Have you ever wanted to plan a weekend in Washington DC but didn’t know where to start? Since it is the capital of the United States of America, it has tons of things to do and see. But that also means it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming trying to decide what to do with 3 days in DC. If that’s how you’ve been feeling, worry no more!
We’ve got you covered when it comes to planning the best weekend in Washington DC. Because we’ve been able to visit DC a few times, we know what’s worth a stop, and what isn’t. But honestly, almost everything you can see and do in Washington DC is worth it. From gorgeous monuments and memorials, super cool museums, and gorgeous gardens, there are so many amazing DC sites.
Your weekend in Washington DC planning doesn’t have to be stressful. We’ve included tips for getting to DC, getting around DC, our favorite restaurants, and the best hotels. Along with all of that information we’ve also included a Washington DC weekend trip itinerary that hits all the major stops and sites. You can absolutely see most, if not all, of the top sites in the city in just 3 days in DC.
Getting To Washington DC
Because Washington DC is the capital of the United States of America, it’s incredibly easy to get to. There are an endless amount of options for traveling to the city. The most common is of course flying. The airport closest to DC is Washington Dulles International Airport. All major airlines fly into the airport pretty frequently.
If you live closer, you can choose to come in via Amtrak or the Metro. Amtrak is probably best if you’re traveling from outside of Maryland or Virginia. If you are coming to DC from Maryland or Virginia though, we suggest the Metro.
It’s a super quick and cheap way to get into the city. You’ll find several different stations scattered throughout both states that take you directly into Washington DC. You can also take a greyhound bus into the city. The options truly are endless for getting to Washington DC.
Getting Around During Your Washington DC Weekend Getaway
There are a few ways that you can safely get around DC. If you’re up for it, Washington DC is a fairly walkable city, and a lot of the most famous sites are pretty close together. You can also take the Metro around the city, which is similar to the subway system in places like Philadelphia and New York City.
If you don’t want to walk or take the Metro, you can also get tickets for a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour. They have stops all across the city and while you’re on the bus you’ll get shown the area by a trained tour guide. Because it’s a major city, DC also has plenty of rideshare programs and you never have to wait long for a ride. There are tons of different options to suit every need when it comes to getting around DC.
Book your Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour Here: Getyourguide.com
The Ultimate 3 Day Weekend In Washington DC Itinerary
Day 1: Intro to Washington DC
Welcome to the capital city of the USA! For your first day, you’ll spend some time walking around, stop in a museum or two, and end the day with dinner and a stroll through Georgetown.
Stop 1: National Mall And The Monuments
Start your first day in Washington DC with the National Mall. Depending on where you are staying, the National Mall is usually only a short walk away. The main Metro Station also is conveniently located near the National Mall. So it’s a great starting spot, especially on your first day. Give yourself plenty of time to walk the length of the National Mall. The best time to go is early in the morning or later in the day, as that is when it is least crowded.
You’ll find the most iconic monuments and memorials are located throughout the stretch of parks, paths, and basins. While you’re there, you’ll be able to see the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Jefferson Memorial, among others. For this itinerary, we suggest starting at the Lincoln Memorial and then walking along the side where you’ll find the Tidal Basin. As you walk along the pathway, feel free to stop and admire any of the monuments and memorials along the way to your next stop on your 3 days in Washington DC itinerary.
Book your tour of the National Mall and Monuments at Night Here: Getyourguide.com
Stop 2: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
If you’re walking along the pathway that passes the Tidal Basin, then you’ll quickly come to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. If you want to stop and tour the museum, you’ll need to plan ahead slightly. It’s a very popular museum, so they typically require that you reserve a free timed ticket for entry. Tickets can be reserved several months in advance.
Inside the museum, you’ll be given a small card that contains personal information and details of a real Holocaust victim. The museum is set up like a timeline. So you’ll experience the start of the Holocaust up until its end. As you walk through there are several poignant exhibits the highlight the true atrocities that took place in many European countries.
At the end of the tour, you’ll have the opportunity to find out if the person on the card you have been carrying was able to survive the Holocaust. Sadly, many of the victims did not. It’s an incredible museum that serves as an important reminder and memorial to the millions of victims of the Holocaust.
Stop 3: Smithsonian Castle
Your next stop on the first day of your three days in Washington DC is the Smithsonian Castle. The Castle is actually named the Smithsonian Institution Building. It’s where most of the offices for the various workers of the Smithsonian Museums are located. The building resembles a Gothic or Victorian Castle and has become a popular stopping place for visitors. You can go inside the building and there is even a small museum dedicated to its history. The Castle also serves as the visitor’s center for the Smithsonian Museums’ collective.
Behind the Castle, there is a fairly new garden. The large garden actually has three separate garden areas within it. Each has a different style and different foliage. Connecting them is a charming brick pathway. There are benches where you can rest and enjoy the view, or you can walk around. Admission for both the Castle and its gorgeous gardens is completely free. You can visit any time the building is open and you don’t need tickets in advance.
Stop 4: The United States Botanical Gardens
Just a short walk from the Smithsonian Castle is the United States Botanical Gardens. The United States Botanical Gardens was founded in 1820 by Congress. That makes it the longest continually operating botanical garden in the United States. It was originally the dream of George Washington to create a national garden in the heart of the capital city. Now that dream has been realized and it’s one of the best things to see in DC.
Like many things in Washington, admission to the gardens is completely free. The Bartholdi Park is open daily from dawn until dusk. There are other gardens as well, and they are typically open from 7:30 am to 5 pm. The conservatory building has its own set of hours, so make sure to check them before visiting. Throughout the gardens, there are places where you can sit and rest. It’s a beautiful place and you’ll often find people sketching the scenery or just relaxing.
Stop 5: Capitol Hill
There are just a few more stops for your first day in DC. After exploring the United States Botanical Gardens, Capitol Hill is just a short five-minute walk away. Capitol Hill is at the easternmost point of the long stretch of the National Mall. It is both where the House of Representatives does business and one of the oldest neighborhoods in DC. You have a few options at this stop on the Washington DC itinerary.
You can check out the many government buildings and wander around the vicinity of the governmental Capitol Hill. There are quite a few beautiful and iconic buildings to check out. If you have time, and you aren’t too tired, you can also explore the neighborhood of Capitol Hill. There you’ll find the Eastern Market, old row homes and manors, historic churches, and the Congressional Cemetery. It’s a beautiful and incredibly historic part of Washington DC that is full of some great sites.
Book your Capitol Hill Iconic Architecture Tour here: Getyourguide.com
Stop 6: The White House
You can’t take a weekend in Washington DC trip and not at least see The White House. The distance from Capitol Hill to The White House is about five minutes by car. Since you’ll probably be tired from being on your feet all day, this is an excellent time to try a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour. Both Capitol Hill and The White House are popular stops, so you won’t have to wait long for a bus. While you take the short ride over, you’ll have a tour guide telling you more about the various other sites along the route.
Hop off the bus at the stop for The White House. You’ll only be able to see The White House from behind the wrought iron fence that circles the property. The view is across The White House Lawn to the very front of the building itself. If you want to tour The White House, you’ll need to get in touch with your Congressman a few months in advance. Through them, you’ll request a tour, and their office will help you set it up. You absolutely can not buy tickets or tour The White House any other way.
Stop 7: Eat Dinner And Stroll The Streets Of Georgetown
The White House is just a short drive from the Georgetown neighborhood. Georgetown is one of the most popular neighborhoods in Washington. There are tons of things to do and see in Georgetown all throughout the day. It’s also a great place to enjoy dinner. Georgetown is known for having some of the best restaurants in Washington DC. So we suggest having dinner your first night at one of them. Or you can try one of the walking food tours of Georgetown!
Depending on how much time you have, either before or after dinner, we also suggest you explore Georgetown. You’ll find some incredibly charming homes. They even offer architectural tours of the neighborhood if you’re interested in learning more about the buildings. Georgetown is also the home of Georgetown University, which is why it is such a thriving and lively neighborhood. A walk around Georgetown, or even a ghost tour, is a great way to end the first day of your 3 days in DC trip.
Day 2: The Best Museums In Washington DC
On the second day of your Washington DC weekend trip, you’ll stop at all of the best museums in the city. Most of them are Smithsonian Museums, so they’re free to enter! You may need to reserve a timed ticket in advance though, so keep that in mind.
Stop 1: National Museum Of The American Indian
Start day two of your 3 days in DC near Capitol Hill. The first two museums you’ll visit today you’ll have passed as you walked along the National Mall. The rest are on the other side of the National Mall, so you’ll get to see and do things on both sides. The first museum is the National Museum of the American Indian. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 am to 5 pm. So if you’re aren’t able to visit DC on one of those days, you can skip this stop and head to the next one.
If you will be in DC on one of those days, we absolutely suggest spending some time in the National Museum of the American Indian. Inside there are four floors of exhibits dedicated to the history of the Native American Nations. You’ll find both permanent and revolving exhibits to explore. The museum aims to teach visitors about the different cultures, traditions, languages, and lives of the people in the different Nations. It’s a really unique museum, especially architecturally, and it’s worth a stop on your Washington DC itinerary.
Stop 2: National Air And Space Museum
Staying on the same side of the National Mall, your next stop is the National Air and Space Museum. The National Air and Space Museum is another Smithsonian Museum. It is open Thursday through Monday, from 10 am to 5:30 pm. It is one of the smaller Smithsonian Museums, but it’s also one of the most popular. So you may want to be prepared for some crowds.
Inside the museum, there are exhibits dedicated to the US Space Program. There are full-scale planes hanging from the ceiling, including an original Wright Brother’s plane. You can also see the Hubble Telescope, parts of the Lunar Module that landed on the moon, and other cool artifacts from America’s space exploration history. The museum also has a flight simulator and throughout the day there are physics experiments performed.
Book your Guided Tour of the National Air and Space Museum Here: Getyourguide.com
Stop 3: National Gallery Of Art
For the rest of the day, you’ll be crossing the National Mall and walking on the side that is opposite what you walked on the first day. Your first stop on the opposite side is the National Gallery of Art. The National Gallery of Art consists of two buildings and a sculpture garden. It is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm and is always free to enter. They also do not currently require that you pre-reserve timed entry tickets.
The museum has over 3,000 works on display. So you can easily spend a large chunk of time just walking through the different permanent and temporary galleries. They also have a mobile app that you can download. It gives you highlights of each gallery. So if you only have a short amount of time, but want to see something, in particular, we suggest using the app. The National Gallery of Art features works by some of the most famous artists around the world, and from every time period.
Book your Guided Tour of the National Gallery of Art Here: Getyourguide.com
Stop 4: National Museum Of Natural History
After exploring the National Gallery of Art, your next stop is the National Museum of Natural History. The National Museum of Natural History is a Smithsonian Museum. It’s free to enter, and it’s open Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 am to 5:30 pm. There are three floors of both permanent and temporary exhibits to explore.
The museum centers on natural history throughout the whole world. So there are exhibits dedicated to animals, fossils, cultural practices, and more from different parts of the world. Some of the most popular exhibits are the Bone Hall, where you’ll find different animal skeletons, and the exhibit dedicated to Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt.
The temporary exhibits in the museum are often related to more modern pieces of natural history. They have included exhibits on the human genome, virus research, and more. The National Museum of Natural History is one of the bigger Smithsonian Museums and is incredibly popular. It’s a really fun place to explore during your weekend in DC.
Book your guided tour of the National Museum of Natural History Here: Getyourguide.com
Stop 5: National Museum Of American History
From the National Museum of Natural History, you’ll head to another incredibly popular Smithsonian Museum. The National Museum of American History is dedicated to all things America! One of the reasons this museum is so popular is the different exhibits that you can find inside. It’s not just all historical exhibits about the more serious aspects of American history. There are plenty of those too, which are very informative.
But what people seem to like the most about the exhibits in the National Museum of American History are the cultural exhibits. You can see exhibits on American art, advertising, clothing, food, music, sports, and even popular entertainment throughout the years. Some of the most popular items in the museum’s collection are the Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz, the original Kermit the Frog Muppet puppet, and props from popular shows like M*A*S*H.
Book your guided tour of the National Museum of American History here: Getyourguide.com
Stop 6: National Museum Of African American History And Culture
The last museum stop on day two of your 3 days in Washington DC is the newest of the Smithsonian Museums in Washington DC. The National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016 and has been a popular destination ever since. It is open daily from 10 am to 5:30 pm. Admission is free, but because it is so popular you need to reserve your timed entry tickets well in advance.
You’ll start your tour of the museum on the first floor. As you go up the different floors you’ll follow the timeline of Black Americans. It starts with the horrific events of the slave trade, then follows the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, and then modern black history.
On the top floors of the museum are the exhibits dedicated exclusively to Black culture in America. There are artifacts from famous Black artists, musicians, and actors as well as other unique collection items. If you’re spending a weekend in Washington DC, you must take the time to explore the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Book your guided tour to the National Museum of African American History and Culture here: Getyourguide.com
Day 3: Step Outside Of The District
For the last day of your itinerary for Washington DC, you’ll step just outside the main streets of Washington DC. You’ll need to utilize the Metro, a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus, or a rental car or rideshare app to get to most of these destinations. But they are worth it!
Stop 1: Arlington National Cemetery
Begin the last day of your 3 days in Washington DC with a tour of Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington National Cemetery is actually just across the Potomac River in Virginia. The cemetery sits on a hill that looks over the river and into Washington DC. Since the Civil War, Arlington has been where servicemen and women who served in conflicts are buried. Once the cemetery was established, many Revolutionary soldiers were reburied in Arlington. It is considered one of the highest national honors to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
There are over 630 acres of neatly rowed, simple white marble headstones in the cemetery. On any given weekday, the cemetery hosts over 25 funeral services. The cemetery is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb is actually a crypt that holds the remains of several unidentified servicemembers from WWI, WWII, the Korean War. The crypts are guarded by a solemn sentry. Every year on Veteran’s Day the President resides over a memorial service at the Tomb.
Book your Arlington Cemetery Tour here: Getyourguide.com
Stop 2: Theodore Roosevelt Island
From Arlington National Cemetery, cross back into Washington DC and head to Theodore Roosevelt Island. Theodore Roosevelt Island is a National Park and island that is connected to DC via a bridge. You can drive to the island yourself or take the Metro. If you really want to, you can even get to the island by walking along the Mount Vernon Trail which connects to a footbridge in Virginia.
Once you’re on the island you’ll find a peaceful natural area. It feels like it’s far away from all the hustle and bustle of Washington DC. There are several easy trails you can explore on the island. They are wooded and especially beautiful in the fall or spring. It’s also a great spot for bird watching and you’ll find tons of wildlife on the island as well. It’s something a little different, but definitely worth a spot on your weekend itinerary for Washington DC.
Stop 3: Dumbarton Oaks Museum
After exploring the peaceful Theodore Roosevelt Island, you’ll head back towards the city limits of DC. Your next stop on your Washington DC weekend trip is the Dumbarton Oaks Museum. The Dumbarton Oaks Museum is located in Georgetown, so it’s a little far from central DC. You can walk from Theodore Roosevelt Island, but it is about a 40-minute walk. So we suggest using either the Metro or a rental car or rideshare app.
The Dumbarton Oaks Museum is actually a historic estate. It was the private home of Robert and Mildred Bliss, a wealthy couple in the early 20th century. However, it was given to Harvard University when the couple passed away. The estate is absolutely beautiful, and even though it’s not super close to some of the more popular DC attractions, it’s a really cool stop. Admission to see the museum is free, but it’s only open from 2 pm to 5 pm Tuesday through Sunday. The gardens are free to tour as well, and are open from 3 pm to 6 pm, seasonally, from Tuesday through Sunday.
Stop 4: Ford’s Theater
You’ll be heading back into the main part of Washington DC for this next stop. Ford’s Theater is a historic theater near the Federal Triangle and Chinatown neighborhoods. Most people know of Ford’s Theater because it is the site of President Lincoln’s assassination. You can take a tour of the theater and learn more about the night President Lincoln was assassinated.
The theater has a museum exhibit that details its history inside as well. It’s also still used as a theater for live performances. So throughout the year, you can purchase tickets to see various stage performances. The booth where President Lincoln was assassinated is always closed and you can’t purchase tickets to sit there. Ford’s Theater is one of the more unique DC attractions on this itinerary for Washington DC.
Book your Lincoln’s Assassination Walking Tour here: Getyourguide.com
Stop 5: National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is the last Smithsonian Museum on your Washington DC itinerary. It’s an absolute must-stop during your 3 days in DC. The gallery is just a little bit farther than most of the other Smithsonian Museums. That means that when you’re planning to see everything in Washington DC in 3 days, it’s a museum that often gets overlooked. That is a big mistake, because the museum is awesome, and one of our personal favorites.
One of the things about the National Portrait Gallery that we love is the Kogod Courtyard. The courtyard is all indoor and features large trees, plants, and shrubs all along the perimeter. It also has a curved ceiling made of nothing but skylights, which is absolutely gorgeous. In the courtyard, they also have a coffee shop, bistro tables for you to sit at, and a museum shop.
The museum is also home to the Presidential portraits. Alongside the portraits of former Presidents, you’ll find historic examples of portraiture. There is everything from early photographs, paintings, and more modern examples of portraiture. The specific focus of the museum’s subject matter makes it incredibly unique and super interesting. Make sure you visit during your Washington DC weekend trip.
Book your Private Tour of the National Portrait Gallery here: Getyourguide.com
Stop 6: United States National Arboretum
The last stop on the third day of this itinerary for Washington DC takes you further out again. We highly suggest making a stop at the United States National Arboretum while you’re visiting DC. The arboretum is open daily, from 8 am to 5 pm and is free for all to enjoy. It was originally established in 1927 and has become one of the more popular attractions if you’re touring Washington DC in 3 days.
There are over 400 acres of forest, gardens, and parks in the United States National Arboretum. In addition to the many green spaces, there are also over 9 miles of roads and paths to explore. You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to explore as much as possible. Scattered throughout the property you’ll also find sculptures and unique architectural pieces. Even though it’s a bit out of the way, we definitely suggest visiting the US National Arboretum during your Washington DC weekend trip.
Where To Stay For A Weekend In Washington DC
St. Regis Washington DC
One of the best hotels in Washington DC is the St. Regis Washington DC. It is a gorgeous hotel, and our favorite hotel to stay at when we visit DC. It is fairly pricey, but it’s worth every penny. The hotel has been open since 1926 and has hosted former Presidents, Hollywood starlets, and foreign diplomats in its almost 100-year history.
Although it is pricey, you get perks like a 24 hour Butler Service, Pratesi linens on the bed, and it’s just two blocks from The White House. There are several different room levels, but even the lowest levels are gorgeous and comfortable. A stay at the St. Regis is guaranteed to be a relaxing and memorable way to spend your nights exploring Washington DC in 3 days.
Click here to check rates: Booking.com
Historic Capitol Hill Brownstone Apartment
The Historic Capitol Hill Brownstone Apartment VRBO is a perfect place to stay for solo travelers or couples. It is a small apartment with one bedroom, a bathroom, a small living area, and a small kitchenette. What it lacks in space, it makes up for in charm. Many of the walls are the original brick walls and the apartment has tons of charming features like a large curved window that looks out onto the streets of the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
What really makes the Historic Capitol Hill Brownstone is its location. You’ll be incredibly close to the government buildings in Capitol Hill, the National Mall, Smithsonian Museums, and amazing restaurants. The charming apartment is also very budget-friendly, making it a great place to stay during your weekend in Washington DC.
Click here to check rates: VRBO.com
Riggs Washington DC
For a luxury experience at a low-end luxury price, you can’t go wrong with a stay at Riggs Washington DC. The hotel is located in the Historic Riggs National Bank. It is full of charming Art Deco design features which give it a subtle feel of opulence. It’s almost like staying in a hotel straight out of The Great Gatsby.
The rooms are equally elegant and opulent. You’ll have views of Penn Quarter and other fantastic parts of the city. The sheets on the king-sized beds are 300 count cotton and the ensuite bathrooms are decorated with marble and chrome accents. The Riggs is also conveniently located near the Chinatown Metro station and just a mile away from the National Portrait Gallery.
Click here to check rates: Booking.com
Victorian Georgetown Rowhome
If you want to feel like a local during your Washington DC weekend trip, then you may like the Victorian Georgetown Rowhome. It is located right in the heart of East Village, a district within the Georgetown neighborhood. The VRBO is perfect for a larger group or family coming to explore Washington DC in 3 days.
There are three floors in the home. Inside there are four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and one half bathroom, and a private backyard. The home also has a large living room, a fully equipped kitchen, a dining room, and a gas-burning fireplace. Outside in the small private yard, there is a patio with seating, a gas grill, and a small garden. The Victorian Georgetown Rowhome is a great VRBO in Washington DC.
Click here to check rates: VRBO.com
Where To Eat During Your 3 Days In Washington DC
Maydan is a unique restaurant in Washington DC that highlights the vast array of cultures that have found a home in DC. You’ll enjoy a collection of North African, Middle Eastern, and Caucasian cuisine at Maydan. Reservations aren’t required but are highly suggested. Instead of choosing from a variety of menu items, Maydan also offers you a unique cultural dining experience.
They have what they call a Tawle Menu. Their Tawle menu is a set menu that features a meal that has been specially curated to feel like sitting down to a traditional family meal. It is served family-style, on the outdoor patio, and includes items like Grilled Butterflied Bronzini, Honey Soaked Dates, and Halloumi. It’s a wonderful restaurant experience that is also uniquely Washington DC.
CAVA is a popular chain restaurant in the DMV area that is now expanding across the US. But the first CAVA restaurant was actually opened in Washington DC! CAVA was started by a group of friends in DC and features a Mediterranean-themed menu. It’s the perfect place to go during your 3 days in Washington DC if you just need a quick bite to eat.
Even though it is a quick option, it’s also made fresh and you can build your own entrees, similar to restaurants like Chipotle or Mod Pizza. The most popular menu item is the ‘Build It’ Bowl. You choose a base, like salad or rice, add proteins, like beans or meat, and then a variety of other toppings. The Mediterranean flavors are absolutely delicious and it’s a great quick option that isn’t fast food!
Old Ebbitt Grill
Old Ebbitt Grill is a more moderately priced option for dining in DC. The restaurant serves American fare and is located in a cool old Victorian-era bar. Like most DC restaurants, your best bet is to get reservations, however, they are not required. They have a pretty extensive menu and even host a weekend brunch that offers seasonal dishes.
Their dinner menu includes items like Oysters Rockefeller, Butternut Squash Campanelle, and Crispy Roasted Half Chicken. If you’re looking for something a little bit lighter, don’t worry, they have that too. In addition to their signature entrees, Old Ebbitt Grill also has burgers and sandwiches on the menu. You can enjoy options like the Bacon Pimento Cheeseburger, Lentil & Quinoa Burger, and a classic Rueben. The mixture of casual and upscale menu items makes Old Ebbit Grill a great dining option in DC.
We hope you found all of this information helpful for planning your weekend in Washington DC! With so many things to do, you could easily spend a week taking your time and exploring the city. But if you’ve only got time to see Washington DC in 3 days, you can absolutely do it and still see tons of iconic DC museums and historic sites. We’d love to hear from you in the comments if you’re planning a weekend in DC or have already gone!