Washington, D.C., is unlike any other city in the country. Not only is it the nation’s capital, but there are also complicated rules and laws about representation, and it is full of amazing pieces of culture, history and knowledge.
The Best Washington, D.C. Apps for Travelers
Put aside your partisan expectations and charge up your smartphone. We’ve got a list of Washington, D.C. apps that will help you navigate the region’s quirks, monuments, and local secrets.
D.C. Metro and Bus
One thing everyone in D.C. can agree upon is that there is more than one kind of gridlock, and nobody is a fan of either. Thankfully, D.C. has an expansive and accessible train and bus system that covers the city and the surrounding metro area (both southern Maryland and northern Virginia). One of the first Washington, D.C. apps you should download is D.C. Metro and Bus, which offers complete maps, predictions for bus arrivals, and a real-time countdown of train arrivals based on Metro’s own system. There’s a lot to do and see in the D.C. metro area via walking (more on that in a moment), but at the end of the day you’re going to need some help navigating the slightly arcane rules of the D.C. train system (where you pay for how far you travel as opposed to a flat fare).
Here are two things you’ll need to understand about visiting D.C.: One, the Smithsonian refers to the entire network of museums, exhibits, and gardens in the nation’s capital, including the Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, and many more; and two, there is so much to see and learn at these locations that it can both boggle and invigorate the mind. Fortunately, the Smithsonian Mobile app can help streamline the experience. This vital Washington, D.C. app includes maps to help you find each location, floor plans for each site, updates on exhibits, tours, and everything you’ll need during your visit. And if you can’t get enough, you’ll be able to access video tours and podcasts about different exhibits and displays even after your trip is over.
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You may not know this, but the D.C. metro area is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. In addition to hundreds of bike trails in the surrounding area, one of the best parts of the cycling culture is the Capital Bikeshare program. You can rent and ride these red and black touring bikes (complete with basket) all around the city. This Washington, D.C. app helps you find the nearest bike share location, tracks your ride statistics, and helps you purchase passes for single rides or 24-hour spans.
Platforms: iOS, Android
NPS National Mall
Remember all that walking we talked about? You and thousands of other visitors from across the nation and around the world will likely run into each other on the National Mall. This amazing green space holds everything from political rallies to disc golf tournaments to some of the nation’s most iconic monuments. So grab the free National Mall app provided by the National Park Service to help you with maps, tours, schedules, and all the information you need to experience this national treasure.
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It may not be exciting, but the Parkmobile app can be a lifesaver. If you think the political scene in D.C. is a mess, you should try to find street parking. The Parkmobile app lets you set up and extend your parking sessions from wherever you are without having to navigate your way back to your car. Usable in hundreds of locations across the U.S.—including Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and D.C.—this app is worth more than one term on your device.
Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows
If you want to experience what is local and awesome about a city like D.C., Scoutmob’s app is for you. Focusing on locally owned shops, bars, restaurants, and venues, it helps you seek out new experiences on and off the beaten path. Focusing on over a dozen cities, including D.C., with vibrant and tech-savvy communities of craftspeople, Scoutmob will help you find all the local goodies.
Platforms: iOS, Android
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If you’re willing to be a little adventurous when it comes to your next meal, try your luck with the Spotluck app. One of the most unique Washington, D.C. apps out there, it lets you “spin” a wheel (by pushing a button) and then points you to a locally owned restaurant nearby—complete with a discount on your meal. It’s got restaurant suggestions in neighborhoods all over the D.C. metro area.
A humbling and beautiful tribute to thousands of American servicemen and women, Arlington National Cemetery receives millions of visitors each year. The ANC Explorer app can help you find specific memorials and individual grave sites to help you learn more about and honor those who have fallen in defense of the United States.
Platforms: iOS, Android
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For both ease of use and for the chance to feel like a D.C. VIP, grab Uber. Have a car show up to pick you up and whisk you to any destination around the D.C. Metro area. Just be wary of potential price multipliers. Like amendments attached to bills in Congress, they can make things very expensive very quickly.
More from SmarterTravel:
- Washington D.C. Travel Guide
- The Top 25 Travel Apps to Upgrade Your Smartphone
- 6 Flight Booking Apps That Can Save You Money
Jason Flynn is a freelance writer, editor, and geek of all trades. Follow him on Twitter @flynntendo.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.