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


So, if you are wondering what to do in 3 days in Washington, D.C., 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 Washington 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 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 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


But before we discuss your 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 from May-June, so bring your umbrella during those months. And take your snow boots in January and February.

What to Pack for Your 3 Days in Washington, D.C. 

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

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. 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 hoofing is the best way to go.

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.

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. And for a more fun form of transport, try the Old Town Trolley, which offers facts along with a scenic ride through the district.

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

Wondering about the best time to visit for your 3-day itinerary in 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 for the hot and humid summer months and the cold and snowy winter months.

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. 

Some major attractions, like museums and government buildings, are free to enter but require advance tickets. In the White House case, 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 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 to 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.


With only 3 days in Washington DC, there is a lot to see.

Day 1 of 3 Days in Washington DC 

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 many museums, landmarks, 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 and 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

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

Built to honor the first US president, George Washington, it stands at just over 555 feet. 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. 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
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, 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 the 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

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 free jazz concerts are 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, and 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 surrounding the National Mall.

Day 2 of 3 Days in Washington D.C. 

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

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
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 enjoyable 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

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 still 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,
Chiyacat @Shutterstock

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. After many decades, the columns were built in 1828 and 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 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, 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,
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

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, which is another great place to add to your Washington D.C. itinerary.

Washington DC historical Bartholdi Fountain and United States Botanic Garden Conservatory

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
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 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.


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


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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