The fact that it is the capital of the United States means Washington DC has something for everyone to enjoy, no matter if you’re a history buff or a fashionista. Stroll along the National Mall and read up on some facts at one of the world class museums, or just experience great shops and sweet treats on cobble-stoned streets in Georgetown. One day in Washington DC will not go to waste, and it will provide great memories for all.
Guest post by Kat and Elle
Blog: America in a Day
What’s the best time to visit Washington DC?
Washington DC is a major tourist attraction year round. During the summer, expect very hot and humid temperatures with lots of vacationing families. DC has a large Fourth of July event with fireworks at the National Mall. During the fall, temperatures are probably at their best with the weather being sunny and in the 50’s-60’s. The fall has some great events too, like the National Book Festival. The spring is probably when peak crowds arrive due to the cherry blossoms blooming. The National Cherry Blossom festival takes place sometime in March or April, depending on how the weather affects the trees.
The winter is the least crowded part of the year in DC (unless it’s an inauguration year), and the weather can be very cold and snowy. Visit during the Christmas season to experience Zoo Lights, a free Christmas light display, or come after the holidays for Chinese New Year.
What’s good to know about Washington DC?
Transportation around DC is incredibly easy with the Metro. The Metro offers a variety of stops around the District, including stops near the major attractions. Most of the major attractions in DC are located along the National Mall.
The National Mall is a large park that features the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Memorial, access to view the White House, the Capitol, and the World War II Memorial. Located on either side of the mall are multiple Smithsonian Museums and specific federal buildings.
One Day in Washington DC Itinerary
Top things to do in Washington DC
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Washington DC.
Begin your day by having breakfast at Founding Farmers. Located near the Farragut West Metro Station, it is not too far away from the National Mall. After breakfast, walk along the National Mall.
In the morning the mall is not as crowded, so you can take pictures of the monuments with less disruptions and experience the city. The Jefferson Monument is located in the Tidal Basin, which is a short walk from the National Mall. During spring, summer, and early fall you can rent a paddle boat and experience the views from the water.
After you walk along the mall and see the Tidal Basin, grab lunch at District Taco or &Pizza. Both are DC signatures offering fast casual meals that work for most diets. If you are looking for more of a sit down meal, go to Pi Pizzeria. After lunch, head over and visit one of the many museums or federal buildings. From the National Mall you can go to one of the Smithsonian Museums: the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, the Smithsonian Native American Museum, or the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History! All of these are free, and take a couple hours to walk through completely.
If you want to see more of the government’s inner workings, check out the National Archives, the Library of Congress, or the Capitol instead. The National Archives house the Declaration of Independence and other documents important for the United States. It is also featured in the movie National Treasure! The Library of Congress is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. The National Archives and the Library of Congress are both free and do not require tickets.
The Capitol is another option to visit if you are interested in how legislation gets passed and laws are made. The Capitol is free, but you will need to get tickets to go on a tour. These tickets are available through your local representative or senator, or through the online portal of the Capitol Visitor’s Center website.
After you see a museum or two or take in some history, spend the rest of your day in Georgetown! Georgetown is located about a 10 minutes’ walk from the Foggy Bottom-GW Metro Stop. This stop is serviced on the orange and blue lines of the Metro, so if you are still on the mall, you can take the Smithsonian stop toward Vienna (orange line) or Franconia-Springfield (blue line) to get to Foggy Bottom-GW. Once off the metro, walk along Pennsylvania Avenue toward M Street. M Street will take you directly to Georgetown.
While there, walk along the water and see the canals that connect this area, take in the sunset at one of the great restaurants, or get in your shopping fix! For dinner, try eating at Clyde’s of Georgetown. Clyde’s offers traditional American cuisine in a great setting. Georgetown is filled with stores such as North Face, Anthropologie, Nike, and more. Get your sweet tooth satisfied by having dessert at Georgetown Cupcake or Baked and Wired, both cupcake stores! Georgetown has a great night life and is definitely the place to be. There are multiple bars, and even a bowling alley/bocce ball attraction! Pinstripes offers food and fun in a unique location.
Where to stay in Washington DC?
Club Quarters Hotel
Club Quarters Hotel is a modern, very well furnished hotel with a new concept for the hotel industry. The hotel is designed for the business traveler, with modern amenities like convenient outlets at bedside, desk, Club Living Room access, free wireless printing, work stations etc. However, the hotel offers a great retreat for leisure travelers, as well. Rooms provide contemporary design and amazing comfort.
Pod DC Hotel
POD DC Hotel is a modern, technology-focused hotel located in Penn Quarter, at the beginning of Chinatown. Rooms may be compact, but offer exceptional design and high-tech amenities. It’s a pretty good value deal and a great hotel for a short stay.
HighRoad Hostel DC
The Highroad Hostel is a restored Victorian Mansion and one of the top rated hostels in the city. There’s a fine designed shared kitchen and a common lounge with a fire place. This budget stay is a great pick for young travelers and all of those who seek meeting other people.
day trips from washington DC
While the capital of the United States is full of interesting sights, you would do well to organize a day trip from Washington if you’re staying here for a few days. There really is a lot to see in the city’s surrounding area.
Trains are a great way to get around the East Coast, so you can simply hop on one to get to New York. It takes about three and a half hours to complete the journey, but the trains run every hour and you will be dropped off in Manhattan. Therefore, you can start exploring right away – see the Statue of Liberty, walk down the 5th Avenue and do some shopping there , check out the Times Square, climb the Empire State Building… The opportunities are endless.
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Chesapeake Bay is the favorite getaway spot for the people of Washington. It has a beautiful beach and offers loads of water-related activities. If it’s too cold for that, you can visit the famous Maritime Museum or the National Historical Park. The sunset here is particularly romantic, with all the boats in the bay adding it a special serene note. Go here, you won’t regret it.
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The fabled Potomac River runs straight through Washington and separates the city from the state of Maryland. The river’s importance in this nation’s history is immense, and its shores are home to numerous historically important sights. The most important of them, however, is probably Mount Vernon, the home of the country’s first president George Washington. Therefore, opting for this day trip from Washington is certainly a great choice.
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If you want to learn more about the country’s history, why not pay Philadelphia a visit? It takes only about an hour and a half to get there by train, so you’ll have plenty of time to see Independence Hall and Liberty Bell as well as many other attractions this great city has to offer. Of course, don’t forget to try the delicious Philly cheesesteak. Given that it’s so close to DC, you’ll have plenty of energy when you get there.
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There is something very special in visiting Gettysburg, the site of the most devastating battle of the Civil War and American history in general. You can learn all about that historic event through a diorama there and a show depicting the battle. Visit the Cemetery Ridge, where Abraham Lincoln delivered his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address. This is the place that pretty much defined the United States.
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Extra tips for visiting Washington DC
– There are three different airports that service the area. Only Reagan National Airport offers metro service. Dulles International Airport and Baltimore Washington International Airport both will require a taxi or using a ride service such as Uber. We advise against renting a car, since parking in DC is limited and expensive.
– With Washington DC being the capital of the US, do not be surprised to see a presidential motorcade at some point. Traffic can get very congested due to this. Traffic is also bad during rush hour, so plan your trip accordingly.
– Metro is the best way to get around DC, and one day passes with unlimited rides are available. Metro is paperless now, so you will have to buy a SmartTrip card. These can be purchased at all Metrorail stations.
– Make your trip to Washington DC even more exciting! Check out Tripadvisor for all the activities and organized tours in Washington DC or around the area. Make sure to purchase your tickets to all the attractions right away to skip the queues.
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