An Intern’s Guide to Washington: Tips, Tricks, and Advice for Surviving the City

An Intern’s Guide to Washington: Tips, Tricks, and Advice for Surviving the City

Greetings! This post is for all the interns making their way here in the coming summer and fall semesters. I, like so many of you, came here from a suburb, and never having lived in a city before, was immediately thrown into the deep end (metaphorically speaking). I very quickly had to learn the comings and goings – what to see, eat, and do – in order to make the most of my time here. What follows are a few brief lists that should help you make a seamless transition to the urban lifestyle.


Sights to See

01. The National Mall – It’s much simpler to list the mall than each building or monument individually, but obviously, I meant this to be all-inclusive. And don’t just stop by for 10 minutes, snap a picture, and leave. Stay and talk to a park ranger or listen to an interpretive talk. You’ll learn a lot and get a much deeper connection to both the building as well as what it stands for.

02. The Natural History Museum – I’m partial to this museum not only because it is visually stimulating, but also because I feel it sparks a true inspiration in science for most visitors. After 3 hours here, you’ll suddenly find yourself wanting to pick up a book about anthropology, biology, or evolution.

03. The American History Museum – As Americans, we like to picture our history as linear from A – Z. This museum breaks up that monotony by creating exhibits that tell a story through American achievement, be it travel, currency, or invention. Even more important: take some time to pay your respects to the Star Spangled Banner; just don’t try to photograph it.

04. The National Zoo – I present you with yet another favorite of mine. There is nothing quite like seeing orangutans brachiating overhead or watching a Sumatran tiger pace back and forth in front of you. The absolute best exhibit is Amazonia: a single building retrofitted into one giant, seamless, walk-through vivarium. It houses several rare fish, as well as countless amphibians.

05. Eastern Market – This place is the best alternative to the local supermarket. There are countless vendors selling all manner of locally grown produce, as well as an entire meat market indoors. Make a trip of it and stop by for Sunday brunch before doing your shopping.

06. Dupont Circle – This is the “hip” place to be in downtown DC. It’s filled with cafés, bars, restaurants, and bookstores. The area is particularly known for its nightlife. While you’re here, be sure to check out Kramerbooks & Café.

07. Rock Creek Park – It’s hard to believe that there is a nearly 2000-acre park inside the district, but unbelievably, it’s been here as a national park since 1890. Several presidents have spent their time here, most notably the great Theodore Roosevelt. See if you can spot his missing ring over at Boulder Bridge while completing your point-to-point hike.

08. Capitol Hill – The “hill” refers to the building itself, but also the Library of Congress, Supreme Court, and other associated buildings & gardens. It is topographically the area of highest elevation, although you’d be hard pressed to tell that with all the building around.

09. U Street Corridor – This is the other trendy new spot for nightlife, with considerably fewer tourists. Just make sure to take the Metro or a cab back because no one likes a sloppy drunk, let alone one who is driving.

10. The National Archives – It wouldn’t be fair to leave the city without first looking upon the documents that laid the framework for it. Prepare to be patient though, because the crowds are as large as the lighting is dim.


More, if you have time: Georgetown, The Botanical Gardens, American Indian Museum, Smithsonian Castle, Postal Museum, Bureau of Printing & Engraving, Newseum


Where to Eat

01. Founding Farmers – Some of the best organic food you could ask for. Be sure to try the cornbread!

02. Busboys & Poets – Enjoy culture, spirits, and good food at this local favorite. Their pizza is amazing.

03. The Front Page – A little highbrow, but great for dinner as well as happy hour. You can’t go wrong with the salmon.

04. Matchbox – Italian gets a decidedly urban makeover at this prime piece of real estate. Their specialty is their wood-oven pizza, but their dessert speaks for itself.

05. The Dubliner – If ever you had the desire to hoist a large pint of stout and tear into some shepherd’s pie, then look no further. Traditional Irish cuisine with an American twist.

06. Red Velvet Cupcakery – My list isn’t all dinner. This establishment serves some of the finest (and most expensive) cupcakes you will ever eat. You’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven, but that’s actually just all the sugar putting you into a food coma.

07. Dangerously Delicious Pies – Same as above. When you find yourself hankering for that “back home” apple pie, this is where you go to get your fix. Best of all: it’s convenient to the RAF, so you can walk off those extra calories on your way back.

08. Ben’s Chili Bowl – This icon has been in the city for decades. It’s so popular there are lines forming outside the doors past midnight. Indulge in a chili-cheese dog and milkshake at least once while you’re here, even if your stomach might not thank for you for it later.

09. Capital City Brewing Company – Local brews and comfort food are the winning formula at this restaurant. The nachos, burgers, and beers will set you right.

10. Luna Grill – Last, but not least, is my favorite establishment for breakfast. Finding cafés open on Sunday morning can be difficult, so I was relieved to discover this place. The Belgian waffle and the omelets were exquisite.


Obviously, this was a much-abbreviated list. I would have loved to have reviewed more places, but I’m already stretching the limit of both my word count, and my wallet.


Tips & Tricks

01. Purchase a SmartTrip card! It is infinitely more convenient than the paper tickets and allows you to track all fares – as well as add more – via their website.

02. Don’t fall asleep on the Metro! It’s embarrassing, and it’ll cost you extra time, fares, or both!

03. Always stand to the right! This applies to escalators, elevators, sidewalks, and the grocery store. It is simply more polite and lets you quickly identify the out-of-towners.

04. Don’t block the Metro doors! They DO NOT work like elevator doors. Everyone will hate you for putting the train out of service and further delaying their commute.

05. Social media is your friend! The first week you’re here be sure to sign up for Scoutmob, Groupon, and LivingSocial. They all have free apps for your phone as well as email coupons. You’re going to find many great deals you would haven’t thought of without them. Along the same line, sign up for your grocery store’s frequent shopper coupon. That saved me over $200 this semester.

06. Invest in some quality reusable bags! DC has a $0.05 bag tax PER BAG. The best way to save yourself some cash and help the environment is to always have a bag on you – be it backpack, drawstring, or canvas. Keep one on you whenever you head out, just in case.

07. DC is expensive! Always shop around for the best deal. Moreover, don’t go shopping when hungry or buy on impulse. I learned the hard way that it’s very easy to run out of money. There are plenty of printed and online publications advertising free events.

08. Treat yourself! I know this may seem contradictory to my last post, but moderation can be tempered by acute splurging. Set up one or two days a week to go out with your friends or roommates – just be sure to budget for it.

09. Make reservations! Dining out is a popular activity in DC, so 2+ hour waits are not uncommon. Plan ahead, and let them know you’re coming.

10. Make a schedule, and stick to it! I recommend Google Calendar. Fill in all your due dates and set it to send you reminders, that way you’ll never have an excuse for a late assignment or why you can’t go out because you have a deadline to meet.

11. Sign up for tours before you get here! The bureaucracy of the district is notoriously slow, as are the background checks. To avoid the lines and the deadlines, sign up through your representative before you get here.

12. If you’re going to visit the Capitol, attend a gallery viewing of the Senate or House! It’s your government; you deserve to see how it works.

13. Always check the weather! It can be 50 one day and 80 the next. A forecast (or two) helps you to make smart wardrobe choices.

14. Read the newspaper daily! You’re living in the most politically centered city in the world. Pick up one of the several free newspapers around the city, and stay informed. (And be sure to take The Onion with a grain of salt.)

15. There is a lot of noise! There are constant sirens, people yelling, or construction equipment outside your window at any given hour of the day (or night). If you’re a light sleeper, invest in some earplugs, or white noise.

16. Never waste your weekend! Take time to see the city. It might seem like a lot of work is piled on you in a real short time (job, class, programming, civic engagement) but TWC usually makes an effort to spread it out pretty evenly. So long as you can stay on top of it, you’ll have plenty of time to do sightseeing, and believe me, there’s plenty to see.

17. Take a trip (if you can)! Passage to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and NYC can all be had for as low as $1 of certain bus lines if you book far enough in advance. It makes for an excellent weekend trip, especially in groups of 2-4 people.

18. Get your Library of Congress library card! It gets you access into the main reading room, plus it makes for one amazing souvenir.

19. Take every opportunity that is presented to you! This may seem like a no-brainer, but be sure to sign up for every TWC sponsored event you can. If nothing else, you’re going to meet some new people and gain some new experiences.

20. Your time here is what you make of it! If you are constantly pessimistic, uninformed, or lazy – you will have a bad time. Eventually you are going to find yourself being asked to reaffirm your character, both personally and professionally. This internship is about far more than just finding a job - it’s about finding yourself.


I hope anyone who reads this will find it useful and informative. I’m sure what’s said here applies to more than just DC, so I encourage any of my readers now venturing out into other cities to apply these practices elsewhere. Remember: these are only guidelines. It’s up to you to make the most of it.


Until next time.

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