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The most important piece of planning is deciding where to stay. There are many nice hotels within the district from which to choose, varying from luxurious 5 star lodging to less expensive European style traveler hotels. Those planning a trip on a budget can save a good amount of money by booking a hotel outside the district that is near a Metro stop. The price is considerably less, and the Metro is efficient and quick, getting you where you need to go in short order.
While the big draw is the National Mall, with the Smithsonian Museums, the Monuments, Capitol Building, and the White House, make sure you set aside time to explore DC's many vibrant neighborhoods, such as Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Georgetown, and U Street, among others. It is these neighborhoods, which are all easily accessible via the Metro, that are the true fabric of Washington.
Here are a few hints that will give you a leg up on other first-time tourists, and will make you look and feel like a local in no time:
1. Whenever using the escalators in any Metro station, always stand to your right to allow people to pass on the left.
2. Find out which Smithsonian Museums are open later and plan to visit those after 5pm after the crowds have dissipated.
3. Try as many different foods as possible. DC has as good a selection of different ethnic foods as you're going to find.
4. If you're visiting the National Zoo, get off the train at the Cleveland Park stop instead of the Woodley Park/Zoo stop. It's equal walking distance, and it's downhill instead of the other way around.
5. If you have to take a taxi, get a quote before departing.