Updated: Jul 8
Inspiring monuments and museums define a visit to Washington, DC. It’s a must visit city here in the US, and as someone who’s been living in the area for twelve years now, I write about it all the time. From downtown to hidden gems, you honestly could spend weeks here and not see everything.
This Washington, DC itinerary will take you to some of the best places in DC. AND with the added on day trips from DC, you can journey beyond the capital city’s major attractions to discover natural escapes, incredible food, exciting shopping, and culture-rich cities. This Washington, DC itinerary includes my favorite spots as a local and the must-sees.
Washington, DC Itinerary Costs
Airbnb: $60 per night (there are lots of great places)
Activities: $200 or less
Food: $40 per day (check out my list of cheap eats in DC)
No Washington, DC itinerary would be complete without seeing the monuments, whether you spend 2 days in DC or a week. If you want to save money, you definitely don’t have to do a tour, but I do think it’s pretty fun to hear the history of each of these monuments.
Monuments you’ll want to see include:
National World War II Memorial
District War Memorial
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Abraham Lincoln Memorial
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
My favorite time of year around the National Mall is cherry blossom season! You’ll see the gorgeous trees in bloom all over.
10-minute walk south of the National Mall, 700 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20024
I love the Spy Museum. They recently did a huge renovation and opened up in a brand new part of DC just south of the National Mall. Unlike Smithsonian Museums, you’ll pay for entry into this one, but I promise it is worth it! I usually spend a few hours here when visiting and it’s a fun, interactive experience sharing the history of spies!
Sunset Drinks, Dinner, or a Show in the Wharf
901 Wharf St SW, Washington, DC 20024
From the Spy Museum, walk about 10 more minutes south and you’ll reach the Wharf.
The Wharf is DC’s newest development and has some of the best views at sunset. Whiskey Charley offers great views of the Capitol from its roof (located inside the Hilton), La Vie has happy hour specials, and Officina has a huge patio with greenery that is pretty romantic.
After that, grab dinner at one of the great restaurants there. My favorites are Hank’s Oyster House (seafood), Officina (Italian), and Mi Vida (Mexican).
If you’ve still got energy after a long day, check if there are any shows going on in the Wharf. There are three different music and comedy venues that have opened up in the Wharf and offer a variety of music genres every night. The Anthem is the largest venue, Pearl Street Warehouse often hosts local or cover bands, and Union Stage hosts smaller names as well as comedy on a regular basis.
In the summer, there are large games such as cornhole and outdoor concerts happening as well. Plenty of entertainment options!
*Stop at the Capitol for tickets first thing in the morning if you don’t buy in advance!
Spend the morning exploring some of the best free museums DC has to offer. There are far too many to see in one trip… In fact, if you spent 1 minute at each exhibit it would take more than 258 years to see them all, but don’t worry, you can still see some of the most awesome museums in a few hours.
Here are my favorites:
Air and Space
National Portrait Gallery (pictured above)
First St SE, Washington, DC 20004
A tour of the Capitol is one of the best ways to see and understand US politics. Advance reservations are recommended, but not required. If you choose to risk it, go the morning of, before you visit any museums. The lines for this can often be long and tickets sell out in the high season. I’d recommend just buying in advance on their website.
The Capitol is beautiful and taking a tour will help you learn about the US government, history, and where we are today. I think it’s essential! In the summer, flowers are all around the Capitol making it an especially beautiful spot to see.
Library of Congress, Supreme Court, National Archives
Library of Congress 101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540
Supreme Court 1 First St NE, Washington, DC 20543
National Archives 701 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20408
All three of these are located near the Capitol and worth spending some time walking through. At the Library of Congress are rare books, the Jefferson Reading Room, and it’s just all-around a beautiful building.
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the Nation for all cases and controversies arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States. There are specific guidelines and you are not guaranteed entry. It is important though to see while in DC! Find visitor information here.
Dinner and Drinks on U Street
900 U St NW, Washington, DC 20001
U Street is one of the most popular neighborhoods in DC for locals and has a lot of historical significance. It’s full of beautiful Victorian homes built in the 1800s and an epicenter of African American life in the first half of the 20th century – one of the most exciting areas in the country for the celebration of black culture. Poets like Langston Hughs and musicians like Duke Ellington got their start in this neighborhood and the culture lives on today (in select areas of course).
You can eat almost any kind of food in this area some of my favorite are Dukem (Ethiopian), Ben’s Chili Bowl (a local favorite), and Le Diplomate (French). For music, check out U Street Music Hall, DC9 and Twins Jazz.
Find the photo op above and more in my Washington DC photo guide.
Breakfast in Eastern Market
225 7th St SE, Washington, DC 20003
This can really be done on any day, but Eastern Market is another local spot that I just love. It’s been in operation since the 1800s and you’ll find local food, coffee, art, music, books, and more in the area. I love grabbing a bagel at Bullfrog Bagels, a homemade pop tart at Ted’s Bulletin, and a Coffee at Radici.
On the weekend, a huge flea market opens up outside and you can shop local art, old maps, funky jewelry, and more.
Arlington, VA 22211
Arlington National Cemetery is a really important place to visit while in Washington, DC. Watch the changing of the guard, see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, important graves of leaders and presidents, and Robert E Lee’s home during the Civil War. There’s a lot of history in this cemetery that you should take time to explore. Getting a guide for this area is a good idea so that you find the most important places while there.
3301 M St NW, Washington, DC 20007
Georgetown was established in the 1700s as a city in Maryland. It later became part of the city of DC and is one of the oldest neighborhoods. Today, it’s lined with upscale shopping, famous bakeries (Georgetown Cupcakes or Laduree?!), and beautiful historic homes. Take time to stroll through the neighborhood and walk along the water enjoying the views!
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20500
Of course, you have to see the White House while in DC! Arranging a tour can be really difficult, but you can visit the gift shop and outside easily. You have to reach out months in advance if you would like to take a tour and plan ahead.
This is something everyone says you have to do and they are right! The monuments look gorgeous at night! You can easily visit on your own, or join a tour to hear even more information about the monuments and take in the beautiful views at sunset.
Dinner and Drinks at Union Market
1309 5th St NE, Washington, DC 20002
Union Market is one of my favorite places as a local to hang out. There are over 40 food options in and around the market which has been open since the 1930s. There are tons of affordable food options here that you’ll love as well as local brews and cocktails. My favorite is Rappahannock Oysters which does a happy hour daily with 1/2 off oysters (local to the DC area).
Day Trips to Consider
Yes, you can see a lot of DC in three days, but there is so much beyond three days that you can do! This Washington, DC itinerary didn’t feel complete without including some of the day trips that I love. It's also easy to take a road trip from DC to many other top cities and places along the East Coast.
Day Trip: Mount Vernon and Old Town Alexandria
George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Explore the historic estate and take part in immersive activities including a 4D film, interacting with period interpreters, hearing tours from lesser-heard perspectives (such as “Herstory”). The property is beautiful and you’ll want to spend time walking the grounds and learning important history.
In the afternoon, stroll through Old Town’s walkable King Street mile, lined with 200+ independent shops and restaurants set inside historic buildings, red-brick sidewalks and a free trolley. Stop at historic site museums like the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum.
Day Trip: Harper’s Ferry and Udvar-Hazy Space Center Day Trip
In the morning, drive out to Harper’s Ferry. You’ll cross through Maryland into Virginia, eventually reaching West Virginia and Harper’s Ferry, a National Park that was the key site in the Civil War located where the Potomac and Shenandoah River meet. The area has museums, 18th-century buildings, and an inside look into life during the 1700s.
It’s an incredible place to visit and has one of my favorite hikes in the area. Get the great outdoors and history in one trip!
Udvar-Hazy Space Center is located in Dulles and part of the Smithsonian Museums. It houses thousands of aviation and space artifacts including full-size space crafts and planes. It’s way bigger than the Air and Space Museum on the National Mall and has rare planes and spacecraft on site.
Day Trip: Baltimore
Baltimore is one of my favorite cities. I lived there for three years before moving to DC and it’s an easy day trip from DC. You can take the train from Union Station in DC straight to Baltimore (MARC Train schedule here). In Baltimore, you can check out the National Aquarium, original Washington Monument, historic Fells Point, amazing crabs (try Nick’s Fish House), and free museums (Walter’s Art Museum is my favorite).
Day trip: King’s Dominion
King’s Dominion is a popular theme park located a few hours south of DC. With tons of roller coasters and a water park, it can be a really fun and different than the other day trips suggested here. You’ll get some thrills, fun in the sun, and more just a few hours from DC.
This Washington, DC itinerary will help you see the best of DC in three days and take a few days to enjoy the best the area has to offer! No matter how you spend your time in DC, you’ll love it!