Washington, DC is more than just the US capital. It is 61 square miles of food, history and a ton of fun. There are so many things to do in DC, and I was lucky enough to live in DC for a semester in college.
Because of my extended stay, I was able to learn about the ins and outs of the city, and created an itinerary for anyone’s interests in 1, 2 or 3 days. So here it is, the best things to do in DC!
Before you go to Washington, DC
Make sure to book your hotel early and in a location outside the business centers. If you’re not careful, you may have a terrible time finding dinner, especially on a weekend when many places are closed—which is why I recommend avoiding places like L’Enfant Plaza.
Book everything in advance. Outside of museums and landmarks, you’ll need to think ahead. If you want to tour the White House or the Pentagon, you need to sign up as soon as possible so they can background check you. If you want to see the Capitol Building, book a tour early for a time slot.
Washington, DC is lovely because most attractions are free, but it’s also insanely busy year round. You don’t want your trip ruined because of crowds!
Lastly, be prepared to walk. There is an easy metro system, stations are often fairly far away from the main things to do in DC, so it may be more of a hassle in some cases than just walking. Bring the right shoes!
Start your day on the early side if you can, no later than 10 AM, because you have a lot to see and a lot of walking to do! This is the busiest day, as it involves the most popular things to do in DC.
Begin your day by heading over to the museum of your choice! Everyone has their own interests when it comes to DC museums, but the following are ones I recommend the most:
- National Air and Space Museum
- National Gallery of Art
- National Museum of African American History and Culture*
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
*This museum is so new, it’s insanely difficult to get a ticket! Plan to go on a weekday or try to get them in advance; otherwise, you’re out of luck.
**This museum does cost $24.95, but the ticket lasts for two days and is well worth it.
Spend a good amount of time in your museum, because they are huge and fascinating. I actually spent 7 hours, from open to close, in the National Gallery of Art once!
Next up is getting some lunch. Most of the museum food courts are actually pretty good, so you could just eat there. However, if you want some of the best food in town, head over to Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill. They serve up amazing burgers and shakes that will really fuel your day!
After filling up, head over to the Capitol Building for a 90 minute tour inside. If you didn’t book one, I recommend doing some photo-ops outside, and touring the National Archives to see the Constitution! Don’t worry, the line moves fast.
Regardless of what you do, make sure to stop in the Library of Congress. The interior is so spectacular, it’s easily one of the most worthwhile things to do in DC! Note: enter from the top of the stairs, not through the door underneath them, or you will be completely lost and end up in the restricted section (like I was—oops!)
Most attractions around in the city close at 5 PM, so this should be a perfect time to go grab some dinner and relax. Check out my DC food guide for the some food recommendations. After that, head back out to the National Mall for some serious walking.
This is the best part, and one of my favorite things to do in DC. It’s time to go Midnight Memorialing! This is the time where you go wander around all of the famous monuments and memorials Washington, DC is known for. No, it doesn’t have to be at midnight, but nighttime is definitely the best way to view the monuments.
I have perfected the memorial route. It will take you around a loop with a stop at all of the most significant ones, including the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. While I’m no Jefferson fan, I personally really enjoy this memorial. It’s beautiful and quiet, since it’s completely out of the way and most people are too lazy to go see it!
Here is the perfect route for Midnight Memorialing:
- Washington Monument
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- FDR Memorial
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
- Korean War Veterans Memorial*
- Lincoln Memorial
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial
- World War II Memorial
- The White House**
*My personal favorite, which looks extra eerie at night.
**The lights go out at 11 PM, so make sure you arrive before then.
Overall, this is a four mile walk. It’s very long, especially with the addition of the Jefferson memorial, but they’re all so beautiful to look at that I never even notice.
Now, if you can’t walk for too long, especially in the swampy summers, please find an alternative like a hop on hop off or segway tour. I have walked 10 miles in a day multiple times in DC, and this will no doubt add up to be at least the same.
And that concludes one very jam-packed day in Washington, DC! But if you’re around for more….
It’s time to move beyond the most famous things to do in DC, and onto the rest of the city!
Make your way over to the National Zoological Park in Woodley Park, a free and amazing zoo just a few blocks from the Woodley Park metro station. You’ll find all kinds of animals, including giant pandas (if they’re not asleep) and elephants from up close. This is definitely one of the best things to do in DC, regardless of age!
After a few hours taking selfies with the otters, take a Lyft or bus over to Georgetown, the one part of Washington, DC without a metro station. If you want, you can make a stop at the National Cathedral as well.
The Georgetown Waterfront Park is relaxing and beautiful, and home to several boat tours that take you up and down the Potomac. This is, like, one of the only things to do in DC that doesn’t involve walking, so enjoy it while it lasts! 😂 I recommend the National River Tours, because they’re both affordable and informative, while giving you an alternative view of the monuments along the way. It does get cold on the river, so be prepared!
Georgetown is a great shopping and eating destination, so you can easily spend the rest of the afternoon here—just be aware that it is a bit on the pricey side, especially near the Potomac. If you’re craving some dessert, head over to Baked and Wired for the best cupcakes in town!
After a relaxing day meandering Georgetown, get hyped at U Street or H Street, two areas known for their food, history and nightlife.
So, maybe you had one too many to drink at the bar last night. That’s fine, since the first place you should go today is Ted’s Bulletin for brunch. They truly have the best eggs and hashbrowns I’ve ever eaten, along with boozy shakes (hair of the dog!) and homemade Pop-Tarts.
Afterwards, if you’re here on a weekend, the Eastern Market is waiting for you. This market has dozens of vendors and patrons, showing off food, art and other local products. The Eastern Market is one of the more off-the-beaten-path things to do in DC, and one of my favorite weekend outings. You’ll probably find a unique souvenir here!
The rest of the day is up to you. I recommend visiting another museum, going through the memorials again during the day, or even both if you have the time. These are truly the most unique things to do in DC, so make it count!
And that concludes day three! Follow this itinerary and you’ll have a busy but perfect trip to Washington, DC for 1, 2 or 3 days.
What’s your favorite DC museum? Which one do you want to see the most? Let me know in the comments!
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