Washington, D.C., no doubt, is one of America’s great cities, the seat of national power and the country’s face to the world.
Washington, D.C., is a diverse, educated — and expensive — city full of residents bonded by love for their championship sports teams, nights out in Adams Morgan or Georgetown, weekend getaways to the Eastern Shore and finding a great local joint for crabs, jumbo slices or pupusa.
While natives often engender an active skepticism of newbies, if you prove to be willing to make D.C. your home rather than a stop on your transient journey, you’ll be accepted with open arms. A city of neighborhoods, it often feels like a small town, especially with a lack of skyscrapers thanks to the 1910 Height of Buildings Act.
Now that you’re moving to Washington, D.C., what is there to know to fit right into your adopted city like a real Washingtonian? Here’s everything you need to know to get started falling in love with D.C., except where all the international super-spies are hiding.
Washington, D.C. overview
Washington, D.C., is just the 20th largest city in the United States by population but it’s the center of the sixth-largest metropolitan area. It’s not a state, but instead is conterminous with the District of Columbia, and is the nation’s capital city.
A high percentage of Washington residents are employees of Federal government agencies, civilian government employees, military personnel, staffers of Congresspeople and Senators, K Street lobbyists and foreign diplomats and their staffs. But that’s just part of D.C.’s story. Residents of The District are among the most highly-educated and highest income-earning workers in the nation, with significant presences in healthcare, technology, higher education and hospitality and tourism.
D.C. is also one of the most expensive cities in which to live. While the city has the highest median income in America, its cost of living is the fifth-highest in the country, which means it’s 60 percent more costly to live here compared to the national average. New residents will find housing, parking, groceries, restaurants and transit to be likely more expensive than they may be used to elsewhere.
While it hasn’t been one of the 10 largest cities in the country since the 1970s, it remains one of the most diverse. Here’s an overview for those moving to Washington, D.C., by the numbers.
- Population: 705,749
- Population density: 9,857 persons/square mile
- Median income: $85,203
- Average studio rent: $2,064
- Average one-bedroom rent: $2,755
- Average two-bedroom rent: $3,658
- Cost of living index: 160.7
Popular neighborhoods in Washington
Much like New York City, the Nation’s Capital features a number of varied and unique neighborhoods with long histories. Each comes with its own identity, notable features and demographic and economic makeup, some more suited to families and others to young singles, some suburban-style and others offering downtown vibes.
Washington features more than 130 distinct neighborhoods spread out across eight wards and among the four directional quadrants, and these five are just some of the District’s most popular.
- Capitol Hill: This neighborhood does contain the U.S. Capitol building. And it’s also the site of other important locales like the Supreme Court and Library of Congress. But it’s also a largely residential neighborhood with blocks of townhouses, rowhouses, mansions and Queen Anne-style homes. Pennsylvania Avenue cuts the district diagonally and features hip shops, bars, cafes and a popular farmers’ market which spill down onto 8th Street SE. The neighborhood is also full of greenspace including Stanton, Seward and Garfield Parks.
- Adams Morgan: Just north of DuPont Circle, you’ll find D.C.’s most popular nightlife and entertainment district. The neighborhood features more than 90 bars, pubs, restaurants and cafés. The highly-walkable area also offers a number of galleries, public art, farmers’ markets, diverse schools and sits walking distance from the National Zoo and the south end of Rock Creek Park.
- Navy Yard: What might just be the most interesting up-and-coming area in Washington, this neighborhood features a well-maintained infrastructure and a revitalization project that will add 16 million square feet of new office space and retail, a thousand hotel keys, 9,000 new houses and apartments and six new parks. It’s also home to Nationals Park and development that’s well underway for a premiere pre- and post-game entertainment and dining district along the Anacostia riverfront.
- West End: Best known for its high-end restaurants and retail and luxury hotels, most don’t consider the posh West End as a residential location. But there are upscale condos and apartments dotting the neighborhood in one of D.C.’s most desirable locations just a short walk away from both the Potomac riverfront and the National Mall, as well as the junction of the Rock Creek and C&O Canal Towpath trails.
- Edgewood: This primarily residential neighborhood sandwiched between Rhode Island and Michigan Avenues NE is dominated by the hefty Glenwood and Prospect Hill cemeteries and the Rhode Island Avenue Shopping Center and sits between Howard and Catholic Universities. Its newest feature is the Monroe Street Market, a redevelopment site at the northern tip of Edgewood featuring art studios, an arts walk, boutique museums, apartments and a smattering of national chain and local shops and restaurants.
Pros of moving to Washington
D.C. is a unique place. It’s not a state but it’s still in the United States. It’s the seat and heart of the government and the nation’s representative to the world. But separating out living in the city of Washington from living in the District of Columbia, it’s a wonderful city in which to reside for a number of reasons from its high average income and education levels to its enthusiastic hometown sports fans and iconic venues to its incredible museums and monuments. These are just a few pros of moving to Washington, D.C.
The diversity is amazing
As the center of the political and governmental universe, it should be to no one’s surprise that Washington, D.C., is one of the nation’s most diverse cities, culturally, economically and socially. People come from around the world to live in D.C. to lobby for causes, promote economies or work in one of the nearly 200 foreign embassies that line the city.
And the highly-educated local population is just as diverse, ranked by Bloomberg as the sixth-most diverse metro area in the nation. In addition to the oft-covered diversity of white and Black Washingtonians, there has also been a great increase in Latinx and Asian residents in recent years, drawn to new developments friendly to young families and Washington’s role as an equal opportunity government employment town.
There are a ton of stunning parks
As home to the U.S. National Zoological Park and National Arboretum, it stands to reason that D.C.’s park system is ranked as the best in the entire country. More than 20 percent of the land area in the District is public parkland. In fact, every Washington resident lives within just a 10-minute walk of a park.
While Washington is dominated by green spaces like the 1,700-acre Rock Creek Park, the National Mall and West Potomac Park surrounding the internationally-known Tidal Basin, D.C. parks are more than just canyons, plazas and woodlands. In addition to the stunning parks of the National Park Service, there are dozens of smaller parks, playgrounds, nature trails and bike runs throughout the District.
U-Street is one of the coolest places in the nation
Adams Morgan and Georgetown get all the love but there may just be no cooler spot in D.C. than U Street. Located in Northwest D.C., U Street was once the heart of black culture in America, swarming with jazz clubs, soul food joints and theaters along “Black Broadway.”
Today, U Street is still a vital Black neighborhood featuring the century-old Howard and Lincoln theaters and the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl, but it has grown into the District’s premier live entertainment corridor. Along with a plethora of restaurants serving cuisines from around the world — particularly the block known as “Little Ethiopia” — U Street is the heart of live music in D.C., featuring spots like 9:30 Club, DC9, Velvet Lounge and U Street Music Hall.
Cons of moving to Washington
But like anywhere else, living in Washington has its downs along with its ups. D.C.’s crime rate is a well-discussed topic as is its problematic school system. It’s so transient that sometimes it can be hard to make and maintain friendships and relationships. And the subway system can be best described as difficult and unreliable.
While there are many more pros than cons to living in D.C., here are a few of the issues to remember before you move.
All the rumors are true: The traffic in D.C. is that bad. And the biggest culprit is Interstate 495, better known as the Capital Beltway. While the Beltway doesn’t actually cross into D.C., it circles around through Maryland and Virginia causing headaches for commuters morning and evening. In fact, two interchanges in Maryland are ranked among the worst in the nation.
While D.C. residents are correct in deriding the frustrations of commuting everywhere in D.C. — from oft-closed subway lines to one-way streets never in the right direction to seemingly unending construction — it’s the Beltway that shines brightest on the misery index. And come April it only gets worse as tourist season opens (during normal years) and the Beltway is clogged with tourists on road trips and in rental cars desperately trying to find their exit.
The weather can be brutal in summer and winter
Washington, D.C.’s location was selected as a compromise between northern and southern states, smack in the middle of the new nation. It was great for distance but lousy for the weather. In the summer, Washington can get as brutally hot and humid as anywhere in the South, with humidity hovering around 70 percent and heat indices consistently more than 100 degrees.
Yet in the winter, temperatures can reach bitter northeastern cold levels, with average lows below freezing all season. And while the city only averages about 15 inches of snowfall a year, blizzards from Nor’easters can bring the city to a standstill with regularity. But even average winter storms can bring traffic to its knees, causing traffic jams and closing schools.
Even spring is troublesome. While those cherry blossoms are beautiful in bloom, allergy season in D.C. is ruthless on even the mildest pollen allergy sufferer.
Taxation without representation
One thing that is unique to living in D.C. you’ll find nowhere else in the continental United States is that you’ll have no representation in the U.S. Congress. The District of Columbia, of course, is not a state. And as such, has no Senators and no voting members of the House of Representatives.
If you’re a political person, you may be concerned about a lack of Federal representation despite paying all the same Federal taxes and being subject to all the same Federal laws as everyone else.
And with no Senator, Congressperson or even Governor, your local laws are overseen by the U.S. Congress, although the mayor’s office and D.C. Statehood advocates are pushing to change all that. However, you still do get to vote for President, which is a fairly new concept. The 23rd Amendment gave voting rights to D.C. citizens, who receive three electoral votes, in 1961.
How to get started on your move to Washington
Ready for moving to Washington, D.C.? Whether you’re making a move from Maryland or Virginia to the city, coming from elsewhere along I-95, or traveling cross-country to experience every wonderful thing in Washington, prepare as best as you can before you arrive to make yourself a real Washingtonian that locals will accept and love.
To help with your move as you prep to head on out and start packing up your place, check out the Rent.com Moving Center to get free quotes and more information about planning out your move to your new Washington home.
Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com’s multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments. Data was pulled in September 2020 and goes back for one year. We use a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
Population and income numbers are from the U.S. Census Bureau. Cost of living data comes from the Council for Community and Economic Research.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.