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The thing about Washington, D.C., is there's never a bad time of year to visit. Something's always going on, whether it's the Lighting of the National Christmas Tree in December, the Cherry Blossom Festival in spring, or the fabulous Independence Day parade and fireworks on the Fourth of July -- not to mention a daily menu of live music and theater performances, restaurant openings, museum exhibits, sports events, and all of the activities associated with the capital's raison d'etre: White House administrating, Congress's legislating, and the Supreme Court's decision-making. If you're interested in soaking up the spirit of the city, any day of the year is your oyster.

But no matter when you go, you can help maximize the pleasure of your trip and minimize hassles by doing a certain amount of advance planning. Generally speaking, the earlier you book your room, the greater your chance of finding the best rate at your preferred hotel. The same goes for restaurant reservations; Washingtonians are a ravenous bunch, filling tables nightly throughout the city, recession or no recession, so if dining at a new hot spot or old favorite is important, call or book online now! You can even avoid lines at some sightseeing attractions by obtaining tickets months in advance.

And then there are all those other tedious but crucial details to consider: the weather, what to wear, how much things cost, how best to travel here and get around once you arrive, what attractions are musts, what's new, what's closed -- what's what!

Now that I've torqued you up, let me calm you down. Everything you need to know is illuminated in the following pages.

Ways to Get Ahead

Popularity has its price, and in Washington that equals a lengthy wait in a long line for admission to its famous sites. Doesn't have to be that way, though: When you know generally the dates of your trip to Washington, call or e-mail in advance for desired tickets, passes, or reservations, and you might be able to visit places off-limits to the walk-up tourist and waltz through the door of A-list attractions, leaving the queues behind you. Follow this timeline to make sure you obtain tickets and reservations to those venues you most want to visit.

  • U.S. Capitol: several days to 4 months ahead.
  • Washington National Cathedral Tour and Tea: 5 to 6 months ahead of the desired date.
  • White House Tours: At least 2 months and as much as 6 months in advance.
  • Washington Monument: At least 1 day prior, as much as 6 months in advance.
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Two weeks ahead in spring and summer; the day before, otherwise.
  • Theater Performances, Concerts, and Special Museum Exhibits: As soon as you can.
  • Restaurant Reservations: Two weeks ahead.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.