3 Days in Washington DC: Everything You Should Know
Spending 3 days in Washington DC will be 3 days of fun! Going it alone with no set itinerary for 3 days in the nation’s capital is not wise, so you will want to take some time and set a schedule to fit in landmarks and museums for a broad sense of the city’s history.
Whether you are visiting to learn more about the United States’ government and want to visit the historic landmarks and monuments, or you are here to do a little museum hopping, or for the culture, food scene, and nightlife, you will find plenty to keep you busy while in Washington DC!
There are plenty of sit-down diners, fast food delis, street food vendors, and high-end restaurants to choose from. Whether you are searching for a quick bite, a family-friendly eatery, or somewhere to impress new friends, you will definitely find a wonderful place to dine.
Spend a morning wandering through the National Mall checking out several of the Smithsonian’s museums such as the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History. Visit the Georgetown neighborhood. Pay your respects at the Arlington National Cemetery. If you find yourself weighted down with your large bags or backpacks as you explore Washington DC, find a luggage storage service to stow your extra bags.
Washington DC itinerary – Day 1
Morning: The National Mall
Day 1 of your 3 days in Washington DC will be all about the National Mall and the museums that make up the Smithsonian Institution. There are 12 must-see museums at the National Mall but if you find you are running short on time, make sure you visit the National Air & Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History. It is free to visit the museums at the National Mall.
National Gallery of Art
There are two buildings that make up the National Gallery of Art, one that houses modern art and one with classical art.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Learn more about one of the worst human genocides in history, the Holocaust, through personal stories, artifacts, and videos.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Filled with modern and contemporary art from artists from around the world.
National Museum of Natural History
With over 127 million items and rotating collections including the Hope Diamond and full dinosaur skeletons, this is one of the most visited museums in the world.
National Museum of the American Indian
One of the newer museums of the Smithsonian, learn more about the American Indian and the various tribes that roamed North America.
National Museum of African American History and Culture
This is the only national museum that is dedicated solely to African American culture, art, and history.
The Freer Gallery of Art
This was the first exclusive art gallery in the Smithsonian and is now dedicated to Asian art.
National Museum of African Art
With over 9,000 pieces in its collection, the museum is dedicated to African art including textiles, musical instruments, and paintings.
The Smithsonian Castle
It is a bit surreal to see a castle among the DC skyline, but the Smithsonian Castle is a cool place to explore.
National Archives Museum
Home to the National Archives Museum as well as the National Archives and Records Admin, it is home to the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitution.
Afternoon: Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum and National Museum of American History
This is one of the most visited museums at the Smithsonian and is especially popular with kids and teens. There are a variety of interactive exhibits including flight simulators as well as several educational videos.
The museum is comprised of two different parts including the Udvar-Hazy Center filled with several interactive displays detailing the in-depth history of space and aviation exploration. The second part is located in the National Mall and gives an overview of the United States’ role in aviation and space travel.
Head to the National Museum of American History. The extensive collections of America’s history will give you a more in-depth history lesson than any high school civics teacher could ever give you. The interactive exhibits help make history come alive for a memorable experience.
While here you can see the original puppet of Kermit the Frog, the original Star Spangled Banner, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, and so much more. Themed collections for the history of technology, Disability History, Equal Rights, and Women’s Rights are interesting and informative.
Night: Washington DC River Cruise
This river cruise is the perfect way to drift down the Potomac River and see many of the famous Washington DC monuments. You will board at the Georgetown Waterfront and settle in to listen to your informative guide as they discuss the top monuments in DC including some of the interesting facts about these monuments.
The natural beauty of the river and DC skyline is amazing and you will be on the cruise for a little over an hour. You do want to be at the Georgetown Waterfront about 30 minutes before your cruise is set to begin. Along the way you will glimpse the Arlington National Cemetery, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial, just to name a few.
Washington DC Itinerary – Day 2
Morning: Big Bus Sightseeing Tour
With only a limited time in DC, you want to pack as much in as you can and a bus sightseeing tour is one of the best ways to see more in a short amount of time. The Big Bus Tour is the perfect way to be introduced to the city and get an overview of the top attractions in Washington DC.
Along the tour, you will pass by the Botanical Garden, U.S. Capitol, Jefferson Memorial, National Mall, National Air & Space Museum, the White House, and a lot more. With over 25 stops along the tour, you will get to see plenty and since it is a hop-on-hop-off tour, you can check out many of the sites. It is great for a single person, couple, or even the entire family.
Afternoon: Explore Georgetown
Home to Georgetown University and George Washington University, this iconic neighborhood is a shopaholic’s paradise. There are also several great cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy fresh and flavorful foods from around the world, including down home comfort dishes and savory Southern cooking.
With several movies having been filmed in whole or in part in Georgetown, you may recognize some of the landmarks and historic sites. Head to the end of M Street and have your picture taken on the Exorcist stairs. Visit the Old Stone House which is the only fully intact pre-Revolutionary War building in the DC area.
Night: DuPont Circle
Stop into Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe, a bookstore, bar, and restaurant in one! Browse the books and then grab an Arugula Cobb Salada or a filling serving of Chicken + Waffles.
Then, make a date at The Board Room DC, also in DuPont's Circle. Draft beers, wines, and tasty cocktails are yours for the enjoyment as you watch a game on the big screen TVs. Or choose a board game to conquer. Relax but keep it hopping with a rousing board game.
Washington DC itinerary – Day 3
Morning: U.S. Capitol Building and Tour
A must-visit when you are in Washington DC for 3 days in the US Capitol Building. You can sign up for a tour of the building and the best part is the tour is free. The Capitol Building is the seat of the United States government and is home to the US Senate. The building was built in 1793 and is one of the most iconic buildings in DC.
While not mandatory, you will probably want to reserve your spot on a guided tour in advance. The guided tour will last about 45 minutes and along the way, you will visit the US Capitol Visitor Center to watch a short film, see the National Statuary Hall, the Capitol Rotunda and the crypt, and stroll along the connecting corridors. Bring your camera for some great photos along the way.
Afternoon: Arlington National Cemetery
So, visiting a cemetery is not usually a highlight when you are sightseeing in a new city, but the Arlington National Cemetery should be on your list. While the cemetery is located in Virginia, it is only about a five-minute drive north of the National Mall.
Those buried in the Arlington National Cemetery have contributed in some way to the greatness of the nation and bravely served their country in one way or another. Some graves date back to the Civil war and include many important science and medical figures, military personnel, explorers, presidents, and astronauts.
Aside from the graves, there is a welcome center and museum as well as memorials and monuments. The peacefulness of the cemetery will surround you as you wander through looking at some of the 400,000 graves. Visit the graves of President William Howard Taft, President John F. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Robert Todd Lincoln, John Glen, Joe Lewis, Abner Doubleday, and many more.
Be sure to visit during the Changing of the Guard ceremony held outside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Changing of the Guard occurs between October 1st through March 31st and takes place on the hour, every hour. The Tomb Guards are on watch every day, 24 hours a day, no matter the weather.
Night: The Ellipse and the White House
Head a few blocks to the west of the National Mall and take a stroll along the Ellipse which is a well-manicured lawn that runs adjacent to the White House’s South Lawn. If you happen to visit during the holidays, the National Christmas Tree is set on the Ellipse. It is also a great place for locals to meet and play games or have a picnic.
This is one of the best places to get fantastic photos of the White House without the tall fencing obstructing your view. Seeing the White House has to be on your Washington DC itinerary and while you might not get to go inside the White House for a tour you can still see the majestic home in person. Tours of the White House have to be made in advance and can be expensive.
You can still get nice photos of the White House from Pennsylvania Avenue, which would give you a front view of the president’s home. While you are on Pennsylvania Avenue, take a slight detour through Lafayette Square to check out several monuments and statues on display.
3 Days in Washington DC
Washington DC is one of the best places to visit if you are a major history buff or a political junkie. It is the heart of the United States, where lawmakers have hashed out new laws, revamped old laws, upheld ancient laws, and decided the course of the nation.
From the founding fathers to present day lawmakers and supreme court justices, you will discover more about the United States than just sitting in a classroom. This capital city is home to the Smithsonian National Museum, the World War II Memorial, and Capitol Hill. Mount Vernon is not far from the city center and is a great afternoon trip if you have time.
Still planning your visit to Washington DC? Check out these guides for more ideas!