Timing your Washington D.C. visit requires a few considerations. If you are just going by the weather, the best times to visit Washington D.C. are in the spring and fall. The city’s fabled cherry blossoms bloom at the end of March or early April—not necessarily coinciding with the Cherry Blossom Festival, unfortunately—while fall brings crisp, cool weather and a spectacular display of fall foliage, especially in the Shenandoah Valley.
Summers can be brutally hot and humid. (Remember 2012? Washingtonians do.) Visitors in July and August not only must contend with the heat but also adjust to the city’s heavy reliance on extreme AC.
Many Washingtonians follow Congress and foreign diplomats and “recess” out of the city in August, but that does mean August has its good side: far less traffic and shorter queues, easy restaurant reservations, extended museum hours, and—precisely because so many federal employees are on vacation—less tedious security.
Washington is so much less crowded, in fact, that August is when many of the area’s most prominent chefs participate in the summer Restaurant Week, offering bargain-priced three-course lunch and dinner menus at about $20 and $35, respectively.
And you may get lucky: Balmy, mid-60s days are possible through December. While it can drop into the teens in January and February—witness the chilly temperatures that attended President Obama’s inauguration and forced the wholesale cancellation of President Reagan’s—midday temperatures can climb into the 40s and 50s.
To be fair, we should also remind you of the blizzard of December 2009, the back-to-back blizzards of February 2010, and so on. Still, according to the law of averages, winter should be a good bet for several years to come.
But the weather is not all you should consider when timing your Washington D.C. visit
A pleasant Washington experience is as much about the “who,” or at least the “how many,” as the “when.” In general, popular tourist sites are busier on weekends than weekdays, Saturdays are busier than Sundays, and summer is busier than winter. The slowest days, generally speaking, are Monday through Wednesday.
During the height of the spring and summer tourist seasons, the major attractions are reliably crowded from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. As we suggested before, winter can be a great time to avoid crowds.
The tourist traffic begins picking up in late March and peaks in early April, when the Tidal Basin is packed with visitors, cars, buses, and tour vans, so despite the undeniable splendor of the cherry trees, it’s not the optimum time to visit, unless you are uncommonly cheerful and patient (or don’t have much choice).
If at all possible, delay your visit until late May or early June. Crowds are more manageable for a few weeks, and the weather is usually delightful. The tourist pace begins picking up again in mid-June, as schools let out, and doesn’t thin out until the last two weeks of August, when kids start returning to school.
After Labor Day, the volume of weekday visitors drops off significantly, but weekends remain busy through October.
Washington’s elaborate cultural season kicks into full swing in September—see the “Calendar of Festivals and Events” at the end of this chapter—and should be a prime choice for anyone who doesn’t have to deal with back-to-school deadlines.
Beginning in November and lasting through March, tourist activity slows down dramatically, and the list of music festivals and light shows around the holidays increases every year.
If you have no restrictions on your travel time, again, we suggest you scan the “Calendar of Festivals and Events” and see which ones might lure you. For more tips on how to make the most of your Washington D.C. visit check out The Unofficial Guide to Washington D.C. by Eve Zibart.