How to Enjoy Washington, D.C. While Social Distancing

January 7, 2021 The Washington Center

How to Enjoy Washington, D.C. While Social Distancing

There are still plenty of ways to enjoy Washington, D.C. from both inside and outside of your home.

Washington, D.C. is an awesome destination – there’s rich history, fantastic architecture, world-class museums, unbelievable food from all over the globe and tons of friendly residents. But, for many of us, COVID-19 has meant a whole lot of staying inside.

Fortunately, D.C. has adapted to life while social distancing, and there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the city both from inside and outside of your home. Here’s a quick guide to what you can do in D.C. and how to do it safely.

First Things First: Know Before You Go

Lots of businesses have changed their hours, practices and rules over the past few months, so it’s important to always double-check what’s changed before you go anywhere. For example, most museums that have reopened are requiring timed entry tickets to be reserved ahead of time so don’t forget to do that (and remember to bring them with you)!

Of course, never leave home without a couple of items to make sure you keep yourself and those around you healthy. A mask or face-covering that adequately covers your nose and mouth is a must everywhere you go. In D.C., you’ll see most Washingtonians wear them even if they’re just walking around the block and we recommend doing the same. It’s also a good idea to bring some hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes in case you need to touch any high traffic surfaces.

To stay up to date with the reopening of attractions as they happen: check out this article from Washingtonian that regularly updates as new places open up. 

Getting Around

Washington, D.C. Capital Bike Share
Capital Bikeshare and electric scooters are still available throughout the city to help get you from place to place.

D.C. has a robust public transportation system, The Metro, to help you get from place to place. The Metro has made some adaptations to make rides as safe as possible, such as social distancing on board, requiring masks in stations and on trains/buses, and extra cleaning.

If you’re not ready to hop on public transit, you’re in luck. D.C. is a walker’s paradise and getting around the city above ground or on the sidewalk can be an activity in and of itself. In the winter though, you may want to check the weather forecast before committing to a long walk. 

Capital Bikeshare and electric scooters are still available throughout the city to help get you from place to place. With these, just make sure to bring your cleaning wipes to wipe down any surfaces you intend to touch and you’ll be off on a relaxing afternoon ride. Again, check the weather forecast before you set out.

Ridesharing services (like Uber and Lyft) are also still available but it’s advised that you use them sparingly – and you’ll need to wear a mask inside the car.

Outdoor Attractions

Washington, D.C. Outdoor Attractions
You can still go to the National Mall to take in the monuments and memorials.

Many of D.C.’s best sights are open-air, which makes social distancing a lot easier. 

You can still go to the National Mall to take in the monuments and memorials, lounge in the grass, take selfies and get your steps in walking up and down the promenade. You can also take an afternoon hike on one of many trails in Rock Creek Park, stop by the National Arboretum to find all the state trees or just take in the architecture around town. 

None of these attractions close for the winter so you can enjoy them all season long -- though we recommend bundling up and wearing plenty of layers. (Hidden benefit of the facemask -- it keeps your nose and mouth warm!)

Come springtime, you can’t miss out on the cherry blossoms and the Cherry Blossom festival. As you might expect, the whole event is outdoors to celebrate springtime. If you don’t want to deal with the crowds, it’s a good idea to head to the tidal basin early in the day.

Museums

George Washington’s Mount Vernon
George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Alexandria has many open-air attractions.

There are great things to do outdoors in D.C., but some of D.C.’s best-kept secrets are found in its many museums. Though most museums are still closed, a select few have started reopening at lowered capacity for mask-wearing, socially distanced guests. 

Within the District you can see classic James Bond props at the International Spy Museum, explore an old hotel at the Mansion on O Street or wander the gardens at the Heurich House Museum. If you’re willing to venture a little further: George Washington’s Mount Vernon is an open-air museum allowing a limited number of visitors.

Even among D.C.’s cultural institutions whose doors are shut, they’re still doing what they can to help get you back inside without actually making you leave your home.

The Smithsonian is offering virtual tours of many of its most popular museums in the capital. You can hop online to see the dinosaur skeletons at the Museum of Natural History or Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit at the Air and Space Museum. Beyond virtual tours, the Smithsonian has tons of free educational material for you to peruse year-round. 

Dining

Some D.C. restaurants offer spacious patios for drinking and eating while social distancing.
Some D.C. restaurants offer spacious patios for drinking and eating while social distancing.

Every Washingtonian will tell you that a trip to D.C. is not complete without checking out the local restaurant scene. While outdoor dining is permitted in D.C., the colder weather makes dining out a little trickier. But there’s still a bunch of great restaurants with heated outdoor dining, so you can sample local food and be nice and cozy.

Even if you’re not ready to go to a restaurant in person, many of the same restaurants are offering take out and delivery options so you can enjoy world-class dining wherever you are.

If you’re going to be in D.C. soon, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy some of what the city has to offer while staying safe. And while social distancing may be keeping us apart physically, every one of these activities will be better with a buddy. Whether it’s a roommate, a family member or a friend, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy D.C. while you’re here.

Wherever you go in Washington, don’t forget to wear your mask, keep six feet apart and be courteous to those around you. For more information on staying safe when you’re out and about, please see the CDC’s guidelines

About the Author

The Washington Center

The Washington Center is the largest and most established student internship program in Washington, D.C. Since our founding, we've helped more than 60,000 young people translate their college majors into career paths. We use our scale and expertise to customize each student’s experience to be truly transformative.

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