Heading to Washington DC? Check out the Washington DC itinerary below for a guided exploration of the city’s must see attractions.
Depending on the length of stay visiting the major attractions in the city are a must, and there are a lot of free things to do in Washington DC. A few have a minimal entrance fee.
Before your trip, you should check out whens the best time to visit, tips from an insider and mistakes to avoid. If you are driving in the city, make sure to check out this parking in DC guide.
If you have several days in the city and want to explore more, check out one of the best day trips from Washington DC.
The Ultimate Washington DC Itinerary
Day 1: Capitol Building, Library of Congress and The National Archives
It might seem as if Day one on your Washington DC itinerary is jam packed, but in reality it isn’t. Start your day off with a trip to the Capitol Building for some walking tours of Washington DC.
The National Parks Service offers free one hour tours, which include the crypt, the Rotunda, and Sanctuary Hall. If you want to see the Senate and House Visitor galleries, you may do so.
*Please keep in mind these require an additional pass, which is obtained through your Congressional Representatives and need to be done in advance of your trip.
Across the street, to the East, from the Capitol building is the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Open Monday through Saturday and most Federal holidays, The Library of Congress is a must see on your Washington DC itinerary. There is a free-guided tour available, which lasts approximately one hour.
The Jefferson Building is home to over 168 million items including the Gutenberg Bible. Don’t be fooled though, the architecture of the building is just as breathtaking as the vast amount of resources housed within its walls.
After visiting the Library of Congress, take a break and enjoy lunch at one of the many quaint restaurants surrounding Capitol Hill before embarking on the next stop on day one of your Washington DC itinerary: The National Archives
The National Archives is located down Pennsylvania Ave, a short walk from Capitol Hill. Home to the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, this is another must-see on any Washington DC itinerary.
The National Archives offers free-guided tours, which will take you through the Charters of Freedom, the public vaults, and some exhibits.
Guided tours not your thing? No worries. There are many exhibits available to explore on your own including the rotunda, all public vaults, and even an original 1297 Magna Carta.
As all museums and attractions tend to close by 6pm but there are plenty of things to do in DC at night or plan a date night in DC.
Day 2: Monuments and National History Museum
Due to the fact that the museum is only open till 5:30 p.m., and the monuments are open later, Day two begins with a trip to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
The National Museum of Natural History focuses on preserving the world’s natural history and is one of the best things to do in Washington DC.
Rotating exhibits are focused on current issues such as climate change, and cultural heritage. Permanent exhibits include Hall of Human origins, National Fossil Hall, the Hope diamond, Egyptian Mummies, and many more.
After spending your morning sifting through history and cultural heritages, it’s time to turn your attention to the monuments that line America’s history.
The National Mall is over 1,000 acres, two miles long, and home to monuments, memorials, and statues.
Start your exploration with the Washington Monument, if you want to climb to the top. DC tours end at 4:30 and the Monument closes at 5pm. However, the night skies boast for magnificent picture opportunities as the Monument towers high over the National Mall.
Continue your visit around the Reflecting pool heading to the WWII Memorial, which is located adjacent to the Washington Monument. The WWII monument was erected to honor those who fought and gave their lives during the war.
To the right, as you look directly at the Lincoln Memorial, is Constitution Gardens, which hosts the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial and further down is the Vietnam War Memorial.
No Washington DC itinerary is complete without a visit to the somber memory of the over 58,000 lives lost in the war.
The Lincoln Memorial rounds out the length of the Reflecting pool and is a tribute to the 16th President of the United States. The main centerpiece is the marble statue of Abraham Lincoln himself, symbolic of his strength and compassion.
The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, the FDR Memorial, and Jefferson Memorial are located south of the Lincoln Memorial around the Tidal Basin. These round out your Memorial and Monument tours and your day.
Take your time exploring the monuments and memorials, as the evening hours lend a different majestic view of the structures.
All monuments and memorials are free to the public, however to see the top of the Washington Monument, there is a $1.00 ticket reservation fee required, which is available to book online.
Day 3: Smithsonian Museums and the Ford Theater
Day three on the Washington DC itinerary is all about Space, History, and the Infamous Ford Theater.
Start the day out in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The Air and Space Museum is estimated to take 2-3 hours to explore and hosts many collections including the Apollo 11, Aircraft, aerial cameras, human spaceflight, and exhibits such as Cold war aviation and exploration of space.
Next on itinerary is all about American history and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History also takes about two hours to explore and is full of current exhibits, and permanent collections revolving around American History from colonial settlements to current events.
This is home to the Star-Spangled Banner, Jefferson’s lap desk, Dorothy’s Ruby Shoes, and much, much, more.
Shifting gears, and speaking of American History, a visit to the Ford Theater historical site is another must see on any Washington DC itinerary.
The Ford Theater is the site of Lincoln’s assassination. A visit to the theater can host a tour of the theater, the museum with artifacts from the assassination, and even a tour of the Peterson house; the room where Lincoln died.
The cost is $3.00 for tickets- be careful choosing the option online as not every time offered includes all of the attractions. For $8.00, a visitor can explore the theater, museum and even catch the current play in performance.
Any of these museums are a great place to purchase Washington DC souvenirs to take home.
Day 4: White House and Arlington National Cemetery
What Washington DC itinerary isn’t complete without a visit to the White House and the Nation’s most famous cemetery?
The White House and President’s Park
The cornerstone of iconic America, and probably the most recognized residence of all time, the White House acts as the living quarters and central command for the President of the United States of America.
George Washington selected the site for the White House in 1791, and construction began in 1792 on the building.
The White House is situated on 82 acres, which includes the surrounding President’s Park. President’s Park is home to two trails and numerous memorials and statues.
Please be advised, tours of the White House must be requested through your Congregational Representative and can take months to secure.
Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery is the home to over 400,000 servicemen and women and their families. The cemetery is the nation’s military shrine to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.
One of the must-see attractions at Arlington is the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and the Changing of the Guard.
The Tomb of the Unknown Solider is guarded 24 hours a day by a military Guard from the 3rd U.S Infantry Regiment, known as Sentinels. Each hour, the changing of the guard ceremony is performed.
The Tomb of the Unknown Solider has become a symbol for those that have sacrificed their lives in the name of the United States.
Don’t forget to visit the grave site of John F. Kennedy, and the many other statues and memorials strewn around the grounds that pay remembrance to all of the battles fought throughout our history.
Day 5: National Zoo and Historic Georgetown
If you are fortunate to have a fifth day to explore, wind your trip down with a visit to the National Zoo and Historic Georgetown.
The National Zoo is affiliated with the Smithsonian Museums and offers views of the famous Pandas. Other animals include elephants, Bald eagles, cheetahs, lions, tigers, and Bears!
The National Zoo is one of the best things to do in Washington DC with kids.
Head west to Historic Georgetown, a neighborhood known for its food, shops, and nightlife. The architecture of the 18th and 19th century is apparent in Georgetown’s cobblestone walkways.
Spring in Washington DC is beautiful and one of the best times to enjoy Georgetown.
Visit the O&C Canal and don’t forget the waterfront view of the Potomac River. Georgetown is a great place to wrap up your visit of Washington DC.
With any basic research you can adjust this Washington DC itinerary to fit the needs of your schedule. Maybe walking around all of the monuments is overwhelming, book a tour with a tour guide and let them drive you around. Adjust the timing to your needs and interests. The best thing about a Washington DC itinerary…it’s flexible and there is so much to see! Enjoy!
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