Washington, D.C. — the capital of the United States captures the true spirit of America. With the presence of the historic landmarks, monuments, world-renowned museums and many extraordinary sightseeing adventures, DC attracts millions of the visitors every year. For any traveler visiting the United States for the very first time, no trip to the United States would be complete without visiting the nation’s capital.
I visited Washington, D.C. during Labor Day weekend and enjoyed exploring this beautiful city. There is so much to see and do in Washington, D.C. that you can’t see it all in just one visit. In just 72 hours, a well-rounded trip should include exploring the region’s historic landmarks, museums and monuments. So, here’s my guide list of doing amazing things in the D.C in just 72 hours!
Day 1: Visit the iconic landmarks and memorials
The National Mall is home to the city’s most famous monuments, memorials and museums and should be your starting point too for the Day 1!
1) Get yourself clicked in front of the White House
Even if you’re on a short trip to DC, you must get a glimpse of home to the U.S. president and most powerful house in the world! The White House (not technically part of the National Mall, but within walking distance of it) sits five blocks to the north. The White House also offers buildings tour where you get the opportunity to see the State Floor that includes only certain areas of the house. But you’ll need to contact the office of your senator or House representative few months in an advance if you’re a citizen of the U.S. otherwise you need to contact your respective embassy. Also, do keep in mind that tours can be canceled last minute. But still, you can take a snap in front of the White House!
2) Visit Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial — the larger-than-life and most loved landmark at National Mall among the locals and travelers is a must visit for any DC traveler. As a history buff, I enjoyed reading the two famous speeches of the Abraham Lincoln, the second inaugural address and the Gettysburg Address, etched into the memorial’s opposing walls. The building has 36 Doric columns that signify the states in the Union at the time Lincoln passed away. I was also fascinated by the memorials Greek Revival, Beaux-Arts architecture! This is a free attraction and open 24 hours. However, the best time to visit is in the evening when the memorial gets illuminated in its full glory!
3) Visit National World War II Memorial
This is a nice oasis in the middle of the National Mall. The World War II Memorial is built to honor the spirit and sacrifice of the 16 million men and women who served overseas and the more than 400,000 who perished during the war. This is the second most popular visited site at the National Mall. The Memorial Consist of 56 pillars and a pair of small triumphal arches surrounding a plaza and fountain. The Rainbow pool located on the eastern side is one of the attractions of the World War II Memorial. This is one of the best places on the West end of the Mall to just sit and chill, taking a break from the day, contemplating those brave people who served for your right to just do that – sit and enjoy your day and surroundings!
4) Take a breathtaking view of DC at the Washington Monument
The Washington Monument, a memorial to George Washington, is the most prominent landmark in Washington, DC and stands as the centerpiece of the National Mall. It is the tallest structure in Washington D.C. and measures 555 feet 5 1/8 inches high. Fifty flags surround the base of the Washington Monument symbolizing the 50 states of America. There is an elevator that takes the visitors to the top to see a breathtaking view of Washington DC. However, unfortunately, I couldn’t visit at the top as the elevator was closed that day!
5) Visit U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress
The U.S. Capitol Building is the most magnificent building in Washington D.C.where you can witness politics in action. You can explore the building’s north and south wings and circular centerpiece: the Rotunda. This iconic hall houses paintings, frescoes and sculptures depicting famous scenes from American history, not to mention a 150-year-old cast iron dome. Touring the Capitol is free of charge, but you‘ll need to make your reservation well in advance if you want to explore areas of the Capitol outside of the Capitol Visitor Center. If you wish to tour the Senate Gallery or the House or Representative Gallery, you’ll need to contact your senator or House representative’s office, respectively, to obtain free passes if you’re a US citizen else you need to contact your respective embassy months in advance to get a spot on the tour. But if you don’t get the passes for tour, don’t worry, just admire the magnificent building from the outside.
After you’ve admired the Capitol, walk along East Capitol Street to the Library of Congress. Comprising three buildings and housing about 21 million books, manuscripts, sound recordings, maps and photographs, the Library of Congress holds the title of “largest library in the world.” Although you can’t check books out (unless you’ve registered yourself as a researcher and obtained a Reader Identification Card) but you should definitely take a stroll through the Jefferson Building’s Main Reading Room, which features a grand domed ceiling, mahogany desks and diligent researchers poring over catalogs and periodic volumes.
6) Visit Jefferson Memorial
The Jefferson Memorial is a dome-shaped rotunda that honors the third president of the United States — Thomas Jefferson. You’ll see a 19-foot bronze statue of Jefferson surrounded by passages from the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson’s other writings. From the top steps of the memorial, you can see one of the best views of the White House. You can also rent a paddle boat to enjoy the scenic view around the memorial in the warmer months. The site also serves many annual events but most famous is National Cherry Blossom Festival.
7) Visit Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.— one of my favorite leaders of the civil rights movement who became an icon through his incredible speeches and his use of nonviolent resistance. He led the famous March on Washington in 1963, where he gave his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Therefore Martin Luther King Memorial was on my top list of exploring places in the DC. You’ll see the 30-foot statue of Dr. King, featuring his likeness carved into the Stone of Hope, which emerges powerfully from two large boulders, known as the Mountain of Despair. Together, they represent soul-stirring words from Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Text from this speech is cut sharply into the rock of the Stone: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
8) Visit Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
Franklin Roosevelt Memorial is a neighbor to Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, built in the honor of President Roosevelt’s four terms in office, the monument is divided into four outdoor “rooms,” where statues and murals stand to represent issues from the Great Depression to World War II. While visiting the memorial, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about and reflect on some of the most significant events in this American history while enjoying some of the best views of the Tidal Basin and getting some cool breeze!
Day 2: Visit the famous museums at the Mall
1) Visit Smithsonian Institution Information Center in the Castle
The Smithsonian Castle— a National Historic Landmark along the DC skyline and a perfect place to start your day of exploration. While the Victorian arches and dark woodwork of the Castle suggest a bygone era, it now holds a thoroughly modern visitors center with interactive 3-D maps pinpointing and detailing the 17 DC-area Smithsonian Institution properties, including museums, galleries and the National Zoological Park. You can plan the museums you wish to explore as per your interest accordingly.
2) Explore the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
No trip to the Washington D.C. would be complete without visiting National Air and Space Museum that prides itself in having the world’s largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft, including the Wright brothers’ original 1903 flyer, astronaut space suits and a lunar rock sample. It took me more than 5 hours to explore the entire museum. So, if you’ve limited time, ask the visitor desk for the best way to proceed through the exhibits. The right order can make it more interesting.
3) Explore the National Archives
If you want to learn about the history of birth and growth of this great nation, a visit to National Archives is a must! It has the original documents, maps, photos, recordings, films and a miscellany of objects. The major attraction of National Archives is the Rotunda, where the original Charters of Freedom—the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights—are mounted, triptych-like, in a glass case at the center of a roped-off horseshoe containing other key documents. You can spend 1-2 hours here.
4) Explore the National Gallery of Art
This is one of the most popular museums in the Washington D.C. that spans two major buildings – one classical, the other modern – and encompasses a six-acre sculpture garden containing a rotating display of permanent works and traveling exhibitions. So did you guess correctly how much time it will take to explore an entire museum?
If you’ve still time and energy left, you can explore the other renowned Washington DC’s museums from this list. If not, you can explore the other museums from the list during the first half of Day 3.
Day 3: Explore the Rest
In the first half of the day, explore whatever monuments, memorials or museums you didn’t cover or want to re-visit again. You can also go for adventurous segway tours, bike tours or rentals to get a glimpse of all the attractions at the Mall in a limited time.
In the second half of the day, take a free shuttle bus that runs from the Foggy Bottom/GWU Metro station to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts located along the Potomac River’s bank and on the dividing line of Washington D.C. and Virginia.
Watch any show at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
If you’ve got an interest in ballet, opera and theaters, you must visit the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, built and named for America’s beloved Camelot president. The Kennedy Center houses the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington Ballet and the Washington National Opera, as well as a number of other theater and musical performances throughout the year. Although ticket prices run a bit high, but it’s totally worth it! Also, you’ll get a splendid view of the Potomac River and the grand foyer decorated with flags!
Tips to visit Washington, D.C.
- The best times to visit Washington, D.C., are from September to November and March to May.
- DC is most crowded when children are out of school during summer or spring breaks.
- Summer in D.C. is hot and sticky, making less than ideal conditions for exploring the great outdoors. But all the museums are air-conditioned, so if you can beat the heat, you should go for it!
- Winter is a definitely low season. And though the chance to find lower hotel rates is high and the weather is mild compared to other destinations along the East Coast, the city is prone to freezing cold temperatures and snowstorms.
- The hotels in the Washington D.C are quite expensive, so you should look for the hotels in Arlington, Virginia if you’re landing at Ronald Regan International Airport. Most of the hotels provide free pickup and drop shuttle buses. Also, Washington D.C has 3 airports but Regan airport is the closest airport to DC. It is accessible via its own Metro stop on the Blue and Yellow Lines.
- Dulles Airport is located 26 miles from DC in suburban Virginia. It has a dedicated access road that makes getting into the city efficient via car, taxi or airport shuttle.
- Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) is a bit further out in Baltimore, but oftentimes that means you can find even better flight deals. BWI Airport is accessible via an Amtrak train route that drops off at DC’s Union Station.
- The public transport in Washington DC is amazing and the metro is the lifeline of the city. You just need metro map and you can commute on your own!
- If you’re planning to visit a couple of paid attractions in DC, you’ll want to consider getting an Explorer Pass GO Card for the city. The Explorer Pass lets you choose 3 or 5 attractions out of a total of 11, letting you save up to 40% off the normal admission prices. Attractions in DC that you can choose from include The Newseum, the International Spy Museum, Madame Tussauds, the National Geographic Museum, a hop-on hop-off bus tour, bike tours, and more. Check out all the attractions included here.
- The last and most important tip is to wear comfortable sports shoes/ sneakers while exploring the DC as you’ve to walk a lot! If you’re traveling in winter, wear comfortable boots!
Do you have any other favorite things to do in Washington, D.C.? Do share in the comments below?