Washington D.C. unfolds as a graceful mix of monuments, memorials, museums and neighborhoods, much of which can be seen in 48 hours. No other city has the White House, the Capitol, and the National Archives Museum. The scores of monuments and memorials pay official homage to our country’s heroes and the Smithsonian Museums offer free access to U.S. treasures.
But that’s just the beginning. D.C., home to some 682,000 people, is a series of neighborhoods where celebrity chefs claim prime spots, millennials jam bars and clubs until dawn, and museums stage their own after-five events.
Whether you last visited Washington, D.C. with your high school decades ago or came to town last year on business, there’s always more to see and to experience.
Remember, three attractions require reserving free tickets months in advance: the White House, the Capitol and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Deliberately flexible, this itinerary presents groupings of items so that you can choose the one or two in each cluster that appeal most to you.
Nothing says “official Washington” like the White House or the Capitol. Whether or not you scored free tickets to the White House, visit the White House Visitor Center. It opens at 7:30 a.m., so you have plenty of time to admire the objects displayed and view the 14-minute film before your White House tour.
If the White House isn’t on your list, then use the extra hours to explore more Mall museums. The four most-visited are the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, for which you must obtain free, timed tickets.
Think food trucks. Grab some good cheap eats–pizza, empanadas, lobster rolls, mac’cheese, kebabs,–from the bevy of food trucks that line the streets near the Mall. The food is likely to be tastier and much cheaper than most of the fare dished out at the museum cafes.
Download Food Truck Fiesta or one of the other apps that track the locations of the scores of D.C’s food trucks.
An entry ticket to the African American Museum also provides access to the facility’s Sweet Home Cafe, serving some of the tastiest museum fare on the Mall.
Spend the afternoon splitting time inside at the museums with hours outside at the monuments and memorials. Salute Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial as he sits lost in thought looking out to the Reflecting Pool, locus of many significant protests. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Memorial flank the Reflecting Pool. The National World War II Memorial lies east of the Reflecting Pool and beyond that is the Washington Monument, a great place for people-watching and flying kites (kites can be purchased at the Air and Space Museum.)
Consider viewing the memorials and monuments at night when the crowds thin out and the structures are illuminated. City Segway and Segs in the City offer evening tours.
Walk southeast from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which tells the somber story of the millions of Jews and other victims of Nazi brutality in WW II.
Take in a Shakespearean or other classic at The Shakespeare Theatre, drama or comedy plays at Arena Stage, or musicals, ballet, or the symphony at the Kennedy Center, whose Millennium Stage offers a free performance every evening. Blues Alley showcases live blues and jazz by top performers and serves food.
For people-watching and great Potomac River views, head to the Wharf, D.C.’s newest entertainment, and recreation area. The first phase opened in October 2017 with restaurants, shops and music venues, including the Anthem, a new concert hall.
Explore Capitol Hill. Although the Capitol Visitor Center, which has interesting exhibits, distributes some same-day tickets, it’s best to request admission months in advance to tour the U.S. Capitol. The Library of Congress, a treasure house of awesome artifacts, artwork, and architecture, and the U.S. Botanic Garden, an urban oasis of plants and flowers are located nearby.
Head west from either attraction. The National Museum of the American Indian explores the culture of Native Nations from the arctic circle to Tierra del Fuego. The National Gallery of Art’s two buildings showcase European and American masterpieces and the gallery’s Sculpture Garden features interesting art. In winter, part of the garden morphs into an ice-skating rink.
Mitsitam Café at the National Museum of the American Indian serves Native American tacos, fry bread, squash, grilled salmon and other traditional foods, and the National Gallery’s cafe features better than average fare.
At the National Archives, eye America’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The International Spy Museum delivers the low-down on espionage; and the Newseum’s scores of theaters, galleries and interactive stations demonstrate how free speech, supported by news-gathering and distribution, is essential to democracies.
Save enough time to bike ride or stroll sections of Capitol Hill, the Mall, or the Georgetown waterfront.
The original Ben’s Chili Bowl serves legendary half-smokes on U St. NW. In Penn Quarter try Spanish tapas at Jaleo impressive Indian fare at Rasika or its sister restaurant Rasika West End, and savory Greek/Mediterranean tapas at Zaytina. Georgetown has Fiola Mare, a noted seafood restaurant, as well as The Good Stuff Eatery for juicy burgers and tasty shakes. Capitol Hill also has a branch of Good Stuff as well as two gems by chef Aaron Silverman: Pineapple & Pearls rates two Michelin stars and takes reservations. For Rosa’s Luxury, Silverman’s one Michelin star dining room, lines form hours before the 5 p.m. opening. If you dislike standing in line; don’t worry. You can hire someone to do if for you. After all, this is D.C.