Have you already traveled to Washington D.C. as a chaperone on a kid’s field trip, or was your last time as a kid yourself? It’s time to unlock the secrets in our nation’s capital with adults-only D.C. vacations.
Washington D.C. has an endless list of activities and sights to see. The city is also very spread out, so here is our favorite 3-day itinerary so you don’t spend all your time trying to get from one place to another. Remember, most of the museums in D.C. are free!
Even if it isn’t your first time in Washington D.C., starting your visit with a hop-on, hop-off tour is a great way to orient yourself with your surroundings. You can be free to hop off at any stops along the way, or ride it once the whole way through!
Here are some ideas for your first day during D.C. vacations, to take it in at your own pace.
Lincoln Memorial & Surrounding Area
Begin your day at the Washington Monument and make a counterclockwise loop to the Lincoln Memorial and back. You can walk through the Washington Monument for views or access to the Mall and Reflecting Pool. Visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the World War II Memorial along the way.
Visit the National Archives
Next, see the original Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and Bill of Rights at the National Archives. There is also a state-of-the-art theater and a unique exhibit gallery devoted to document-based exhibits on newsworthy and timely topics.
The Holocaust Memorial is an overwhelming collection of resources that teach about the horrors of this time period, while also honoring the lives and memories of the victims and survivors. This memorial is incredibly well-done and is a must see. The memorial is not for children under 11 years old.
Be sure to plan ahead for this impressive Smithsonian creation, as it’s extremely popular. If you know what day you want to go ahead of time, you can reserve passes months in advance. You can also get in line at 6:30 a.m. to get a same-day pass. Grab a bite to eat at the Sweet Home Cafe!
Start your second day in the city continuing your education, and complete your day with musical appreciation. Day two of D.C. vacations is packed, so you’ll definitely need to narrow it down to your liking!
Get Educated at a Think-Tank Discussion
Washington D.C. is the nation’s capital, after all, so that means that some of the top brains in the world discuss and communicate their ideas here. Think Tanks like the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace often schedule talks and informative discussions about topics big and small. Sometimes, you can get lucky to attend a hosted open bar reception afterward.
Tour Arlington Cemetery
More than 330,000 American servicemen, as well as many famous Americans, are buried at this 624-acre national cemetery. Visitors can walk the grounds for free or take a guided bus tour. Be sure to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns and visit Arlington House, the former home of Robert E. Lee, which atop a hill provides one of the best views of Washington.
Be a Tourist on Embassy Row
Take a walk down Embassy Row and you’ll be transported to far off lands. During the month of May, you can check out special events including open houses, flower marts, chef challenges, street festivals, and more!
Catch a Street Festival
Sometimes making plans can be overrated. Depending on the day of the week you might find yourself at a cooking class, street festival, sporting event, or an art installation.
Escape the Heat (or Cold) to a Food Hall Tour
Walking into a food hall is a delight to the eyes, nose, and palette! D.C. has a variety of food halls to choose from. Depending on where you are in the city, choose from Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, or Union Market with its 200-year legacy. After a walk around and a sampling or two, purchase something to-go to enjoy on our next recommendation.
Picnic and Music on National Gallery Lawn
Grab your food hall picnic and a blanket and head to the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. There is outdoor Jazz in the Garden from 5 to 8:30 p.m. on summer Fridays. Takeaway food is also available at the food trucks on the surrounding streets as well as the Pavillion Garden on the premises (which also offers alcoholic beverages).
The National Gallery displays one of the most extensive collections of masterpieces in the world. It includes paintings, prints, photographs, sculptures, and decorative arts.
Get Dressed Up and See a Performance at the Kennedy Center
Get tickets to a show at Washington’s premier concert hall. Or, the Kennedy Center also offers a free performance every evening at 6 p.m. Programs include performances by the National Symphony Orchestra, jazz musicians, poets, and dance troupes. The Kennedy Center also hosts a variety of seasonal festivals and provides free guided tours of the venue.
Make it your goal to be outside all day today!
Take a Self-Guided Neighborhood Tour
Coffee in hand, get outside to learn about the history of Washington’s neighborhoods by following one of Cultural Tourism D.C.’s walking trails. The illustrated signs combine stories, historical photos, and maps. Explore a variety of communities, including Adams Morgan, U Street, Barracks Row, and themed trails like the Civil War to Civil Rights Downtown.
Surrounding Washington is the fertile farmlands of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, so D.C. has some pretty serious farmer’s markets. You can find one pretty much every day of the week, like the Dupont Circle Market, or the lunchtime White House Market.
D.C.’s Wine Country
Loudoun County is filled with rolling green hills and grape vines, making D.C.’s wine region a top destination for tasting. Pack a picnic and spend your afternoon outside among the vines, sipping Chardonnay and Cab Franc. Or if you don’t feel like leaving the city, you can always sip a D.C.-made rosé on the lively waterfront at District Winery.
Dinner and Drinks in Georgetown
After a full three days of sightseeing all the monuments, museums, galleries, food halls, and wines, head to Georgetown for dinner. This neighborhood has a laid-back feel with small streets that are perfect for strolling. Soak in the shops, restaurants, busy bar scene, and scenic waterfront.
Of course, D.C. vacations need way more time than three days to see it all, but this itinerary covers a lot of ground!