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How to Spend Three Days in Washington, DC

We've got the perfect itinerary ready to go.

Photograph by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Andy Dunaway/Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re heading to Washington, DC, you might be wondering how to best organize your itinerary. There’s a lot to do—and three days, our sample itinerary here, is hardly enough time to do it all. Still, we’ve featured some of the city’s highlights, allowed a little leeway for a choose-your-own-adventure, and plotted the best itinerary for three days in Washington, DC. Happy visiting!


Day One

three days in Washington, DC
The National Portrait Gallery.

3 PM. Check into your hotel (or at least, stash your luggage). Still looking for a place to book? For museum-hopping near the National Mall, the Kimpton Hotel Monaco, Riggs, and Waldorf Astoria are all nearby. If you’re into nightlife, consider staying closer to Dupont Circle, 14th Street, or Adams Morgan at such spots as the Dupont Circle Hotel, Hotel MaderaThe Line DC, or Viceroy. Or, base yourself along the water at the Wharf, DC’s newest development; choices include the InterContinental Washington, D.C and the Pendry Washington, DC. If you’re bringing your brood, the Lyle offers suites with kitchenettes, which can come in handy. 

3:30 PM. Start with museums and galleries. The National Museum of Natural History is the most popular of the Smithsonian institutions (it saw 3.9 million visitors in 2022). It closes at 5:30, but you can hit the highlights during this time (bonus if you can check into your hotel a little early). From there, head to the National Portrait Gallery—it’s about a 10-minute walk, stays open til 7, and with advance reservations, you can book a one-hour docent tour starting as late at 6 PM. Already explored those in previous visits? Consider either the National Museum of African American History & Culture (open til 5:30, requiring free timed-entry passes) or the Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden (the One with Eternity: Yayoi Kusama in the Hirshhorn Collection is on exhibit through mid-July, and also requires a timed-entry pass); then, head to either the International Spy Museum (open til 7 ), or see what’s on exhibit at the Artechouse (open til 10).

Tip: Although not all of the great museums and galleries in DC are part of the Smithsonian, the Smithsonian’s map of museums is a handy tool for planning a museum-hopping route.

7:30 PM. You’ve worked up an appetite. The Dabney—named the very best restaurant in the city this year by our food editors—offers a taste of the Mid-Atlantic region. Its six-course tasting menu in the dining room is special-occasion-worthy, but you can also try for a spot at the bar, where they serve a more casual a la carte menu. Also splurgy: Sushi Nakazawa, in the Waldorf Astoria. Fancy something less fancy? All Purpose offers Italian cuisine and brick-oven pizza, while Daikaya has some of the best ramen round. Maybe you’re a big fan of chef and humanitarian José Andrés? His Spanish restaurant Jaleo—an OG of the chef’s restaurant roster—is a block from the National Portrait Gallery. And in Shaw, vegetarian restaurant Oyster Oyster is led by Rob Rubba who was recently named the Best Chef in the Country by the James Beard Awards.

9:30 PM. If you’re up for it, DC has a great comedy scene. The DC Improv is the biggest comedy stage, while the Warner Theater hosts national acts at times. But for this trip, we recommend Underground Comedy DC—there are shows at 8, 9:45, and 11 PM on Fridays and Saturdays. Or, end the night with a drink and a view. A favorite spot is the recently rebranded rooftop bar at the Hotel Washington, called VUE. Cocktails there aren’t cheap, but the view is hard to beat.


Day Two

three days in Washington, DC
Photograph of a giant panda cub courtesy of the National Zoo.

9 AM . If you’re wanting to pack a lot of tourism punch into this day, we suggest a breakfast that’s grab-and-go. DC’s bagel scene has heated up. There’s Bagels Etc. near Dupont Circle; Pearl’s Bagels in downtown DC near the Convention Center; and Call Your Mother in Capitol Hill, Georgetown, or DC’s West End. For breakfast burritos, try Baker’s Daughter if you’re staying in or around the Eaton Hotel or Surfside at the Wharf if you’re near the Wharf. (Here are yet more bagels or breakfast burrito options.)

10 AM. After breakfast, it’s a choose your own adventure. First: Take note of any festivals or parades happening on your travel dates. Beyond that, take your pick:

  • Ready to walk? Take a hike through Rock Creek Park, or spend the day at the National Zoo (the pandas are always a big draw). Or, do both: One entrance for Rock Creek Park is just a few blocks from the zoo. For lunch in between: Duke’s Counter, right outside the zoo’s main Connecticut Avenue entrance, serves burgers, beer, and other casual favorites.
  • Take a Tower Climb at the National Cathedral—they’re physically challenging but they offer some really cool views of the city. (Call or go online to book your tour in advance.) Afterwards, give your legs a reprieve by hopping into a cab or Uber and heading to Georgetown. You can grab a picnic lunch at Green Almond Pantry and a bench at Georgetown Waterfront Park to snack al fresco while watching the boats and rowers go by. For a sit-down meal, Lutèce is a trendy new French bistro that the New York Times named one of the 50 most exciting restaurants in America last year; Filomena is a fun, family-friendly Georgetown classic, decorated to the nines for various holidays; and Martin’s Tavern is the very spot where JFK proposed to Jackie (in booth number three, to be exact). After lunch, shop or stroll your heart out—Georgetown is a great neighborhood for that.
  • Get out on the water! DC has a lot of waterfront, and a lot of ways to get on it. Bonus: views of the city from the river. For a no-work-required outing, rent a boat: there are picnic boats at Float DC, Vintage Yacht Charters, and a Georgetown party boat called the Potomac Tiki Club. For something more active, you can rent a stand-up paddleboard or a kayak at the Wharf Boathouse at the Wharf or the Key Bridge Boathouse in Georgetown.
  • Pick up where you left off yesterday with museum-hopping. Besides any on yesterday’s list you didn’t get to and want to visit, you might consider the Renwick Gallery (the colorful fiber and lighting installation by Janet Echelman is an ongoing favorite), then take a long walk (or a short cab ride) past the White House over to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (free timed-entry passes are required).

5 PM. It may be early for dinner, but the next excursion on the list is a three-hour tour, so it’s time to eat. You could snag an early reservation for dinner, but we suggest taking advantage of local happy hour deals (especially if you opted for a larger lunch). Depending on where you’re staying (the tour after this will likely pick you up at your hotel), we suggest trying one of these happy hours with food deals, all offered on weekends On 14th Street, Salazar‘s 4-6 PM happy hour menu includes $1 chips and salsa, $4.50 tacos, and $26 pitchers of margaritas. With both Dupont and Penn Quarter locations, Boqueria has $4-10 tapas and discounted sangria. Also in Penn Quarter, Present Company has $5 English muffin pizzas, $5 Nashville hot fries, and draft, rail, and wine specials. In Shaw, Ghostburger technically only discounts their beer and cocktails for their daily happy hour, but the build-your-own burgers start at just $8 so it’s worth considering. (Note: the happy hours are also offered on  weekdays, though the specials and hours may vary.)

7:30 PM. Any local will tell you the best way to see the monuments is at night. This tour on TripAdvisor has 67 five-star reviews, includes nearly a dozen stops, and lasts three hours. Granted—at 7:30 PM in the summer you won’t exactly be starting the tour under the stars, but midway through, you’ll be catching the monuments in the moonlight. 


Day Three

three days in Washington, DC
Photograph by Mike Myers/Flickr.

10 AM. After a big day, slow things down with a late start and a long brunch. Le Diplomate is a favorite for tourists and locals alike (our food critic says “the move” here is to order a single delicious pancake in addition to your dish of choice), but it’s hard to get a reservation. A couple of other fun options include the new Uncaged Mimosas with its more than two dozen kinds of—you guessed it—mimosas, plus over-the-top (read: Instagrammable) decor, and the patio at Iron Gate, which always feels special.

12 PM. A post-brunch stroll will ease you out of that yearning for a post-brunch nap, and shopping makes such strolls even more fun. From brunch at Le Dip, check out the nearby shops along 14th Street (Miss Pixie’s is full of fun vintage finds); otherwise, consider CityCenterDC, a hub for luxury designer boutiques such as Chanel, Dior, and Tiffany & Co. 

1:00 PM. Let us suggest two great ways to cap off your DC trip, depending on whether you like your action on a field or a stage. You can head to Nats Park for a baseball game, or, you could catch the matinee of a play. With dozens of theaters in DC, there’s always something to see. This summer, Arena Stage has the new comedy Exclusion through the end of June; the Kennedy Center has the Lion King through July; and also through July, Studio Theatre has Fun Home on stage. 

Feel like we’ve missed something? If you want to switch things up a little in this three-day itinerary, check out our list of the 100 Best Things to Do in Washington, DC—including more hidden gems, and DC’s bustling live music scene.

Amy Moeller
Fashion & Weddings Editor

Amy leads Washingtonian Weddings and writes Style Setters for Washingtonian. Prior to joining Washingtonian in March 2016, she was the editor of Capitol File magazine in DC and before that, editor of What’s Up? Weddings in Annapolis.