Washington, D.C., is an absolutely beautiful city. We had the best time exploring all the historic sites and monuments. From the White House to Capitol Hill, the architecture was awe-inspiring.
Despite our nation’s sorted history, it’s hard not to be filled with admiration for our country while immersed in this city. While you stroll through the well-landscaped parks, a certain peace and serenity takes over, a stillness that is often difficult to be found in a bustling city. In contrast, there is a weight that soaks into your spirit. A deep understanding of the sacrifices made to build our nation. I believe this juxtaposition of emotions is what makes a trip to Washington, D.C., worthwhile.
It was my first time in our nation’s capital, and like all my trips, I wanted to make the most out of our time there.
So, if you’re in the midst of planning your trip to one of the most unique and iconic destinations in the United States, then you’ve come to the right place. Here is my tested and approved 3-day itinerary to Washington, D.C.
Everyone’s arrival time will vary, so I did not include “arrival day” in the 3-day itinerary plan. Our specific trip allowed for 1-day to travel in and 1-day to travel home. If you plan it this way, you have plenty of time to see it all (or at least most).
We were traveling over the holidays. We spent a few days with Greg’s parents in West Virginia for Thanksgiving, so we could mix up our travel by arriving via Amtrak train from Pittsburgh rather than a flight from Denver.
I love riding the Amtrak. They have stress-free boarding processes, their seats are 10x more comfortable than airplane seats, and you don’t have to stay in your chair during the whole travel time. You can get up and walk around when your legs are feeling restless. A lounge car with food is available, and most long-distance trains have a viewing room with all windows. On your typical train ride, you see parts of the United States you don’t get to visit from your car on the freeway.
If you have the opportunity to take the train into D.C. I would take it. We rode in from Pittsburgh, and it was an easy 9-hour ride.
1011 K St NW, Washington, DC 20001
The Moxy Hotel is fun and creatively decorated in a great location in D.C. – within walking distance from museums and the National Mall. We didn’t rent a car, so it was important to us that we could get around easily on foot. This hotel checked all the boxes for us. The rooms are small but well-designed. If you have a travel buddy who needs personal space, there is a better hotel for you (unless you have separate rooms).
Moonlight Monument Tour
Our first night was spent on a 3-Hour moonlit tour of the National Mall with Signature Tours.
The tour was excellent. Our guides were entertaining and informative. Everything you’d want in a tour guide – especially if you’re like me and go to bed at 8pm and the tour runs past bed time.
Day One | Monuments & Museums
Breakfast at Founding Farmers
1924 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006
Located just three blocks from the White House, Founding Farmers is the perfect way to start your day (they also serve lunch and dinner).
Founder Farmers prides itself in being a consciously sourced, environmentally sustainable, everything-from-scratch restaurant. And the food speaks to their conscious efforts. Our meals were farm-fresh, country-style food reminiscent of cozy and elevated hometown cooking. So yummy. Learn more about Founding Farmers – Here.
Because I wanted to get a start on the day nice and early, our reservation was for 7:30 am. I also appreciate the fact they offer breakfast this early. Our reservation gave us plenty of time to fuel up delicious food and begin our day’s adventure. Make your reservation with Founding Farmers – Here.
Coffee & Stroll to the White House
D.C. is a gorgeous city, and we were grateful to have traveled when we did. There was still the remanence of crisp autumn leaves, faded into the most lovely deep red, orange, and sagebrush yellow, set against neoclassical architecture reminiscent of Greek and Roman design. The large marble and sandstone buildings set the stage for an everyday-kinda-wonderful trip. It reminded me of a classic romantic comedy set from the 90s or early 2000s, something like You’ve Got Mail or The Holiday.
Explore the National Mall in the Daylight
We did the night tour (highly recommend), but we definitely wanted to see monuments during the day and spend more time taking them in. Having never visited D.C. before, I wasn’t sure how much time it would take to get from point A to point B or enjoy any given museum. On average, they recommend 2 hours per museum, which is solid advice. I wanted to ensure we had a list of “must-do” things for our trip and a few “if there’s time” things.
Here are the monuments we knew we wanted to make time for:
- Lincoln Memorial
- Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
- Jefferson Memorial
- World War II Memorial
- Washington Momument
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
The Smithsonian museums are a must-visit. They offer wonderful insight into the history of our country and its inhabitants.
One of my favorites was the National Museum of Natural History.
Of course, what enthralls you may be different than myself, but with all the exhibit possibilities, from dinosaur bones at the Natural History Museum to vintage aircraft at the Air and Space Museum, you’ll want to make time for the Smithsonian.
See Where Nicolas Cage Stole the Declaration of Independence at National Archives
The National Archives holds some of our nations most important documents, including the Decoration of Independence and the Constitution. Seeing the original copies of these documents was a moment of clarity, a bridge across time.
National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery was one of my favorite spots in all of D.C. – a photographer at heart, I loved seeing how others see the world through the lens of their cameras.
Dinner at Succotash
915 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004
We stumbled upon Succotash, and I’m so happy we did because, damn, it is delicious. Succotash is owned by James Beard Award-winning Chef Edward Lee. As their site describes, Chef Lee melds his Korean roots with soulful Southern cuisine into a menu you’ll surely want to order from twice. I had their Delta Rice Bowl (with smoked tofu, roasted carrot, chard, crispy eggplant, veggie kimchi), and a side of watermelon & fried peanuts. It was my favorite restaurant from the trip.
Sunrise Jog or Walk the C&O Canal
As I mentioned, Greg and I did not rent a car. This is the way to go; there are no parking fees or hassle. That being said, it does make for an active vacation.
If, after walking all around D.C., you’re still open to a more physical recreation plan to explore C & O Canal. This historic 184-mile waterway is a great opportunity to bike or jog in nature.
Coffee at Bitty & Beau’s
3207 M Street, NW Washington, District of Columbia
“Bitty & Beau’s Coffee creates a path for people with disabilities to become more valued, accepted and included in every community.” – Bitty & Beau’s
Bitty and Beau’s is a “human rights movement disguised as a coffee shop.” They have a cozy, inviting atmosphere with delicious coffee and friendly baristas. So grab yourself a cup before exploring Georgetown.
The JFK walkabout in Georgetown
Georgetown is a must-see; here, you can visit John F. Kennedy’s neighborhood and the places where Jacqueline and John once lived. Enjoy the historic beauty of the town center. Walk the cobblestone streets he once did. Admire the colonial townhouses that have stood for centuries. Feel the serenity of standing in one of D.C.’s oldest neighborhoods, where a young president and first lady once walked. It all comes together here.
You can find the address and history for each home – here.
AmazingCo Mystery Picnic Georgetown & Foggy Bottom
Explore some of Georgetown’s most iconic sites while gathering all the treats you’ll need for the perfect picnic.
I’ve mentioned AmazingCo in my Leavenworth travel guide, and I will stand by this recommendation. In fact, the Washington D.C AmazingCo picnic is a highlight of our trip. This company creates an entirely unique experience for each picnic, taking into account the history and culture of the area and connecting visitors with local vendors. All you need is a nice little tote to collect your goodies and a spot to set up your blanket!
From exploring Georgetown’s oldest streets to enjoying a romantic picnic, no matter how you spend your day in Georgetown, you’re sure to feel the nostalgia surrounding this vibrant and victorian area Georgetown.
International Spy Museum
For a real look at adventure, the International Spy Museum is a cool experience. Discover the history of espionage and secret agents from around the world. See iconic artifacts, including James Bond’s Walther PPK and tools used by real-life spies to gather information – all within the walls of a former brewery.
This museum has a fun twist. You can participate in interactive activities, become an undercover agent and search for clues as you walk through each exhibit, all while uncovering the secret history of the world’s most famous spies.
United States Botanic Garden
I visit botanical gardens on most of my trips. They are always worth it, and most are free. The United States Botanical Garden is equally as impressive as most I’ve been to (although my favorite was in Scotland). Filled with lush plants, an array of exotic plants, winding paths with vibrant colors, and a large conservatory where you can look out over the gardens from an indoor terrace.
Breakfast sammies at Le Bon Café
210 2nd St SE, Washington, DC 20003
Le Bon Café is the spot for breakfast. Located across from the Library of Congress, you’ll encounter many business professionals fueling up for a long day in the office. So quant and adorably hustle-posh, you’ll either love or hate the energy here. Most importantly, their veggie breakfast sammy was 10/10!
Get a Library card at The Library of Congress
Did you know you can become a registered reader and get your Library of Congress card? The card is easy to get; fill out a form, show your ID, and take your photo, and that’s it.
With your library card, you can access special collections and rare books and explore the reading room. The library’s immense collection is a powerful reminder of our shared heritage and the diversity of ideas that make up our world.
Did you know? The Library of Congress has more than 173 million items, making it the largest library in the world.
Arlington National Cemetery
A visit to Washington, DC, is only complete with a stop at Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington is a solemn and reflective environment, as it is the final resting place of many. The cemetery covers 624 acres of rolling hills and grand monuments dedicated to men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
From the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to the graves of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Arlington reminds us of those who have served our nation. Visitors can tour the grounds by foot or car, as guided tours are available for individuals and groups alike. The Women in Military Service Memorial also offers educational opportunities for visitors.
It was a particular sticking and emotionally charged experience for my husband. Here’s what he had to say about it:
“I’d been to Arlington, what felt like a lifetime ago, as a teenager, well before I’d enlisted in the military. The grounds were beautiful, and the funeral processions were somber. But, walking through the cemetery almost 20 years later, after 12 years of service, five deployments, and friends and loved ones who passed on, the experience was significantly different. As we walked around the grounds, I felt a connection to all my brothers and sisters laid to rest, a mixture of awe at their sacrifices and respect for who they were and what they left behind. To say I was overcome with emotion is an understatement. Then, we walked by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and I couldn’t help but get a little choked up. The gravity of where I was, and knowing that I was surrounded by men and women who gave their lives to the same service that I had, had a profound impact on me, a resonance of grief and of appreciation that I am able to walk on the shoulders of giants, that they paved the way for the life I lead. It was an honor to walk among them, and I highly encourage everyone to pay their respects and walk those lawns, too. As you’re surrounded by the rows of headstones, take a moment to think about those around you, impact they’ve made on our world and this country.”
The Kennedy Center
The Kennedy Center was named as such in remembrance of President John F. Kennedy, whose life was taken too soon. Located on the banks of the Potomac River, this center is a beautiful installment with waterfront views.
The center stands as a testament to the legacy of President Kennedy. Recently a permanent exhibition was created as a reflection of his life and spirit of artistry, showcasing the history of the center and Kennedy’s love for the arts.
If you’re not a fan of Kennedy, you can leave this off your list, but as you’ve probably guessed (from my JFK walkabout), this was a must for me.
Dinner at Bantam King & Ice Cream from Dolcezza Gelato & Coffee
Bantam King is not your average, classic ramen. Their vegan ramen is made with a blend of chilies, and the noodles are finished with aromatized wine spray. It is delicioso.
Dolcezza Gelato & Coffee out of this world ice-cream. We are talking smooth, creamy flavor combos. My flavor of choice is coffee & xmas cookies. The perfect end to a great day, and just a block aways from The Moxy Hotel.
The world is an endless pool of exploration, and narrowing travels down to the United States doesn’t seem to make the possible exploration list any shorter. And, as much as I love to follow the less traveled paths, I enjoy visiting classic American cities, the must-travels like New York, San Fransisco, and of course, Washington D.C.
Seeing the exterior of all these landmarks I’d only ever seen in photographs or videos was terrific. The entire city is a traveler’s dream, from historical monuments and memorials to the nation’s most important moments.
Plenty of hidden gems are tucked away in multiple locations, so as much as I’d love for you to follow my travel guide, you’re bound to find points of interest all your very own.