45+ Things To Pack for Washington DC (Casual & Dressy)

This post will help you decide what to pack for a trip to Washington DC, as well as what to wear during your visit at any time of year.

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WHAT TO PACK FOR DC?

When figuring out what to pack you should focus on two things: what time of year and what you plan to do!

What to wear based on Season:

A lot of what to pack is based on personal style but a few things to keep in mind whether you’re jeans and tshirt or suit and tie – dress for comfort because tourist days can be jam-packed in DC!

Washington DC Seasonal Weather

ALL YEAR ROUND:

Since DC has such strict security in so many places, we use wipes and stick that travel easily and don’t break the “no liquid” rule:

  • We use the OFF! Deep Woods Towellette (especially in the fall when mosquitos are rampant on the National Mall)
  • The Neutrogena Sunscreen Stick may be meant for babies but that just means its pure and gentle for all skin types. Its SPF 60 and water-resistant but you do need to rub it in!

We suggest a small portable compact umbrella (this travel umbrella fits in your hand, we suggest getting it in orange so you’ll match us!) that is easy to store in a small bag.

And we’ll talk about this a lot but its our favorite tip – bring a Scarf/Pashmina (Achillea Pashmina is our favorite)

Trying to fit in all your various layers can be difficult, so we highly recommend packing cubes to help organize and save space in your luggage. The Shacke Paks are some of the highest-rated and come with a laundry bag to keep dirty clothes separate.

Taskin Packing Cubes are a bit pricier, but I like the extra features. It has zip compression, to shrink the bag down, AND it has a water and smell resistant other side to put dirty clothes in right away.” – Tour Guide Dan

SUMMER

It its hot and humid here in summer, so a lightweight fabric is a must. At the same time, it can be downright frigid inside museums so a layer will come in handy. (see: pashmina)

As a popular time of year to travel to DC, we do a lot of tours in summer and the Halife Women’s summer dress is comfortable, flattering, and is easy to dress up from a day to night (and of course, has pockets).

Another key item to have is sunglasses! We love ZeroUV glasses. 

“My favorite travel sunglasses are anything from ZeroUV – cheap on Amazon, awesome UV protection, fun styles and cheap enough you can pack 1-2 pairs for a trip and not stress if you lose them.” – Tour Guide Becca

FALL

Vests, scarfs, boots – these are a few of my favorite things. Fall is a great time to visit DC but with the weather so gorgeous you may not realize how much you’re walking and exploring, so make sure those stylish fall boots have good insoles! Some of our favorites are:

WINTER

It does get cold and it can snow in DC in the winter so the best jacket is also waterproof. With this in mind, we shorten our longer tours like Arlington Cemetery and All in One so you can still see the best of DC without getting to cold.

We like anything from Camel Crown, their affordable 3 in 1 winter hiking jackets come in men’s and women’s cuts.

During the holidays, we partner with Georgetown BID to offer a special tour of the famous GLOW installations. These works of art can only be viewed at night, so hand warmers come in very handy on our nighttime tours in DC.

We spend a lot of time on our phones (like most people) and have yet to find a smartphone friendly pair of gloves that we love (let us know on @freetoursbyfoot if you have a recommendation!) but we do love convertible fingerless gloves with foldover mittens for when it’s really cold.

SPRING

April showers are a real thing here. We invest in good rain boots that are good for walking and not just puddle jumping, like MuckBoots – which offer shoes meant for long distance walking and 100% waterproof. They are also lightweight and thus good for packing.

What to Wear based on Activity:

Also, think about what you’re going to do before deciding what to pack.

If you need help on that front, we have a whole guide to the best things to do in DC!

 

DC Packing List Tips

 

Packing for Museums?

DC has so many great museums that you can spend a whole visit exploring them and only going outside to get between them. In this case, you’ll want to keep in mind that many museums don’t allow large bags and that backpacks in art museums must be worn on the front.

You’ll want to plan on carrying less but an umbrella is a must. A lot of museums are located next to each other, so the best and fastest way to get from one to the other is walking but they are so big, that could still be a 5 minute walk in the rain.

We suggest small portable compact umbrella (this travel umbrella fits in your hand, we suggest getting it in orange so you’ll match us!) that is easy to store in a small bag.

Taking our Name Your Own Price Walking Tours?

We offer tours all year round and at all times of day. Our longest walking tour is only 2 miles (3.2km) over 4 hours so you can do this in any type of shoe, but a comfortable walking shoe is going to keep your feet dry and cozy.

  • For women’s shoes, the Sketcher’s GoWalks are the most popular travel sneakers. The newest 4 series offer better soles that have great reviews for those on their feet often. Best of all, they are slips on so great for TSA security!
  • In men’s shoes, the Merrell Range sneaker (also slip on) offers great quality and comfort.

Our tours are rain or shine so that compact umbrella is going to be a great thing to keep on you, just in case of drizzle.

And if you’re joining our night tours, a warm jacket and scarf will keep you comfortable in winter.

  • We love down vests and the 32 DEGREES down vest is ultra lightweight with a flattering fit, or the men’s Wantdo Packable vest (also available in jacket style) comes with a pouch for easy packing.
  • You can pick from 45 different colors for a Achillea Pashmina (or get a reversible one for more outfits!)

For our daytime tours in summer, we start earlier in the day to avoid the heat and try to find as much shade as possible but you’ll want to bring sunscreen and bug repellent with you. Since DC has such strict security in so many places, we use wipes and stick that travel easily and don’t break the “no liquid” rule:

  • We use the OFF! Deep Woods Towellette (especially in the fall when mosquitos are rampant on the National Mall)
  • The Neutrogena Sunscreen Stick may be meant for babies but that just means its pure and gentle for all skin types. Its SPF 60 and water resistant but you do need to rub it in!

What to Wear for a Night Out?

It gets a lot cooler once the sun goes down in winter so be sure to bring extra layers for evenings if you’re travelling October-March. Washington DC has a lot of federal and office workers so if you plan on enjoying dinner and drinks at one of our nicer restaurants, you won’t need to get too glamorous, but business casual wear will fit right in.

Some of our favorite places for a nice night out do have dress codes so bring something other than sneakers and jeans if you plan to dine at 1789 in Georgetown or take in the view from the Hotel W POV Rooftop Bar.

  • We’re pretty obsessed with Sarin Matthews tops – the silky fabric is wrinkle resistant so great for packing!


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What to Pack for DC (Casual)

As above, it does depend on when you’re visiting and what activites you have planned, but there are a few tips that should help you figure out what to pack for DC in you’re visiting for a casual trip to the nation’s capital. You’ll find men’s, women’s and unisex options.

  • Good Pair of Walking Shoes – If you’re here to explore the tourist sites, you’ll be doing a lot of walking. Whether you’re joining our walking tours, wandering through the museums, or taking the Metro during rush hour – you’ll probably be on your foot.
    • Teva (& Socks in winter) – this is a controversial recommendation, I know. But one of our guides hiked the Camino de Santiago in Tevas because they are the best and with cooler weather, you’ll want to keep your feet warm. I have faith that you can pull off this look.
    • Or go for the tried and true slip on sneaker mentioned above, Sketcher’s GoWalks
  • Scarf/Pashmina – This is an all purpose, 20 ways to wear kind of item. Rainy? Wear it like head scarf. Cold? Wear it like a cardigan/shawl. Not too cold? Wear it loose and just be stylish. You may be thinking, well I’m visiting in June and won’t need this. Think again! The hotter it is outside, the more the air conditioning is blasting inside and this will help keep you comfortable for those museum visits and lunch spots.
  • Strechy Jeans – you can roll these up if its not too cold and they fold up small for quick weekend carry on luggage only trips.

What to Pack for DC (Business)

You’ll fit right in in a city full of business casual but you might still want to take in some of the attractions. We have a special Wednesday evening National Mall tour just for conference go-ers!

  • Lightweight Laptop Bag – if you’re trying make the most of free time, you might not be able to drop off everything at luggage storage or your hotel, so a small bag that is easy to carry from meetings to museums is a must. If you find that you need a bigger bag, you can use one of the many luggage storage options in DC to store it while your tour and pick up after.
    • The Solo Duane Hybrid is a laptop bag and backpack that only takes second to convert. Backpack for travel and tours, laptop back for walking into the conference.
  • Comfortable Shoes that are still office appropriate.
    • Vionic Minni Ballet Flats have orthodic insoles but classic look. 
    • The Vivobarefoot Men’s Ra are minimalist shoes – so you’ll feel a bit more as you go but they look great, have excellent reviews from those who stand up all day and are very lightweight for packing.

  • Scarf / Pashmina – seriously, you can use them in every situation (see above)

What to Pack for DC (Dressy)

Unless you’re going to a gala, you won’t find a lot of reasons for diamonds and high heels in Washington DC. There are plenty of restaurants that have dress codes but they discourage athletic wear and ripped jeans. You’ll find that its acceptable and more common to wear dark, fitted jeans in even the nicest hotel restaurants.

  • Day to Night Dress – you’re going to want to go from an afternoon visiting museums to a nice dinner without a full outfit change so something that is versatile will help maximize your time.

  • Jacket / Blazer – throw it on over your jeans and tshirt and you’re ready for a night on the town.
    • Hagger makes men’s travel blazers that have side vents and motion panels with a lightweight stretch fabric. You can get it in Big&Tall, SlimFit or Tailored.
    • The best thing about the ELESOL women’s blazer is that the long style means the pockets are actually functional!
  • Find a pair of shoes that goes from day to night easy – the Blondo Villa black suede boot offers a lot of support and you cannot go wrong with an ankle boot in fall.
  • In summer, literally any sandal by Vionic is great for walking from the National Mall to the theatre.


What to Pack for DC (Kids)

Snacks, obviously. (Just remember you cannot bring food into the US Capitol!) But in addition to this, there are a few ideas of special things to bring to make sure everyone enjoys their trip.

DC Kids Packing List

  • With the uncertainty of weather and levels of air conditioning, layers are a must. Tights that can be easily carried around and worn if it turns out to be too cold are a great option, and a lightweight jacket is a must.
    • This Hiheart Rain Coat is cotton lined with built in hood if travelling in a cooler time of year October-March.
    • A hat is a good idea as well and provides all the versality of the scarf we recommend above without the choking hazard! I always bring a baseball cap with snaps so its easy to hook on to a backpack or stroller when not in use.
  • If you’re coming with a young one, let’s get off the clothing train for a moment – I cannot rave about the Pockit stroller enough. It folds up and fits into a backpack so you can easily bring it to places that don’t accommodate strollers easily (It doesn’t come with its own backpack but this one fits it perfectly) and it is super lightweight so even if you do come across some stairs (hello, Metro) its easy to pick up and carry.
  • A poncho or stroller rain cover is also a wise idea but those small foldable umbrellas we already recommended are great for kids, as well.
  • Reusable water bottle – you’re going to be doing a fair bit of exploring and drinks at refreshment stands and museum cafes will add. You can also get some flavor add ins to make them more interesting!
    • My toddler loves the fun designs of the Camelbak Kids Water bottle and its inexpensive enough to buy at least 2 at the get go because you will lose one.
  • The Mommy Hook – a travel hack for visiting with kids! This stroller hook helps keep diaper bags on the stroller, hook shopping bags to the handle, or that water bottle to a bag for easy access.

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Average DC Weather


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About the author

Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 3 published books about the city. She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. She's also been interviewed by the Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the host of our podcast, Tour Guide Tell All

With a M.A. in History from University College London and a B.A. in History from Elon University, she is an authority on D.C. history, and has led tours in the city for over 10 years. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to 25 countries. Her two children (both under the age of 3) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts.