10 Tips for Visiting the National Book Festival

10 Tips for Visiting the National Book Festival


For the literary nut and book nerd, the annual National Book Festival in Washington, DC is the book event of the year. With more than 120 authors in an array of genres—from graphic novelists and illustrators to biographers and historians to novelists of literary fiction, poets, and children’s authors—there’s something at the festival for even the most occasional of readers. This year marks the festival’s nineteenth anniversary, and as a regular attendee, here are a few suggestions for making the most of your booked out day.


Tip #1: Get a good night’s rest. 

You’re going to have a long, exciting day. Be well rested for it. 

Tip #2: Plan ahead, but don’t worry about sticking to your plans.

With concurrent and back-to-back author readings and panels, book signings, and a bookfair, there’s plenty of advanced planning to do for the festival. Look at the schedule ahead of time and map out your day, including the writers who are your must-sees. However, embrace the unexpected and deviate from your plan—chances are, you’ll be grateful you did. 

Tip #3: Wear comfortable shoes and bring a sweater. 

The Washington Convention Center is massive, and you can expect to be on your feet often: walking between author talks, standing in line for the book signings, and leaning against the wall in standing room only sessions. Tennis shoes or another sturdy, comfortable pair are a must. And despite the number of people in attendance rooms can get cold, so layer-up with a light sweater or jacket you can pull on and off throughout the day. 

Tip #4: Bring your own food. 

The lines are long, the prices are high, and the quality is mediocre. Plus, there’s nothing worse than missing the first ten minutes of an author you were dying to see because of a backup at the hot dog vendor. If you have food allergies, definitely come prepared with your own snacks and a lunch. Like most convention centers, this one isn’t particularly accommodating to special dietary needs. 

Tip #5: Grab a re-usable water bottle. 

Water fountains are sprinkled throughout the convention hall but, like the bathrooms, they are often inconveniently located. Make it easier by filling up before you arrive. 

Tip #6: Leave extra time for the security check. 

If you live in DC or have visited any Smithsonian museums in the last few years, you know the routine: open your purse or backpack and step through the metal detector. The lines move quickly but buttress in extra time just in case. 

Tip #7: Embrace the moment. 

Even for the biggest book lover, the festival can be overwhelming—and exhausting. It’s okay to skip out early or to find a quiet corner to sit for a few minutes and read. 

Tip #8: Use your two feet. 

I worked for an organization where this phrase became a mantra at conferences as a way to encourage attendees to leave a session early if the discussion doesn’t capture your interest. Maybe a panel isn’t what you expected, or an author isn’t as engaging as their book, or perhaps it’s your seventh author panel of the day and fatigue has crept up. It’s okay to skip out. There’s nothing wrong in recognizing that a discussion isn’t for you, or in deciding that you need to escape for a breath of fresh air.  

 Tip #9: Don’t forget your free tote and poster. 

The tote is roomy and the perfect for having on hand when you’re cleaning out the back seat of your car. And every year the Library of Congress commissions an original piece of artwork for the festival poster. Keep your poster to frame and show off your book nerd credentials at home or in your office. 

Tip #10: Walk from the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro. 

Yes, there’s a stop directly beneath the convention center, but unless you already live on the green/yellow line, I recommend taking the pleasant ten-minute walk from the 7th and H Street NW exit of the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro stop. In addition to its positioning as a transfer station between the red, green, and yellow lines, you’ll also avoid the crowds and the Saturday train schedules if you opt for the walk, at least on the way there—before you fill your free tote with signed books.