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The BEST 3 Days in Washington, DC: A 3-Day Itinerary

The BEST 3 Days in Washington, DC: A 3-Day Itinerary

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Washington, DC, holds a unique place in American history because it was specifically created to be the capital city. DC (short for District of Columbia) is not a state, but instead, a territory. It’s a “small” place in comparison to US cities like Philadelphia and New York City, but don’t let that fool you that there isn’t enough here to easily fill up your itinerary!

After our visit, we think three days is a perfect amount of time to get a feel for all the history here and take in some of the best things to do in Washington, DC. There are sightseeing tours, delicious restaurants, and lots of museums. Three days means you don’t need to rush and can add in some unique spots along with all the top sights you don’t want to miss.

We’ve assembled the best 3-day Washington, DC itinerary, so you can get right to exploring!

Don’t have time to read the full article? While visiting Washington, DC, we recommend joining a city sightseeing tour, going to one of the Smithsonian museums, exploring Georgetown, and enjoying a cocktail at one of the city’s historic bars. For a unique option, check out a ghost tour while you’re here!

Day 1

Go on a full-day city tour (morning and afternoon)

Bailey and Daniel Take a selfie with the Lincoln Memorial in Washington Dc
Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC
Bailey on a tour bus in Washington DC with the Capital Building in the background
The sightseeing tours are the best way to see a lot of DC in a day!

When we visit a new place, we always look for the best sightseeing tours. It’s a great way to get to know a new area, and that’s especially true for one with so much history.

We absolutely loved this guided sightseeing tour when we visited DC, and it covers a TON of the top attractions. You’ll see the White House, get walking tours of multiple memorials, and enjoy some downtime at Georgetown Waterfront Park. We also got to go on a Potomac River Cruise which helped round out the whole Washington, DC, experience. It was very hot and humid when we were there, so traveling on an air-conditioned bus was super convenient and comfortable as well.

Bailey walks along the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC
Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The memorials were all very beautiful and insightful, and this tour was one of the best history tours in Washington, DC we’ve been on. Seeing both the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was very moving. Since neither of us is from the United States, it was also really helpful to have a guide tell us the stories behind each place.

This tour lasts 6 hours and costs $89 USD, or if you want to travel in a glass-top bus, it’s an extra $10 USD. While the tour is offered year-round, the Potomac cruise only runs between April and mid-October, so keep that in mind if that’s a must for you. For one of the best ways to get acquainted with Washington, DC, you can reserve this sightseeing tour here.

We’re so glad we did the above sightseeing tour, but if you’d rather have a personal experience, you can book this private city tour instead. You’ll get to see all of the monuments, memorials, and political buildings as the other tour, but you’ll be in a luxury vehicle with just your party. A private tour also means you can tailor the itinerary to see the areas you’re most interested in. This private tour lasts 4 hours and costs $550 USD for a group up to 5, or $650 USD for a larger Mercedes Benz van that fits up to 14 people.

Enjoy a meal at the oldest restaurant in Washington, DC (night)

Daniel enjoys a drink at The Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington DC, USA
The old-fashioned was amazing!
Bailey sits down with her meal at The Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington DC
Yum!

After a full day of sightseeing, we recommend taking a break at the Old Ebbitt Grill. It’s a stunning building with excellent food located near the White House, and it happens to be Washington, DC’s oldest saloon!

Since it opened in 1856, the Old Ebbitt Grill has gone through different owners, welcomed famous politicians and celebrities, and even moved to different locations. It’s been in its current space since 1983 and is a historic landmark in the DC area. This place has an atmosphere of old-school American glamour, from the paintings and antique chandeliers to the wooden accents and lush seating, eating here is like stepping back in time. 

But it’s not just about the decor – the food here is incredible! If you like seafood, be sure to order the crab dip. It’s so good and we’d hate for you to miss out. For our main meals, we had salmon and trout, both of which were equally delicious, and for dessert, we shared the salted caramel bread pudding. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT skip the bread pudding. It was one of the best desserts we’ve ever had, and if you’ve read our other blogs, you know just how much we enjoy food.

Honestly, for the quality of the food, we thought the prices were very reasonable. You’re looking at around $25-$40 USD for entrées, which isn’t bad at all, especially for Washington, DC. 

Since the Old Ebbitt Grill is very popular, we strongly encourage you to book in advance especially since you only have a few days in DC. It’s open from 8 am until 2 am, and while this itinerary includes having dinner here, you can also come for breakfast, brunch, or to enjoy a late-night cocktail. We actually caught the sunset at the White House before heading here for dinner, so that’s another option.

Day 2

Go to a high tea at Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens (morning)

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens high tea
Photo credit: Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens
Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens High Tea 1
A perfect morning!

For an elegant experience in Washington, DC, we suggest going for high tea at Hillwood Estate, Museum, and Gardens. Their menu changes seasonally, but options include scones, chocolate tarts, and of course tea! I like to pretend I’m in a Victorian-era novel, sipping tea and eating finger sandwiches in a grand ballroom … it’s a fun experience and this is definitely the place to do it.

The earliest tea time is 11:30 am and you must book at least 72 hours in advance. You’ll also need a minimum of four people and it’s $40 USD each. If you don’t want to plan in advance, you can also visit the museum and gardens for $15 USD admission and then grab tea, sweet treats, or lunch from Merriweather Café. There are tables outside or take your food to go and check out some of the beautiful picnic spots!

Another place that offers a spectacular five-course high tea is the Mansion on O Street. This is only available for large groups of 10 or more, and like the Hillwood, you will need to make a reservation in advance. This one is more expensive at $90 USD per person, but it includes a 45-minute guided tour of the mansion which has themed rooms, secret doors, and fun passageways. This is a fancy experience, but we think it’d be a great way to celebrate a special occasion while you’re in the DC area.

Related Read: For another magical experience, we love taking a helicopter ride over New York City!

Visit one of the Smithsonian museums (midday)

Dinosaur at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC
Dinosaur at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
An elephant statue at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC
They are impressive!

The Smithsonian Institution is a huge complex of museums, galleries, and even a zoo! Most of them are in Washington, DC, but the others are in Virginia and New York City. It’s actually the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, which is a pretty impressive title!

While here, we recommend visiting at least one of the Smithsonian museums. Plus, since they are all free, visiting makes for great budget-friendly activities in Washington, DC! Since you only have three days, we’ll touch on a few of our favorites to help you decide which one you prefer.

Our personal favorite was the National Museum of Natural History. This is such a fun place to visit with so much to see from fossils to Egyptian mummies. It’s open from 10 am to 5:30 pm daily and there are a lot of rotating exhibits too. It’s free to visit, but they have added features like the butterfly pavilion, which costs $8 USD to enter, except on Tuesdays when it’s free entry. This is a great experience and we think it’d be perfect for families too.

Another option is the National Postal Museum, which is located next to a historic DC post office, so that’s a fitting arrangement. Exhibits here consist of the role of the US Postal Inspection Service, stamp collections, and a detailed explanation of how mail ends up from one point to another. It’s also free to enter and it’s great for history buffs.

Next, there’s the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) which has some incredible pieces that are really innovative. There are paintings, sculptures, and multimedia collaborations, and it’s got a good mix of traditional and contemporary artwork. The SAAM is open from 11:30 am to 7 pm, and the nearby Renwick Gallery is open from 10 am – 5:30 pm. The best part is that both are free to explore!

One of the most popular Smithsonian museums to visit is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. While it’s also free to visit, you have to reserve a pass on their website for timed entry. This is a beautiful museum that describes the history, culture, and freedom that African Americans have fought for over the years. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5:30 pm, and Monday from 12 pm to 5:30 pm. You can reserve passes up to 30 days in advance or same-day passes are posted online every morning at 8:15 am.

Wander the Wharf DC (afternoon)

Bailey poses for a photo at The Wharf DC in Washington DC
Isn’t it beautiful?
Bailey at The Wharf DC in Washington DC
Be sure to take a walk at the Wharf!

After a fun morning drinking tea and strolling through a museum, let’s take a break at the Wharf!

The Wharf is a mile-long (1.6 km) waterfront neighborhood with businesses, restaurants, bars, and beautiful views that make this the perfect place to go for a nice walk. We loved strolling along the water and trying some of the delicious food.

This is a popular spot with plenty of different events going on, so it’s a great place to end up if you want to meet new people or partake in a fun activity. There are festivals, live music, art shows, and much more. In winter, there’s an event called Rock the Rink where people can ice skate and enjoy broadcasts of the Washington Capitals (aka the Caps) hockey games. There’s music, prize giveaways, and discounted rink tickets if you wear Caps gear.

In the summer in Washington, DC, the Wharf hosts events like the Rock the Dock concert series where performers play on a floating stage! There are plenty of bands that play different styles of music, and the shows are free to attend! They also host Sunset Cinema, which is a free movie night every Thursday in the summer. Before the show, we suggest grabbing a drink and a snack from Cantina Bambina, which has an awesome summer happy hour.

Before you visit, be sure to check out events at the Wharf so you can see if anything piques your interest. The good news is that even if there aren’t any events happening, it’s still fun to walk around the Wharf. It’s a vibrant atmosphere and there are plenty of good places to grab a bite.

If you’re craving dinner, we enjoy ilili, which is a funky restaurant with Lebanese cuisine and a great vibe. They have delicious hummus and incredible lamb dishes too. Another solid choice is Del Mar. This restaurant specializes in Spanish seafood cuisine, and if you’re visiting in the summer, we suggest eating outside so you can enjoy the view. Del Mar is run by a Michelin-star chef, so dining here is sure to satisfy.

Related Read: Going on vacation doesn’t have to be expensive, even in the big cities. Read our guide on the best free things to do in New York City to find some budget-friendly options!

Go for cocktails (night)

Cocktails at Round Robin Bar in Washington Dc
Round Robin!
A cocktail at Round Robin in Washington DC
Ahh cocktails!

After a long day, we think you deserve a drink! And as luck would have it, Washington, DC, has plenty of excellent cocktail bars.

Our favorite cocktail bar is Round Robin which is located inside the Willard Washington Hotel. Their cocktails and service are both outstanding and the classy round bar in the middle is a unique touch. Their signature drink is the Mint Julep, and we highly approve! Round Robin opened in 1847, and there are plenty of historical touches like portraits of American icons covering the walls. It’s even been nicknamed the “Oval Office of Bars” since many political figures have been known to grab a drink here.

We mentioned dining at the Old Ebbitt Grill on Day 1, but they also have a fantastic bar. We love the atmosphere here, and they have some really good cocktails as well. If you like rum, try the Fog Cutter. Or, for a unique drink, we suggest the Spiced Apple Sangria – it’s really tasty and not something you can find everywhere.

For those looking for a classic tavern experience, head to Shelly’s Back Room to enjoy some whiskey and maybe even a cigar. This is more of a laid-back spot with a log cabin feel. They actually have a good air purification system, so you won’t suffer from cigar smoke if you want to make a stop here. There are also big leather couches and plenty of big-screen TVs showing whichever games are on.

Shelly’s Back Room is just a few blocks from the other bars we mentioned, so if you’re looking for a night out, you can have your own swanky DC pub crawl! They’re easily walkable and all stay open until at least midnight, so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy some cocktails before your last day in Washington, DC.

Day 3

Explore Georgetown (morning)

Georgetown Old Stone House in Washington DC
Georgetown Old Stone House
Daniel enjoys a slice of pizza on a food tour in Georgetown Washington DC
Yum!

For your final day in Washington, DC, we’re headed to the city’s oldest neighborhood, Georgetown.

This charming area is full of delicious restaurants, cute shops, and old architecture that’s great to add to any DC photo album. The great part is it’s a small neighborhood, so you can walk around easily.

To start your morning, we suggest heading over to Baked and Wired which is an adorable cafe that sells an assortment of baked goods and good coffee too. It’s a family-run business and they only prepare small batches, so it’s always fresh. We tried the muffins and they were out of this world! It’s located by the canal and is open from 8 am to 4 pm every day.

If you want something more savory, you can’t go wrong with 90 Second Pizza. They make their dough from scratch over 48 hours and then pop it in the oven for 90 seconds (thus the name!) for a fast food pizza that is pure perfection. Their Georgetown location is on Wisconsin Ave.

Alternatively, you can go across the street and get a classic lobster roll at Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls. They use lobster that is imported from Maine, and one roll will cost about $20 USD. Since they’re so close to each other, we won’t bat an eye if you decide to try both.

For a fancier sweet treat, pop over to Ladurée off of M Street for some macarons. They are beautiful and so yummy, and definitely worth the splurge.

Of course, one of the easiest ways to try a lot of food in a few hours is by going on a Georgetown food tour. This tour includes four different eateries and a guide that gives you the background of this historic neighborhood. It’s a 2-for-1 history and food tour, so it’s great when you’re short on time. This small group tour costs $129 USD, with a 2-person minimum, and is available Thursday through Sunday. Tour times are at 11:30 am and 1 pm, so you might need to fiddle with this itinerary a bit to make it work.

Bailey looks at the canals in Georgetown Washington DC
The history of Georgetown is so interesting!

Some other fun places to visit are Georgetown Park and the Washington Harbour for some shopping and people-watching. During the winter, Washington Harbour has a huge ice rink that is super fun. It costs about $11 USD for 1.5 hours of skate time, and we hear it’s even more magical at night.

Another way to learn more about Georgetown is by taking this historic walking tour. Your guide will point out houses that belonged to former politicians and presidents, and important landmarks like the Old Stone House and Martin’s Tavern. We think this tour is a fantastic introduction to Georgetown, and helped us fall in love with this neighborhood. It costs $65 USD and lasts about 2 hours so it’s great for this 3-day itinerary.

Eat your way through Union Market (afternoon)

Union Market in Washington DC
Union Market in Washington, DC
Bailey eats a doughnut at Union Market in Washington DC
Yum!

After making your way through Georgetown, we’re headed to Union Market. We always look for food markets when traveling, and have eaten at some pretty epic ones like the Chelsea Market in NYC, so we were stoked to sample the cuisine here.

It’s part of the Union Market District which is home to quirky shops and bookstores, and there are lots of murals and other street art so it’s a fun place to explore. The Union Market itself is a foodie paradise with a variety of international options like poke bowls, lobster tacos, pastries, and more. We recommend pacing yourself because if you’re like us, you’re going to want to sample a lot.

Another part of the Union Market District is La Cosecha. It’s next to Union Market and caters to Latin American culture and cuisine. The restaurants here offer dishes from South America like Venezuelan corn fritters, Peruvian sandwiches, and Salvadoran pupusas. There are also chocolates and coffee available as well. La Cosecha also offers art exhibits, cultural shows, and lectures to help create a platform for Latin American artists.

Union Market and La Cosecha are both open daily from 8 am to 9 pm, except Sundays when they close at 8 pm. The restaurants at each location have different hours, so you can check the website to view them. As long as you feel full, you know you’ve spent your time well!

Related Read: If you make it to Pennsylvania, be sure to go on a food tour of Philly. It’s an awesome way to try a variety of cuisines in a short time!

Walking Tour of the Ghosts of Washington, DC (night)

The US Capitol Building at night on a ghost tour
The US Capitol Building at night on a ghost tour

For a fun nighttime activity, we loved going on this ghost tour!

After joining a few night tours in Philadelphia, we’ve discovered how prevalent these tours are specifically in traditionally historical cities, and now we’re always on the hunt for them! They are usually an inexpensive and fun way to learn about the dark side of history.

This DC ghost tour starts at 9 pm and lasts about 1.5 hours. You’ll meet your guide at the Supreme Court Building and begin making your way to the US Capitol. While we highly encourage you to take a tour of the US Capitol during the day, this fun tour will teach more about what’s not in the history books. From bloodstains to feline spirits, the US Capitol is more than meets the eye.

You’ll also head to the Library of Congress and the Folger Shakespeare Library for more haunted tales – and not the ones on the shelves! We will say that this is a pretty tame ghost tour, so it’s safe for all ages. But if you’re looking for a spookier, R-rated option, you can always take a drive to Philadelphia for a Dark Philly Adult Night Tour.

If you’re looking forward to learning about some spooky spirits, you can book tickets to this Washington, DC ghost tour right here.

Vue Rooftop for views of the city (dinner)

Vue Rooftop Washington DC
Photo credit: Vue Rooftop
Dinner at Vue Rooftop in Washington DC
Photo credit: Vue Rooftop

After three memorable days exploring Washington, DC, we think you should celebrate the finale with dinner and a view at Vue Rooftop.

It’s on top of the Hotel Washington and offers unbeatable sights of the DC skyline. You’ll see the Washington Monument and the White House and can toast your travels with a fun cocktail like The West Wing Express.

For dinner, we recommend any of the burgers, but the real appeal to this place is the ambiance and the view. On Fridays and Saturdays, they have a DJ playing hits from 9 pm until closing. It’s a cool spot and we think it’s a great place to reflect on your visit and enjoy one last drink in DC.

Vue Rooftop is open Monday to Wednesday from 5 pm to 12 am, and Thursday to Sunday from around 11:30 am to 12 am, with later hours on Friday and Saturday. It’s a bit on the pricier side with cocktails averaging $25 USD, but it’s a fun experience, especially for your last night in town.

Where to Stay in Washington, DC

the pool at Pendry hotel in Washington DC
The pool at the Pendry is so nice! Photo Credit: Pendry Washington DC

Now that you have lots of ideas on how to spend your time in Washington, DC, you’ll need a place to stay! This city has loads of options. To help you narrow it down, we’ve highlighted our top choices. We’ve included everything from budget hostels to luxurious hotels, so you’re bound to find something you like!

Pendry Washington DC – $$$

For the ultimate luxury and convenience, opt for the Pendry Washington DC. This 5-star hotel has free bikes, an outdoor pool, a hot tub, a fitness center, a rooftop bar, and a large terrace overlooking the wharf. Plus, it’s just a 5-minute walk to the docking port if you choose to do a river cruise (you might even see your boat from your window!). The rooms are spacious, modern, and super comfortable.

There’s a wide range of room options, ranging from $260 USD to over $1,000 USD, depending on what you choose. However, you’ll find the best deals when you book your stay in advance.

Hotel Madera – $$

Hotel Madera is a great mid-range accommodation in the heart of DC. You can have a taste of American comfort food and cocktails at their on-site restaurant – or grab a complimentary glass of wine at the bar. It’s located close to many bars and restaurants and is just a 5-minute walk to Dupont Circle. Rooms are quite large and well-equipped, and some come with balconies to view the city.

Prices start at $170 USD which is a great value for what you get! Snag this deal by booking online here.

Duo Nomad – $

Duo Nomad is our top choice for budget accommodations in DC. It’s a clean place with complimentary breakfast, a garden, a terrace, and a shared lounge to meet other travelers or relax after a day of sightseeing. It’s located just off Capital Hill and a 10-minute drive to the wharf.

Prices run from $39 USD to $59 USD for a bed in a shared dorm. However, if you’re two people traveling, get a 2-bed shared dorm, and voila – it’s your own private accommodation! If you’re on a budget, reserve a bed at Duo Nomad on Booking.com or through Hostelworld.com.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie in front of the White House in Washington DC
Thanks for reading!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this 3-day itinerary for Washington, DC, and that it’s given you some ideas for your own visit. This is a really cool city and it’s filled with memorials, museums, and plenty of food! It’s also easy to get around which we really appreciated.

If you’ve found this article helpful, we hope you’ll check out some of our other posts. We’ve been across the USA, Canada, and all over the world! We’ve linked a few popular articles that you might like below:

How to Spend THREE DAYS in Philadelphia: 3-Day Itinerary

7 BEST Central Park Tours + 7 Things to Know BEFORE Booking!

5 BEST Observation Decks in NYC (+Our Personal Favorite!)