Create an Epic 3-Day Washington D.C. Itinerary

BEST THINGS TO DO IN WASHINGTON D.C.

So, if you are wondering what to do in 3 days in Washington, D.C., this itinerary will help you plan an exciting trip.

Washington, D.C. is the United States’ capital, located between Virginia and Maryland along the Potomac River. And while it is one of the most famous cities in the US, it is not as high on people’s bucket list as New York or Los Angeles, for example – however, there is a lot to see.

For such a small area of the country, Washington, D.C., has a lot going on. Politics and government aren’t the only things happening in this district. Full of neoclassical architecture, museums, and art venues, not to mention parks and monuments, Washington, D.C. has something for everyone, whether you’re a family on vacation, a couple, or a solo traveler looking to explore the American capital, which makes it one of the best cities to visit in the US. So, do what you can and come back again soon.

The post was written by Rebecca

TRAVEL TIPS FOR YOUR 3-DAY WASHINGTON D.C. ITINERARY

But before we discuss your itinerary for 3 days in Washington DC, here are some travel tips.

Weather in Washington, D.C.

  • Washington, D.C. enjoys moderate weather, warm summers (temperatures range from 68ºF-89ºF), and colder winters (temperatures range from 25ºF-43ºF).
  • You’ll see the most rain in May and June, so bring your umbrella during those months.
  • And take your snow boots in January and February.

Where to Stay in Washington for 3 Days

Because this area gets so many visitors, both foreign and domestic, hotel room prices can be pretty high. But here are a few suggestions for luxury hotels, mid-range, and budget options.

  • The JW Marriott Washington, D.C. is a good luxury option, with a great location near the White House, modern décor and amenities, and easy subway access.
  • I suggest The River Inn, which has a kitchenette, on-site restaurant, and central location for mid-range budgets. It is especially great for families.
  • A unique budget option is POD DC, which offers small, very modern rooms in a great location, at a low price for the area, and the best for solo travelers.

TIP: To save money on hotels, look for accommodations in Rosslyn, Crystal City, and Falls Church. As long as the hotel is near a subway station, you can easily make your way back to the city center for sightseeing while sticking to your budget.

How to Get Around Washington, D.C.

When it comes to Washington, D.C., you can’t go wrong with public transportation. Driving here is complicated in the extreme, so taking the bus, subway, trolley, or even walking is the best way to go.

  • The Metrorail is the subway system you will use when venturing out of the city center.
  • The Metro bus is great for reaching areas that the subway doesn’t go to, such as nearby Georgetown.
  • For a more fun form of transport, try the Old Town Trolley, which offers facts along with a scenic ride through the district.
  • If you’re planning to use the metro and bus a lot, consider getting the SmarTrip card, which is refillable. Or, if you prefer, you can also get a one-day unlimited pass for $14.75.
  • Taxis and Ubers are, of course, another option, but at a premium price.
  • However, if you make Washington D.C. your base, you can rent a car afterward and go on some awesome road trips from Washington D.C.

More Travel Tips For Your Washington D.C. Trip

BEST TIME TO VISIT:

  • If you’re on a budget, visit in either summer or winter – just plan for the hot and humid summer months and the cold and snowy winter months.
  • Spring and fall have the nicest weather, but that also means the area is much more crowded and expensive.
  • If you decide to come in the spring, then make sure to visit during the famous Cherry Blossom season. This is a beautiful display of natural beauty and a huge draw for tourists. The average date for the peak bloom occurs between March 15 and April 18. 

ACTIVITIES:

  • Some major attractions, like museums and government buildings, are free to enter but require advance tickets.
  • When you’re visiting federal buildings and museums, expect intense security checks. To make it easier for you, pack lightly and make sure you don’t have anything on you to get flagged by the security officers.

MORE TIPS:

  • Washington, D.C., offers free, clean tap water throughout the city, so bring your own water bottle so you don’t have to buy any while you’re here. 

HOW TO SPEND 3 DAYS IN WASHINGTON D.C.

With only 3 days in Washington DC, there is a lot to see, so let´s start with day 1.

Day 1 of 3 Days in Washington D.C. 

National Mall

Day 1 is all about the National Mall. This area is deceptively large, covering over 146 acres. But it is worth the time and walking because here is where you will see some of the most popular monuments in Washington, D.C.

When you arrive, start at the western end and work your way across. There are many museums, landmarks, beautiful water features, and plant life to see at this stop, which will take the majority of your day.

We will talk about some of the attractions now in detail. The first stop could be the Lincoln Memorial.

Lincoln Memorial

Created to honor the 16th president of the US – Abraham Lincoln – who helped end slavery in the country and unite it after the Civil War in the mid-1800s, the Lincoln Memorial is one of the most famous attractions in the National Mall.

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Large and imposing, make sure you take a moment to read the inscriptions on the opposite wall, which are Lincoln’s two most powerful speeches. Also, there are 58 steps at the Lincoln Memorial – why? 2 for the number of terms he served as President, and 56 for his age when he was assassinated.

Washington Monument

If you’ve ever seen any show or movie that is set in Washington, D.C., then you’ve seen a shot of the Washington Monument. Built to honor the first US president, George Washington, it stands at just over 555 feet.

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You can go inside the monument (where you will find – amongst others – a statue of George Washington) but the number of people allowed per day is limited

If you arrive between 9 am and 5 pm, you can take a glass-enclosed elevator to the 360-degree observation deck, which offers gorgeous views of the National Mall, White House, and other areas of the district.

White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the home and workspace of the American President. 

The White House in Washinton DC
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Stop here to take some pictures of the carefully cultivated front lawn and exterior (which was repaired after being set on fire during the Civil War). If you were lucky enough to set up a tour, explore the various historic rooms and enjoy a guided tour full of information about the rooms, famous visitors, and art.

To tour the White House, a request must be submitted to a member of Congress at least 21 days in advance of the tour date you want (international visitors must go through their embassy).

But if you haven’t set anything up in advance, then grab some pictures, and let’s check out the next destination in the area.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is absolutely huge, full of aircrafts like those flown by Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh.

You’ll find exhibits, simulators, IMAX theaters, and even a planetarium – everything you need to fascinate kids and aviation-loving adults. Plus, there’s a 3-story gift shop if you want to bring home a memento. 

  • Tip: Try to get here earlier in the day to avoid the worst of the crowds.

National Gallery of Art

This is one of the best art museums in the district: The National Gallery of Art.

National Gallery of Art, a national art museum in Washington, D.C., National Mall Anton_Ivanov Shutterstock.com
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Divided into two buildings, the East offers more modern works, like Henri Matisse, and the West has older ones, like those by Sandro Botticelli. This gallery is rather large, so be sure to stop for snacks – there are five cafes for refreshments throughout.

You can also enjoy free concerts on certain evenings in either the East building auditorium or the garden courts of the West building.

Whether you want to explore the museum on your own or join a guided tour of the museum – it is free (and no admission for the museum).

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

Located right next to the National Gallery of Art, you can enjoy art sculptures here, as well as plants that are native to the area.

Some nights there are some free jazz concerts, and in winter, the fountain in the garden is turned into an ice rink. So, whatever season it is, this is a fun stop to enjoy some outdoor time and maybe a little music.

This is also our last stop of the day.

The National Mall has many more monuments, but these are the highlights. You might not be able to see all places mentioned on day 1, so pick those which are the most appealing to you.

We’ll see a few more on Day 2, but for tonight, enjoy dinner and drinks at one of the many restaurants surrounding the National Mall.

Day 2 of 3 Days in Washington D.C. 

We’ll start Day 2 with a beautiful cathedral.

Washington National Cathedral

This Gothic-style cathedral took more than 80 years to complete, but it’s easy to see why.

Washington National Cathedral visiting is one of the best things to do in 3 days
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Massive in size, the Washington National Cathedral is surrounded by lovely gardens and made up of high buttresses and intricate stained glass windows.

But what everyone comes to see are the gargoyles. In the summer months, there is even a Gargoyle Tour so that you can explore all the different ones (including a Darth Vader gargoyle). If you want, you can attend worship services here on Sundays.

This stop will take an hour or two. To get to our next destination, take the bus and/or metro train (about 40 minutes).

Smithsonian Castle

The Smithsonian Castle is actually the home of the Smithsonian Visitors Center.

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The crypt of the institute’s benefactor, James Smithson, can be found inside, but the outside is the real draw. Wander around and explore the interesting exterior, or head inside to see the crypt and learn some things about the well-respected Smithsonian Institute. 

Just a 5-minute walk will bring you to the next enjoyable stop – the International Spy Museum.

International Spy Museum

For any spy buff, the International Spy Museum is the place to see. Containing the largest collections of espionage artifacts in the world and offering interactive spy experiences, you’ll have a lot of fun here.

It is a great place for families with older children, couples, and solo travelers.

  • You can buy tickets online (unfortunately, this is not a free museum to visit).
  • The museum is open 7 days a week.

Tidal Basin

This 2-mile-long pond is often the highlight of many people’s trips to Washington, D.C.

Washington, DC at the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial
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Every spring, the cherry trees that were gifted to the country by Japan come into bloom, and it’s beautiful. You could spend hours wandering through the area, getting amazing pictures, and just enjoying the views. Still, you might also want to consider taking a paddleboat out and seeing the blooms from a different perspective. 

If you’re visiting in the winter or late summer, then you can have a good time here. Take a walk along the water and visit the three monuments close by: the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

Then, head to our last stop of the day, about 50 minutes away by train. You might want to take a taxi/Uber here because it cuts travel time down to about 15 minutes.

Georgetown and the Waterfront

Georgetown and the surrounding waterfront is the perfect place to end Day 2.

Georgetown Waterfront Boardwalk,
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Characterized by cobblestone streets, Federal-style architecture, and many upscale shopping and dining options, you’ll have plenty to do here. Because of Georgetown University’s proximity, there are also plenty of nightlife choices, from college bars to more sedate lounges.

The waterfront offers a promenade and gardens that you can stroll through after dinner.

  • When you’re finished exploring Georgetown, head back to your hotel because there are lots to do on the last day of this Washington, D.C. itinerary.

Day 3 of 3 Days in Washington D.C.

For our last day in Washington, D.C., let’s explore a few more favorites for tourists and locals.

United States National Arboretum 

The National Arboretum is a lovely outdoor space that has tons of flowers, trees, and plants, as well as walking trails that you can travel along if you have the time.

But don’t miss the main attraction, which is the capitol columns and the bonsai trees. They’re a nice place to picnic and take photos. 

The bonsai trees are located in the Bonsai and Penjing Museum in the Arboretum, and you can see some of the 300 trees that are on display throughout the pavilions and gallery.

  • After a couple of hours (or longer if you like), head to our next stop, 30 minutes away by train.

Union Market

With over 40 vendors, Union Market is the best place for eating your fill of local cuisine, buying souvenirs, and exploring the local culture. It’s located in the revitalized NoMa neighborhood, and you’ll find plenty of interesting sights and tastes at this gourmet food hall.

  • Once you’ve eaten and enjoyed this bit of local flavor, head to the next stop on this Washington itinerary (about 25 minutes by train).

Library of Congress

Located near the Capitol Building, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world. It is also the research center of the US Congress, so it gets a lot of use.

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Explore the beautiful architecture of this impressive structure (which is actually 3 buildings) before heading inside to see what this massive library really looks like.

The museum is not open every day, visitor hours are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, with the last passes of the day offered at 3:00 pm.

The library is free to visit – but you need to book a ticket online.

  • Then, walk over to the Capitol Building.

United States Capitol

The United States Capitol is where Congress meets to debate and vote on laws.

United States Capitol- Washington DC to see in 3 days
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While the chambers themselves are only accessible with permission from a Senator or Congressman, you can tour the south and north wings and the Rotunda in front. There are many sculptures, paintings, and frescoes for you to admire as well. This stop is well worth the time and effort.

  • Day-of passes for the Visitor Center are usually available (except for the peak seasons of spring and summer), but to go beyond those areas requires advance tour reservations.

Then walk to the next stop which is just a stone´s throw away.

United States Botanical Garden

The US Botanical Gardens is another great place to add to your Washington D.C. itinerary. 

Washington DC historical Bartholdi Fountain and United States Botanic Garden Conservatory
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With different galleries and exhibits featuring exotic flowers and plants, strolling through the gardens is very enjoyable. Families with kids and any adult who loves flowers will want to spend the day here. There’s also a butterfly garden that’s worth a visit.

The grounds are fairly large, and you could spend hours here.

  • But before the day ends, let’s visit our last stop of the trip. Public transportation will take about an hour from the Botanical Gardens, or you can take a taxi and arrive in 15 minutes.

National Harbor and Capital Wheel

Your last destination is National Harbor, which is actually across the state line in Maryland. 

Oxen Hill, Maryland, USA day trips from Washington on itinerary, Gary C. Tognoni Shutterstock.com
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The harbor sits on the Potomac River and offers shopping, dining, outdoor art, a carousel, and the Capital Wheel, which is a Ferris wheel that offers 360-degree views over the water.

It’s the perfect way to cap off this 3-day Washington, D.C. itinerary.

Another Idea for Your 3-Day Washington DC Itinerary

Alternatively, you can add these activities to your Washington D.C. itinerary.

Potomac River Boat Cruise

Since Washington, D.C. is located right off the Potomac River, why not enjoy a boat cruise to see the sights from a whole new perspective.

This is a great way to spend a summer afternoon, so if you have the time or want to skip one of the other destinations, then slip a boat cruise into your itinerary for 3 days in Washington, D.C.

FINAL THOUGHTS – WASHINGTON D.C. ITINERARY

While many people think about politics first, the capital has more to offer. I hope this 3-day Washington itinerary has helped you discover where to go in 3 days Washington. and how to make the most of your visit to the US capital.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

This post was written by Rebecca, who runs her own blog at The Journey at Home – where she writes about her life as a mother of 5 with everything that comes along with it. She lived in New York for a long time before she moved to Las Vegas. She also works as a freelancer for Arzo Travels.

Safe Travels, Arzo
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