If you’re planning to spend a weekend in Washington, D.C., then there’s plenty of things to do! Washington is home to dozens of the best museums in the world, plus amazing restaurants, theaters, shopping districts, historic sites, and more.
In fact, the biggest challenge will be to fit everything you want to do in just a few days! You could easily spend a week in D.C. and still have a hard time seeing all of the main attractions.
However, I’m here to help you plan a perfect weekend in D.C.!
I was actually born in D.C. and have lived most of my life in nearby northern Virginia. I regularly visit the city on weekends and nights, and I want to give you some ideas about how to explore the city and see as many of the major sites as possible!
Bonus Read! Learn about the best fun and unique activities in Washington, D.C.!
I decided one of the best ways to organize my itinerary for your Washington vacation was by location.
Many of the major attractions in town are located relatively close together near the National Mall. This includes the U.S. Capitol Building, most major monuments, and the majority of the Smithsonian Institution Museums.
However, the distance between these sites can still be quite far, especially if you are walking. For instance, it can take 42 minutes to walk from the U.S. Capitol on one end of the National Mall to the Washington Monument!
Below, I’ll give you all the info you need to know to help plan the perfect weekend in Washington, D.C.!
|The Perfect Washington, D.C. Weekend Itinerary
|Day 1: Eastern Market, U.S. Capitol, U.S. Botanic Gardens, Air & Space Museum, Hirshhorn Museum
Day 2: National Museum of African American History and Culture, The White House, Monuments, The Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Day 3: Arlington, Georgetown, and Mount Vernon
The Perfect Washington, D.C. Weekend Itinerary
Map of the Best Things to Do in a Weekend in Washington, D.C.
To help you plan your perfect weekend in Washington, I created the below map of all of my top recommendations, including major attractions, museums, monuments, and restaurants.
Flying into D.C.? Find out the best airports in the region!
Day One: Eastern Market, U.S. Capitol, U.S. Botanic Gardens, Air & Space Museum, Hirshhorn Museum, and More
For day one, I recommend focusing on many of the sites on the east side of the National Mall and Capitol Hill.
Start your day bright and early at Eastern Market, which is a historic landmark and dates all the way back to 1873!
I love visiting farmer’s markets. You can often find some incredible (and delicious) foods, and unique arts and crafts, which can also serve as great gifts and souvenirs.
The indoor market is open Tuesday to Saturday from 8 am to 6 pm and Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. The outside market is open on weekends.
Inside the cavernous warehouse setting, you’ll find a wide variety of vendors, including companies selling fresh flowers, arts and crafts, pottery, meat, poultry, seafood, baked goods, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and cakes.
There are even more vendors to explore outside, including several local farms, specialty food artisans, unique arts and crafts, and much more. Some examples include DC Donuts, Aurora Bath & Jewels, Blue Ridge Cutting Board Co, Eco Cotton Threads, and Greek Superfoods.
You can reach Eastern Market by taking the metro to the Eastern Market stop on the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines.
U.S. Capitol Building
Close by on Capitol Hill is, well, the Capitol Building – one of the most famous and iconic buildings in the nation’s capital. It’s the seat of the Legislative Branch of government.
Just walking around the building and its grounds can be a fun experience, with its prominent rotunda, grand staircases, statues, and even a lovely little pond with ducks nearby.
If you want to spend even more time learning about the Capitol and what goes on inside its walls, you can also book a tour. Reservations are recommended but not required.
Tours take place Monday to Saturday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm and will give you a chance to see the Rotunda, the crypt, and the National Statuary Hall.
You won’t get a chance to see the actual House and Senate Galleries as part of this tour. You will need to reach out to your representative to arrange a tour of those sections.
United States Botanic Gardens
After spending time at the U.S. Capitol, I recommend stopping by the U.S. Botanic Gardens right next door. The outside gardens are gorgeous, and they serve as a beautiful, peaceful oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of the city.
You can discover a lovely rose garden, secluded fountains and footbridges, and native wildflowers bursting with color all around you.
You can also venture inside and see even more in the Conservatory. There you can travel through a tropical rainforest, desert cacti, luminous flowers from Hawaii, orchids (one of my favorite flowers!), and much more.
As you continue along the National Mall, you’ll soon reach the Air and Space Museum. This is one of my favorite of the Smithsonian Museums, and it is also one of the best free museums in Washington!
The museum features outstanding exhibits on space flights to the moon, the history of aviation, the mysteries of the solar system, and much more. You’ll also get to see plenty of incredible artifacts on display, including the Wright Brothers 1903 flyer, the Apollo 11 Command Module, and Neil Armstrong’s pressure suit.
And don’t miss a show at the IMAX theater. Some of the shows have included a look at the incredible space photography from the Webb Telescope.
If you still have time, and aren’t too exhausted from a jam-packed first day, you can also stop by the nearby Hirshhorn Museum and Gardens. The museum is also part of the Smithsonian Institute, which means it’s free to the public.
The Hirshhorn features contemporary art and sculpture. A few years ago I had a chance to see Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s ground-breaking Mirrors exhibit, which uses light, mirrors, and colors to create rooms that will make you feel as though you’ve stepped into a fantasy world.
Dinner (and a Show) at The Hamilton
For dinner, one of my favorite spots in D.C. is The Hamilton. It has a great location at 14th and F St, NW, which is just a few blocks away from the National Mall. It also has an extensive menu with something for everyone.
Their menu features everything from burgers to sushi, crab cakes, salmon, steak, sandwiches, pasta, salads and more. I recently enjoyed their Hoisin Glazed Himachi (a flaky fish dish with Vietnamese sauce). Save room for dessert: a favorite of mine is their peanut butter pie with caramel sauce (so good!)
The interior is dominated by wood-beamed walls and somehow manages to feel both intimate and large. There are many partitioned rooms, private booths, multiple bars, and a sushi bar to give guests ample room.
And one of the best parts of The Hamilton is that it is also a performance venue. There is a lovely theater in the basement that will transport you to a New York City jazz club. You can even order drinks and food while taking in a show.
Day Two: National Museum of African American History and Culture, The White House, Monuments, The Bureau of Engraving and Printing
For day two, I recommend spending some time on the west side of the National Mall.
You can start the day around 14th Street and Constitution, which marks the location of the newest Smithsonian museum: the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The museum is located in a striking geometric building with a unique lattice metal frame. Inside, the exhibitions are meticulously constructed and will lead you on a journey through the history of African American culture, dating back to the harrowing early days of slavery, through the Civil War, Reconstruction, the 20th century, and modern icons.
The museum exhibits are incredibly moving and thought-provoking. They feature countless artifacts and stories ranging from such luminaries as Frederick Douglass; Harriet Tubman; Martin Luther King, Jr.; and much more. You can easily spend a day or more exploring the 10 (that’s right, 10!) floors of exhibits, movies, and presentations.
The nearest metro stop is Smithsonian.
Next door to the National Museum of African American History and Culture you’ll have no trouble spotting what is probably the most prominent landmark in D.C.: the Washington Monument!
The tall, thin tower is the tallest obelisk in the world, at 555 feet tall! You can reserve tickets to go up to the top of the monument, either online or by getting in line, however, tickets do sell out in advance.
Online tickets are available the day before starting at 10 am. You’ll want to get online right at 10 am to make sure you can buy them before they sell out.
If you do get a chance to go up to the top, you’ll be treated to the best views in town of what I consider to be (without bias!) to be the most beautiful city in the world!
D.C., and in particular the area around the National Mall, is laid out in beautiful symmetrical patterns of streets, gardens, monuments, and buildings.
From the top of the monument, you’ll get to see the nearby tidal basin, monuments like the Jefferson Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the White House, the Capitol Building at the other end of the Mall, and many of the Smithsonian Museums that line the Mall.
If you don’t make it to the top, that’s ok too! The striking silhouette of the grand obelisk, surrounded by American flags, is a really cool sight too!
After admiring the unique beauty of the Washington Monument, make your way a few blocks down 14th Street to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
This might seem like a boring stop, but the bureau is actually the location of one of the coolest and most interesting tours in town! This is literally the place where money is made!
The Bureau offers free tours to the public seven days a week. During the tours, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how money is printed. And don’t miss a stop at the gift shop, where you can buy uncut sheets of bills.
The Tidal Basin
After swimming in money, head over to the nearby Tidal Basin, which is one of my very favorite places in D.C.! This is the place where, each spring, hundreds of cherry blossom trees bloom in a gorgeous sea of pinks and whites, marking the very popular Cherry Blossom Festival!
Even if you visit during another part of the year, the Tidal Basin is still a wonderful spot to explore. You can take a paddleboat ride on the Potomac River, or walk around the basin to the Jefferson Memorial (you’ll see the famous white rotunda on the other side of the Tidal Basin.)
If you continue around the Tidal Basin, you’ll also find the moving Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which features a 30-foot-tall statue of the Civil Rights icon, as well as a nearby wall emblazoned with some of his most famous quotes.
I also recommend taking the time to stop at the World War II Memorial, which features a large fountain and an oval decorated with each state to commemorate the collective national effort to support the war.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial is one of the most haunting. It’s composed of 19 soldiers in mid-stride as they move through the fields of battle. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a moving monument to the men and women who died in the war.
And of course, the most famous monument nearby is the Lincoln Memorial, which is perched on top of a hill at the far end of the reflecting pool.
When you climb the stairs to the memorial, not only will you be greeted by the incredible sight of the famous statue, but you’ll also be rewarded with stunning views of the reflecting pool, World War II Memorial, Washington Monument, and Capitol.
The White House
If you still have time, and aren’t too exhausted, make your way to the most famous address in D.C.: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The White House will actually probably look smaller in real life than you’d imagine it would be.
Even though it’s the residence of the President of the United States, it was also built all the way back in 1792 (though it was damaged in a fire in the War of 1812 and rebuilt in the 1820s). It has served as the residence for every President except George Washington!
Like the Washington Monument, it’s pretty cool just to take pictures (from a pretty far distance) of the outside, but you can also book a tour by contacting your representative. There is also a Visitor Center you can visit where you can see pictures of the rooms and memorabilia, plus visit the gift shop.
Christmas can be an especially magical time of year to visit because the house is decorated for the holidays!
Enjoy Dinner and a Show at The Kennedy Center
After what was probably an incredibly busy day, you can head over to the Kennedy Center for a world-class performance!
The Kennedy Center itself is a beautiful building with gold columns. The interior is literally decked out in a red carpet, dazzling chandeliers, and glass floor-to-ceiling windows.
When you enter, you’ll make your way through either the Hall of States or Hall of Nations, which are decorated with the flags of each state and every nation that the U.S. has diplomatic relations with.
If you get to the Kennedy Center early enough, I recommend going to the back terrace, which features lovely views of nearby Georgetown and the Potomac River.
Before a show, you can grab a meal at the cafeteria on the top level. It’s a little pricey but features a good selection of fish, pasta, and meat dishes that are often creatively prepared. You can also find salads, desserts, wine, beer, and more.
Then, head to one of the theaters on the main level for a musical performance (Broadway blockbusters like Hamilton have appeared there), opera, ballet, jazz, classical, and more.
You can find a full schedule of upcoming performances online.
Some other venues to check out nearby for shows in D.C. are the National Theatre (they often feature musicals before they go to Broadway, which can be a very cool experience!), Warner Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre, and Folger Theatre.
Day Three: Arlington, Georgetown, and Mount Vernon
If you have another day to explore the best of D.C., I recommend either seeing some of the sights from the jam-packed Day 1 and Day 2 that you may have missed, or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can explore a little further afield.
On the other side of the Potomac River, you’ll be able to easily travel to Arlington, Virginia by car or metro. Arlington is an incredible place to visit. It’s packed with gorgeous homes and neighborhoods, excellent trails and parks, and fun food destinations like Clarendon and Ballston.
Perhaps the most famous sight in Arlington is Arlington National Cemetery, which is the final resting place of 400,000 service men and women. The cemetery is an incredibly moving place to visit, with its tapestry of white gravestones. The cemetery is also the site of the famous Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Nearby, one of my favorite hiking trails is the Mount Vernon Trail, which runs along the Potomac River and goes all the way south to Mount Vernon. If you head north on it, you’ll be treated to beautiful views of Washington, D.C. from the Virginia side. The trail is also one of my favorite hikes in Northern Virginia near D.C.!
You may even be able to reach Theodore Roosevelt Island, which is technically part of D.C., though it’s accessible from the Virginia side. The island is a lovely oasis from the traffic of Arlington and D.C., and it features 88 acres and numerous trails through forests and wetlands.
From Theodore Roosevelt Island, you can keep walking north along the Mount Vernon Trail (which will merge with the Custis Trail) until you reach the Key Bridge, which will take you to the heart of one of the prettiest neighborhoods in D.C.: Georgetown.
After you cross Key Bridge (which features gorgeous views of the Potomac River), head down M Street and stop by some of the fun shops, like Georgetown Cupcakes, cute clothing stores, nifty furniture shops, and more.
Make your way up 37th Street to walk around the historic Georgetown University campus.
And on a very different note, don’t miss the famous Exorcist House and Exorcist Steps, which were featured in the classic film and are located near the intersection of 36th Street and Prospect Street NW.
If you have more time to explore the surrounding area, you can head down George Washington Parkway to one of the most famous landmarks in nearby Virginia: Mount Vernon.
The home of George Washington sits right next to the Potomac River and just walking around the property is a great experience with beautiful views. You can also take a guided tour of the house, which will give you a chance to see several of the main rooms and historic artifacts on display.
Then, I recommend walking around the grounds to see the farm animals, gardens, and Washington’s tomb.
Like the White House, Mount Vernon is an even more special place to visit around Christmas, when the house is decorated with candles, lights, and garlands for the holiday season.
How Many Days Do You Need in Washington DC?
You can technically see many of the main sites in D.C. in just 2 to 3 days, however, you may need about a week or more to see most of the main attractions.
When to Visit Washington, D.C.
You can visit Washington, D.C. all year round, however, the best time of year is probably during the spring. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival occurs in late March or early April each year and features hundreds of cherry blossom trees in full bloom around the Tidal Basin. This is also a very popular and crowded time of year to visit.
Learn more about the Cherry Blossom Festival, plus more of the best spring festivals in Washington, D.C.!
Regardless, the spring tends to feature the best weather in D.C., with the temperatures not too hot and not too cold. Plus the flowers around the National Mall and in the surrounding gardens are in full bloom.
How to Get to Washington D.C.
You can easily get to Washington, D.C. by car, plane, train, or bus.
By car, take I-95, which runs all along the east coast. Washington, D.C. is located about 11 miles off of I-95. You’ll either take I-95 to I-395 if you’re traveling from the South, I-95 to Route 50 or the Baltimore-Washington Parkway if you’re traveling from the North, or I-66 if you’re traveling from the West.
By plane, the closest airport is Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), which is in Arlington County and just 3 miles from the city. There is even a metro stop right at the airport to easily (and cheaply) take you right into the city.
The next two closest airports are Dulles International Airport (IAD) in Virginia (which is 29 miles from D.C.) and Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) in Maryland (which is 34 miles from D.C.)
By train, you can take Amtrak from many cities along the East Coast. The main train station in D.C. is Union Station, which is located right next to the U.S. Capitol Building.
Union Station is also a major metro station, which means you can easily arrive in Union Station and then travel to other parts of the city and even Virginia and Maryland.
By bus, there are many bus routes and carriers with service to Washington, D.C. Most of the busses stop in Union Station. Some popular bus companies are:
I have personally taken Flixbus (formerly Bolt Bus) and Megabus many times when traveling between D.C., New York, and Philadelphia, and I think they’re a great, affordable alternative to traveling by train.
How to Get Around Washington D.C.
One of the best and most convenient ways to get around D.C. is by metro. The metro system is pretty extensive, with 6 lines that are known by their colors: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Silver.
Some of the most important stops for many of the main attractions are:
- Smithsonian: This is the closest stop to most of the Smithsonian Museums, plus the National Mall, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the Washington Monument.
- Capitol South and Union Station: These are the closest stops to the Capitol Building
- Eastern Market: This is the closest stop to Eastern Market.
- Foggy Bottom: This is the closest stop to the Kennedy Center.
You can also walk to many of the major sites around the National Mall, including all of the sites on day one and day two of the above itineraries.
However, note that many of the distances around the Mall are a lot further than you may think. For instance, it takes about an hour to walk from the U.S. Capitol on one end of the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial on the other end.
You can also rent a bike, which is a fun alternative to walking. There are many city bike rental spots that you’ll find along the sidewalks throughout D.C., especially around the major tourist areas like the National Mall.
Where to Stay in Washington DC
There are many great hotels to stay near the National Mall. Below are my top recommendations.
The Holiday Inn Washington Capitol is just blocks from the National Mall. It also has an outdoor pool and it is pet-friendly!
The Hilton Washington DC is another great choice. It is located near both the National Mall and The Wharf, which features excellent shopping and restaurants along the Potomac River. The four-star hotel also has an outdoor pool, bar, and restaurant.
Where to Eat in Washington, D.C.
Washington is a great foodie destination. It’s filled with eclectic and creative restaurants in many of the major neighborhoods. Below are some of my favorites.
- Penn Quarter: You can find many great restaurants in this neighborhood, including Jaleo (Spanish Tapas), Oyamel Cocina Mexicana (Mexican), Teaism (Japanese), and ChopHouse & Brewery (American).
- Check out the nearby hole-in-the-wall barmini, which features inventive and delicious cocktails!
- Stop for a bite at one of the many food trucks around the National Mall. They serve just about anything you could want, and they’re a great option if you’re short on time.
- Close to The Hamilton on 14th Street, you’ll find Ocean Prime, which is an upscale option for seafood, and great for special occasions.
Conclusion: The Perfect Washington, D.C. Weekend Itinerary
As you can see, there’s plenty to do in Washington, D.C. to have an incredible weekend getaway! In fact, the biggest issue is finding the time to fill in everything you want to see.
The above itineraries include A LOT of activities and sites! It will probably be hard to fit everything in, but I wanted to give you as many highlights as possible to choose from.
Based on what you’re interested in, this information should help you plan an unforgettable weekend adventure in the nation’s capital!
Learn about even more of the best things to do in and around Washington, D.C.!