Planning a Washington DC trip can feel overwhelming. The United States capital is teeming with magnificent monuments, iconic sights, incredible districts and marvelous museums. In order to make the most of a Washington DC vacation, it is essential to have a good trip plan. To help fellow travelers planning a trip to DC, we are sharing our succinct Washington DC Itinerary that showcases the absolute best of the city.
Plan a Trip to Washington DC
Anyone planning a trip to Washington DC will quickly learn that there are an astounding number of things to do in the city. When we first started our Washington DC vacation planning, there were so many attractions we wanted to include that we could have easily spent a month seeing the sights! However, like most visitors, we didn’t have a month…we were limited to just 3 days in DC.
Determined to make the most of our time, we carefully planned a long weekend trip to DC that included the must-see sights and essential activities.
We traveled to the city as a couple, but whether you are organizing a Washington DC weekend trip with friends or planning a trip to Washington DC for family, you can use our detailed trip plan to help create your itinerary.
Washington DC Itinerary 3 Days
We think spending 3 days in Washington DC allows just enough time to see the city highlights. In our 3-Day Washington DC Itinerary, we feature the top attractions that were most appealing to us. That said, some of our favorite things to do in DC might not be of interest to other travelers – so we offer suggestions for alternate activities throughout our trip plan as well.
Furthermore, because we understand not everyone is planning a visit to Washington DC in 3 days, we offer suggested Washington DC itineraries for more (and less) time at the end of the post. If you only have 2 days in DC or are creating a 5-Day Washington DC Itinerary, you can use our suggestions to plan your perfect trip!
WASHINGTON DC ITINERARY
Our Washington DC 3-Day Itinerary includes everything you need to plan your trip. Formatted in a day-by-day outline, our Itinerary for DC is easy to follow. Not only does our Washington DC Sightseeing Itinerary feature top attractions and experiences, but we also share tips on how to get there, where to stay and what to pack. We have made planning a vacation to DC as easy as possible!
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DAY 1 of Your Itinerary for Washington DC
On the first day of your Washington DC Three-Day Itinerary, kick off your trip by visiting the most iconic attractions: The White house and the National Mall. After taking in the sights, end your first day at one of the city’s best events. Start your day with a hearty (but not heavy!) breakfast at Teasim at Lafayette Park, which is just a short walk to the White House.
Seeing the White House is absolutely essential on your Washington DC tour itinerary! The stately building has served as the home and office of every sitting president of the United States since John Adams in the year 1800. The White House, located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, is an icon of America and a symbol of freedom and democracy in the United States.
White House tours (which are free!) are offered on a very limited basis and can be booked through your state congressman or embassy. It is required to book your tour at least 21 days in advance, but to ensure a spot, it is recommended to request the tour 3 months prior to your trip.
Pro Tip: Approach the White House from the north – and take in the views of the front of the building on Pennsylvania Avenue. Then, walk around the White House complex on the east side, taking 15th Street (and passing the US Treasury Building) to E Street. From E Street, visitors have a view of the south-facing portico across the White House South Lawn.
Walk along the diagonal Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the United States Capitol Building. The 1.2-mile stretch between the two government buildings is dubbed “America’s Main Street” and was one of the first planned streets in the city. The street is used for parades and protests – but is most notably known as the walking route that newly inaugurated presidents take to the White House after being sworn in at the Capitol.
United States Capitol
The Capitol Building was built in the center of the Federal District in 1800 – and is home to the United States Congress (which is comprised of both the Senate and the House of Representatives). The landmark building features a massive dome, which is topped by the Statue of Freedom.
Interested visitors can join one of the free guided tours of the US Capitol Building and can even watch Congress in session – but advance reservations are recommended, and guests must adhere to strict rules. And, based on personal experience, we can confirm that the security team does not appreciate jokes.
The National Mall, Washington DC
Stretching nearly 2 miles from the Capitol steps to the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall features a myriad of monuments, museums and must-see sights. The Washington Monument stands at the center of the Mall and tree-lined paths through the park enable visitors to route their way to top destinations.
National Mall Museums
There are more than 20 museums and galleries located on the Mall – 11 of which are world-class Smithsonian Museums. Visitors could easily spend a few days at the museums on the National Mall – but that would leave little time for other sightseeing. Instead, we suggest picking just one or two National Mall museums to visit on your 3-Day DC trip. The Air and Space Museum, Natural History Museum, and Holocaust Memorial Museum get our vote for top places to visit. As a bonus, all three of these museums are absolutely free!
Eating lunch at a government building cafeteria might seem an odd choice, but the USDA Food Court is an exception. The building food court is accessed by non-employees via Wing 3 – and many of the food options are priced by weight. Featuring an array of healthy dining options – including everything from a salad bar to sushi – the fare is a fresh and affordable option conveniently located on the south side of the Mall. Plus, the space is air conditioned and has clean restrooms!
Proudly standing in the center of the National Mall almost directly south of the White House, the Washington Monument reaches a height of 555 feet (making it the tallest obelisk in the world). Built in the 1800s to honor the first president of the United States, the stone structure is circled by fifty American flags. Washington Monument tours (including the observation decks) are free – but advance reservations are recommended (and cost $1).
Washington DC Memorials
The west end of the National Mall is peppered with some of the most stunning and poignant memorials in the city. Among the many, a few to specifically seek out are the World War II Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
Pro Tip: Weary travelers can rest their feet by utilizing the DC Circulator bus, which makes stops at top attractions on the National Mall. Rides are just $1 per trip and buses arrive about every 10 minutes! Or, upgrade your sightseeing experience with a full-day guided tour of the sights – Find out more here!
DC Sports or Theater Performance
On the first evening of your Washington DC tourist itinerary, attend one of the city’s best events – either a game or a show!
As a sports-loving duo, we opted to go to a Nationals baseball game (because is there anything more American than watching America’s game in the country’s capital city?). Make it a real DC experience and get a famous Half Smoke from Ben’s Chili Bowl (located inside the ballpark) for dinner.
If the Nats are not playing, the city also hosts the Wizards (NBA basketball), Redskins (NFL football), Capitals (NHL hockey) and DC United (MLS soccer).
If attending a theatrical performance is of more interest to you, check what is playing at the National Theater (one of the longest operating theaters in the US), Ford’s Theater (where President Lincoln was assassinated) or the Kennedy Center (where they offer free daily performances, too!).
Pro Tip: Another fun way to spend the evening is on a craft brewery tour! Sample suds from DC brewers and eat dinner on a guided tour of the Washington DC craft beer scene. Get the details!
DAY 2 of Your Washington DC Trip Itinerary
On Day 2 of your Three Days in Washington DC Itinerary, explore a few of the city’s best districts, including Capitol Hill, Arlington and Georgetown.
Spend the morning in the Capitol Hill District. The center of US politics and home to the numerous politicians, the district features major attractions and top foodie spots.
Start your exploration at Eastern Market, where you can enjoy breakfast and peruse local goods. Next, visit the US Supreme Court building (only open Monday through Friday), take a tour of the Library of Congress (closed Sundays) or explore the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument that details the history of Women’s Rights in America (closed Monday and Tuesday).
For lunch, dine at one of the iconic Capitol Hill eateries, like Tune Inn (an eclectic bar with amazing burgers!), Mangiarlardo’s (a family-owned Italian sandwich shop dating to 1953) or Rose’s Luxury (which will likely have a line down the street). Then, stroll through the historic Barracks Row – once part of the Navy Yard and one of the city’s oldest commercial districts, dating to 1801.
Arlington National Cemetery
From Capitol Hill, hop on the Metro to Arlington National Cemetery – a 624-acre military cemetery. Established in 1864 during the Civil War, the cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. US Presidents Taft and Kennedy are buried along with 400,000 American soldiers at Arlington.
In addition to the grave sites, there are many monuments and memorials on the cemetery grounds. Most notable is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater, which houses the remains of servicemen from WWI, WWII, the Korea War and the Vietnam War. US Army soldiers guard the tomb 24 hours a day and there is a ceremonious Changing of the Guard every hour (and every half hour in the summertime).
Located along the Potomac River, Georgetown was established as a trading post long before Washington DC existed. In fact, the entire district is now labeled as a National Historic Landmark. Over the decades, many DC elites have called Georgetown home – and the neighborhood is known for its posh shops and high-end fashion stores. However, shopping is just one of the many reasons to visit Georgetown.
Active travelers can go to Key Bridge Boathouse to rent equipment for a river adventure – like kayaking or stand up paddle boarding, but all visitors will enjoy a leisurely walk along the waterfront promenade. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath is also terrific for treks and exploring the Georgetown University campus is an excellent way to ease into the evening. Other places of interest are the Old Stone House, Tudor Place Historic House and the Dumbarton Oaks Museum and Park.
Pro Tip: Get a guided introduction to Georgetown on a Food and History Tour! Participants are led to locally-owned and historic spots while learning about the area’s intriguing past. Get the details!
Stay in Georgetown for an entertaining evening. For something upscale, dine at the legendary Martin’s Tavern, a family-run restaurant serving classic American fare since 1933 – then sip after-dinner drinks overlooking the river at The Graham. Visitors looking for something a little more casual should go to Pizzeria Paradiso for local craft beer, pizza and arcade games – then toss a few back at Mr. Smith’s, a fun sing-along piano bar. Or, if the campus crowd is more your scene, go underground to The Tombs for burgers and pitchers of beer.
DAY 3 of Your Itinerary for Washington DC Trip
On the last day of your Itinerary for Washington DC in Three Days, delve deep into the Penn Quarter District (or travel outside of the city to a nature park or the zoo) and end the night with a divine dinner.
Penn Quarter and Chinatown
Delve deep into the Penn Quarter District, the once small historic neighborhood turned entertainment hub just east of the White House. Start with a coffee and croissant from Dolcezzo, a locals’ favorite coffee and gelato shop in the CityCenterDC shopping district. Once properly caffeinated, check out the other sophisticated shops before making your way east into Chinatown (if you walk along H Street, you stumble onto the Friendship Arch – an ornamental Chinese gate).
Lunch in the Penn Quarter poses a problem…only because there are so many incredible eateries to choose from! Famed Chef Jose Andres has three restaurants in Penn (Oyamel, Jaleo and Zaytinya), there are a slew of fantastic Asian restaurants in Chinatown (Daikaya gets rave reviews) and numerous American dining options, too (like ChopHouse).
With a full stomach, spend the afternoon touring some of the district’s best museums. Our top picks are the National Archives (which houses America’s most treasured documents – like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights), the National Portrait Gallery (a free Smithsonian Museum, which includes the American President Gallery) and Ford’s Theater (which can be toured with a guide).
Washington DC Parks
Alternatively, visitors who want to escape the city can spend the day in a few of the city’s best parks. One of the best parks near the city center is Meridian Hill Park, which features fountains, statues and great views – and is a favored picnic spot for locals.
Further north is Rock Creek Park, which is a true natural gem! Hikers can wander the miles of trails that wind through the park – and there are other attractions, like horseback riding, playgrounds and historic forts.
The Smithsonian National Zoological Park sits just adjacent to Rock Creek Park. The zoo is free to enter – and highlights are the Giant Pandas, American Bison, Great Apes and the carousel.
Downtown Dinner and Drinks
Whether you decide to stay in the city or immerse yourself in nature, complete your weekend in DC with an epic meal at a historic restaurant where presidents and politicians have dined.
Two fine establishments are Old Ebbitt Grill and The Tabard Inn. The Old Ebbitt Grill, which was opened in 1856, is one of the most famous spots in the city and known for their oysters. The Tabard Inn Restaurant, located near Dupont Circle, dates to 1922 and is in an old rowhouse.
For a more casual DC mainstay, make your way to the U Street Corridor for a meal at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a chili dog joint which has been frequented by heaps of celebrities – and even President Obama.
Pro Tip: After dinner, take an evening walk by the White House or on the National Mall to see the city’s most beautiful landmarks lit up at night. Or, better yet, give your feet a rest and join a coach tour of the sights at night. Get the details!
DC Day Trip Ideas
While we think there are ample sights in the city center to fill your Washington DC travel itinerary, some travelers may instead opt to take a Washington DC Day Trip.
Mount Vernon and Old Town Alexandria
Embark on a journey into America’s past on a half-day tour from Washington DC. Visit George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, tour his mansion and visit his tomb. Then travel by bus through Old Town Alexandria, where you will see additional famous historical sights. Reserve your spot!
Visit some of the most iconic sights in American history on a tour of Gettysburg. Top attractions on the tour include Cemetery Ridge, the Gettysburg Battlefield and the Shriver House Museum. Learn more here!
Virginia Wine Tour
Travel into Virginia wine country and visit multiple wineries for tastings and snacks. The tour includes transportation from Washington DC! Book it here!
More Washington DC Itineraries
How many days you need to visit Washington DC will depend on many factors, including interests, budget and overall timeframe.
If you are planning a trip to Washington DC for 3 days, our above outline DC Itinerary is all that you need! That said, if you are trying to plan a trip to DC with more (or fewer) days, we have a few suggestions to make your Washington DC vacation planning a breeze!
1-Day Washington DC Itinerary
Planning a 1 Day in Washington DC Itinerary is an immense task…but not impossible! For first time visitors to the city, we think the best way to create a Washington DC 1-Day Itinerary is to simply follow our outline for Day 1 of our 3-Day Washington DC Itinerary planner. Rather than attending an event in the evening, however, we would suggest spending time in the Penn Quarter and dining at a historic city establishment.
Washington DC Itinerary 2 Days
Planning a Washington DC 2-Day Itinerary is a little bit easier – it’s just enough time to see the highlights, without feeling too overwhelmed. With two days in Washington DC, we recommend following Days 1 and 2 of our outlined Washington DC travel planner. This allows travelers to see the best sights in the city and surrounding area.
Alternatively, visitors could create a Washington DC in 2 Days itinerary that stays completely in the heart of the city by using Days 1 and 3 of our 3 perfect days in Washington DC outline. This 2-Day Washington DC Itinerary is ideal for people most interested in museums – and those who like best to discover sights on foot (rather than hassling with public transportation or taxicabs).
Washington DC Itinerary 4 Days
With 4 days in Washington DC, visitors can really get a feel for the city. To create a 4-Day Washington DC Itinerary, we recommend using our 3-Day Washington DC Suggested Itinerary as it is written – then, on the last day, explore the city parks and zoo (or Penn Quarter if you spend Day 3 in nature). In the evening, go to the U Street Corridor (or historic restaurant, if you went to Ben’s Chili Bowl on Day 3) for dinner.
Another way to spend Day 4 of a Washington DC 4-Day Itinerary is on a DC Day Trip – either a historic trip to Gettysburg or Mount Vernon or on a carefree tour of Virginia wineries.
Washington DC Itinerary 5 Days
Visitors creating a Washington DC 5-Day Itinerary can fit a lot of sightseeing into a DIY Washington DC tour! With five days in DC, we recommend using all of our suggestions listed in the above Washington DC Itinerary 4 Days – including Penn Quarter, City Parks and Zoo and a Day Trip from DC.
New York, Boston, Washington Itinerary
Due to close proximity, it is possible to create a multiple city trip plan. Whether flying, driving or taking the train, with at least a week, visitors could easily see New York City, Boston and Washington DC. For tips on how to plan a trip to DC, Boston and NYC, use our helpful guides: Weekend in Boston Itinerary and 4 Day New York Itinerary.
Washington DC Trip Planner Tips
We have outlined what we think is the best itinerary for Washington DC. Now that you know what sights to include in your Washington DC vacation itinerary, we have a few more tips for your trip!
How To Get To Washington DC
Washington DC can be reached by plane, train, bus or car. Our preferred method of getting anywhere is by flying – we are JetSetting Fools, after all! When we need to buy plane tickets, we start our search for the best airfare on SkyScanner.
There are three major airports near Washington DC: Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).
Of the 3 Washington DC Airports, we prefer flying into Reagan National, as it is by far the most convenient. To get from DCA Airport to downtown DC, visitors can book a Private Transfer, hop on a Metro, grab a taxi or order an Uber.
Bus and Train Travel
Both buses and trains terminate at Washington DC Union Station. Greyhound and Bolt both offer bus services and regional trains are operated by Amtrak. DC is connected to several destinations by train – including New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore.
Where to Stay in Washington DC
With only three days in DC, we think it is best to stay in the heart of the city center so that you can easily access sights and transportation (when necessary).
One of our favorite places to stay in DC is Club Quarters Hotel. Although the rooms are small, the location – just down the street from the White House – is superb! The hotel is also just steps from the Metro, which is extremely convenient when traveling to districts outside of the downtown. Best of all, however, is that the hotel is affordable – especially as compared to nearby options. Check rates and availability!
Whether looking for a luxury stay or humble hostel, we recommend starting your search on Booking.com – like we do!
What To Pack for Your 3-Day Trip to Washington DC
We have a few final tips on what to take to Washington DC on a trip! You can find all of our packing tips on our Packing List page.
One of our top Washington DC sightseeing tips is to pack comfortable city walking shoes! We cover some ground in our DC Itinerary – and you don’t want your feet hurting along the route. I like to wear lightweight shoes for women by Columbia – and Kris prefers wearing men’s Merrell trail shoes.
Of course, if the distances are too far for your liking, you can always buy tickets on the Hop On Hop Off Big Bus Tour that makes stops at all of the DC tourist attractions. Get tickets here!
Weather Appropriate Gear
Washington DC experiences all four seasons – with hot and humid summers and cold winters…and rain all year long.
Summer travelers should bring clothing that is breathable and lightweight – sunglasses, good sunscreen and a wide-brimmed travel hat are also highly recommended. Wintertime visitors will need to pack a coat, hat and gloves; and layers are recommended if traveling to DC in the spring or autumn.
Washington DC is decorated with historic sights and grand monuments – all of which begged to be photographed. Rather than trying to capture the beauty of the city with your cell phone, we recommend using an actual camera. We travel with a DSLR Canon Rebel and use an everyday 18-135mm lens, which provides decent zoom capabilities. The camera is easy to use and comes bundled with heaps of accessories, making it perfect for beginner photographers.
Our final Washington DC vacation tip is this: Reserve tickets in advance…especially in the summertime! The city’s top attractions see a flood of visitors every year. While many sights are free, there are often long lines to get in due to overcrowding. However, many tourist sights now allow visitors to reserve time slots in advance – with a small reservation fee of $1 USD. We think it is well worth the price to reserve tickets online, so that you don’t waste your precious vacation time standing in line!
We Want To Know: What would you add to our Washington DC Itinerary? Do you have any tips for spending 3 days in Washington DC? Tell us in the comments!
Visiting More Top Cities In The USA? Dive into our detailed guides for Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Austin, San Diego, and Portland! Got the travel itch for a roadtrip? Read our articles to get you along the Oregon Coast and scenic Pacific Coast Highway in California!
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