Unique 2 days in Washington DC itinerary – Two options for different type of travelers
Planning a 2 days in Washington DC itinerary is no easy task. The city has so many attractions.
However, you will be surprised by how much you can pack in if you organize your trip in advance. Don’t leave it to the last minute.
And here is where this guide will help you.
In the following sections, you’ll find two types of vacation plans that are terrific for couples, adults or families with kids
There is so much to do and see in Chicago that you will fall in love with it and return for a longer stay.
Let’s get to the point
Table of Contents
- 1 2 days in Washington DC itinerary – in a nutshell
- 2 Two days in Washington DC without kids
- 3 2 days in Washington DC itinerary for families
- 4 More photos of the 2 days Washington DC Itinerary
Unsure of where to stay? Check out my guide to the best areas of Washington DC based on your type of trip (family, couples, nightlife, with or without car, etc)
2 days in Washington DC itinerary – in a nutshell
I have attached below a map with the top areas of Washington to visit and stay.
If visiting Washington DC in 2 days, I would suggest booking your hotel in the city downtown or nearby areas, where you will find most of the iconic attractions (don’t worry, I have added below a few accommodation tips).
- 2 days in Washington DC itinerary: on Day 1 visit the iconic places of Washington DC, meanwhile on Day 2 move your attention to the Washington DC art scene and a few hidden gems of the city. Read more below for a weekend in Washington, with morning and afternoon plans.
- 2 days in Washington DC itinerary for families: start on Day 1 by visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and the National Mall. On Day 2 check out the National Museum of the American Indian & Capitol Hill. The mix of activities is going to please everyone. Read more below for the best family itinerary with maps and all the attractions for kids.
- Best 3 hotels for 2 days in Washington DC: this is one of the most unusual cities in the world concerning accommodation availability and cost, because prices depend on the political calendar. My biggest tip here is to plan your visit whenever the politicians are not in the capital (weekends may actually be cheaper). I wrote an extensive guide to the best areas to stay in Washington DC, mentioning a few selected accommodations. Having to name just 3, I would say the Motto by Hilton, one of the city bargains right in Penn Quarter, The Westin, in the Downtown area, and The Hay, a boutique accommodation a stone away from most attractions.
Here is a Google map I have organized with all the things to see, do and experience in Washington DC. You can save it or print it for future reference.
There are so many unique and iconic places to see and visit in Washington DC that the best way to maximize your time is to take a Hop-On, Hop-Off Open-Top Bus Landmarks Tour.
You can see the city from the open-deck with an audio guide and stop wherever you find the interesting attraction for you.
You can use the bus for the all day.
In the morning, spend some time at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Arlington National Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial, where you will see also the Reflecting Pool and the Korean War Memorial
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, funded by President Roosevelt in 1943, stands in line with the White House.
It has 4 openings with 16 columns that let natural light shine into the memorial.
It is here that you will find the colossal bronze statue of this founding father.
Over at Arlington National Cemetery, you will feel the spirits of the national heroes that rest there in the air.
This massive cemetery is housed at Arlington house and was set up during the Civil War.
Here, you will visit the Hemicycle, the Memorial Drive and the Memorial Bridge.
It is also here where you can view the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This is a white marble sarcophagus that sits on a hill.
It is the resting place for every unidentified dead soldier during World War I, and it has become an important place of mourning and reflection.
The Lincoln Memorial honors the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, and it sits on the western end of the National Mall.
You will appreciate the larger-than-life carving of Honest Abe.
You will also love the murals drawn in the memorial’s interior and the epithet above the statue.
In the afternoon, stop by Chinatown and the National Portrait Gallery (free entry), the White House (including the Visitor Center), and the US Capitol.
You can potentially plan your lunch in Chinatown.
Over at the National Portrait Gallery, you will find an extensive collection of portraits of people who have impacted America’s history.
It was authorized and founded by Congress back in 1962.
At the center of this gallery is the largest collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House.
While at the Gallery, you can also visit the current exhibition of art and photography.
The White House needs no introduction, of course.
It is the center of politics and national pride in America. Here, you can see the sprawling grounds where hundreds of events have been held over the years.
When you are at the Visitor Center, you will see artefacts, interactive panels and a video of a tour of the White House.
You can also visit the store and buy some souvenirs to take with you.
Finally, you get to visit the US Capitol, where congress meets to make crucial laws for the nation.
The building was once destroyed in 1814 and took 5 years to renovate.
It has extended wings on the side and a massive iconic dome at the top of the building.
The interior is an art lover’s dream and has tunnels and subways that connect it to Congressional Buildings and the Capitol Complex.
The walls are decorated with flowers and animals unique to America.
Step off the bus at The Wharf DC, the last stop, for a beautiful walk along the Washington Channel, full of restaurants, bars and shops for some retail therapy.
Start the day early in the morning by taking the Green or Yellow Subway to Mt Vernon Sq 7th St-Convention Center.
Then have a walk to the D.C. Alley Museum, an outdoor collection of public art murals
The project started back in 2015 and it has been enlarged with the recent artwork on display on garage doors along Blagden Alley.
This is fully supported by the residents of DC who offer canvas to artists.
The murals are a great way for art to reach the world and offer important lessons to visitors.
One of the well-known murals is A System of Politics and Art by Bill Warrell.
It is a tribute to DC natives that have shaped its culture for over 40 years.
Another mural is Windswept Mandela by Cita Sadeli Chelove.
It is a tribute to musicians who have put DC on the map from the 70s throughout to the 90s.
There is also the Maker of Saints Mural by Rozeal. It has the likeness of artists like Erykah Badu and Lymari Nadal.
The mural is a celebration of both global and African American cultures.
These and many more murals are available for your viewing pleasure.
Have a look at the watch because by 11:30am you should be in U Street to start one of the hidden gems of Washington DC, the U Street Neighborhood Food Tour
Visiting what was formerly known as Black Broadway neighborhood, this street tour explores a selection of local restaurants where you can taste food and drinks unique to DC.
Along this 2-hour tour, you will also learn about the significant buildings in the area and the history of the restaurants you visit.
You will definitely appreciate the tasting sessions, and you won’t have to worry about the lunch for the day (food is included in the price which makes the tour a bargain).
Keep in mind that it currently does not cater to vegans.
In the afternoon, head back to the city centre. Here you have two possibilities.
The ARTECHOUSE DC is a passion project that brings together art and technology.
It was started in 2015 and has become the go-to space, both online and offline, for envelope-pushing technology-driven art.
It is at a key location and is surrounded by the National Mall, the Wharf and the iconic Smithsonian Museum.
One of the most loved exhibitions is Pixelbloom. This is the 5th annual exhibition that pays homage to Spring.
Sandro Kereselidze, who is the CEO and founder of the ARTECHOUSE DC describes it as ‘…variety of innovative technical tools that will showcase ARTECHOUSE’s cutting-edge capabilities…’
The Pixelbloom is a 22-minute exhibition set up at the Immersion Gallery. It is an explosion of images like flowers and is rich in colors.
You will see the cherry blossom in a new light – literally.
You will watch this audio-visual presentation from top-to-bottom thanks to the panel screens all over the gallery.
Alternatively, visit the interesting and unique Museum of the Bible, where you will learn the history of the book in an interactive way.
The museum is spread across 6 floors of hands on experiences, including the possibility to walk through the recreated Nazareth.
It’s a place where you will learn a ton about the Bible and his significance, doesn’t matter your religious background.
This is one of the best rated experiences in Washington DC. Buy the tickets in advance to avoid the queues, especially on weekends.
Finally, if you are traveling with your partner, close the day with a romantic 3-course dinner cruise on the Potomac River, aboard the luxury Odyssey.
Accommodations and experiences:
- Budget Hotels: Duo Housing (Hostel in Mount Vernon), Motto by Hilton (a real bargain, but rarely available in Penn Quarter)
- Mid-range Hotels: W Washington D.C. (amazing location and view in Penn Quarter), The Westin (nicely priced and good location in Downtown)
- Lux and Boutique Hotels: The Hay (unique and lux in Downtown), Hyatt House (facing the river, great view in Southwest), Mandarin Oriental (lux with pool, gym and massage facilities in Southwest)
- Airbnb & Holiday homes: Washington Heart (well-priced 1BR in Downtown)
- Organized experiences:
Start your trip with a visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, one of the most family friendly museums in the city, a total winner with kids.
The Museum boasts a powerful collection of over 145 million specimens and artefacts that visitors can explore.
The collection tells the story of world history, the planet and the environment.
Some of the exhibits on the first floor include Africa Bush Elephant and African Voices.
The former is all about the elephants and how they live among humans as well as the challenges they face with poachers.
The 2nd exhibit tells the story of African culture in terms of family, environment and community.
Another must-visit exhibit is the Butterfly Pavilion. You must check the opening times and dates to avoid missing out on the display of butterflies and plants.
If you are a dinosaur and evolution fan, you must visit the David H. Koch Hall of Fossils and Hall of Human Origins.
There are many more exhibits for you to check out, so don’t be afraid to set some considerable amount of time aside to explore.
This is a popular museum, and it is not rare to experience long queues. For this reason, I always suggest buying the tickets in advance and avoid the queue.
Head for lunch to Central Michel Richard, just two blocks north of the museum, famous for their outstanding burgers, french fries, fried chicken and overall a good selection for kids and adults too.
In the afternoon, have a great walk to explore the National Mall, one of the most impressive urban parks in the USA (if not the world).
Follow the map below (print or download the interactive Google Map here) starting from the White House Visitor Center.
You will start from the White House Visitor Center, where you can check out videos and artefacts that give you a virtual tour of the White House.
Next, you will view the White House and see all its lawns and the massive beauty that is this building. You will be able to take photos from the viewing point.
Next, you will also get to see the President’s Park.
You will be treated to a unique exhibition of statues of former presidents, starting from George Washington. There is also an indoor museum which has exhibits about the presidents.
After that, you can visit the Lockkeeper’s House, which is the oldest building along this walk.
This is a beautiful 350 square foot house that hosted the canal lock keeper. The keeper kept records and maintained the traffic along the canal.
Next, check out the Washington Monument, noticeable thanks to the obelisk monument dedicated to the nation’s first president, George Washington.
Construction for this building took about 23 years and started in 1848.
Next is the Lincoln Memorial, a tribute to the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln.
Finally, finish your walk over the bridge to the Arlington Memorial Cemetery, where soldiers and even presidents have being laid to rest since the Civil War.
If you do not feel like walking, you can also think of joining this fun 2-Hour National Mall Tour by Electric Vehicle.
Besides seeing really everything in the National Mall (the walk does not cover the east side, way too much for an afternoon walk), you will get to learn a lot from the knowledgeable driver and guide.
In the morning, make your way to the outstanding National Museum of the American Indian, built to entertain also kids thanks to its interactive exhibits.
The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) holds one of the largest collections of Native artefacts.
You will find photographs, media and archives that tell the story of the American Indian.
The collection started building up mostly thanks to George Gustav Heye.
It started with a Navajo hide shirt from Arizona and by 1906, he had already a collection of over 10,000 objects.
It is at the NMAI that the National Native American Veterans Memorial was opened in 2020.
This beautiful memorial pays tribute to Native Americans who served in all arms of the military.
The memorial is a raised stainless-steel circle that balances on a uniquely carved stone drum.
Mesmerizing exhibits are held at the museum.
One of them is Preston Singletary: Raven and the Box of Daylight, which showcases the work from Preston Singletary. It tells the story of the creator, Raven, according to American Indian history.
At the Memorial, you will find also an exhibition which tells stories of the Armed Forces veterans of Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Native backgrounds.
In the afternoon, have a walk to the United States Capitol, jump into the Library of Congress and head down (25 minutes by foot) to The Yards Park, a great place for kids
The United States Capitol is a must-visit while in DC.
It is a symbol of national pride and houses the legislature.
The Capitol also houses an important collection of American art, and it is an architectural achievement in its own right.
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world.
It is home to millions of books, maps, manuscripts, photos and newspapers that tell the rich history of the USA.
This is the Congress research center as well as the home of the US Copyright office.
The library’s history is an amazing one.
It all started back in 1800 with then-president John Adams donating books worth $5000 for Congress use.
However, the library faced a lot of hurdles over the years.
Ainsworth Rand Spofford, the librarian in charge between 1864 and 1897, encouraged congress to turn the library into a national institution.
And once it happened, the Library of Congress became along the years what you see today.
The Yards Park is a waterfront beauty complete with a waterfall and a very shallow water pool, ideal for the little ones in those hot summer days.
It is a great place with green spaces that visitors can enjoy for leisure or events.
The Yards Park is a 5.4-acre space that was critical while developing the current 42-acre sub-neighborhood.
The spot hosts events like the Tour de Fat and the acclaimed DC Jazz Festival. There is also the Friday Concert Series that treats over 3000 guests to a musical experience.
By the way, Hawk ‘n’ Dove, in Capitol Hill, is a great spot for lunch, a bit pub , a bit restaurant, with a great selection of dishes.
Accommodations and experiences for families:
- Hotels: W Washington D.C. (amazing location and view in Penn Quarter), The Westin (nicely priced and good location in Downtown), Motto by Hilton (great price but often booked out, in Penn Quarter)
- Airbnb & Holiday homes: Heaven on Washington (2 bedrooms, great location and free Wi-Fi in Penn Quarter), Global Luxury Suite (steps from the White House in Downtown), DC Marina Side (great value 2BR in Southwest), Southwest Waterfront (Great location in Southwest).
- Organized experiences: