Washington, DC offers enough museums, sights, and neighborhoods that it deserves more than just one visit. If it's your first time to visit Washington DC you should focus on seeing the Memorials, White House, and Capital, along with a few museums and a neighborhood or two. My Washington DC itinerary will show you what to see in 3 days and give you a taste of the city while hitting all the must see sights! Like I've mentioned in previous posts, always assume you will be back. Otherwise you might find yourself trying to fit too much in and not taking the time to fully experience what you are seeing.
When you visit Washington DC you will notice it is extremely easy to get around between the metro, bus system, bike share program, Uber, and your own two feet. Try to pick a centrally located hotel to maximize your sightseeing time. Downtown hotels have the perk of being walking distance of the White House, Memorials, and the Capitol, but will cost a pretty penny. To keep hotel costs down, I recommend staying around Dupont Circle or Logan Square. Both areas have more of a neighborhood feel and are still extremely convenient for sightseeing being a quick metro ride (or longer walk/bike ride) away.
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Visit Washington DC - Itinerary for 3 Days in DC
DC Itinerary Day 1 - Memorials, White House, Capitol
Day 1 on your Washington DC itinerary involves a lot of walking so grab your favorite walking shoes and get an early start to the day!
Memorials - start as early as you can to see the memorials before busloads of tourists start to arrive. Aim to be at the Lincoln Memorial before 8:30am. My favorite way to see the memorials is to make it a morning jog. I actually try to do this at least once or twice each time I visit Washington DC because it's so memorable. A morning jog around the memorials is a great way to see the sights before they become crowded and get from spot to spot quickly since some memorials are spaced out quite a bit. If you aren't a morning person, flip todays itinerary and do the memorials last during the evening when they are all lit up! I recommend seeing the memorials in this order: Vietnam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, MLK Jr. Memorial, WWII Memorial, and Washington Monument.
The Jefferson Memorial will add about 30-40 minutes of walking around the Tidal Basin to see. If you have the time and energy it's a pretty walk around the water and offers beautiful views. Add this after the MLK Jr. Memorial and go to the Washington Monument after.
The White House is a quick walk down 15th or 17th street. View the exterior at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The only way to visit the interior is by making a reservation through the office of your congressional representative or senator 21 days to 3 months in advance.
Lunch - give your feet a rest and have lunch at the iconic Old Ebbit Grill.
The Capital - any visit to Washington DC obviously must include the Capital. You can either take a 40 minute walk down the National Mall to the Capital or metro/Uber if time is of the essence. The Capital Visitor Center is open Monday - Saturday 8:30am-4:30pm and offers free 45 minute tours. Advance reservations are highly recommended and can be made here. Same day tour passes are available on a limited basis at the Visitor Center if you did not make prior reservations.
Smithsonian Museum Visit - pick a nearby Smithsonian Museum to visit to end your day. Some of the most popular (and free) options are the National Air and Space Museum, National Gallery of Art, National Museum of African American History and Culture (advanced tickets are a must unless you want to try to get same day tickets at 6:30am), and National Museum of American History.
Read TimeOut's post on DC museums if you want to research your options beforehand.
Dinner - head over to Logan Circle and take your pick from an endless supply of top restaurants on 14th street. Le Diplomat offers traditional French fare and is extremely popular (advanced reservations are a must). Tico has a solid menu inspired by Spain, Mexico, and South America, Lupo Verde is a must for Southern Italian and specialty cocktails, and Estadio is a winner for authentic Spanish tapas. If you're like me and have a hard time choosing, do a tapas crawl and visit several restaurants along 14th street! Room left for dessert? Stop by Jeni's Ice Cream where the line is always out the door.
Washington DC Itinerary Day 2 - Supreme Court, Museums, District Wharf, Library of COngress
Union Market - take a break from downtown DC and visit Union Market. This warehouse like food market will be filled with tourists and locals alike and is perfect for your morning coffee and snack! Peregrine Espresso is one of my favorite coffee shops in DC and listed in my "Top 5 DC Coffee Shops with Great Food" post.
Supreme Court - metro or Uber to the Supreme Court were you can either do a quick walk around the interior (open Monday - Friday 9:00am-4:30pm with free entrance), or visit their calendar to see your options for attending a court session or courtroom lecture, visiting a current exhibition, and more. The significance of this building makes it a must for any Washington DC itinerary.
Library of Congress - visit the largest library in the world with a collection of more than 164 million items! The Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building is a visual highlight and looks more like a palace than a library with its stained glass skylights, Italian marble floors, murals, paintings, and sculptures. Open Monday - Saturday 8:30am-4:30pm with free 1 hour tours. Check the calendar for exhibitions, lectures, etc.
National Archives Museum - if seeing the country’s most important original documents is high on your priority list, make a stop at the National Archives Museum. Otherwise, skip this and head to the next destination. This is where you can view the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights. Entrance is free and the museum is open daily 10:00am-5:30pm.
Smithsonian Museum - if you aren't museumed out by now, visit one of the Smithsonian Museums listed in day 1 that you didn't get to. Another option would be the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Tickets are free and the museum is open daily 10:00am-5:20pm.
District Wharf - enjoy the waterside at DC's newest area, District Wharf. Stroll the pier, enjoy the views, and check out the restaurant, shopping, and entertainment options. This is the perfect spot for dinner and drinks. Take your pick from the 20+ dining options including Shake Shack, upscale Spanish seafood at Del Mar, Southeast Asian at Kaliwa, and oysters at Hank's Oyster Bar. This is the perfect place to chill and unwind from day 2 on your visit to Washington DC.
Washington DC Itinerary Day 3 - Dupont, Arlington CEMETERY, Georgetown
Dupont Circle Market - if you're a fan of farmers markets, stop by Dupont Circle on Sunday (8:30am-1:30pm). Named one of the top farmers markets in the country, this makes for a great excuse to explore the Dupont area and grab some fresh bites while you're roaming the stalls and people watching.
Arlington Cemetery - open daily 8:00am-7:00pm April-September and 8:00am-5:00pm October-March. Uber is the fastest way to get there as the metro will take at least 30-45 minutes. The grounds are expansive and could fill several hours just walking around. I suggest going through the welcome center and visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for a quick visit. Changing of the guard happens at the Tomb every hour, but in all honesty, if you've seen any other changing of the guard (like Buckingham Palace), it isn't worth working your schedule around just to witness.
Georgetown - my favorite area to wander every time I visit Washington DC! Head back over the river (a quick 9 minute drive) to Georgetown. Take time to slow down and explore this historic district. Wander the shops along bustling M street, stop by the waterfront, walk down the quiet and quaint Wisconsin Ave, and take your pick of spots for coffee, bites, and treats. A few of my favorites include: Laduree for macaroons, Pizza Paradisco, Blue Bottle Coffee or Bluestone Lane for a quick caffeine fix, Baked and Wired for cupcakes (read about here), Boulangerie Christophe for quick French fare like sandwiches, quiche, croissants, and pastries. Stay here for dinner or head back over to 14th street by Logan Circle to hit any spots you missed on day 1!
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What are your favorite things to do when you visit Washington DC? Let me know if you would include anything else on my Washington DC itinerary in the comments below!
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