In the years following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon, the federal and D.C. governments, along with agencies such as the National Park Service, have continued to work together to increase security, not just at airports, but around the city, including government buildings, tourist attractions, and the subway. The most noticeable and, honestly, most irksome aspect of increased security at tourist attractions can be summed up in three little words: waiting in line. Although visitors have always had to queue to enter the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and other federal buildings, now it can take more time to get through because of more intense scrutiny when you finally reach the door.
Besides lines, you may notice vehicle barriers in place at a wider radius around the Capitol building and new vehicle barriers and better lighting installed at the Washington Monument and at the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. A new, tightly secured underground visitor center at the Capitol, which opened in late 2008, was built in great part, to safeguard members of Congress as well as all who work for them. Greater numbers of police and security officers are on duty around and inside government buildings, the monuments, and the Metro.
Just because so many police are around, you shouldn't let your guard down. Washington, like any urban area, has a criminal element, so it's important to stay alert and take normal safety precautions.
Ask your hotel front-desk staff or the city's tourist office if you're in doubt about which neighborhoods are safe.
Avoid deserted areas, especially at night, and don't go into public parks at night unless there's a concert or similar occasion that will attract a crowd.
Avoid carrying valuables with you on the street, and don't display expensive cameras or electronic equipment. If you're using a map, consult it inconspicuously -- or better yet, try to study it before you leave your room. In general, the more you look like a tourist, the more likely someone will try to take advantage of you. If you're walking, pay attention to who is near you as you walk. If you're attending a convention or event where you wear a name tag, remove it before venturing outside. Hold on to your purse, and place your billfold in an inside pocket. In theaters, restaurants, and other public places, keep your possessions in sight. Remember also that hotels are open to the public, and in a large hotel, security may not be able to screen everyone entering. Always lock your room door.
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.