Last updated on February 24, 2024 by Stefano Ferro, founder of MEL365, following extensive travelling in Washington DC

Best 10 Washington DC Itinerary options, from 1 to 7 days for families, couples and friends

This guide will provide you with 10 Washington DC itinerary options that are great for any trip, regardless of length

Moreover, they are designed to suit different kinds of visitors, such as families with kids, couples, and adults that want to enjoy the city

It is impossible to find a plan that suits everyone in this city.

There is so much to see and experiences, and activities to participate in that you could easily spend more than a week without getting bored.

I have included a morning and an afternoon action plan for each Washington DC itinerary. So easy to follow or take inspiration from.

Wherever possible, I also tried to suggest restaurants and cafes that fit into the day plan.

And of course, you can customize the Washington DC itinerary to meet your specific needs.

Now let’s begin

Best Washington DC Itinerary options
Best Washington DC Itinerary options

Unsure of where to stay?

I wrote a few suggestions below. You can also 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)

One day in Washington DC

You should spend at least a couple of days in Washington DC because this city has so much to offer.

In 24 hours, this may be too rushed.

But we all have a busy life and if one day it’s all you have then, try to focus on the more iconic attractions.

By the way, you will surely fall in love with the city and wish to return for a longer stay.

Take a Hop-On, Hop-Off Open-Top Bus Landmarks Tour to make the most of your time.

While on the open deck with an audio guide, you can see the city and stop at any place that interests you.

The bus can be used all day long.

Stop by the following attractions, surely some of the best destinations in Washington DC.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Located in front of the White House, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial was funded by President Roosevelt in 1943.

Natural light shines in the memorial through the 4 openings made of 16 columns.

Located here is the colossal bronze statue of the founding father.

The Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery is where you can feel the spirits of national heroes resting there.

Located at Arlington House, this massive cemetery dates back to the Civil War.

The Hemicycle, the Memorial Drive, and the Memorial Bridge can all be visited in the Arlington National Cemetery.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier can be found here as well. An ancient marble sarcophagus that stands atop a hill.

Every unidentified soldier who died during World War I is represented here, a place that has become a symbol of mourning and reflection.

The Lincoln Memorial

At the western end of the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial honors the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln.

You will appreciate the larger-than-life carving of Honest Abe.

Additionally, you will enjoy the murals drawn in the memorial’s interior and the epithet above the statue.

The Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial

National Portrait Gallery

This is a stop you can do around lunch time.

The Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus will live you in the heart of Chinatown where you can have your lunch.

Next, visit the National Portrait Gallery (free entry), which contains a large collection of portraits of people who have shaped American history.

Congress authorized and founded it in 1962.

In this gallery, you will find the largest collection of presidential portraits outside the White House.

Additionally, you can view the running exhibitions of art and photography.

White House & Visitor Center

There is no need to introduce the White House.

It is the nation’s political center and the source of national pride. Over the years, hundreds of events have been held on these grounds.

At the Visitor Center you can find artefacts, interactive panels, and a video of a White House tour.

In addition, you can purchase souvenirs at the store.

US Capitol

At last, you get to visit the US Capitol, where congress makes important laws for the country.

It took five years to renovate the building after it was destroyed in 1814.

There are long wings on either side of the building, along with an immense dome on top.

You may not know that tunnels link the Capitol Complex to the Congressional Buildings.

American animals and flowers adorn the walls.

The Wharf DC

The Wharf DC, the last stop, is a great place to step out of the bus for a scenic walk along the Washington Channel, full of restaurants, bars, and shops for a little retail therapy.

Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Ticket

Silhouettes at the Lincoln Memorial
Silhouettes at the Lincoln Memorial

2 days in Washington DC itinerary

If you plan your getaway in advance, you will be amazed at how much you can accomplish in just two days in Washington DC.

The skip-the-line tickets should be purchased whenever possible to avoid time wasted in the queues.

There are two possible itineraries that I have created.

The first one is dedicated to couples and adults:

  • Day 1: Take a Hop-On, Hop-Off Open-Top Bus tour to experience the city and stop at the most iconic places in Washington DC, as the White House or the Lincoln Memorial. This is by far the easiest way to have an overview of the city and visit a few landmarks, too.
  • Day 2: Catch the yellow or green subway line to experience one of the hidden gems of Washington DC, the D.C. Alley Museum. This is an outdoor collection of public art murals, a project started in 2015 and fully supported by the city residents. Next, head to U Street to visit the once called Black Broadway with an organized Food and History Tour. In the late afternoon have a check to the ARTECHOUSE DC, a digital art museum. If traveling with your partner, book a romantic dinner on the Potomac River, otherwise head to Dupont Circle, where the night never sleeps.

The below itinerary works great for families traveling with kids:

  • Day 1: In the morning, make it to one of the most family friendly museum in the country, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Then, in the afternoon, have a walk in the National Mall, one of the most iconic urban parks in the world. Or take an electric vehicle, if walking is not your thing.
  • Day 2: Start the day by visiting the National Museum of the American Indian with interactive exhibitions that your kids will love. Then visit the US Capitol, the Library of Congress and finish off the day at the lovely Yards Park

My 2 days in Washington DC itinerary guide, covers all the details for the two itinerary options above, with detailed descriptions of all the morning and afternoon activities, including a handy map of the walk in the National Mall

2 days in Washington DC

Unique 2 days in Washington DC itinerary
Unique 2 days in Washington DC itinerary

More photos from the Washington DC itinerary below

3 days in Washington DC itinerary

Three days in Washington DC will give you a great idea of what the city has to offer.

I highly suggest to prepare your itinerary in advance to make the most of your time in DC.

The following are two possible plans I have drafted. 

The first option is ideal for couples and adults:

  • Day 1: Experience the city on a Hop-On, Hop-Off open top bus tour and stop at the most iconic places in Washington DC, such as the White House or Lincoln Memorial. A tour on this route is by far the easiest way to get a feel for the city and experience its landmarks.
  • Day 2: Take the yellow or green subway lines to see one of Washington DC’s hidden gems, the D.C. Alley Museum. This is an outdoor collection of public art murals, a project started in 2015 and fully supported by the city residents. Next, go to U Street for a Food and History Tour of what used to be the Black Broadway neighborhood. Spend the late afternoon at the ARTECHOUSE DC, which is a digital art museum. When traveling with your partner, book a romantic dinner on the Potomac River, otherwise make your way to Dupont Circle, where the night never ends.
  • Day 3: head to the National Gallery of Art, one of the unique art museums in the country, unmissable if staying for 3 days in the city. A heven of art, culture and education. In the afternoon have a stroll on the eastern side of the National Mall and finish the day with a brewery tour to taste some amazing local beers and have dinner too.

This itinerary is ideal for families with young children:

  • Day 1: Visit one of the most family-friendly museums in the country in the morning, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Take a stroll in the National Mall, one of the world’s most iconic urban parks, in the afternoon. If walking doesn’t appeal, take an electric vehicle.
  • Day 2: Your kids will love the interactive exhibits at the National Museum of the American Indian. Afterwards, you can visit the US Capitol, the Library of Congress, and the lovely Yards Park
  • Day 3: What is the most loved museums by both kids and parents? The Spy Museum, that you will visit on the 3rd and last day in the city. If you still have time in the afternoon, enjoy the Georgetown Waterfront Park, reachable by subway and a short walk

You should read my detailed guide to a 3-day in Washington DC itinerary.

All the necessary information for the trip is included, with all the things to do in the morning and in the afternoon for the above drafted itineraries, a description of all the locations, and advice on bars, restaurants, and hotels.

3 days in Washington DC

Unique 3 days in Washington DC itinerary
Unique 3 days in Washington DC itinerary

More photos from the Washington DC itinerary below

4 or 5 days or more in Washington DC

With 4 or even 5 days in Washington DC, you will have so many more opportunities and possibilities.

But don’t go to DC without at least a draft itinerary of your vacation, otherwise you may end up spending most of the time wondering around but not actually experiencing much.

Here below, I have drafted two itineraries that include day 5 marked as optional.

Use it if you are on an extended stay, or you may swap it in case you have only 4 nights in the capital city.

Couples and adults will love the following itinerary:

  • Day 1: Explore the city on a Hop-On, Hop-Off open-top bus tour and stop in the landmarks of Washington DC, such as the White House and Lincoln Memorial. There is no easier way to get a feel for the city and its iconic places than taking this tour.
  • Day 2: Get on the yellow or green subway lines to see one of Washington DC’s hidden gems, the DC Alley Museum. A public art mural project started in 2015 and fully supported by the residents of the city. Follow that up with a Food and History Tour of what was once the Black Broadway neighborhood. If you still have time, explore the ARTECHOUSE DC, a digital art museum, in the late afternoon. You can book a romantic dinner on the Potomac River when traveling with your partner, or enjoy the nightlife of Dupont Circle.
  • Day 3: Visit the National Gallery of Art, one of the country’s best art museums and a must-see if staying for three days. An oasis of culture and creativity. Later in the afternoon, stroll along the eastern side of the National Mall and then enjoy a beer tasting tour and dinner in the local breweries.
  • Day 4: Another outstanding museum is awaiting you in the morning, the National Museum of American History. Relax in the afternoon by joining a Pub Crawl & History Tour
  • Day 5 (optional): Rent a bike for the day to explore the grounds and house of America’s 1st president in Mount Vernon

This itinerary works best for families with kids:

  • Day 1: Spend the morning at one of the most family-friendly museums in the country, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Visit one of the world’s most iconic urban parks, the National Mall, in the afternoon. Consider taking an electric car, if walking isn’t your thing.
  • Day 2: The National Museum of the American Indian has interactive exhibits that your kids will enjoy. Then, you can visit the US Capitol, the Library of Congress, and Yards Park
  • Day 3: Which museum in DC is loved by kids and parents alike? This is the Spy Museum, which you will visit in the morning of the third day in the city. In the afternoon, if you still have time, visit the Georgetown Waterfront Park, which is accessible via the subway and a short walk.
  • Day 4: Use the fresh morning for a visit to the National Air and Space Museum and have a walk in the afternoon along the river in the Wharf DC
  • Day 5 (optional): Spend the day at the famous Washington National Zoological Park

Check my exhaustive guide to 4 or 5 days in Washington DC, which includes all you need to know about the visited places, all the activities and handy maps

4 or 5 days in Washington DC

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

7 days or more in Washington DC

This is an exciting city to visit, and you will have plenty of time to explore beyond the recognizable attractions and destinations in 7 days in Washington DC.

I have created a Google map of places to visit and things to do in the capital, including bars and restaurants.

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

It is likely that there will be more places in the interactive map than in the picture above as I continually update it.

My 5 days in Washington DC for families are a good place to get inspiration if you’re traveling with children

  • Day 1: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and National Mall
  • Day 2: National Museum of the American Indian & Capitol Hill
  • Day 3: Spy Museum
  • Day 4: National Air and Space Museum & The Yards Park
  • Day 5: A day at the Zoo

Add the following 2 days to complete the week stay:

  • Day 6: Check out the Arts + Industries Building for any ongoing exhibitions. They usually have amazing ones, like the Futures Exhibit that was a total winner for children. If you are traveling with little kids, you may also want to check out the National Children’s Museum. In the afternoon, have a look at the S. Dillon Ripley Center, home of the Discovery Theater for children.
  • Day 7: Explore beyond the city with a trip to Mount Vernon and Old Town Alexandria. You can join a day trip that will take you to the George and Martha Washington colonial house, where actors perform in the colonial farm and blacksmith shop.

Alternatively, visit Mount Vernon and George Washington estate with this sightseeing River Cruise along the Potomac River, always a great fun for kids.

My itinerary of 5 days in Washington DC for adults makes a great starting point for the 7-days itinerary

  • Day 1: Iconic places of Washington DC
  • Day 2: Art and the hidden Washington DC
  • Day 3: National Gallery of Art & Brew Tour
  • Day 4: National Museum of American History & Pub Crawl
  • Day 5: Mount Vernon Bike and Boat Tour

Then add two or more of the following activities:

Inside the Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building
Inside the Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building at the Futures Exhibition

Best accommodations for a Washington DC itinerary

Following are a few recommendations for accommodations in Washington DC to make your stay as comfortable as possible

For convenience, I have also listed the neighborhood for each hotel or Airbnb/apartment suggestion (read here about the best areas to stay in Washington DC).

For adults:

  • Budget Hotels: Duo Housing (Hostel in Mount Vernon), Motto by Hilton (a real bargain, but rarely available in Penn Quarter)
  • Mid-range HotelsW Washington D.C. (amazing location and view in Penn Quarter), The Westin (nicely priced and pleasant 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)

For families with kids

Photos from the Washington DC Itinerary

The White House
The White House
The United States Capitol view from the street.
The United States Capitol view from the street.
US Capitol building dome
US Capitol building dome
Silhouettes at the Lincoln Memorial
Silhouettes at the Lincoln Memorial
Washington Monument and National Mall
Washington Monument and National Mall
Washington Monument from the Reflecting Pool
Washington Monument from the Reflecting Pool
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
The National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art
Spring season in Washington DC
Spring season in Washington DC
The Arlington National Cemetery
The Arlington National Cemetery
Georgetown, skyline on the Potomac River in the day.
Georgetown, skyline on the Potomac River in the day.
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
Inside the Union Station
Inside the Union Station
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.

Leave a Comment