Planning your first trip to Washington, D.C.? Don’t know what to see or where to go? Are you limited in time and want to optimize your travel experience? Here is my ultimate travel checklist that will guide you through the top five sights and help you plan a well-rounded first trip to the nation’s capital.
First of all, let me start by saying that you are in for a treat! I visited D.C. in January for a work trip (read about my top restaurant recommendations here) and fell in love with it in a heartbeat. Yes, the skyscraper-dotted NYC is undeniably remarkable, but there is something magical about the ability to see the vast blue sky… as if it makes the town look more spacious and cozy. The cute houses, the cleanliness, the gentle pace, the attention to detail give suburban feel to the dynamic metropolis.
With a wide range of attractions and activities there are myriads of things to do and see during your visit. It is impossible to cover it all in a short trip, but here are a few landmarks and attractions that should be on your must-see list.
Tour the National Monuments and Memorials.
For me personally, this was one of the most patriotic and inspirational experiences of my life! Every monument and memorial is individually spectacular. If you are into walking like us, I highly recommend you tour them on foot. Washington is a pedestrian’s dream, and walking is by far the best way to sightsee because you will be able to take in the beauty of the city and explore everything at your own pace. Of course, there is always an option of taking organized guided tours. We decided to brave the cold weather and walked to each and every monument. Many of them are open 24 hours and offer great views of the city. If you are limited in time and cannot visit all of them, do your best to check out the following four: The Washington Monument, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, and The Jefferson Memorial.
As a military family we made sure to visit Arlington National Cemetery located just across the Potomac River. Make sure to visit the John F. Kennedy’s final resting place and the eternal flame, as well as Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to observe the changing of guards.
Visit The Smithsonian Museum.
19 museums cover a wide range of subjects from art to space exploration, so unless you are staying in town for a long time, it is important to decide in advance which exhibits interest you most. My choice fell on Natural History Museum and National Air and Space Museum. Both were fantastic, with lots of interactive exhibitions and beautiful displays. The museums are open 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. seven days a week, every day throughout the year, except for Christmas Day. The best part – ALL museums are free.!
Visit The Three Houses of Government.
I cannot even tell you how interesting this was! The White House, The Capitol and The Supreme Court are the key places that you need to include on your sightseeing agenda. However, you must plan ahead.
To visit The Capitol, go to their web-site and book a free ticket. Only guided tours are available and run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Make sure to visit The Library of Congress. We were lucky to see the display of Shakespeare’s First Folio as well as replica of Magna Carta!
The Supreme Court is in session Monday through Wednesday from 10 a. m. until noon, October through April. You can even watch a case being argued! Just make sure you arrive at least an hour early to wait in line.
Planning a visit to The White House takes more effort and significant advance planning. If you are a U.S. citizen you have to email your Senator or Representative and ask them to book you a tour. For foreign nationals, contact your Embassy in Washington, D.C. asking them to obtain an access on your behalf. Unfortunately, we started the process too late and there were no slots available on the only day we could go. But oh well, definitely next time! :)
Stroll in the streets of Georgetown.
One of the oldest neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. is definitely worth a spot on your itinerary because the place is known for its historic sites, great shopping and wide choice of restaurants. Needless to say, it is worth visiting Georgetown University grounds. Oh, and don’t forget to sample a famous Georgetown cupcake (or two! ;))!!
Best time to visit
I would definitely recommend visiting the city during warmer seasons. There are a lot of places which would be great to explore on foot and believe me, doing that in January was more than inconvenient. Undoubtedly, cherry blossom season would be the greatest time for your trip, with gorgeous pink blooms decorating the city.
Where to stay
We stayed at Marriott Hotel by Bollston Metro. I think the crucial factor in choosing your lodging should be the proximity to metro station. D.C. subways are air conditioned, (mostly) clean, and highly convenient.
Which are your favorite attractions in D.C.? I’d love to hear your recommendations! :)