3 Days in Washington, D.C.  – Itinerary

So, if you are wondering what to do in Washington, D.C. in 3 days, what to see and where to go, then this 3-day Washington, D.C. itinerary will help you plan an exciting trip.

While there are a lot of things on this itinerary, you may find that you can’t fit them all in. For such a small area of the country, Washington, D.C. has a lot going on

Washington, D.C. is the capital of the United States, located between the states of Virginia and Maryland along the Potomac River.

And while it is one of the most famous cities in the US, it is not that high on people’s bucket list as is New York  or Los Angeles for example – however, there is a lot to see.

And politics and government aren’t the only things going on 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

Washington D.C. Travel Tips for Your 3-Day Itinerary

But before we discuss your 3 days in Washington DC here are some travel tips…

How to Get to Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. has three main airports, one of which you will be arriving into if you fly here: 

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).

If you choose to drive, you can take the I-95 from the north, I-90 from the west, I-85 from the south, and US-50 from the east.

The high-speed Amtrak Acela is a great option to save some money and avoid traffic. 

And for the most economical option, you can arrive via Greyhound bus.

Weather in Washington, D.C.

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

What to Pack for a Washington, D.C. Trip

While public transportation is very good here, the best and easiest way to see the sights in Washington, D.C. is on foot. So, bring your most comfortable walking shoes.

Where to Stay in Washington, D.C. 

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 Marriot Washington, D.C. is a good luxury option, with a great location near the White House, modern décor and amenities, and easy subway access.

For mid-range, I suggest The River Inn, which has a kitchenette, on-site restaurant, and central location. 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. Best for solo travelers.

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 hoofing it is the best way to go.

The Metrorail is the subway system that you will use when you are venturing out of the center of the city. The Metro bus is great for reaching areas that the subway doesn’t go, such as nearby Georgetown. And for a more fun form of transport, try the Old Town Trolley, which offers facts along with a scenic ride though the district.

Taxis and Ubers are, of course, another option, but at a premium price.

More Travel Tips

Wondering when to plan your 3-day itinerary for Washington, D.C.? Spring and fall have the nicest weather, but that also means the area is much more crowded and expensive. If you’re on a budget, visit in either summer or winter – just plan ahead for the hot and humid summer months and the cold and snowy winter months.

But if you do 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. 

Some major attractions, like museums and government buildings, are free to enter, but require advance tickets. And in the case of 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) if you want to see the inside of this famous structure. But taking pictures from the street is easy and free, and needs no advance planning.

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 that will get flagged by the security officers.

Washington, D.C. offers free, clean tap water throughout the city, so make sure to bring your own water bottle, so you don’t have to buy any while you’re here. If you take a guided tour, you’ll even get a bottle that you can use just for this purpose.

If you’re planning to use the metro and bus a lot, then consider getting the SmarTrip card, which is refillable. Or, if you prefer, you can also get a one-day unlimited pass for $14.75.

To save money on hotels, look for accommodations in areas like 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.

Washington, D.C. Itinerary for 3 Days

Day 1: 

Let´s start with the first our of 3 days in Washington D.C.

National Mall

Our first stop on Day 1 is 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 a lot of museums, landmarks, and beautiful water features and plant life to see at this stop, which will take the majority of your day.

Each monument will probably take about an hour. And the museums can take 2 hours or more, depending on how long you spend at each stop.

Lincoln Memorial

Created to honor the 16th president of the US who helped end slavery in the country as well as unite it after the Civil War in the mid-1800s, this monument is one of the most famous in the Mall.

Washington DC - Lincoln Memorial on 3-day Washington itinerary
Shares

@shutterstock

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.

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 this Monument.

Washington Monument Washington DC a must see in 3 days
Shares

@shutterstock

Built to honor the first US president, George Washington, it stands at just over 555 feet. If you arrive between 9am and 5pm, 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. Park rangers are also on hand to answer questions.

White House

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

The White House in Washinton DC
Shares

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, then explore the various historic rooms and enjoy a guided tour full of information about the rooms, visitors, and art.

But if you haven’t set anything up in advance (as I mentioned earlier in this post), then grab some pictures and let’s check out the next destination in the area.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

This 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 best art museums in the district and one of the best things to do in Washington, D.C. in 3 days.

National Gallery of Art, a national art museum in Washington, D.C., National Mall Anton_Ivanov Shutterstock.com
Shares

Anton_Ivanov Shutterstock.com

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.

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 free jazz concerts being performed, and if it’s winter, then the fountain in the garden is turned into an ice rink. So, whatever season it is, this is a fun stop for families and couples, as well as solo travelers, 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. We’ll be seeing a few more on Day 2, but for tonight, enjoy dinner and drinks at one of the many restaurants that surround the National Mall.

Day 2: 

We’ll start day 2 just outside of the city center, among some natural scenery.

Wheaton Regional Park

Today, we’ll enjoy some natural beauty at Wheaton Regional Park. You’ll need to take both the bus and the metro to reach it, but it’s worth the travel time.

This gorgeous park and recreation area is actually located in Maryland. You’ll find hiking and walking trails, a miniature train and carousel, and a playground if you’re traveling with kids. This is especially great if you are visiting in the summer. 

After a relaxing morning amongst the greenery, head back to the city center to see the sixth largest cathedral in the world.

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
Shares

@shutterstock

Massive in size, it 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 even 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

This castle is actually the home of the Smithsonian Visitors Center.

Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall in Washington DC, melissamn Shutterstock.com
Shares

melissamn @Shutterstock

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. 

International Spy Museum

Just a 5-minute walk will bring you to this incredibly fun stop – the International Spy Museum. For any spy buff, this is the place you want 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. Great for families with older children, couples, and solo travelers.

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
Shares

@shutterstock

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, but you might also want to consider taking a paddle boat out and seeing the blooms from a different perspective. 

If you’re visiting in the winter or late summer, then you can still have a good time here. Take a walk along the water and visit the three monuments that are 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,
Shares

Chiyacat @Shutterstock

Characterized by cobblestone streets, Federal-style architecture, and lots of upscale shopping and dining options, you’ll have plenty to do here. Because of the proximity of Georgetown University, 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’s lots to do on the last day of this Washington, D.C. itinerary.

Day 3: 

For our last day in Washington, D.C., let’s explore a few more favorites of both 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. The columns were built in 1828, and after many decades, were moved from around the Capitol Building to the Arboretum. 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 to stop to eat your fill of local cuisine, buy souvenirs, and just explore 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, D.C. itinerary for 3 days (about 25 minutes by train).

Library of Congress

This is the largest library in the world and sits near the Capitol Building. It is also the research center of the US Congress, so it gets a lot of use.

Library of Congress in Washington, Sean Pavone, Shutterstock.com
Shares

Sean @Pavone, Shutterstock

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. Then, walk over to the Capitol Building.

United States Capitol

This building is where Congress meets to debate and vote on laws.

United States Capitol- Washington DC to see in 3 days
Shares

@shutterstock

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. 

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. But either way, this stop is well worth the time and effort.

United States Botanical Garden

Five minutes away on foot, you’ll find yourself at the US Botanical Gardens.

Washington DC historical Bartholdi Fountain and United States Botanic Garden Conservatory
Shares

@shutterstock

This Washington, D.C. landmark is a lovely place to spend some time. 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.

National Harbor and Capital Wheel

Your last destination is National Harbor, which is actually across the state line, in Maryland. Public transportation will take about an hour from the Botanical Garden, or you can take a taxi and arrive in 15 minutes.

Oxen Hill, Maryland, USA day trips from Washington on itinerary, Gary C. Tognoni Shutterstock.com
Shares

Gary C. Tognoni @Shutterstock

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 Washington 3-day 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.

I hope this 3-day Washington itinerary has helped you discover where to go in Washington, D.C. 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
Shares