in a hurry pass by. Don't eat or drink on the Metro. Do stand aside and take a moment to figure out where you are going. The direction a Metro train is going is determined by its final destination. For example, an Orange train heading west will say, "Orange Line to Vienna." There are large, clear maps in each station, so you should be able to figure it all out. Don't stop in the entry of the Metro car, but move completely into the car. Also, note our underground rail system is called the Metro, don't refer to it as the subway.
3. Consider fall. Visitors flock to Washington between April and August. The city can be unbearably hot and humid in the summer, which makes trekking around to all those outside monuments a sweltering affair. Remember, D.C. is lovely all year round – especially in the fall.
4. Visit your Congressperson. Call ahead for a visit with your local representative. Congressional offices can often offer special services and tips for visitors.
5. Eat your way around the world. Washington is a true melting pot with residents from around the world, which is reflected on the menus at area restaurants. Forget the chain restaurants you probably have at home. Instead, make like Columbus and discover the city's global palette. Local favorites include Mexican tapas at Oyamel, Indian at Rasika, Ethiopian at Etete, Italian at Dino and Belgian at Brasserie Beck.