It's hard to see everything DC has to offer in any length of time. I've been a professional tourist in the city for over a decade and still haven't been to every museum (yet!)
After years of arranging and leading tours with DC by Foot, my colleague Becca Grawl (tour guide extraordinaire) and I have put together a few sample itineraires you can use for a trip to DC.
ITINERARY BASED ON LENGTH:
ITINERARY BASED ON INTEREST:
- First Time Visitors to DC
- Visiting with Young Kids (my kids are 4 and 6 at time of writing)
Things you MUST see on any DC itinerary (which are included on most of itineraries!)
- Capitol Hill
- White House
- National Mall
- National Archives
- A least one of the many amazing museums
- There really is a lot more - this is why I say you need at least 3+ days in DC!
How Many Days is Enough to Spend in DC?
Ideally, you'd come to Washington DC for a whole week or more!
If that isn't feasible, we suggest that you need at least 3 days in Washington DC.
There is plenty here to fill up your days with attractions, zoos, museums, and tours, as well as great food, music, and art.
Our suggested itineraries below get you through 3 days (or shorter if you must).
Another thing to consider is the time of year you're visiting.
For example, if you're coming to town the Cherry Blossoms, you may want an extra day just to take in those (but we do have a suggested itinerary if you're visiting for the festival.)
Make sure you note what is the best month to visit Washington, DC for you.
DC DAY 1 ITINERARY
If you're arriving in DC on the weekend, we recommend a DC brunch for breakfast.
A lot of restaurants offer unlimited food/drink options for brunch, giving you the most for your money.
Our favorite is Ambar on 8th street near Eastern Market, which we suggest exploring afterward.
There are numerous restaurants and cafes in the area if you're looking for a lighter breakfast.
We offer a great private Eastern Market History & Desserts tour so you can learn while you enjoy all the tasty treats!
To learn more about DC food tours, click here.
After exploring Eastern Market, head over to the U.S. Capitol Building, just a short walk away.
They're all free to go inside, though the Capitol Building and Library of Congress require timed tickets.
Next, make your way west, just on the other side of the Capitol is the National Mall, home to our free Smithsonian Museums. Spend the afternoon exploring them.
The four most popular ones are:
- National Air & Space Museum
- National Museum of American History
- National Museum of Natural History
- National Museum of African American History & Culture
Keep in mind that we have nearly 20 Smithsonian Museums in DC, including a number of art galleries, so check out our DC Museums posts to decide which ones you want to explore.
You can also hire a private guide to show you around the museums!
For lunch, we recommend eating at one of the many food trucks that are parked in the area. They're usually cheap and of great quality!
We offer a number of White House tours, from the Secrets & Scandals of the White House to kid-friendly history tours.
If you didn't get tickets to go inside the White House, you can still learn more about it at the White House Visitor Center, a short walk away.
For dinner, we recommend making a reservation at Old Ebbitt Grill, the oldest saloon in DC.
If it's too crowded, not far away is its sister restaurant downtown, The Hamilton, which offers live music.
After dinner, we recommend exploring the memorials.
Our Memorials and Moonlight tour takes you to see the WW2 Memorial, the Martin Luther King Memorial on the Tidal Basin, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial from afar, and the Lincoln Memorial.
(We talk about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial but don't see it up close.
We recommend seeing this one during the daylight)
If you're feeling tired, we recommend an evening bus tour to see the sights in comfort.
For more things to do in DC at night, check out our post.
For day 2, we recommend waking up early and heading out to Arlington National Cemetery.
There's also a trolley tour around the cemetery to take if walking up multiple hills is difficult for you.
Just outside of Arlington National Cemetery is the Iwo Jima or Marine Corps Memorial, so be sure to check that out after.
For lunch, head over to Georgetown and check out Martin's Tavern, which was a favorite of President John F. Kennedy.
Rumor has it he allegedly proposed to Jacquie Kennedy in what is now known as the proposal booth!
Explore Georgetown, DC's oldest neighborhood, after lunch, where you can enjoy shopping and desserts.
From there, head to Chinatown.
Though small, it hides some cool stuff, like the National Portrait Gallery, which is free to explore and contains the largest collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House.
You're also not far from the National Archives Museum, which is home to the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, and more.
There's also Capital One Arena, home to some of our local sports teams, the Washington Capitals hockey team, and the Wizards basketball team.
For dinner, there are a number of great food options in Chinatown, including Daikaya for ramen.
Start your last day in DC at Mount Vernon, the former home of George Washington, located in Alexandria.
For lunch, explore Old Town Alexandria, a great place for shopping and dining.
Be sure to go up to the terrace before or after the show for an incredible view of DC and Virginia.
For more ideas of things to do in DC, look into getting a DC Tourist Discount Pass
Itinerary for First Time Visitors to DC
START ---> The best place to begin a visit to the nation’s capital is on the National Mall.
Explore our iconic memorials on foot (we offer guided tours as well as audio tour options of the National Mall!) or by bus, using the Circulator bus - just $1 per person!
Tip: If you only have one day, begin at the Jefferson Memorial and end at the Washington Monument to see the Tidal Basin memorials as well.
THEN --> For lunch, take advantage of food trucks typically parked along the National Mall near 14th Street NW and Constitution Avenue NW.
For an indoor option, you can try a museum cafeteria at a next suggestion or walk up to F Street NW to grab a casual lunch at Roti, District Taco, Corner Bakery, Primo Gusto, or something from the Reagan International Trade Center food court.
Tip: If you start your day early and explore the National Mall around sunrise, you can hit the museums close to when they open at 10am and be done around lunch time!
AFTER --> Just a short walk away is the National Archives, home to our three founding documents - the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights as well as a Magna Carta, documents related to important legislation, and more.
Tip: This site is free, although you can reserve a timed entry to skip the line - we recommend this during spring and summer visits.
LAST --> Unwind in the evening by exploring the oldest neighborhood in D.C. - Georgetown.
There’s lots of shopping and dining options as well as waterfront park, perfect for a sunset stroll.
Plan dinner at one of our favorite Georgetown restaurants - il Canale, Filomena, Chez Billy Sud, Martin’s Tavern, or El Centro are all great options.
End with our Ghosts of Georgetown tour - a sneaky way to get in some history of the neighborhood this tour is more humorus and historic than haunted. It is family friendly, a light amount of walking and a lot of laughs.
START --> your second day with a visit to Capitol Hill.
FOR LUNCH ---> the cafe at the Capitol Visitor Center is a tour guide favorite but you can also stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue SE towards Eastern Market.
Drop by the historic market itself to create the fixings for a picnic lunch or check out one of the local restaurants throughout the neighborhood - we love Tune Inn, Mr. Henry’s, and Crazy Aunt Helen’s!
AFTER --> be sure to visit any memorials you didn’t visit on your first day. If you’ve already seen everything on the ground, get a bird’s eye view by reserving tickets to go inside the Washington Monument.
Tip: If you want to have a more flexible afternoon, drop in to the Old Post Office building to go up their tower for an incredible view of the city - no tickets or reservations needed!
NEXT --> You can also plan to stroll by the White House in the afternoon or early evening for photos - sunset is a great time to take in the building that has been home to every American president except Washington.
The nearby White House Visitor Center makes a great stop as well but be sure to go before it closes at 4pm.
FOR DINNER ---> check out either Old Ebbitt Grill or The Hamilton - these popular restaurants are located near The White House and offer a varied menu that will satisfy a wide range of diners.
They’re owned by the same restaurant group, so menus will be pretty similar between both places.
UP FIRST ---> take a trip out to Virginia to visit Mount Vernon, home to our first President, George Washington.
You can easily spend several hours exploring the historic mansion, walking the grounds of the estate, and spending time in the museum and visitor center, learning about the lives and experiences of the Washington family and the enslaved people who worked the estate.
Tip: You can plan to enjoy lunch at Mount Vernon - they have a family-friendly food court style cafe with a range of options as well as the more sophisticated Mount Vernon Inn for a more leisurely sit-down meal.
NEXT --> If you’re ready to depart Mount Vernon, you can head over to Old Town Alexandria - there’s a wide array of dining options here for either lunch or dinner.
Be sure to visit Christ Church to see George Washington’s pew, stroll by the replica of Washington’s townhouse, check out the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary, and have a bite at Gadsby’s Tavern!
AFTER --> Spend the evening enjoying DC at night! We have a thriving music and theatre scene in DC.
There are a lot of great walking tour options if you haven't taken one yet - try Lincoln Assassination, Ghosts of Georgetown, or one of our Scandal tours!
FIRST --> Start your day with a tour of Arlington National Cemetery.
Take in the final resting place of generations of America’s heroes, explore the stories of our military history, and visit the gravesites of two American presidents.
Be sure to plan time to witness the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
THEN --> Book a ticket to explore the interior of Ford’s Theatre, the site of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
You’ll have a chance to see the recreated theatre arranged to look as it did on the night of April 14, 1865 as well as an opportunity to see the house where Lincoln died.
Tip: Ford’s is a working theatre - if you book a ticket to an evening performance, you not only get to enjoy D.C.’s famous theatre scene but you’ll also get early entry into the historic site to explore before your show!
LASTLY --> If you’re looking for evening dining with neighborhood flair, try a half-smoke at Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street (this is a great spot for nightlife as well) or check out Union Market, a food hall with lots of local vendors and plenty of restaurants in and around the market.
FIRST --> Head up to the northern end of the city to visit Washington National Cathedral.
This is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city and there is nothing else quite like it in the country. You might also consider planning your trip to attend one of the many services that happen each week.
THEN --> Make your way down from the Cathedral via Massachusetts Avenue to take in stunning Embassy Row. D.C. is home to over 170 embassies and you’ll get a glimpse of some of the most prestigious and ornate along Embassy Row.
Tip: Book a private walking tour to explore the stories behind the dramatic facades or utilize an audio tour to help you identify all the buildings!
Tip: The Portrait Gallery is open until 7pm, so you can extend your sightseeing time into the early evening.
FINALLY --> enjoy drinks with a view - check out the VUE Rooftop at the Hotel Washington or Top of the Gate at the Watergate Hotel.
Visiting with Young Kids
Our biggest suggestion for traveling with young kids is to pace yourself! DC is great for families - but there can be a fair amount of walking and waiting in line.
START --> We suggest starting with the National Mall but breaking up the memorials over several days to capture short attention spans and rest little legs.
If you book a National Mall tour with DC By Foot, you can add a free kid’s scavenger hunt to your order and have your kids work on the scavenger hunt during their tour or when you explore on your own!
Tip: Visit a National Park Service ranger station on your first day in D.C. and pick up materials to complete a Junior Ranger Badge! It is free and is a fun way to keep kids engaged at the historic sites throughout the city.
Consider starting with tickets to the top of the Washington Monument - the view is incredible and you can identify all the sites you will visit during your trip to build excitement.
After the monument, you may want to take advantage of the food trucks often parked nearby for lunch or a snack.
THEN --> In the afternoon, head indoors and check out the National Museum of Natural History.
The newly renovated fossil hall has the most complete T-Rex skeleton in the world, the mammal exhibit includes a white rhinoceros hunted by President Teddy Roosevelt, and upstairs is a live insect zoo where you can see a nursery of caterpillars becoming moths and butterflies.
Tip: You can purchase tickets on-site ($8 for adults and $7 for kids 2-12, under 2 is free) for the Butterfly Pavilion at the Natural History museum. On Tuesdays, tickets are free but offered first come, first served. Enjoy a walk-through exhibit with over 300 butterflies flying freely!
LAST --> For dinner, check out one of our favorite kid friendly dinner spots.
Two Amy’s has long been a local favorite for Neapolitan pizza - the menu has lots of kid approved options and they provide crayons and butcher paper to entertain the table.
For a place that offers breakfast all day, Ted’s Bulletin has a wide array of options on its menu and is famous for their homemade Pop-Tarts!
START --> Begin your morning with a visit to the memorials along the Tidal Basin - Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr.’s memorials are all located along this serene body of water.
If the weather is nice, you may want to rent paddle boats and see the sights from the water.
LUNCH --> head over to the Wharf. There’s lots of space for kids to run and play and plenty of kid-friendly food options, ranging from popular burger chain Shake Shack to Boardwalk Bar and Arcade, where kids can play shuffleboard, pinball, and arcade games while enjoying popcorn, tacos, mac and cheese and more.
AFTER--> explore another free Smithsonian museum - if your kids love Presidents or pop culture, head over to the National Museum of American History.
They can see Lincoln's hat and Washington’s document box as well as C3P0, R2D2, and Captain America’s shield!
If your kids prefer things that fly, reserve free timed tickets to the National Air and Space Museum. They’ll love seeing the Wright Brothers’ original 1903 flier, touching a moon rock, and traveling the solar system.
Tip: If you drop by the Air & Space Museum, be sure to check out the Planetarium! Tickets can be purchased on-site for the daily rotating selections of immersive films that explore the planets, stars, and cosmic adventures!
DINNER --> try local favorite Busboys and Poets. They have multiple locations with bookstores and local goodies for sale alongside their full service restaurant.
The atmosphere is lively and each location embodies a cozy cafe feel, so no worries if your crew is a little noisy or wants to explore while waiting to eat.
Plenty of kid-friendly menu options along with many vegan/gluten friendly entrees and sides.
Consider walking over to the White House Visitor Center - it is free and does not require reservations or tickets.
There are lots of hands-on elements for kids as well as a short film narrated by former Presidents and their families, including stories about being a kid inside the White House.
NEXT --> If you have kids under the ages of 10 or so, visit the National Children’s Museum.
The museum focuses on STEAM - science, technology, engineering, arts, and math - through playful and immersive exhibits and programs.
If your kids are in the preteen/teenage age range, you might enjoy the International Spy Museum instead. The museum immerses visitors into the world of espionage and spycraft via hands-on and interactive exhibits.
FINISH --> up your evening with a family-friendly tour! Learn about the spooky (not scary!) historic neighborhood of Georgetown or get a new perspective on the National Mall by exploring memorials by moonlight.
START --> Time to visit one of the most popular spots in D.C. for families - the National Zoo!
Free timed tickets are required to enter and can usually be booked with short notice.
Morning is one of the best times to visit as it is usually less hot and there’s more opportunities to see animals out and about - you might even catch a feeding!
Tip: If you’re visiting during the summer, keep an eye out for the spray stations to help cool off on a hot day! Also open during select summer months is the Conservation Carousel - tickets are $4 per rider for non-zoo members.
For breakfast before the zoo or lunch after, swing by Open City, a popular neighborhood cafe close to the Woodley Park-Zoo Metro Station.
They offer all-day breakfast with plenty of kid-friendly menu items and both indoor and outdoor seating.
We also recommend Duke’s Grocery across from the National Zoo’s entrance.
AFTER --> In the afternoon, make your way down to the National Archives to see our original founding documents. Admission is free but you can reserve free timed entry in advance to skip the sometimes long entrance line.
Tip: Make time to explore the public vaults as well. This is a hands-on interactive exhibit that showcases other documents and items stored by the Archives. Our favorite thing to show guests are the letters written by children to the past Presidents!
For a treat, pick up ice cream from local favorite Ice Cream Jubilee (multiple locations.)
FIRST --> Head out to Virginia to visit George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
You’ll see the mansion, grounds, and estate that was once home to our first President as well as a hands-on education center, working farm, and more!
You will need to purchase tickets for everyone over 5 years old but check online as there are often coupon codes and discounts.
Tip: If your kids love the National Treasure movies or the musical sensation Hamilton, consider adding on a $10 guided tour experience (typically lasting one hour.) These small group experiences include hands-on activities and special commentary from a guide.
We suggest allowing 3-4 hours at Mount Vernon and you can even make it a full day!
There is a food court pavilion that serves up family friendly sandwiches, pizza, burgers and more or you can have a meal inspired by the 18th century at the Mount Vernon Inn.
NEXT --> You can continue the early America theme by dropping in to Old Town Alexandria.
This historic town was a regular stop for George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other founding fathers and features a wide array of local restaurants and stores.
You can eat at Gadsby’s Tavern (just like our first five Presidents), ride the free King Street trolley, check out art at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, and play along the Potomac waterfront.
LAST --> For the last night, head down to the National Mall for a glimpse of the memorials at night. The best views are from the Lincoln Memorial - sit on the steps, take lots of photos, and talk about the highlights of your D.C. adventure!
START --> Get to the heart of political D.C. by starting your trip with a visit to Capitol Hill.
Tip: Stop by the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, one of the city’s newest National Park Service sites, to learn more about women’s fight to end gender discrimination at the ballot box.
LUNCH --> For lunch, the cafe at the Capitol Visitor Center is a favorite for families but if you’re looking for a little more political elbow rubbing, try the historic Monocle Restaurant.
For a more casual crowd, drop by Union Pub, a popular spot for Hill staffers and interns.
THEN --> From Capitol Hill, you can stroll, scooter, or take transit to the National Archives, home to our three founding documents - the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights as well as a Magna Carta, documents related to important legislation, and more.
This site is free, although you can reserve timed entry to skip the line - we recommend this during spring and summer visits.
NEXT --> In the evening, learn about the scandals surrounding political figures on one of our scandals tours - you can discover the darker side of politics, international intrigue, assassination attempts, and more!
FIRST --> Begin your day with a visit to the most famous address in D.C. - 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue!
You can request a White House tour through your member of Congress in advance but if you don’t get a tour, be sure to swing by photos - you can usually get pretty close on the north side of the building.
Learn more about the White House at the White House Visitor Center. This site is free and does not require reservations - plus with an early opening time, you can get your day off to an early start!
LUNCH --> at Old Ebbitt Grill (originally founded in 1856) is a must for a political junkie - politicians from the 19th century to today have been seen at the bar and huddling in back tables.
Tip: This is also a great option for dinner but our favorite meal at Old Ebbitt Grill is weekend brunch - reservations necessary!
AFTER --> head over to the National Museum of American History to dive into historical elections and see artifacts belonging to some of our most famous political figures.
We suggest starting with the American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith exhibition before heading upstairs to explore The American Presidency and The First Ladies.
THEN --> End your evening by grabbing drinks at one of two local watering holes where political chatter is always on the menu - Off the Record at The Hay Adams (popular with lobbyists and journalists) and the Round Robin at the historic Willard Hotel.
Both bars display portraits of their famous political patrons on the walls.
BEGIN --> your morning by exploring the memorials and monuments that make Washington, D.C. famous.
Tip: If you walk, bike, or scooter from the Mall to our next suggested destination, be sure to stop by the Watergate! You can sit on the steps and ponder the infamous 1972 break-in or drop in to the hotel restaurant for lunch.
AFTER --> exploring the Mall, head over to Georgetown, the oldest neighborhood in Washington, D.C. The neighborhood is associated with some of D.C.’s most famous names - John F. Kennedy, Ben Bradlee, Madeleine Albright, Bob Woodward - and many more.
Use an audio or self-guided tour to explore the historic neighborhood and take advantage of sunset hour along the waterfront park.
DINNER --> try the oldest restaurant in Georgetown - Martin’s Tavern. Every President from Harry S Truman to George W. Bush has dined there and the interior booths are marked with plaques honoring the famous movers and shakers who regularly sat there. Keep an eye out for the famous Proposal Booth - where John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie Bouvier!
Tip: Another great option for people watching in Cafe Milano - a regular dinner spot for the bold name set (if there’s a movie star in town or sports team celebrating a recent victory, you’re likely to see them here!)
START --> If there’s a notable funeral that’s taken place in Washington, it’s likely at Washington National Cathedral. Presidents, cabinet secretaries, ambassadors, journalists, astronauts, and more have been honored in this serene space. Take a tour and learn more about one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.
AFTER --> Make your way down from the Cathedral via Embassy Row to see dozens of embassies and ambassadors’ residences.
Check out statues of notable international figures such as Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela and end your visit down at Dupont Circle, a perfect spot for lunch!
Tip: Be sure to stop along the Naval Observancy to catch a glimpse of Number One Observatory Circle, home to the Vice President since 1974!
THEN --> Indulge in a classy dinner by booking a table at Le Diplomate, the popular French bistro where politician spotting is always on the menu. If you would rather try Italian food in a glam setting, try L’Ardente. Although it just opened in 2021, it’s already been visited twice by former President Obama.
START --> your day by going on a secret mission at the Spy Museum. Explore the shady history of espionage by taking on a cover identity, participating in interactive challenges (don’t forget your code word!), and find out if you can carry out your mission successfully.
Tip: An alternative option for your last morning is to visit historic Congressional Cemetery. This picturesque cemetery is the final resting place of William Thornton (original architect of the US Capitol), Marion Barry (the infamous four time mayor of D.C.), Matthew Brady (Civil War photographer), J. Edgar Hoover (FBI director), Cokie Roberts (journalist), and many many more.
AFTER --> you’ve worked up an appetite from all your spy activities, head down to The Wharf for lunch with a view. Stroll the boardwalk, enjoy some local treats, and people watch at the marina - there’s at least one Senator that lives on his houseboat here!
LAST --> Use your last afternoon and evening to catch up on any memorials, monuments, or museums that you missed.
If it’s baseball season, consider heading down to Navy Yard to check out a Washington Nationals game - you never know who you might spot throwing out the first pitch!