Washington, DC is an amazing city with tons of sights to see and things to do. As the capital of the United States, it’s home to iconic landmarks like the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and White House. It also boasts world-class museums like the Smithsonian Institution and great dining and nightlife.
However, with the popularity of DC as a travel destination, over 20 million visitors flock here every year. And with crowds come headaches like busy attractions, expensive hotel rates, and traffic congestion. So when is the worst time to visit DC when the crowds are at their peak? We break it down for you here:
Summer: Peak Season May – August 🥵
The summer months of May through August are peak tourist season in DC. School is out, the weather is nice, and families plan vacations. About 3.5 million visitors come through DC each month during this time.
The National Mall and famous monuments are packed with tourists. You’ll be shuffling shoulder-to-shoulder with crowds at spots like the Lincoln Memorial. The lines at museums and attractions extend out the door. Restaurants are filled to capacity with long waits.
Hotel rates also skyrocket during summer. You can expect to pay almost double the cost of an average night. Forget last-minute bookings too – rooms sell out well in advance. With Congress on recess in August, it gets hot and humid in the city. The metro and streets are congested from all the extra visitors.
Spring: Crowded for Cherry Blossom Season March-April 🌸
Each spring, over a million people flock to DC to see the city’s famous cherry blossom trees in bloom around the Tidal Basin. The National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place for five weeks from late March to mid-April.
Peak bloom when 70% of the trees are flowering is only about two weeks. During this narrow window, the crowds swarm the Tidal Basin area and clog up traffic and metro lines. Tour buses line the streets and public transportation is stuffed to the brim.
The weather fluctuates in spring so you may get stuck going on blustery or rainy days. The crowds and congestion make it stressful to get around to visit the monuments and museums. Hotel rates jump about 20-50% during the Cherry Blossom season.
Holidays and Special Events 🎆
DC has several large events and holidays that draw big crowds throughout the year. Trying to visit around these times means competing with locals for space.
Major holidays like Memorial Day weekend, July 4th, and Labor Day weekend bring an influx of tourists. The National Mall fills up for the fireworks shows on Independence Day. Government offices and attractions like the White House close on federal holidays, limiting what you can see and do.
During events like the National Cherry Blossom Festival, White House Easter Egg Roll in April, and National Tree Lighting in December, hotels charge premium rates and sell out months in advance. Getting around is a nightmare with all the extra people in the city.
Winter Weather Woes January-February ❄️
While fewer tourists visit in winter, the cold weather and shorter days present challenges. January and February are the least busy months for tourism in DC. But winter weather brings its own issues.
Icy conditions make getting around dangerous – the metro tracks may freeze over or sidewalks turn slippery. Blizzards periodically shut down travel and close roads, museums, and attractions. Outdoor monuments are less pleasant to visit in frigid temperatures and wind.
With less daylight during winter, you have fewer hours to take in all the sights. Some exhibits at outdoor monuments like Arlington Cemetery scale back their hours in the off-season. The cold months aren’t the most ideal time for a DC trip.
How to Avoid the Crowds
If you can’t avoid visiting DC during its busy tourist seasons, there are still ways to beat the crowds:
- Go early in the morning before 10 am to attractions to avoid long lines
- Eat at off-peak times like 2 pm or after 9 pm for quicker restaurant seating
- Book a hotel outside the city center for cheaper rates
- Use metro, walk, or bike to get around congested areas
- Visit Smithsonian museums on weekdays when locals are working
- Have a backup plan indoor activities in case of rain or extreme heat
Know Before You Go
While there’s really no terrible time to visit the nation’s capital, preparing for the crowds, weather, and events happening during your scheduled trip will help ensure you make the most of your time there. Visiting Washington, DC offers an unforgettable experience no matter when you go. Just plan ahead to make dealing with the less ideal conditions easier.