Moving To Washington DC? (The Truth About Living Here)

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Your Ultimate Guide to Moving to Washington DC

Washington DC is unique…it’s the only place in the US that isn’t part of a “state”. It’s also a city with multiple personalities and a diverse robust culture driven by immigration, government, and opportunity.

It’s the US Capitol, the home of the federal government and a place where some of the world’s most important decisions are made. It’s also a global tourist destination, an international metropolis, and a hub of art, history, and culture.

Washington D.C, or simply ‘D.C’ as the locals call it, feels pretty different to its other big city neighbors along the East Coast. Because of urban planning laws, it’s lacking in skyscrapers and has a small-town (yet moderately fast-paced) feel in many of its downtown neighborhoods. The iconic Capitol building, the Supreme Court, and of course the White House, are just a few of the world-famous landmarks that dominate the understated skyline.

Supermoon above three iconic monuments: Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and Capitol Building in Washington DC as viewed from Arlington, Virginia

The city sits comfortably along the Potomac River, sandwiched between Virginia and Maryland. Every day, several hundred thousand commuters travel from neighboring parts of these states, known as the greater DC area, to work in the city. Most of these commuters are government workers (either direct or as part of the contracted governmental workforce) and form part of what is known as the ‘D.C Bubble’, where climbing the career ladder is a top priority and there’re jobs a-plenty for those who want to work hard and have the ambition to put rubber to road.

If Washington DC is on your shortlist of potential places to move to, you’ll want to give this guide a read to find out everything you need to know before making the leap. From the best neighborhoods, to the costs of living and employment opportunities, we’ve got you covered from A-to-Z in this guide.

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Where Are The Best Places To Live In Washington DC?

 

For a relatively compact city, Washington DC still has a large number of neighborhoods with distinct personalities and cultures intertwined within a small proximity. There’s an area that can be a good fit for virtually anyone around the city if you take the time to explore. Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the best places to live in Washington DC.

In no particular order…

Glover Park

Glover Park is located in Northwest DC, right next to Rock Creek Park. There’s a real close-knit community feel here; it’s a place where people seem to know their neighbors and there’s still a sense of small-town charm. It’s also a walkable area, and a lot of residents choose to swap a car for a bicycle to get around the city.

Home architecture in Glover Park consists of mainly large porch-fronted row houses, as well as plenty of smaller 1950s and 60’s style condos and apartments. There’s also plenty of green space and even a community victory garden for everyone to enjoy.

The average price of a home in Glover Park sites around $540,000 as of the writing of this guide, so it’s certainly not cheap, but it’s by no means the most expensive neighborhood in the city either. If budget permits, it’s an area worth looking into.

Georgetown

This is one of the city’s most famous and celebrated neighborhoods. It’s right in the heart of DC action, and is an important commercial and entertainment hub touted for its amenities and business district. People come from miles around to spend their hard-earned dollars at the exclusive shops and boutiques that line the streets here. The neighborhood is also home to many of the world’s embassies, as well as being a popular destination for tourists from around the world. The area is packed with museums and art galleries, and is home to some of the best restaurants and bars in all of DC.

Washingto, DC - June 17: Street scene at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street in Georgetown in Washington, DC on a late summer afternoon on June 17, 2006..

Georgetown is a very walkable area with a dense urban feel, but without the usual hustle and bustle that comes with some of the city’s downtown areas. But don’t expect these amenities to come at a value. The neighborhood commands a hefty price tag for those looking to buy a home, with the average home price in the area costing around $785,000.

Adam’s Morgan

Adam’s Morgan is a small but vibrant community that celebrates art and culture in a big way. The buildings are colorful and adorned with amazing street art that makes the place a special area to see. The streets of Adam’s Morgan are lively and fun, with a nightlife scene that feels similar to areas of San Francisco or New York.

Again, you don’t need a car to enjoy all the neighborhood has to offer. The area itself only spans around 5 blocks, and it shares a convenient metro stop with Woodly Park Zoo, making quick and easy access to the rest of the city a breeze.

It’s an eclectic and diverse little neighborhood that embodies the charm and uniqueness of a small town, while still having the buzz and excitement of the city at the same time. Here you’ll find all kinds of people; young, old, families, and singles. It’s a place where everyone is made to feel welcome.

Adams Morgan even has its very own day, celebrated every year on the 2nd of September. The streets are even more lively than usual as people come together to celebrate culture, music, food, and community.

The houses here come in many shapes and sizes with an array of varying architecture to choose from. That said, the area still boasts a number of large beautiful row houses, some of which have been converted into apartments. The average cost of a home here is $610,000.

Dupont Circle

Equally as hip and vibrant as Georgetown, Dupont Circle is one of the most sought-after places to live in the city. It’s got a much denser downtown feel than many of the neighborhoods on our list, so it tends to be more popular with young and wealthy professionals who embrace the fast-paced (sometimes high-stress atmosphere) rather than a place for families looking to slow things down.

There’s an international feel here, with a large percentage of 20 and 30 something year old professionals from around the world choosing Dupont as their home base while working in the city.

Aerial view of buildings in Dupont Circle Washington DC

It’s a highly walkable area, so much so that having a car here can be more of a hindrance than a help (especially given the difficulty with parking). The good news is that everything you need is walkable on foot, from fantastic bars and restaurants to grocery stores and gyms. The metro conveniently links the area to the rest of the city and the wider DC metropolitan area and is an affordable and environmentally friendly alternative to driving the congested streets.

The average cost of a home here is around $470,000. Compared to some other areas in Washington DC, this might sound pretty cheap, but it’s worth remembering that many of the properties here consist of smaller apartments and condos. For a more “apples to apples” comparison, the price per square foot here is $692, much higher than the city average of $551.

Woodly Park

Right next door to Adam’s Morgan is Woodly Park, home to DC’s famous National Zoo. It’s an affluent area with wide tree-lined streets with some beautiful and original early 20th century homes. It’s a really popular area with families looking for a safe relaxed place to raise their children, while still being close to everything that the city has to offer. There are also a lot of luxury apartment buildings and condos here, with amazing views over the city from the higher floors.

There’s also the famous Rock Creek Park that borders up against Woodly Park. It’s a gorgeous haven of nature perfect for cycling, walking, and jogging.

This is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Washington DC, so homes here come at a premium. The average median house price is over a million dollars.

The Greater DC Area

These are just a few of the most popular neighborhoods in DC. Many locals also choose to live a little further out of the city, in the DC metro area, where there are some great suburban neighborhoods.

Virginia has some exciting and vibrant areas like Arlington and Alexandria which are easily commutable by car or metro. Maryland also has some great family-friendly suburbs like Chevy Chase, Rockville, and Bethesda.

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How Is The Job Market In Washington DC?

 

Washington DC is known for its abundance of jobs and impressive opportunities for both young and seasoned professionals alike. Many people flock here every year in the hopes of climbing high on the career ladder. And with good reason, salaries in DC tend to be significantly higher than many other areas around the country, and there’s a career-focused culture across the whole of the DC metro area.

Industries in Washington DC

Government jobs make up a large chunk of the job market in the city. In fact, over 40% of the Washington DC workforce is employed either directly or indirectly by the government. These tend to be high paying jobs with excellent career development opportunities and great benefits.

That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of booming industries outside of the government bubble. Tech is big here, with data from 2019 suggesting that for every 10 new job openings, 5 of them will be for computer-related work.

Other notable industries in the great DC area include healthcare, hospitality, construction, professional services, and education.

Top Employers

Within the government, it’s the US Department of Commerce that takes the top spot for the largest workforce, with over 10,000 employees.  The top non-governmental employer is George Washington University, which also employs over 10,000 people.

Statue of George Washington is located in his university in Washington D.C., USA. It was established on February 9, 1821. It is a private research and the largest university in Washington D.C.

Other Top Employers in the Greater DC Area Include:

  • FTI Consulting
  • Patient First
  • Cvent
  • CGI
  • Choice Hotels International
  • Aldi CACI International
  • CACI International
  • Chenega MIOS
  • Medstar Health
  • Marriot International, Inc.
  • INOVA Health
  • Booze Allen Hamilton
  • Giant Food
  • Verizon Communications
  • Leidos Holdings. Inc.

As you can see, career opportunities span a broad range of sectors.

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How Much Does It Cost To Live In Washington DC?

 

We’ve already established that buying a property in Washington DC doesn’t come cheap. That’s why many of the city’s residents choose to rent their homes.

However, if you don’t have your finances in order, you may be in for a difficult ride. As you might have expected, rent here is also well above the national average, with a two-bedroom apartment going for a median of $1546/month, whereas the national average is just $1,175 per month.

Even if you opt for a small one-bedroom place or a studio, you’ll still need around $1300 a month to find something decent.

Utilities

Luckily, there is some financial relief to be found by living in the nation’s capital. Utilities are surprisingly low, with the average energy bill being $15 less than the national average per month.

2019 data from Numbero.com shows us that, for a 915 square foot apartment it costs $123 for heating, electricity, garbage, and water every month. The national average for those costs combined is $152.

Food

Unfortunately, groceries aren’t quite such a bargain. In Washington DC, the average monthly minimal food cost is $471, whereas the national average is only $324.

People shopping in the supermarket located in Washington DC

As you can imagine in such a wealthy, international tourist hub, eating out doesn’t come cheap either. The price of a three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant in the city is $75, which is considerably more expensive than the national average.

Transportation

Unlike some other large cities in the US, the DC metro doesn’t have a flat fare- the cost depends on the length of the journey, so a one month Metrorail SmartTrip pass could cost anywhere from $70 to $215.

If you choose to have a car in Washington DC, you’ll pay just over the national average for a gallon of gas, around $2.95.

Healthcare

Luckily, healthcare costs in Washington DC are relatively affordable; the average person pays about 4% less than the national average.

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How Is The Washington DC Real Estate Market?

 

As you may have noticed in our round-up of the best places to live, house prices in Washington DC are pretty high. The median property price in the area is an eye-widening $686,000, which is almost double the national average. And with so much wealth around, it’s not surprising that this city has outpriced many of its long-time residents.

Front view of Italianate style row homes, Washington DC.

Even less affluent areas of the city have slowly become gentrified, and house prices have soared leaving many long-time residents unable to keep up with the skyrocketing housing costs on low-income jobs.

To put it in perspective, the national average price of a square foot of land is $123, but in Washington DC, it’s $551. But that doesn’t mean moving here is a bad idea. Given the high wage opportunities, the costs of housing can easily be offset by those who rank among the working professional class.

When is the Best Time to Buy a Home in DC?

If you’re looking for the best time to buy a home in DC for value, consider making the purchase in the “off-season”. Homes in January, for example, tended to stay on the market 21 days longer on average, leaving home sellers eager to unload their home and potentially at a discount from the advertised sticker price. This is especially common if they are taking a job transfer out of state.

On the flip side, if you’re looking for more options, buying in the summer months will leave you with more inventory to choose from, albeit at higher prices and with more competition from other buyers.

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Is Washington DC A Good Place To Retire?

 

Despite the high cost of living, Washington DC can be a great place to retire for those who can afford it. The area has wonderful public transportation for those that can no longer drive or who prefer to not deal with traffic and commuting. Retirees often want to relax and take it easy. The good news is that DC is ripe with services to let you do just that. You can have your groceries delivered, and even have your clothes picked up, washed and dropped back off at your convenience, allowing you to kick back and enjoy life.

picture of Group of retired friends support concept

Let’s take a look at some of the perks of retiring in the District.

Culture, Activities and Social Life

There’s a number of excellent museums, most of which are free to enter and explore at your leisure. There’s also a virtually endless stream of cultural events, live entertainment shows and recreational activities to enjoy.

Distinct Seasons

Washington DC has 4 distinct seasons and relatively moderate weather. Winters can be cold, but rarely reach the chilly temperatures of places like NYC. The summers are warm but bearable, and spring and autumn provide the perfect weather to enjoy the great outdoors. Extreme weather events like hurricanes or tornadoes are pretty rare.

Great Healthcare

The healthcare system here is up there with the very best in the country. There are several highly ranked hospitals known for excellent patient care. The cost of healthcare in and around DC is also slightly less than the national average. An added bonus if you happen to have any medical issues.

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What Are The People And Culture Like In Washington DC?

 

Washington DC is a melting pot of cultures, and there’s an exciting international feel to the city. Many residents are transplants from other parts of the US and around the world that have come here for work.

There’s a strong emphasis on a career here, and the phrase “what do you do?” and “where do you work?” are normal go-to conversation starters. Given the professional work culture, there is also a drive among individuals to aspire to move up the ladder both in career and life, making the city a fast-paced and results-oriented place to live. If slow and relaxed is your style, DC might not be the best fit.

Politically, Washington DC is very left-leaning, and the vast majority of residents are Democrats. For example, in the last election, Hilary Clinton received 91% of the vote, while Trump garnered just 4%. DC also takes a pretty liberal approach to social and cultural issues; it has one of the largest LGBT populations in the country, and possession of marijuana was decriminalized in 2015 within the city limits.

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Some Of The Coolest Things To Do In Washington DC

 

It’s impossible to list all of the exciting places to visit and the activities that you need to participate in, but we’ve done our best to put together a list of some of our favorites. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

The Smithsonian Institution

One of the best things about living in DC is the amazing collection of Smithsonian museums, most of which you can find along the iconic National Mall. Some of the best include the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of African American History and Culture, the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Gallery, the Museum of American History and the Museum of the American Indian. The best part is they’re all completely free!

The Washington Monument

This world-famous landmark sits in the middle of the national mall, and no trip to DC is complete without a quick photo stop here.  You can even take a trip up to the top for the most incredible views of DC.

Georgetown

Picturesque Georgetown is a great place for shopping and people watching.  Splash some cash in the world-class stores and boutiques here, then head over to Georgetown Waterfront to enjoy dinner and drinks at one of the many awesome restaurants overlooking the Potomac River.

National Zoo

This huge zoo is famous for its giant pandas, and since it’s part of the Smithsonian Institute, it’s completely free to enter. Rock Creek Park next door is also a great place to visit for a walk in nature.

Lincoln Memorial

This iconic memorial is at the western end of the National Mall and is an absolute must-see when you find yourself in DC. Go at night to see the neoclassical architecture lit up in all of its glory.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

This is another iconic, must-see monument, modeled after the Roman Pantheon building. Go in spring to enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms that line the path here.

The National Gallery of Art

You could easily spend a whole day here, taking in both modern and ancient works of art from around the world. Don’t miss the incredible views over the Capitol from the rooftop.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

This soaring memorial pays tribute to the late great Martin Luther King Jr. It’s a gorgeously carved masterpiece containing some of his famous quotes carved into the stone.

Ben’s Chili Bowl

This low key diner is a DC institution, popular with celebrities and even presidents. Try the “chili half-smoke”, a half-smoked sausage with their signature chili, onions and mustard- delicious!

Jazz in the Garden

What better way to spend a Friday evening than with a spot of Jazz in the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden? The weekly event runs from May through to August and features an eclectic array of live music. Bring a picnic blanket, grab a drink from the bar and bust out your best dance moves!

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The Pros And Cons Of Living In Washington DC

 

So now that we’ve taken a look at what Washington DC has to offer, let’s examine the pros and cons of moving to the nation’s capital.

Pros

  • There’s always something to do. This vibrant international city has endless museums, monuments, and galleries to visit. There’s always some kind of festival or cultural event to attend, and the nightlife and restaurant scene is world-class.
  • It’s in a great location. There are so many awesome destinations just a few hours away. It’s easy to take weekend breaks in places like Philadelphia, NYC, and Baltimore.
  • The weather is great. Summers are sunny and warm, and winters are relatively mild. The changes of the seasons are pronounced, and fall is especially beautiful here.
  • Diversity is celebrated. One of the great things about DC is the fact that people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds live side by side, and celebrate their heritage through festivals, food, and music.

Cons

  • The traffic situation. There’s no way to sugar-coat it- the traffic in the DC area is pretty terrible. The best way to avoid sitting in your car for hours a day is to take the metro, or, if you live close enough, cycle or walk to work.
  • The cost of living is high. House prices and rents are notoriously expensive. The good news is that wages also tend to be higher here, but for those used to a cheaper cost of living, it could be a struggle to get by. Consider moving out to the suburbs in Virginia or Maryland where you’ll find housing a little more affordable.
  • The ‘live to work’ mentality. People tend to work long hours and are pretty career-driven. While this might be a good environment if you’re also looking to get on top, some people find that they have to sacrifice their quality of life and put off much-needed vacation time if they want to stay ‘on top’ in this city.
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Washington DC Fun Facts & Strange Laws

 

Strange Laws Still on the Books in DC

Most cities have their fair share of strange and surprising laws, and Washington DC is no exception. Let’s take a look at some of the weirder laws still on the books here today.

  • It’s against the law to conduct or participate in any kind of racing, dancing or competition for longer than 12 hours.
  • It’s illegal to marry your mother-in-law.
  • You can’t dance in or around the Jefferson Memorial.
  • If you challenge someone to a dual and they decline, it’s illegal to call them a ‘coward’ in public.
  • It’s forbidden for small boys to throw stones anywhere in the city.
  • It’s illegal to snap photographs in the same spot for more than 5 minutes.

Fun Facts About DC

To wrap up our overview of moving to Washington DC, let’s look at some fun facts from the nation’s capital.

  • Although not officially confirmed, reports as far back as 1888 cite that Herbert Hoover’s son had pet alligators in the White House. The same is said of John Quincy Adams.
  • Residents in Washington DC drink more wine than any other city in the nation.
  • The national cathedral is famous for its many gargoyles, but not many people know that one of them is Darth Vader.
  • There are miles and miles of underground tunnels snaking beneath the capitol building. These are strictly for senators and members of the house and are off-limits to the public.
  • ‘The Exorcist’ was filmed in Georgetown. The iconic stone steps that feature in the movie are still there today.
  • DC’s metro ranks as the second most busy metro in all of the United States
  • The Washington Redskins were originally from Boston
  • All roads throughout the city lead to the Capitol Building, effectively dividing the city into unique quadrants
  • Washington DC, to the surprise of many, actually gets more rainfall than Seattle
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Ready to Make the Move to DC?

There’s no doubt about it, DC is full of opportunity for those eager to roll up their sleeves and take part. From impressive career paths, to a vibrant social and nightlife, DC has a lot to offer. Although housing prices are higher than the national average, so are the salaries, and there are savings in other areas such as utility costs. The city is bike and walking-friendly and is increasingly becoming more environmentally conscious. It’s a melting pot where no one is really “from” DC, but rather just a transplant like everyone else. Rich with history, and open for all who take the plunge, DC can be a great place to live.

We hope you enjoyed this guide and take the time to explore everything that DC has to offer for yourself.

 

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