How To “Do” Washington, D.C. In A Day

Washington, D.C. in a day

In my mission to see as much of the US as possible whilst we are living in the Florida Keys, I recently visited Baltimore, Maryland and as it was only 1 hour by train to Washington D.C., I just had to zip over and visit the nation’s capital.

I had the advantage of having my very own tour guide, thank you Georgia, who has shown many visiting friends the capital and has it down to a tee. We did a lot of walking – I can’t event think of how many miles, but we saw everything.

This is her well-oiled itinerary so you can see just about everything wonderful about Washington, D.C. in a day!

Start at Union Station

We arrived via AmTrak train into the main station. We arrived mid-morning, around 11am, and headed straight for an early lunch. There are lots of convenient places to eat near here and the station itself is really stunning.

Capitol Hill

I suggest walking here via the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. It is a really nice space and worth spending ten minutes wandering through. Capitol Hill is visible from many places in the city. You will definitely want to take a few pictures in front of it.

Top Tip: I really liked the angle from the right hand side, standing in front of the botanical garden. I think you’ll agree it made for a pretty shot.

Washington, D.C. in a day

United States Botanical Garden

This wasn’t on our “to see” list, but when we came across it by chance I am so glad we stopped in. It was wonderful! A real oasis in the heart of a busy city. Take the time to walk through, marvel at the impressive collections of plants, and take a green break from the heat. Admission is free.

Washington, D.C. in a day

Washington, D.C. in a daySmithsonian National Air and Space Museum

This museum is both incredible and incredibly huge. I think if there was an award for quickest in and out we would have won. We literally darted in, swung by the impressive moon rock, wow-ed at the rockets and planes on the ceiling, and had a whistle-stop tour through the space station. Admission is free, and you can easily spend 1-2 hours. I recommend planning beforehand what you want to see if you are only in DC for a day like I was.

Washington, D.C. in a day

The Washington Monument

This next bit was my favourite walk of the day. There are several points of interest along the walk from the museum to the monument, and it is worth stopping to take a few pictures. Once you reach the Monument you realise just how damn tall it actually is (169 metres!) and it is much better taking photos of it from the edge of the grass before you reach it.

Washington, D.C. in a day

Washington, D.C. in a day

World War II Memorial

This for me was the most reflective monument, and was the ideal place to take a few quiet minutes and wander around in thought. It is an impressive memorial, with a large pillar for each state and a central water fountain. Each one of the stars represents 100 military deaths (there are 4,048).

Washington, D.C. in a day

Washington, D.C. in a day

The Lincoln Memorial

This is another beautiful walk, alongside the pool that leads from the WWII to the Lincoln memorial. It is further than it looks, so make sure you have your sunscreen on! Once at the Lincoln memorial, there was quite a sea of people on the steps and I soon found out why. The steps are very famous as the place where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech.

Inside, the Lincoln statue is huge, and quite a marvel. But to me nothing beat that view from the top of the steps. I recommend this as a not-to-miss photo opportunity of the pool with the WWII memorial and Washington monument in the background.

Washington, D.C. in a day

Walk to Tidal Basin

Once you have seen the Lincoln memorial, there is a little drink stand/cafe across which I recommend stopping at for a rest. From here, you will be walking to Tidal Basin, and to the incredible Jefferson memorial. On the way there are three main memorials to see:

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial

  • Korean War Veterans Memorial

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

You will probably want to spend 5-10 minutes at each, possibly longer at the Roosevelt memorial. The walk around the edge of the lake is very pretty, and will bring you to the…

Jefferson Memorial

This one was my favourite memorial in D.C. It was very grand, and is in a really beautiful spot overlooking Tidal Basin and the rest of the city. It is a calm area, and another great photo spot.

Washington, D.C. in a day

Washington, D.C. in a day

Once you have explored this monument you have finished the ‘monument trail’ and are free to see some of the other sites the city has to offer. Of course there is one last important thing to see…

The White House

You will round back near to the Washington Monument again, and if you head the other way this leads you directly down to the White House. When we visited the entire area was restricted, meaning we could only view it from a distance, however usually you are able to go right up to the front on foot.

Washington, D.C. in a day

Other Great Things To Do In Washington D.C.

If you have extra time (or rather extra energy!) then there are some other fun things to see in the city.

  • The Renwick Gallery

  • Shopping and dining in Georgetown

  • Go for drinks in Dupoint Circle

We had dinner and drinks at El Centro D.F. in Georgetown. I recommend taking a taxi as it was a very long walk at the end of a long day. It is a very chic place, with low lighting, exposed brick walls, and hipster servers. I recommend the sangria and the guacamole which they make at the table!

Top Tips

  • Be safe. Make sure you keep your bags close and your valuables out of sight. It is a pretty safe city but is also a tourist hotspot which means there is always a risk. Thieves love tourists.
  • Take a water bottle. We walked so much in the heat, and there were not that many convenience stores around so be sure to carry your own water.
  • Wear sunscreen. Again, being around in the heat all day you don’t want to go home looking like a lobster.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Seriously. Taxis are not really a good option owning to traffic and the way the city is designed – it is much easier to explore on foot.
  • Take a camera. There are just so many fabulous things to photograph in the state capital, I really recommend carrying a good camera.
  • Be that good guy a few times. You will see hordes of tourists attempting the family selfie in front of Capital Hill/the White House/every bloody monument. Be the kind person who offers to take a few pictures. The favour will likely be returned!

Washington, D.C. in a day

Did you visit Washington, D.C. in a day? Let me know in the comments below! I hope you enjoyed this guide and found it useful. Remember to pin the image above for future reference. Thanks for reading! 

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  • Lena April 23, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Is the weather always this nice in Washington? Maybe because it is still too cold in Europe, but I got that immediate desire to visit it 🙂

    • Emily April 23, 2017 at 4:31 pm

      It is seasonal, but when I went it was just beautiful – it was September. I think it would be very nice now as well. I am now in the Florida Keys and it is super hot! 🙂