Safe and Dangerous Places in Washington
For the most part, the area that tourists will spend most of their time, the National Mall, is quite safe, with numerous park police, D.C. police and park rangers highly visible. Additionally, around the White House, you can be sure that Secret Service agents are watching over the scene. In fact, what's that on top of the White House? Oh, just some Secret Service snipers surveying for trouble. Know the safe areas and the areas to avoid in Washington D.C. so that you have a happy and memorable trip to the national capital.
Though there is very little crime reported in the National Mall, in 2006, there were a few robberies committed at night in areas that were described as not being well lit. Police enforcement was quickly stepped up and the culprits were caught. However, visitors should always use common sense whether in Washington D.C. or elsewhere, and avoid areas that will make them easy targets for crime.
Outside of the National Mall area, another popular and relatively safe neighborhood for visitors is Georgetown, which is home to Georgetown University. Located along the Potomac River in northwest D.C. , this area has many nice restaurants, bars and unique shops. This area is, no surprise, very popular with the college students from the nearby university.
Kennedy Center, George Washington University, and the Watergate Hotel -- is also considered safe, with good dining options. This area is located due south of Dupont Circle and between Georgetown and the White House. For a fun side trip, visitors should take in the Kennedy Center's free concert held daily at 6PM. The center's Website has details about each day's performance.
Another popular and relatively safe area is the newly re-gentrified Chinatown. After the Verizon Center -- home to the Washington Capitals and Wizards -- opened in 1997, many bars and restaurants have also sprung up in the area and it has become a popular spot for Maryland, Virginia and D.C. residents to spend a day or an evening. The popular Spy Museum is also located here.
Dupont Circle is an eclectic neighborhood, very close to many of the international embassies, which gives this area an international flair. There are many shops, restaurants and several museums including the Phillips Collection and the National Geographic Society's Explorers Hall. Dupont Circle often becomes the site for strange festivities; for instance, there was a large FIFA World Cup outdoor viewing party held here; a huge snowball fight during the 2010 blizzards, and also a humongous pillow fight. If you can picture these events, it will give you a feel for the general vibe of this unique area.
Areas to avoid
Of course, as in any big city, there are areas to avoid in Washington D.C. In fact, back in 1991, D.C. was dubbed the murder capital of the nation, with nearly 500 murders. The title was based on the number of killings per 100,000 residents. However, the murder rate has fallen dramatically since then; in 2009, the number dropped to 143.
The areas of D.C. that still experience the majority of murders, according to the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police's crime-mapping application, is the Sixth and Seventh police districts of D.C., an area that lies east of the Anacostia River. According to the data, during the period of July 1, 2009-July 1, 2010, this area saw 2,635 violent crimes, which included 113 of the total 195 murders committed in all of D.C.
During the same period, the Third Police District, which covers a very diverse mix of wealthy, struggling and transitioning neighborhoods, including Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Cardozo-Shaw, Kalorama and Dupont Circle, also experienced a high rate of crime. Between 2009 and 2010, the area witnessed 1,495 violent crimes, including 27 murders. A well-known restaurant, Ben's Chili Bowl, which was made even more famous when President Barack Obama visited it in January 2009, is located in this district, as is the popular nightclub, the 9:30 Club.
Another place to stay vigilant is the D.C. Metro. For the most part, the transit system is safe; however, it is important to keep an eye on your belongings. In 2009, the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority warned its riders about thieves targeting riders carrying devices such as iPods, iPhones and the like. It also advised passengers to stash these items in pockets or other places where they are not seen and to stand away from doors, as thieves usually snatched these items and jumped off at stations. By March 2009, 894 such thefts were reported, compared to 581 in the entire year of 2008. In January 2009 alone, there were 122 reported thefts of such devices. In June of 2010, a 16-year-old boy was beaten and robbed for his expensive running shoes.
It's also important that visitors to areas generally considered safer than others -- such as Chinatown, Adams Morgan, or Georgetown -- should not stray too far off the beaten path. Wandering into poorly lit, isolated side streets can lead to becoming a victim of a crime. In 2008, for instance, the Washington Post reported that visitors to the popular Adams Morgan neighborhood were being mugged as they returned to cars parked on side streets.
Lastly, the most unsafe area of D.C. is arguably the roads. Jammed with commuters, residents, bicyclists, confused tourists trying to navigate while looking for parking spaces, stopped tour buses, cabs that suddenly dart in front of you, and delivery vans blocking traffic, the roads are a nightmare, especially at rush hour. In addition, many streets are one-way, so not paying attention when you turn down a street can be a very bad mistake. Street parking is limited and the signs can be confusing, while lots and garage parking tends to be very pricey. Oh, and tourists beware: If you park in a commuter lane and you fail to move your car at rush hour, you will find that your car has been towed away or moved.
Overall, D.C. is a safe place to visit; but as with most big cities, care must be taken in order to have a trouble-free visit.
Can't Get Enough? Discover More of Washington, DC
- Overview: Washington, DC Travel Guide