The White House, Washington, D.C. from LaFayette Park

The Perfect 3-Day Weekend: Washington, D.C.

It was once a swampy piece of land along the Potomac selected by President George Washington as the future site of the United States capital.

It is now the pulse of a nation, beating non-stop with political, historical, and cultural activity.

It is Washington, D.C., my favorite city in the United States, and I’d like to invite you to drop by. 

I would love to be able to spend a week or two seeing everything there is in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, I’m usually way too busy for that, and my trips to DC are quick weekend getaways or business trips that give me flexible evening opportunities. So, I end up just being able to see and do a few things each time I visit. But since this place is absolutely incredible, I’ll be content with even the briefest visit whenever I can get it.

This is the first article in a recurring series we’ll call: “The Perfect 3-day Weekend …” These articles will focus on how to make the most of a visit to a particular location over a long weekend. It’s geared toward time-crunched travelers like us, who count down the days until the next three day weekend. We hope you’ll find this feature useful in planning your own adventures.

Here’s how you can make the most of your three-day weekend in America’s capital, Washington, D.C.

[Day One]

10:00 – 12:00 Start with the Newseum, located on Pennsylvania Avenue.
This seven-level museum offers you a history lesson as seen through the eyes of the media.
For more information, see our brief guide to the Newseum.

12:00 – 1:00 Grab a quick lunch at nearby Union Station.
Head to the lower level. Many quick options, some even moderately healthy.

1:00 – 2:30 Supreme Court and Library of Congress.
They are conveniently located right next to each other.
Allow about an hour for the Supreme Court. You can tour the small exhibit downstairs, even check out a video on the history of the Court. But first, head upstairs to reserve your spot for a lecture inside the courtroom. Lecture lasts approximately half an hour. Then head next door to the national library of the United States, the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. See a Gutenburg Bible, as well as the Main Reading Room (jaw-dropping) and the Great Hall. If you have extra time, check out some of the exhibits, as well as the Thomas Jefferson book collection (yes, they’re his original books from his home library!). There is no cost to visit either of these buildings.

3:00 – 4:15 The White House, White House Museum, & LaFayette Park
From your walk down the National Mall, take a right on 15th St., and head into the Ellipse (grassy park area) once you reach Constitution Avenue. Cross the park and head toward the South Lawn of the White House. This is the most famous and impressive view of the White House. Then, head around to the North Lawn and a much closer view by way of 15th St., taking a left at Pennsylvania Avenue. Head across the street from the White House for a stroll in LaFayette Park. then, head east to the corner of 15th and Pennsylvania for a quick forty-minute visit to the White House Museum, which offers an insightful and concise history of the building.
There is no cost to enter museum.

4:30 – 6:00 National Museum of Crime and Punishment
From the White House, continue heading east until you reach 7th St. NW for a visit to the National Museum of Crime and Punishment. This is one of my favorite museums in DC, but there is an entry fee of $19.95 for adults. Learn the history of the struggle between law enforcement and criminals in the United States. Very interactive and informative. The museum is open until 7:00pm.

6:00 – 6:30 Take a stroll around nearby Chinatown before breaking for dinner

6:30 – 8:30 Enjoy a leisurely dinner at the District Chophouse Brewery
Located next door to the Museum of Crime and Punishment.This is one of the best meals we have ever had.

Take a tour of the United States Supreme Court

Take a tour of the United States Supreme Court

[Day Two]

10:00 – 12:00  Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian)

This interactive museum is great for kids looking to learn more about plant and animal life, in an historical context, of course. Exhibitions rotate, but include interesting subjects ranging from dinosaurs to outer-space. Enjoyable for parents, too. Admission is free. Museum is located at 1000 Constitution Ave. NW on the National Mall.

1:00 – 2:00 Tour of the U.S. Capitol Building
This beautiful building is a symbol of America, and a stop you won’t want to miss on your tour. You’ll want to reserve your tickets to visit the Capitol well in advance of your trip. Tours are free, but they do require screening. See the beautiful Capitol Rotunda and take a peek at the U.S. Congress in action from the balcony above.

2:30 – 4:30 National Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian)
This fascinating museum provides a comprehensive, hands-on, larger-than-life lesson on the history of flight. Learn about everything from airplanes to spaceships. Perhaps the most popular exhibit is “Milestones of Flight,” featuring the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Flyer (the real thing!), the world’s first successful airplane, as well as reproductions of some of their earlier glider planes. It is located on the National Mall and admission is free.

4:30 – 5:00 Walk through the Solar System along the National Mall
After your visit to the Air & Space Museum, step outside to start your walk through the solar system beginning with the Sun. Visitors can walk this to-scale model of the solar system, following it all the way down Jefferson Drive before reaching Pluto in front of the Smithsonian Castle. Descriptions of the planets are available at each model. This is just something to make your walk a little more entertaining and educational.

5:00 – 7:00 Visit the Monuments by night
I highly recommend visiting the monuments by night for three reasons: 1.) They are less crowded at night, 2.) The monuments stay open late, even all night; the museums and other attractions do not, and 3.) They are gorgeous at night. There are 155 total monuments in Washington, D.C., so you won’t be able to cover them all. You can find our suggestions for 10 of the most important memorials you will want to see here and here

[Day Three]

10:00 – 11:00 National Geographic Museum
This is one of my favorite places to visit in DC, and I make sure to drop by each time I am in town. The exhibits rotate, but they are always very educational and interactive. There is also always a photo exhibit on display in the office building behind the museum. In the evenings, the museum hosts guest lecturers. Reservations are usually needed in advance for such events.

11:30 – 12:30 Ford’s Theater
Visit the famous theater where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. This museum tells the story of his presidency and legacy, not just his assassination. The Box Office opens at 8:30 am and closes at 5:30 pm. You’ll want to reserve tickets in advance if possible, and the cost is $2.50. Ford’s Theater is located at 511 Tenth St., across the street from the Hard Rock Cafe. You’ll want to visit the gift shop following your visit!

2:00 – 4:00 Arlington National Cemetery & Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Arlington Cemetery serves as burial ground for Americans who have served or given their lives in armed conflict. While here, you’ll want to visit the graves of Robert Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy, whose eternal flame burns continuously. Also visit the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, honoring those who have died in combat, but whose remains have been unidentified. The cemetery is located across the Memorial Bridge on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. You can get there by taking the Metro along the Blue Line.

4:30 – 6:30 Monuments by night
You probably will not be able to cover all the monuments we recommend in one evening. Allow yourself some time to go back.

I could get stuck in the photo exhibits at the National Geographic Museum for hours.

I could get stuck in the photo exhibits at the National Geographic Museum for hours.

Where to stay

Hotel rooms in Washington, DC. can be quite expensive. If you are not uncomfortable with the idea of staying in a hostel, this can be a much cheaper option. If budget is not an issue for you, splurge on a stay in the historic Mayflower Hotel. For a cheaper option, you may also want to search for hotels in the surrounding suburbs of Virginia and Maryland. Metro access is available from these towns and will take you directly into the District.

How to get around

Unless you drive, you will likely arrive by train to Union Station or by airplane to either Dulles or Reagan Airports. Public transportation is available from the airports, and most of the sites on this itinerary are within walking distance or a quick Metro ride from Union Station. You will want to get a map as soon as you arrive. These are available for free at airports, train stations, and most hotels. Washington, DC has a great Metro system that will get you within a few blocks of wherever you want to go. There is also a Metro Bus System and a free DC Circulator, stopping at limited locations. The best way to get around is either to walk or take public transportation. Renting a car and driving into DC can prove challenging when searching for an affordable place to park. You will find that most of the places we highlight in this itinerary are within realtively easy walking distance of each other.

So what are you waiting for? Start planning your next long weekend getaway to Washington, DC!

25 comments

    • Ellen
      Author

      Yep, if you’ve only got a few days there and don’t know when you’ll be back, make the most of it! It’s one of America’s greatest places. Hope you can make it there someday, and we’d love to hear about it when you do!

    • Ellen
      Author

      Even if you could only get half of it done, you’d still have a great trip! It’s hard to have a bad time in Washington, DC. Thanks for reading!

    • Ellen
      Author

      There certainly is a lot you can do in just three days. I’d love to be able to spend five or six, see more, not be as rushed. Thanks for reading, Ben!

    • Ellen
      Author

      I know!!!! I wanted to keep it honest and only recommend the things I had done myself, but yes, you are right — if you’re reading this go with Capital Bike Share, it’s fun and a great way to see the city. I just haven’t personally used it, but have definitely wanted to. They get my endorsement. Thanks for reading, Doug, and thanks for adding the suggestion!

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  2. Apart from NYC, Washington DC has been my favorite US city to visit. I’ve always been a politics nerd so it was really high on my travel bucket list and lived up to expectations.

  3. Ahhh, my hometown. So glad to read it is your favorite city in the U.S. though I can’t say the same for myself, it is growing on me.

    I definitely need to check out all of the museums again, but I’ve been discovering way better adventure in the small districts like Georgetown right outside the mall.

    I really need to do one of these too…and next time you are in town you have to let me know!

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