This post has been on my to do list for quite some time! It’s funny that it has taken me this long to get around to writing it because I’ve written out similar itineraries on countless occasions for family and friends visiting the city! I’ve lived in D.C. for four years now so I’ve had many an opportunity to play tour guide around the city!
There’s a lot to see in our nation’s capital, but there’s a hit list of top things you must see on your first trip to D.C. Today I’m sharing a weekend guide for first time visitors to Washington, D.C., including where you should stay and where you should eat!
Weekend Guide for First Time Visiting Washington, D.C.
This itinerary is assuming you have three full days in the city. For the ease of following along, let’s say your three full days include Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
My first piece of advice is in regard to getting to D.C. If you’re flying, make sure you fly into Regan National (DCA). It’s the most convenient airport to fly into. Although Dulles and BWI aren’t too far away, they’re both a bit of a pain to get to/from.
Where to Stay
I highly recommend staying in the Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, or Logan Circle areas of town. These areas are conveniently located to lots of the must-see sites and will really give you a feel for the city. A few local hotels I recommend: Hotel Hive (Foggy Bottom, seen here), The Line Hotel (Dupont/Adams Morgan), Avenue Suites (Foggy Bottom/Georgetown, seen here), and Pod DC Hotel. There are plenty of big box name hotels all around the city and in these neighborhoods as well!
Assuming you make it to your hotel Thursday night/early Friday, I’d suggest starting the day off with coffee and a quick breakfast. I recommend using Google Maps to find a quick, local coffee spot near your hotel. A few of my favorites include Philz Coffee, Colada Shop, Grace Street, and Bluestone Lane.
After fueling up, I recommend heading to Capitol Hill for a tour of the Capitol. Advance reservations are recommended but not required. You’ll want to pad in about three hours for the tour. The tour is mostly indoors, but afterwards (or beforehand), you should definitely take a walk around the outside to snap a few pics! The Capitol is truly a breathtaking building. It’s much larger in person than I ever imagined!
Tip: Prior to your visit, head here to register for a tour of the Capitol!
Once you’re finished with the Capitol, walk across the street to see the Supreme Court building and the Library of Congress. You don’t necessarily need to go into either building, just seeing them from the outside should suffice. Again, both buildings are breathtakingly beautiful and so much larger in person!
By the time you finish up those three things (Capitol, Supreme Court, Library of Congress) it will likely be close to lunchtime. I recommend grabbing lunch on Capitol Hill since you’ll already be in the area. A few spots to check out: Matchbox, Hanks Oyster Bar, &pizza or pop into Union Station where you’ll find lots of quick options.
For the afternoon, I recommend checking out one of the numerous museums around town. All of the Smithsonian museums are free. You can find a list of all of the Smithsonian museums here. A couple of my favorites are the American History Museum and the Natural History Museum. The African American History Museum is supposedly incredible – you need a ticket for this one (it’s new and in high demand!). My favorite museum in all of D.C. and the one that I recommend putting at the top of your list is the Newseum. It’s not free, but it’s totally worth the cost.
The museum(s) will likely take up most of your afternoon. Afterwards, I recommend heading back to your hotel to freshen up for the evening. If you’re visiting D.C. anytime from May through August, I highly recommend checking out Jazz in the Garden. Every Friday night from 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm there’s a jazz band playing at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. There’s sangria, wine, beer, and food for purchase and you’re allowed to bring in your own drinks and snacks too!
For dinner each night I try to pick restaurants that are in different areas of town so that visitors get to see different parts of the city. I’d recommend checking out somewhere downtown if you end up doing Jazz in the Garden. A few recommendations: The Smith, Zaytinya, Daikaya, and Milk Bar for dessert!
After grabbing coffee and breakfast, I recommend dedicating your morning (weather permitting) to the National Mall. Plan on starting at the White House. You’ll likely be able to walk there if you’re staying in one of the neighborhoods I recommended above. Check out the North side of the White House first (right in front of Lafayette Square). If you’re looking at the White House, circle around to your left (towards 15th Street) to check out the other side of the White House.
After snapping a few pics, you can make your way towards the Washington Monument. From here you’ll walk along the Mall and hit up the WWII Memorial (find your home state and take a pic!), the Reflecting Pool, and finally the Lincoln Memorial. At Lincoln, make sure you get a photograph looking back towards the Reflecting Pool – you’ll be able to see the Washington Monument and the Capitol.
The Korean War Memorial as well as the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial are near Lincoln. If you’re not too tired from all the walking, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is near here too.
For a late brunch/lunch I recommend Ted’s Bulletin on 14th Street (catch an Uber/Lyft there from the Mall/monuments). No matter how full you are at the end of your meal, you MUST get a homemade poptart (a Ted’s tart) or a milkshake!
After lunch, head back to your hotel to rest a bit and freshen up for the afternoon/evening.
Next up, I recommend heading over to Georgetown to stroll down M Street and Wisconsin Ave. There are so many great shops and restaurants in the area. Even if you’re not planning on doing any shopping, it’s still a neat area to walk around. After perusing M Street, head down to the Georgetown Waterfront. If you visit during the warm weather months, grab a drink at one of the many pop-up bars along the water!
Plan on taking the water taxi from Georgetown to The Wharf for dinner! The water taxi leaves Georgetown at 5:30 (arrives at The Wharf at 6:00) and 7:30 (arrives at The Wharf at 8:00). Get tickets for the taxi here! The Wharf is a great place to wander around, have a drink or two, and eat dinner. For dinner, I recommend Mi Vida or Kith and Kin.
I recommend dedicating Sunday morning to Arlington Cemetery. Be sure to check out JFK’s gravesite, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the changing of the guard. For lunch and for the afternoon, head over to Old Town, Alexandria. It’s a short distance from Arlington Cemetery. King Street is the main street in Old Town. There are tons of restaurants, bars, and shops along King. King Street runs right into the water – a nice place to sit and have an afternoon coffee or cocktail!
I’d leave Sunday afternoon open so that you can hit up anything you missed during the prior couple of days. Depending on the weather, you may need to circle back to a few of the outdoor activities.
Sunday evening, I recommend heading to 14th Street for dinner, drinks, and dessert! For dinner and drinks, try either Lupo Verde or Le Diplomate. You can’t go wrong with either! For dessert, grab ice cream at either Jeni’s Ice Cream or Ice Cream Jubilee.
More Restaurant Recommendations
Tip: Try to make reservations for your dinner spots ahead of time. Especially if you have more than 2 people in your group.
Have questions about your upcoming trip to DC? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!