Last updated on January 26, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Washington DC

Unique 4 or 5 days in Washington DC itinerary – 2 options for different types of traveler

Washington DC is a surprising city, with so many attractions and things to do, full of art, culture and design.

But can you see it all with a 4 days in Washington DC itinerary? or even longer in 5 days?

Yes, although it is strongly recommended that you plan your trip well ahead of time, possibly pre-booking all your skip-the-line tickets

You will be pleasantly surprised by how much you can see and do with 4 or 5 days in Washington DC.

This guide will help you design a vacation itinerary around your interests, whether you are taking a family vacation, going on a romantic escape, or just want to take in some art, culture, and history

Let’s get started

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)

Unique 4 or 5 days in Washington DC itinerary
Unique 4 or 5 days in Washington DC itinerary

4 or 5 days in Washington DC itinerary – in a nutshell

In a previous post, I proposed two itinerary options in Washington DC for 3 days, and I discussed how tight the schedule would be. 

Having one or two days more will make things so much more relaxing and enjoyable

This guide provides day-by-day, morning and afternoon schedules for two types of vacations that work so well for adults or couples, and families with kids.

The fifth day (marked as optional) may be skipped if you only have four days in Washington DC, or swapped if you find it more convenient.

Here is a map that shows the 9 most popular neighborhoods in Washington DC to visit or stay in

Best areas to stay in Washington DC
Best areas to stay in Washington DC
  • 4 or 5 days in Washington DC: Start your vacation in Washington DC on Day 1 by exploring the Iconic places of the city. Then on Day 2 enjoy the hidden gems of Washington DC, including an open air street art museum. Reserve Day 3 for the National Gallery of Art and enjoy a tour of the local brews in the afternoon. On Day 4, visit the National Museum of American History and in the afternoon join a fun Pub Crawl & History Tour. Finally, use the optional Day 5 for a bike and boat tour to Mount Vernon to explore the estate of America’s 1st president, George Washington. Read more below for 4 or 5 days in Washington, with morning and afternoon plans. 
  • 4 or 5 days in Washington DC itinerary for families: this is a great itinerary if you are traveling with kids. On Day 1 check out the popular National Museum of Natural History and have a walk in one of the most amazing urban parks in the USA, the National Mall. Day 2 can be dedicated to the National Museum of the American Indian and have a walk in the Capitol Hill. Reserve Day 3 for some fun at the Spy Museum and at a waterfront park if you still have some spare time. On Day 4 check out the National Air and Space Museum and take the quick bus to The Yards Park. Do you still have a 5th day? Reserve it for a day at the Zoo, or swap it with any of the previous days. Read more below for the best family itinerary with maps, all the attractions for kids, and a detailed plan of action.
  • Best three hotels for 4 or 5 days in Washington DC: In this city, accommodations are available and priced based on the political calendar. In fact, a good time to visit the capital is when the politicians aren’t there (weekends may actually be cheaper). The best areas to stay in Washington DC are described in my dedicated guide, including a few selected accommodations. Having to name just 3 hotels, 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. If you have 7 or more days in Washington DC, I would suggest also checking out the Dupont Circle area, with its amazing restaurants and bars, and two lovely hotels: The Dupont Circle (great location, with a lovely interior design) and Hotel Madera (fabulous value for money)

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.

Things to do and see in Washington DC
Things to do and see in Washington DC- Check out my shared Google Map

4 or 5 days in Washington DC without kids

Day 1 – Iconic places of Washington DC

The best way to explore all the Washington DC’s intriguing and iconic landmarks (or, at least, most of them) is to take an Open-Top Bus Tour that allows you to hop on and off as you wish.

While listening to the audio guide, the open-deck gives you the opportunity to observe the city and to stop at places that interest you.

Here is a list of my recommended stops, and remember the bus can be used all day. 

Stop by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in the morning to see its amazing design, inspired by the Roman Pantheon.

Afterwards, take a walk in the unique Arlington National Cemetery, and visit the Lincoln Memorial, where you can also view the Reflecting Pool and the Korean War Memorial.

Then, take the bus to Chinatown to have lunch and explore the nearby National Portrait Gallery (free entry). 

You will then have time to see and possibly visit the White House (including the Visitor Center).

The US Capitol is another must-see.

Last but not least is The Wharf DC, where you can take a stroll along the Washington Channel, shop or have dinner or drinks in one of the many restaurants and bars.

All of these sites have been covered much more extensively in my dedicate section on Washington DC between the iconic attractions.

Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Ticket

The Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial

Day 2 – Art and the hidden Washington DC

On this day, you will experience the unusual and unique things to do and places to visit in the city.

In the morning, take the Green or Yellow subway to Mt Vernon Sq 7th St-Convention Center to explore the D.C. Alley Museum, an outdoor collection of public art murals.

Begun in 2015, this project has recently been expanded with the addition of artwork displayed on garage doors along Blagden Alley.

Murals are an effective way for art to reach a wider audience while teaching visitors important messages.

A System of Politics and Art by Bill Warrell is a well-known mural.

It pays tribute to the natives that have played a huge role in shaping DC’s culture over the past 40 years.

There is also a mural by Cita Sadeli Chelove called Windswept Mandela.

This is a testament to the musicians who made Washington DC famous from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Rozeal also painted at the DC Alley, the Maker of Saints Mural, a celebration of both African American and global cultures.

It’s a real intriguing attraction of Washington DC and it’s so easy to spend the all morning there, however, put an alarm on your phone because at 11:30 you should be in U street (2 subway stops north) for the start of the U Street Neighborhood Food Tour, one of the hidden gems of DC.

As you journey through what was once known as Black Broadway neighborhood, you will be able to sample unique DC-style food and drink at a variety of local restaurants and bars.

For the afternoon you have a two options:

U Street Food Tour    ARTECHOUSE Tickets    Museum of the Bible Tickets

As the day comes to a close, if you are looking for a romantic evening, book this 3-course dinner cruise on the Potomac River, aboard the luxury Odyssey.

Otherwise, there are many great cafes, restaurants, and bars in Dupont Circle, the district that never sleeps

The White House
The White House

Day 3 – National Gallery of Art & Brew Tour

In the morning, visit one of the nation’s best art museums, the National Gallery of Art, where you will find the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the country.

The entrance is free, which helps immensely with the budget, of course.

I must be honest with you, the National Gallery of Art offers such a wide range of exhibitions that you may feel overwhelmed by it.

If you only have two or three hours, it might be best to take a guided tour to discover all the treasures as well as the iconic art pieces.

After lunch, take a stroll around the east side of the National Mall to see the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial, the US Capitol, and the beautiful Library of Congress.

Then, it’s time for the exciting Brew Tour with Tasting & Dinner (starting at at 5:30 pm), where you will visit some of the best breweries in Washington DC.

This will give you an opportunity to learn more about the beer making process, the choices of ingredients, and, of course, you’ll get to taste the final product.

The 3-hour tour includes the driving and dinner as well, making it a great deal, besides lots of fun.

National Gallery of Art Guided Tour    Brew Tour with Tasting & Dinner

The National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art

Day 4 – National Museum of American History & Pub Crawl

In the morning, plan a visit to another outstanding museum, with free entrance too, the National Museum of American History.

The National Museum of American History is like the keeper of American artefacts and memorabilia.

You can view over 1.8 million objects plus miles of archival collections.

Some of the iconic items on display include the original Star-Spangled Banner and American flag. You can also see the top hat that Abe Lincoln was known for.

If you are a lover of classic movies, then you will be excited at Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz.

There are plenty of photographs, documents and major holdings that celebrate American music and business.

You can find collections classified under advertising, art, agriculture, clothes, currency, communications, politics, manufacturing and so much more.

For example, for advertising, you can see classic ad campaigns for Marlboro, Cover Girl, Nike and many others.

If you want to see how energy and power have evolved, you will see oil mining equipment, water turbines, windmills and wood-burning stoves, among others.

You can also think of joining a guided tour of the museum to understand more the fascinating American history, from the colonial times to the present.

For lunch, head to Foggy Bottom to eat at Founding Farmers DC, specialized in lunch and brunch made of locally sourced ingredients.

Then, explore the neighborhood, making sure to include:

  • the Octagon Museum
  • the National Museum of American Diplomacy (free to enter)
  • the Albert Einstein Memorial
  • the National Opera

Alternatively, in the afternoon join this Pub Crawl & History Tour, a fun way to meet more travelers, have a drink together and exchange the own experiences.

Museum of American History Guided Tour    Join the Pub Crawl

Silhouettes at the Lincoln Memorial
Silhouettes at the Lincoln Memorial

Day 5 (optional) – Mount Vernon Bike and Boat Tour

Rent a bike for a day tour to the grounds and house of America’s 1st president, George Washington.

When you take this bike ride, you will enjoy the town of Alexandria while following the path along the Potomac River, where you will see wooded areas and hills.

The official tour starts in the Old Town of Alexandria.

Along the way, you can cycle on the Mount Vernon Trail with your bike at a comfortable pace.

One of the stops of the ride is at the Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, President George Washington’s home.

The estate is 500 acres large and has 30 outbuildings close to the river.

Despite being on the verge of demolition, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, founded in 1853, saved the house from being destroyed.

It was later labeled as a National Historic Landmark in 1960. 

At the house, you can also check out George Washington’s study, which was previously out of bounds.

Then have a moment of silence as you visit the President and his First Lady’s tomb.

If you’re lucky, you will get to witness visitors reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at a wreath-laying ceremony.

After that fun ride, you can get to take a pleasure boat along the Potomac River back to Alexandria.

Rent the bike for a day

Accommodations and experiences:

Inside the Union Station
Inside the Union Station

Check more photos below of a 2 day in Washington DC Itinerary.

4 or 5 days in Washington DC itinerary for families

Day 1 – Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and National Mall

Start your city exploration with one of Washington DC’s most family-friendly museums, the National Museum of Natural History.

Unfortunately, being a popular attraction, long tickets lines aren’t uncommon, so I always recommend getting tickets in advance to skip the line.

Smithsonian History Museum Ticket

After the museum, take a walk 2 blocks north to Central Michel Richard, a nice casual restaurant that serves modern American food, with a great selection of dishes that satisfy even the most discriminating palates.

Spend the afternoon strolling through the National Mall, Washington’s most fascinating park.

I have prepared a map (see below) that you can download or print through Google Maps

National Mall Walk
National Mall Walk – Check the interactive Google Map here

Visit the White House Visitor Center first and then don’t miss these places:

  • The White House
  • The President’s Park
  • Washington Monument
  • The Lockkeeper’s House
  • Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • The Arts of War Sculptures

You’ve reached the end of your walk over the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

In my post about the walk in National Mall, I discussed all the listed locations more extensively.

Consider instead this fun 2-Hour Tour by Electric Vehicle Tour if walking doesn’t appeal to you.

You’ll be able to learn a lot from the knowledgeable tour leader in addition to explore the entire National Mall (the east side was omitted in my walk)

National Mall Tour Ticket

Washington Monument from the Reflecting Pool
Washington Monument from the Reflecting Pool

Day 2 – National Museum of the American Indian & Capitol Hill

Spend the morning of your second day in DC exploring the National Museum of the American Indian, which offers plenty of interactive exhibits that will keep the kids entertained and parents educated.

Afterward, stroll around the United States Capitol and grab a bite to eat at Hawk ‘n’ Dove on Capitol Hill, known for its family-friendly dishes.

Visit the Library of Congress in the afternoon, and then head to the lovely Botanical Garden, just a stone away..

All of these attractions, including the National Museum of the American Indian, are featured on this day in the Capitol Hill.

US Capitol building dome
US Capitol building dome

Day 3 – Spy Museum

Any family with kids, especially if fans of James Bond, should not miss the International Spy Museum (read more on it here). The museum is so entertaining. It has something for everyone, regardless of age.

Besides buying tickets in advance, I suggest visiting the museum first thing in the morning since it’s a popular museum.

You will avoid, or at least limit, the lines at the entrance and the exhibits, as well.

Spy Museum Tickets

You can grab lunch at Roti just a few meters from the Spy Museum. It offers Mediterranean-inspired dishes.

Depending on the weather and interest level, you have a couple of options in the afternoon.

Kids will enjoy visiting the National Building Museum, which offers sections designed specifically for them.

Alternatively, have a walk in the Georgetown Waterfront Park (blue, silver or orange Subway Lines to Foggy Bottom).

With a fantastic view of the Potomac River and the city, the local trails make a great place to take a walk.

You can also rent bikes or a boat.

Georgetown, skyline on the Potomac River in the day.
Georgetown, skyline on the Potomac River in the day.

Day 4 – National Air and Space Museum & The Yards Park

I usually leave the morning for the museums, when the kids have the most attention span in the day.

And also on Day 4, I suggest visiting, in the first part of the day, the National Air and Space Museum, located in the National Mall.

The museum has the world’s largest collection of aviation and space artefacts, including pieces that are the most significant in space travel and human flights.

This collection began in 1861 with Smithsonian’s first Secretary Joseph Henry, a physicist and professor of natural philosophy at Princeton University (formerly the College of New Jersey)

In 1876, which is 100 years before the museum building actually began construction, a collection of 20 kites was acquired from the Chinese Imperial Commission.

Since then, the collection has significantly grown to what it is today.

There are currently over 60,000 space and air objects.

Examples include Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis and the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

Temporary exhibitions are also held on a regular basis, sometimes repeated through the years.

One of these is America By Air Reimagined, a collection of updated artefacts, videos and graphics that touch on the history of air transport in the USA.

The unique thing about this place is that it is one museum in 2 different locations.

The second location is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which is at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

After the museum, grab the bus P6, leaving from Independence Avenue & 4th St SW, to The Yards Park where you will spend the remaining part of the day.

This is a great family friendly park with plenty of cafes and restaurants options for lunch.

In summer, your kids will love the very shallow pool (free to enter).

You can also think of following the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail for a delightful walk along the river.

Inside the Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building
Inside the Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building

Day 5 (optional) – A day at the Zoo

This day is fully dedicated to the famous Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

The zoo is one of Washington D.C.’s, and the Smithsonian’s, most popular tourist spots.

It receives over 2 million annual guests. The primary mission of the zoo is to encourage commitment to the conservation and saving of animal species.

It was founded back in 1889 and is a part of the Smithsonian Institution.

It sits on 163 acres in Rock Creek Park and homes about 1,800 animals, representing over 360 species.

The project is a labor of love by over 200 scientists in more than 30 countries worldwide.

There are plenty of exhibitions that children and grownups will enjoy.

There is the Amazonian, American Trail, Asian Trail, Primates, Reptile Discovery Center and Small Mammal house among others.

Each of the exhibitions fits a theme that is perfect for learning and research purposes.

One of the most interesting exhibitions is the Kids’ Farm where you can view animals like cows, donkeys, goats, alpacas, chickens and fish.

There is also the Center for Animal Care Sciences where they provide husbandry, medical attention as well as population management for the Smithsonian and other zoos.

Accommodations and experiences for families:

Walking in the National Mall at sunset time
Walking in the National Mall at sunset time

More photos of the 4 or 5 days Washington DC Itinerary

 
The United States Capitol view from the street.
The United States Capitol view from the street.
View to the US Capitol from Union Square
View to the US Capitol from Union Square
United States Supreme Court Building
United States Supreme Court Building
National Archives Museum
National Archives Museum
Close up of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Close up of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Old post office in Washington DC
Old post office in Washington DC
Spring season in Washington DC
Spring season in Washington DC
The Arlington National Cemetery
The Arlington National Cemetery
Georgetown, historic old brick warehouses and canals.
Georgetown, historic old brick warehouses and canals.
Exploring Georgetown
Exploring Georgetown
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
The 9:30 Club in Washington DC
The 9:30 Club in Washington DC
The Gallery Pl-Chinatown Metro Stop
The Gallery Pl-Chinatown Metro Stop
Waiting for the subway at U Street
Waiting for the subway at U Street

 

Stefano Ferro - MEL365.com Founder and Editor

About the Author

Stefano is a seasoned travel expert and the visionary founder of MEL365.com, a leading travel website with traffic across 6 continents. With a rich background in the travel industry, Stefano spent four pivotal years at Amadeus Travel Distribution System, gaining invaluable insights into travel technologies and distribution.

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