3-Day Washington DC Itinerary: Best Monuments, Tours, and More

Image of Rock Creek surrounded by bright green foliage on a cloudy day - Washington DC Itinerary

Home to the nation’s capital, everyone should visit Washington DC at least once in their lifetime. Although admittedly not much of a history buff, I love viewing the monuments, exploring the museums, and enjoying all of the outdoor opportunities that the city has to offer. Perhaps surprisingly, Washington DC also has some amazing food and drink options truly making it a destination everyone will enjoy. 

This post provides a great 3-day Washington DC itinerary for your next adventure.

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How to Get to Washington DC: 

Washington DC is easily accessible via plane, train, or automobile, as the saying goes. But seriously, the nation’s capital has two airports, is home to Washington-Union Station which is the second-busiest station in the Amtrak network, and is easily accessible by bus and car transportation. 

My personal preference when flying to Washington DC is to fly into Ronald Regan Washington National Airport. The airport is easy to navigate and is on its own metro line. You may end up paying a bit more due to demand since the airport is so close to central DC, but in my opinion it is worth it.

Other airport options include Washington Dulles International Airport and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Where to Stay in Washington DC: 

View of two queen-sized hotel beds at the Washington Marriott Georgetown in DC

Washington DC has just about every hotel chain and type of accommodation you can imagine. On my last visit, my mom and I stayed at the Washington Marriott Georgetown and enjoyed the room and the location. Check out my hotel review on the Washington Marriott Georgetown for all the details. However, if you are planning a visit primarily for the monuments and museums, I’d suggest looking closer to downtown. 

How to Get Around Washington DC: 

One of my favorite things about Washington DC and the surrounding area is how easy it is to get around. In my opinion, the best way to see DC is on foot. The area is very walkable and depending on how far you are willing to walk, you can get just about anywhere on foot. There are also plenty of benches and picnic tables when you need to rest. 

The city also has you covered when you want to explore a little bit further or would rather get around on wheels. Additional options include: 

  • Bike 
  • Metrorail
  • Metrobus
  • DC Circulator 
  • Regional Public Transit 

3-Day Washington DC Itinerary: 

Day 1: Downtown DC – Monuments & Museums 

I recommend starting your exploration of Washington DC with a bus tour of the many monuments. Not only will you get to see most of the famous memorials of the nation’s capital, you’ll also get a great lay of the land for the rest of your visit. Your bus ticket is good for the entire day, and you will need a full day (at least!) to get a glimpse into the city. 

Make sure these monuments are on your list: Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, World War II Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. In addition, add stops to the White House and the Capitol. There are ways to get tours inside both, but it will take extra planning.

Since you will be all over DC exploring, it’s a bit harder to plan for lunch. I made a lunch reservation in advance and made a plan to get on the metro at a certain time to make our reservation. However, I’d recommend just finding a spot to eat close to where you end up at lunchtime.

DC is full of restaurants, coffee shops, and street vendors so you will not go hungry. This will also allow you to maximize your time exploring the monuments and museums.

I explored DC using Big Bus Tour and had a great experience, although I have used a similar hop-on hop-off company, Old Town Trolley Tours, in other cities. Both companies offer similar tours, but there are a few key differences: 

Book Your Big Bus DC Experience

  • Big Bus Tours offers double decker buses with open air seats on the upper level, while Old Town Trolley’s buses are all enclosed, although the windows open quite wide. 
  • Big Bus Tours provides headphones for you to listen to a pre-recorded narration of the tour while the driver of the Old Town Trolley provides live narration. 

I have done both tours in multiple cities and overall, I lean towards Old Town Trolley because I like the narration (albeit sometimes a bit cheesy) and feel that the buses are generally more ventilated. However, I really enjoy the opportunity for the unobstructed up-top view with Big Bus Tours. 

Self of a mother and daughter in front of the white house in Washington DC
Image of Capitol in Washington DC from afar with tourist bus in front and people walking in street

If you’re looking for a fully-guided tour of the nation’s capital, several tour companies offer excellent options. One of the most popular choices to book is this One Day Guided Sightseeing Tour which includes bus transportation and a river cruise on the Potomac River (seasonal). This tour includes over 10 stops at popular DC sites. 

If you want to go inside the Washington Monument, consider booking this highly-rated Washington Monument and DC Highlights Tour by USA Guided Tours which includes tickets to the top of famous icon. 

One of my favorite things about Washington DC is that most of the museums are free to the public. While you are exploring the monuments, I highly suggest picking a museum or two that you want to visit. I always enjoy a visit to the National Zoo (free!) and I find the Postal Museum fascinating. With over 20 Smithsonian museums and galleries, pick whatever piques your interests.

Of course, it’s impossible to fit all of this into one day, so pick the museum option you are most excited about. I’ve been to DC four times and still haven’t had a chance to visit close to all of the museums.

Head to the Wharf after your day exploring the monuments and museums for a beautiful view and delightful dinner. The Wharf is a waterfront district in DC that features housing, hotels, restaurants, shopping, and water activities. DC’s public transportation options make the area very accessible. 

The Wharf offers over 40 options for food, drinks and treats making it an excellent choice for all taste buds. I enjoyed dinner at a European-style wine bar called Easy Company and sat at a table with a beautiful view of the water and happenings outside. I also enjoyed drinks at Tiki TNT which is a 3-story bar and very lively. 

For the best experience, make restaurant reservations online in advance as wait times can be very long. 

Day 2: Georgetown – Shopping, The Potomac, & A Canal Tour

Downtown Georgetown is within walking distance (about 1 mile) of the Washington Marriott Georgetown, one of the many perks of staying at this location. On our second day in the city, my mom and I started our morning with breakfast at the hotel followed by a beautiful walk to M Street. 

M Street is an incredible shopping street, featuring popular stores, beautiful boutiques, and delicious bakeries. It was here where I had my first Georgetown Cupcake and stepped into my first Capital One Cafe. 

Image of cashier area at Georgetown Cupcake in Washington DC
View of storefronts on M Street in Georgetown

Once you hit the intersection of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, you’ll have boutiques lining up and down both streets. 

M Street is meticulously maintained and very clean. The area’s decor is very charming and you truly feel like you are part of a different time. A great excursion if want to dive deeper into the area is a guided tour of the area. Book tickets for a Historic Georgetown Walking Tour to learn about the area through a more historical lens.

Grab lunch today at one of the local establishments in Georgetown. You’ll find every option from fast and easy Chipotle to fine dining like Degrees at the Ritz Carlton.

One lunch (or dinner) option that came highly recommended, but with a hefty cost is Filomena Ristorante. While I did not eat there, numerous people I talked to on this trip recommended it and several national leaders have dined in this establishment. 

After lunch, head to the C&O Canal for the Georgetown Heritage Canal Boat Tour. Of everything my mom saw during her first visit to DC, this tour was her favorite. 

Image of boat on the C&O Canal - Washington DC Itinerary
Image of the Potomac River from the C&O Canal, including brick office buildings

The C&O (Chesapeake & Ohio) Canal was used to transport coal, lumber and agricultural products for almost 100 years. Today the canal is operated by the National Park Service and provides educational opportunities. 

The Georgetown Heritage Canal Boat Tour is an hour-long activity that includes a historical reenactment of sorts to depict the history of the canal and what life was like during the time the canal was in operation. It was an awesome and engaging experience. 

Currently, the canal is undergoing maintenance and tours are suspended, but the website does not indicate for how long. There are other similar experiences so if this exact tour is not available, I’d recommend looking for another because the history of the canal is really incredible. 

For dinner, walk less than a mile or take public transportation to Georgetown’s River Waterfront, The Washington Harbour. This is an upscale area full of delicious restaurants, outdoor activities, and shopping. Many large boats dock here making it a great spot to look at boats or watch them float by. 

Image of the Riverfront Walk at the Washington Harbour - Washington DC Itinerary

My mom and I enjoyed an outdoor meal at Tony and Joe’s Seafood Place and it was delicious. My mom enjoyed a hamburger while I had a chicken option and both were perfect. I also had a tasty light wine cocktail. Seafood is their specialty though, so this is the place if you’re hungry for fish or oysters.

Image of dinner plate including chicken, broccoli, potatoes, and carrots.
Image of lady with painted nails holding a half-filled wine glass while dining outside.

For drinks with friends and a great view, meander over to Sequoia. Their menu was a bit out of my budget, but they have a raised outdoor bar that is open to everyone and gives a perfect view of the water. 

The Rock Creek Trail starts in the Washington Harbour area as well and it’s a great trail if you need to walk off lunch or dinner. However, be cautious of the many bikers that use this trail. 

Day 3: Rock Creek Park 

Explore the oldest urban park in the National Park Service, Rock Creek Park on your final day in Washington DC. While Rock Creek Park manages 99 sites and almost 3,000 acres, the city park itself is 1,700 acres and has over 32 miles of hiking trails. In addition to hiking trails, the park has 13 miles of horseback riding trails and several paved paths and roads for biking. 

Image of a stone bridge in Rock Creek Park with water flowing underneath and green foliage surrounding the bridge.

My mom and I completed the 3.5-mile Boulder Bridge Trail and both really enjoyed it. Parts of the hike were a tad challenging with steeper inclines and a section of large steps, but overall it is a very manageable hike. 

Image of crushed trail surrounded by tall trees with green leaves in Rock Creek Park - Washington DC Itinerary
Image of road over bridge in Rock Creek Park

The park is heavily utilized by hikers, walkers, runners and bikers and leashed dogs are allowed in all outdoor areas of the park. Even though Rock Creek Park is managed by the National Park Service, entry is free and no pass is required.

Rock Creek Park is also home to three visitor centers where you can learn more about the park: Nature Center and Planetarium, Peirce Mill, and Old Stone House.

Assuming the weather is nice, pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a picturesque lunch in the park.

Washington DC FAQs:

What is the population of Washington DC? 

As of July 2023, the population of the District of Columbia was just under 680,000. 

What is the best time to visit Washington DC? 

While DC is beautiful year-round and is always open to tourism, the best time to visit weather-wise is during the spring and fall seasons. Another very popular time is during the Cherry Blossom season which typically occurs around the last week and March into the first week of April.

Is Washington DC a safe city to visit? 

Washington DC is a safe city to visit, although you should always be aware of your surroundings and use common sense when traveling.

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