From the grand sweep of the National Mall to the storied museums of the Smithsonian, Washington DC has so many top-notch monuments and attractions that seeing the city’s highlights is a daunting proposition. But this 3-day itinerary is a good place to start. Here’s how to plan an introduction to the nation’s capital (and beyond).
Day 1: Politics and History
DC has more than its fair share of world-famous landmarks. In addition to top government buildings like the White House and the Supreme Court, the nation’s capital also boasts the soaring spire of the Washington Monument, the hallowed halls of the Lincoln Memorial, the moving Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and much more. For an efficient way to sightsee, book a hop-on hop-off bus tour, which will whisk you past most of the city’s highlights. For a more intimate experience that still cover a lot of ground, opt for a bicycle or Segway tour. Meanwhile, walking tours immerse you in the history underlying DC’s must-see attractions. In the evening, relax during a sightseeing cruise, which will give you the chance to rest your feet and take in the after-dark sights as you float along the Potomac River.
Day 2: Museums and Culture
If you’re a museum lover, there are few better places to be than DC. For starters, it’s home to the world’s largest museum complex, the Smithsonian Institute, which includes more than a dozen different institutions. Depending on your interests, you can discover groundbreaking artworks at the National Portrait Gallery, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, or the American Art Museum. Or learn about important moments in history at the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of African American Culture and History, or the National Museum of the American Indian. You can even admire rockets and planes at the National Air and Space Museum. Book in advance to make logistics simple, or go on guided collection tours to really dig into the subjects at hand. In the evening, venture to one of the city’s arty neighborhoods—think 14th Street or Dupont Circle—for dinner and a different kind of cultural immersion.
Day 3: A History-Themed Virginia Getaway
While DC’s many diversions could occupy you for weeks on end, it’s worth using your trip to the nation’s capital as an excuse to explore other regional highlights. On your third day in town, cross the border into Virginia to discover the state’s many charms. Known as the “Mother of Presidents,” Virginia is where a number of the Founding Fathers spent their days. Venture to Mt. Vernon to follow in the footsteps of George Washington, or explore Monticello. Once home to Thomas Jefferson, the estate is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both historical residences are accessible by car from DC; guided tours provide an especially convenient way to explore. Of course, there’s also Colonial Williamsburg. A living-history museum, the town is full of costumed residents and traditional buildings that paint a picture of what daily life was like in the 18th century.