Aside from being one of the most interesting and historically rich cities in America, our nation’s capital is also one of the most accessible. Its renowned accessible services complement the famous monuments, world-class museums, and legendary restaurants, which attract millions of visitors each year. A fair number of wheelchair users are among these ranks of tourists, and DC is an excellent place for any wheelchair user to plan a vacation. Looking for the cheapest time to go? According to trivago’s 2015 Hotel Price Index data, December and January are best for your budget.
This Ultimate Accessibility Guide to Washington DC aims to answer any questions you have about traveling to DC as a wheelchair user. It highlights several exciting points of interest and discusses accessibility features of some of the city’s major attractions. Then, it breaks down DC transportation and how it works in a wheelchair, and also provides some useful resources for anyone with accessibility requirements who is thinking about heading to DC.
THE WHITE HOUSE | 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
The White House was one of the first wheelchair accessible buildings in the city thanks to features put in especially for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Wheelchair users take the same tours as everyone else and arrive at the same Visitors Entrance, though you’ll receive your own escort (it sounds so fancy!) to go by ramp to the Ground floor and by elevator to the State floor. It’s also possible to borrow a wheelchair for the tour — if you want to do this, just let the officer at the Visitors Entrance know once you arrive.
However, don’t forget that you can’t just wheel into the White House and hope to be included in a tour. Scheduling a White House tour is something that you need to do months in advance by submitting a request through your representative in Congress or your embassy (if you’re not a U.S. citizen).
THE US CAPITOL BUILDING | East Capitol St. NE & First St. SE
The Capitol is quite an accessible place, so go and see your elected officials hard at work! Aside from publicizing their emergency evacuation plan for individuals in wheelchairs, the Capitol Visitor Center Office of Visitor Services runs a shuttle service, which is great for those with special mobility needs and manual wheelchairs. The shuttle goes from Independence Avenue and First St. SW, the southwest corner of Capitol Square, to the Capital Visitor Center entrance in the East Plaza. You can ask about the shuttle at any of the Visitors Kiosks while there, but if you think you want to use it, you’re encouraged to provide advance notice to the Office of Congressional Accessibility Services by calling 202-224-4048.
If you need to, you can request a wheelchair while there from the Information Desk or from any of the staff in red vests. There is limited public parking near the Capitol, but there are some spots reserved for wheelchair users around the National Mall as well as in the garage at Union Station, which is the closest public parking area to the Capitol. If you have any additional question about visiting in a wheelchair, the Office of Accessibility Services can answer them at the number above!
LINCOLN MEMORIAL | 2 Lincoln Memorial Cir NW
Aside from being free, the Lincoln Memorial is also entirely accessible. There are accessible restrooms and water fountains, and despite what you may think from looking at pictures, no stairs are accessed to get to the memorial. To reach the Lincoln Memorial’s interior, as well as the Jefferson Memorial’s interior, you’ll just have to take an elevator located in the ground level lobbies. Ramps lead from the street level to the Lincoln Memorial basement. If needed, the National Park Service can provide you a free wheelchair for two hours here, though you’ll have to leave a driver’s license for security and ask a park ranger to take advantage of this service.
WASHINGTON MONUMENT | 2 15th St NW
Half the thrill of seeing the Washington Monument, DC’s iconic 555 ft tower, is simply seeing it from afar while wheeling around the expansive, landmark-studded National Mall. However, if you get tickets beforehand at the Washington Monument Lodge, adjacent to the monument on 15th Street, you can take a tour inside! Tours are fully accessible for wheelchair users, as all guests ascend the monument in an elevator. The elevator stops on two floors, one with an observation deck and the other with an internal museum. Tickets are free, or you can order them by phone or online at a small service charge.
trivago HOTEL PICK | HYATT REGENCY WASHINGTON
400 New Jersey Ave NW
Located on Capitol Hill, a stone’s throw from the National Mall and Union Station, the Hyatt Regency Washington offers accessible guest rooms that are equipped with lowered peepholes, climate controls, sinks and vanities. Some of those rooms are also equipped with roll-in showers. All of the hotel’s public areas are wheelchair accessible, including the fitness center and lap pool, so you don’t have to miss out on anything while staying here. To find out more about their commitment to accessibility, click here.
Smithsonian Museums are all wheelchair accessible, and each has at least one accessible entrance as well as wheelchairs available for loan on a first-come, first-serve basis. A map indicating accessible entrances, curb cuts and designated parking for the Smithsonian Castle as well as the other museums under the Smithsonian umbrella can be found here.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY | 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW
This has got to be one of the nation’s best natural history museums, hands down! Head to the Constitution Avenue entrance for an accessible entrance to the museum. (This is the side opposite the National Mall entrance, which isn’t wheelchair accessible.) Aside from its larger-than-life exhibits, the museum features accessible restrooms, and if you need companion care restrooms, they’re located on the first floor Rotunda near the Ocean Hall. As in all Smithsonian museums, manual wheelchairs are available for rent on the ground floor by the Visitor Information Desk.
NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM | 600 Independence Ave SW
Get ready for an adventure you’ll never forget! Here, you can immerse yourself in space at the wheelchair accessible IMAX theater and see the stars at the accessible Albert Einstein Planetarium. Most interactive exhibits are wheelchair accessible as well. Ramps provide access to the museum at both major entrances, though if you have a car, you may want to check out the accessible parking spaces located just across from the museum on the Jefferson Drive side. All the museum’s restrooms are accessible, and companion care restrooms are located near the Food Court. If you need to rent a wheelchair at the museum, use the Independence Avenue entrance and talk to the friendly folks at the Security Desk.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN | 4th St & Independence Ave SW
As one of DC’s cultural highlights, this one is a must-see. All of the fascinating and interactive exhibits are wheelchair accessible and can be accessed by elevator, and both entrances to the museum feature ramps. There’s accessible parking available at the northeast corner of Jefferson Drive and Fourth Street SW. If you need to rent a wheelchair, you can do so on the ground floor or by asking security staff.
NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART | 6th & Constitution Ave NW
A feast for the eyes, this is another museum you can’t miss with pieces from internationally celebrated artists like Rembrandt, Whistler and van Gogh . Two of the Gallery’s entrances – the West Building entrance at Constitution Ave and 6th Street and the East Building entrance at 4th Street – have ramps. Accessible parking is available at the West Building 4th Street entrance plaza, the West Building Mall entrance on Madison Drive, and the Sculpture Garden on Madison Drive. If you’re having a hard time locating parking, the officer stationed outside the West Building at the 4th Street plaza can help!
Wheelchairs are available for rent at either museum entrance, and you can reach every exhibit by elevator. The outdoor Sculpture Gardens are also completely accessible with the closest accessible restrooms located at the nearby Pavilion Café.
trivago HOTEL PICK | HOLIDAY INN WASHINGTON-CAPITOL
550 C Street SW
Located just a few blocks from the National Mall and many of the the museums mentioned above, the Holiday Inn Washington-Capitol is a central and affordable hotel and a great place to stay if you’re visiting central DC. Its wheelchair-accessible guest rooms offer all of the features of their standard guest rooms, including plush beds, 42-inch flat screen televisions, Keurig coffee makers, and upgraded bathrooms with granite vanities, plus a range of functional amenities, such as roll-in showers and doorbells, all designed to make your stay as comfortable as possible. Its on-site Starbucks café and three restaurants give you many options if you want to grab a bite closer to home.
BEN’S CHILI BOWL | 1213 U Street, NW
Prepare yourself to savor a heartwarming DC legend. Ben’s Chili Bowl has been a community icon for years – and yes, even President Obama has dined here. Find parking on the street or directly behind the restaurant, or take the metro and get off at the U Street stop on the Green Line. Try their famous Chili Dog or the vegetarian versions of their hot dishes. It’s largely wheelchair friendly; though the gift shop is up a flight of stairs on the second floor, the restaurant is ground level and accessible.
OLD EBBITT GRILL | 675 15th St NW
A stone’s throw from the White House grounds, this restaurant has been a D.C. institution since it opened in 1856. A Victorian-style tavern establishment offering classic American cuisine, it’s a nice yet casual atmosphere that has been a favorite of several presidents over the years. Their Oyster Bar is considered DC’s best, and it’s a hotspot for Sunday Brunch. The entire restaurant is wheelchair accessible except for the Cabinet Room, one of several areas where large, private events are held.
LE DIPLOMATE | 1601 14th St NW
“Le Dip” as the regulars call it, offers some of DC’s best French-style cuisine. Modeled after a classic French café, they have outdoor seating as well as indoor. The food is on the pricier side, but it’s nothing too exorbitant for DC. Wheelchair users will be delighted to hear that the restaurant is fully accessible and even offers a valet parking service. It costs $12, but that very well may be an easier option than finding close parking, though there is a public parking area (Colonial Parking) a couple blocks away, on P Street between 14th and 15th Streets.
FOUNDING FARMERS | 1924 Pennsylvania Ave NW
A truly unique eatery, this restaurant is owned by a co-op of over 40,000 family farmers from around the country and focuses on fresh and sustainable food. Distinct even in DC’s celebrated restaurant scene, Founding Farmers sits on the ground floor of the International Monetary Fund building, just three blocks from the White House. You can find parking on the street or in the nearby Colonial Parking site, or you can get to the restaurant by metro. And the best part of this highly rated, farm-to-table restaurant? It’s completely accessible!
BUSBOYS AND POETS | Multiple locations; Flagship location: 2021 14th St
Though this famous DC establishment now has several locations throughout the city and surrounding area, Busboys’ flagship restaurant is located at 14th Street and V Street. Its name is homage to Langston Hughes, and the restaurant itself often features events that include poetry readings and performances that attract the classic DC liberal scene as well as tourists. The flagship location also has a small bookstore, and in addition to the restaurant’s large and varied menu which is especially kind to vegetarians, it’s a wheelchair accessible place!
trivago HOTEL PICK | LOEWS MADISON HOTEL
1177 15th St NW
Built in 1963 as The Madison Hotel and inaugurated by none other than John F. Kennedy, the Loews Madison has a heritage that’s as storied as the city itself. Seamlessly blending its historic soul with modern design and amenities, the Loews Madison is a refined way to experience all D.C. has to offer. With accessible guest rooms ranging from standard King and Queen Rooms to luxurious suites and Executive Terrace rooms featuring a patio and stunning views of the city, the Loews Madison truly has something for travelers of every stripe. It is located in Downtown DC and is within a few minutes walk (or roll) from the White House and most of the restaurants mentioned on this list.
Photos by Sonara Arnav and Kārlis Dambrāns CC BY
DC’s most historic neighborhood, Georgetown is also the best place to head to for shopping. There’s no metro station that’s close to Georgetown, so it’s best to either drive or take a bus or taxi. Some of the side streets can be hilly, narrow, and crowded, but if you stick to the major avenues and down closer to the Waterfront, Georgetown is quite friendly for wheelchair users. Be sure to stop in some of the area’s boutiques and cafés, as that’s what Georgetown is known for.
CHINATOWN’S GALLERY PLACE | H & 7th St NW
Gallery Place in Chinatown is probably a bit more wheelchair friendly than Georgetown, just because it’s more easily accessed by metro and public transportation, it’s flatter, and it has nice, big sidewalks. Here, wheel underneath Chinatown’s iconic arch and enjoy the modern mix that is shopping, dining, and entertainment rolled into one. Most of the area’s stores, restaurants, and entertainment options are wheelchair accessible as well, and immersing yourself in Chinese-American culture is sure to be intriguing.
THE FASHION CENTER AT PENTAGON CITY MALL | 1100 S Hayes St, Arlington, VA
This is probably the best wheelchair accessible shopping you’ll see in DC. Get off the Blue or Yellow Line Metro at the Pentagon City stop, or drive your own car and enjoy the plethora of accessible parking spaces. Over 170 stores and restaurants await, and you’re guaranteed to see names you know and find new stores you’ve never seen before. Travel between floors in style in a glass elevator ride which also happens to be quite scenic. If you need to, you can borrow a complimentary wheelchair at Simon Guest Services on the mall’s ground floor.
trivago HOTEL PICK | KIMPTON HOTEL PALOMAR
2121 P Street NW
Conveniently located near Dupont Circle, between Downtown DC and trendy Georgetown, the Kimpton Hotel Palomar Washington D.C. offers all the luxury and refinement you’d associate with the iconic Kimpton brand, as well as being fully ADA-compliant. The Kimpton Palomar offers a range of wheelchair-friendly guest rooms to cater to all your needs. The hotel’s restaurant, meeting center and exercise facilities are also fully wheelchair-accessible, as well as being tailored to guests with other disabilities. Be sure to get in touch with the hotel’s staff in order to plan your visit at 1-202-448-1800 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
Parks and Outdoors
Nope, not another shopping center! The National Mall refers to that wide, open, rectangular stretch of land lined with DC’s finest museums and book-ended by the Capitol Building on one end and the Washington Monument on the other. Parking spaces line the Mall, and if you have your own car, spots reserved for wheelchair users are often easier to find than any old spot. They’re scattered throughout the Mall, so you’ll have to find a space close to the attraction you’re interested in. Alternatively, you can get here by getting off at the Archives Station, Smithsonian Station, and L’Enfant Plaza metro stations. You’ll want to spend a lot of time at the Mall, as it’s ringed by so many of DC’s best landmarks. In fact, a map of accessible entrances and attractions throughout the National Mall can be found here.
NATIONAL ZOO | 3001 Connecticut Ave NW
Aside from its adorable pandas, one great thing about the National Zoo is that it’s free! The Zoo provides wheelchairs and electronic vehicles, and guests who’d like to rent them can do so at any of the park’s information kiosks. Non-motorized wheelchairs are free to rent, but electronic vehicles cost $30. Parking for wheelchair users can be found in lots A, B, and D, though you could also get here by taking the Red Line metro to the Woodley Park/Zoo station. Accessible restrooms can be found at the Visitor Center and on Olmstead Walk. All zoo exhibits are also accessible, but the one drawback to keep in mind is that the zoo is located on hilly terrain.
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY | Arlington, VA
The Arlington National Cemetery is a somber but popular attraction. The military cemetery offers a chance to salute buried soldiers for their service and also provides great views of downtown DC and monuments on the Mall. You can learn about the various landmarks within the cemetery on a wheelchair accessible tour, and accessible vehicles are provided for anyone who requires them. You and a friend can ride one for free as long as you carry ID with you!
ROCK CREEK PARK
A blaze of green that cuts from downtown DC to Maryland, bisecting the western half of the District, Rock Creek Park is a paradise for DC dwellers and visitors alike. It’s a place to escape, see wildlife, and forget that you’re in a city at all! Since it’s so large and its various attractions are placed throughout the park, you’ll definitely want to drive here.
Rock Creek features a Nature Center and a Planetarium that are both fully accessible. The Edge of the Woods trail, a 0.25 mile paved loop which is completely accessible as well. Peirce Mill, a mill which dates back to 1829 and is also inside the park’s bounds, has four floors. The first two are wheelchair accessible, but the top two are only reached by steep stairs. It’s a similar situation for Rock Creek’s Old Stone House, which was built in 1765 and is DC’s oldest structure still standing on its original foundation. The first floor and part of the gardens are accessible, but the upper floors can only be reached by a staircase – though staff can show you photos.
trivago HOTEL PICK | THE CHURCHILL HOTEL
2118 Wyoming Ave NW
Originally built in 1906 as a high-end apartment building named The Highlands, the Churchill Hotel’s Beaux-Arts style exterior has seen a lot. Opened as a hotel since 1955, today it is a member of Historic Hotels of America, part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Churchill was renovated a few years ago and now boasts all the amenities of a modern luxury hotel, all while staying true to its old-world charm. It offers wheelchair-accessible guest rooms with a range of features in order to make your stay as pleasant and carefree as possible. It’s located in the trendy Dupont Circle neighborhood, known for its restaurants, bars and shops and is only a mile away from the National Zoo.
Washington is home to teams from each of the big four professional sports leagues: the Washington Capitals (NHL), the Washington Wizards (NBA) the Washington Nationals (MLB) and the Washington Redskins (NFL), along with a professional soccer team for both men (D.C. United, MLS) and women (Washington Spirit, NWSL). Each stadium is entirely wheelchair-accessible and some even offer a special seating section for fans in wheelchairs and anyone accompanying them. All stadiums except the Washington Spirit’s Maryland SoccerPlex are accessible via the Washington Metro system, meaning you don’t have to worry about busy parking lots and traffic jams on gameday.
Verizon Center | 601 F St NW
Nearest Metro station: Gallery Place/Chinatown
Nationals Park | 1500 S Capitol St SE
- Nearest Metro station: Navy Yard-Ballpark
- Information on Wheelchair Access
FedEx Field | 1600 Fedex Way, Greater Landover, MD
- Nearest Metro station: Morgan Boulevard
- Information on Wheelchair Access
RFK Stadium | 2400 E Capitol St SE
- Nearest Metro station: Stadium-Armory
- Information on Wheelchair Access
trivago HOTEL PICK | MARRIOTT COURTYARD WASHINGTON CAPITOL HILL
140 L St SE
Less than half a mile from Nationals Park and the Anacostia River waterfront, the Marriott Courtyard Washington Capitol Hill/Navy Yard is your best bet if you’ll be going to a baseball game during your stay in D.C., or if you simply are looking for a comfortable and centrally-located accommodation option that won’t break the bank. The hotel is fully up-to-par on ADA standards and all areas of the hotel are wheelchair-accessible, including the pool with self-operating lifts and a sloped entry, the restaurants and lounges, the meeting spaces and the fitness center.
Compared to cities like New York, DC’s Metro System is a godsend for wheelchair users. Metro stations are large and fully accessible with elevators well as extra-wide fare gates for wheelchairs. Railcars equally accessible with ample priority seating for wheelchair users. If for some reason the elevator is not working at a station, a wheelchair-ready van will transport you to a nearby station with a working elevator or, if your destination is closer, to your destination.
If you have more questions or would like an even more detailed explanation, The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority has it. Click here for WMATA’s extensive guide to accessible buses, trains, and subways in the area. Alternatively, Metro also offers free travel training that can provide wheelchair users with valuable information. To get in on this excellent opportunity and prepare for your trip, call 202-962-1100.
DC’s bus system is nearly as easy to travel on as the metro for wheelchair users. Every bus is equipped with either a lift or a low floor ramp, and they kneel when they approach the curve. Buses boast two wheelchair securement areas and priority seating at the front of the bus. The DC Circulator is similarly wheelchair friendly. Buses can get you almost anywhere in the city that the Metrorail system can’t. They come quite frequently, and it’s easy to plan your trip on bus and/or train on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority‘s website.
DC has had accessible taxi services since 2010. The great things about taxis is that they’re available 24/7, even when the metro or buses aren’t running – which admittedly isn’t very often, unless you’re a night owl. Accessible trips in these taxis cost the same as non-accessible trips. If you call to arrange a taxi in advance, just be sure to tell the operator that you need an accessible vehicle.
Both Yellow Cab and Royal Cab offer modified minivans to transport wheelchair users. Their accessible fleet has 20 ramp-equipped vans, so be prepared to wait a little bit, or alternatively call them at least a couple hours in advance to minimize wait time – though you can’t reserve a trip more than a week in advance.
While the two companies mentioned above can also take you to and from the airport, DC’s major airports (Baltimore Washington International and Dulles) each have their own accessible taxi fleets as well, which can take you into the city to your hotel or post-flight destination.
Though public parking is notoriously difficult in Washington, DC, it’s very attractive for wheelchair users. There are ample spaces for those with accessible parking permits wherever there is public parking – in fact, there are at least two ADA accessible parking meters located on any block that has government parking meters.
Additionally, the District recognizes accessible parking permits from all states, though they must be displayed in your car. Wheelchair users with permits can also park in accessible parking for twice as long as the maximum time limit as stated on nearby signage, and wheelchair users can park for free at metered spaces. Talk about friendliness!
WHEELCHAIR REPAIR SHOPS
Lenox Medical: Open from 8:00 am to 6:30 pm, Lenox Medical Supply can repair most power wheelchairs and scooters. Give them a ring at 1-866-474-4356 or 202-387-1960. They can repair tires, wheels, batteries and chargers, motors, controllers, joysticks, seats, and more, and they’re located at 1712 14th St. NW. You can rent manual or power wheelchairs as well as scooters at Lenox Medical. Delivery of your rental is free, and as discussed above, they also have a wheelchair repair center. The company will pick up your wheelchair when you’re done with it, and they do rental by the day, week, or month.
Express Mobility Services: Express Mobility Services offers both repair and rentals of wheelchairs. They offer same-day delivery for rentals, which can be convenient in unforeseen circumstances. If by chance there’s a problem with the equipment you rented, they’ll either dispatch a technician to fix it or replace it free of charge. You can rent manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, or scooters here, and the repair service covers broken joysticks, batteries, motor problems, flat tires, worn cushions, and really any malfunction that might occur on a power chair or scooter. Same-day service and in-home repairs are two perks of this Georgetown-based company.
Mobility Solutions, Inc: Boasting experienced repair staff and full service care, Mobility Solutions is attractive because it offers on-site repair. If something happens and you’re not able to bring your chair to their facility in Silver Spring, they’ll put you on the phone with a technician who can then dispatch emergency service technicians to your location. Another great feature of Mobility Solutions is that they’re willing to come after hours, so if you have a wheelchair emergency that really can’t wait, they’ll be there. Mobility also offers wheelchair rentals, in case your wheelchair’s problem is so grave that it will need a couple days to fix. You can ask about their services by calling 800-519-0035 or 301-650-0035.
ACCESSIBLE RENTAL VAN COMPANIES
MobilityWorks: With a base in Alexandria, Virginia, MobilityWorks offers wheelchair accessible vans that can make your vacation easy breezy. Anyone over the age of 25 with a driver’s license is allowed to drive the vans, and for an additional charge they will deliver the van to your location (for example, the airport). Call them at 1-877-275-4915 to inquire, and make sure you confirm your rental several weeks before you arrive in DC.
Wheelers Van Rentals: Wheelers is convenient because it’s located right at Dulles International Airport. Vans are usually lowered floor minivans complete with automatic fold-out ramps, and they can deliver the van or pick it up from any of the DC airports. Wheelers is great because they provide roadside assistance in cases like break-ins, lock-outs, or lost keys. Plan your rental enough in advance, and call 410-825-1440 or 800-825-1440 for reservations.
Additional Tips & Tricks
One thing you might want to consider obtaining before your trip is a Metro Disability ID Card. This has to be done at least three weeks before you’re going to use it, but it will get you reduced fare on nearly every form of public transport in DC – the Metrobus, Metrorail, MARC train, Virginia Railway Express (VRE), Fairfax Connector, CUE bus, D.C. Circulator, The GEORGE Bus, Arlington Transit (ART) and Amtrak. You can get one by calling 202-962-1558, and it’s definitely worth it if you plan on using public transportation during your visit.
To summarize, the past few decades have seen DC mold into one of the most accessible cities in not only America, but the world. Any major museum or monument that you’d want to see is likely fully accessible, and the District has excellent accessible shopping, parks, and a multitude of world-class restaurants to choose from. Public and private accessible transportation options in DC are second to none, and it’s easy to explore the city in your chair.
* For a full list of wheelchair-accessible accommodations in Washington DC be sure to visit trivago.
More on Washington, D.C. from trivago magazine: