The Only 3-Day Washington DC Itinerary You’ll Need to Follow

It’s an understatement to say that there is a lot to see and do in Washington, DC. Packed with museums, monuments, parks, sporting events, restaurants, bars, and cafes, it would literally take you weeks to see it all. But, if you are limited on time, our 3 day Washington DC itinerary will show you how to make the most of your visit without feeling like you’re trying to cram in as many of the sites and experiences as possible. This 3 day Washington DC itinerary is designed to guide you through the best of what this vibrant city has to offer.

marble statue of man crossing his arms
The Martin Luther King statue is a popular place to reflect on America’s Civil Rights history. Photo credit: FerdinandMXMI

3 day Washington DC itinerary at a glance:

Not all sites in DC are related to politics. That said, many of them are, especially in these days when everything imaginable seems to have become a political flashpoint. Just take a few deep breaths and get ready for an amazing ride through the city of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and many others.

Day 1: Pay homage to one of the greatest presidents

  • Linger at the Vietnam War Memorial
  • Look up at the Washington Monument
  • Gawk at the Capitol Building 

Day 2: Explore the National Gallery of Art

  • Make history fun at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
  • Indulge in some Ethiopian fare

Day 3: Stroll around Georgetown

  • Eat a half-smoke sausage and indulge in DC’s culinary history
  • Walk around the Capitol Riverfront
  • Take a walking tour of the city’s highlights

Day 1: Marvel at the Mall

Pay homage to a one of the greatest presidents at the Lincoln Memorial 

To start your 3 day Washington DC itinerary, you might as well plop yourself right into the belly of the beast. And by that, we mean the National Mall. It’s here on this plus-sized rectangular strip of lawn that you’ll see some of the most iconic sites in Washington. It’s best to start on the western end, at the Lincoln Memorial and work your way east to the domed Capitol Building. To get a really up-close and personal view, take a Guided Tour of the National Mall with a local. 

Since 1922, the Lincoln Memorial has been dazzling visitors and used as a stage for political rallies. The neo-classical monument dedicated to the 16th president is dominated by an enormous statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln. 

This city has a lot of historic landmarks, but this one is probably the most iconic. Photo credit: Yashh

Linger at the Vietnam War Memorial 

The long, black granite wall is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Simply referred to as “the Wall,” this moving monument was designed by Maya Lin. The names of every American veteran that died in the 1960s and ‘70s war in Southeast Asia is etched into the wall—more than 58,000 men and women. A simple monument, the memorial is thought-provoking experience and worth spending some time lingering there. 

One of Washington DC’s most poignant monuments. Photo credit: Howard Ignatius

Look up at the Washington Monument 

Rome is dotted with obelisks it stole from ancient Egypt a couple of centuries ago. So, Washington, the capital of a Roman Empire successor, you could say, has one enormous obelisk at the enter of the mall. The Robert Mills-designed monument was constructed in the middle of the 19th century. When it was finally completed in 1884, it was at the time the tallest structure on the planet at 555 feet. 

DC with cherry blossom trees in bloom
The Washington monument is especially picturesque in the springtime when the cherry blossom trees bloom . Photo credit: Andy He

Gawk at the Capitol Building 

Crowning the National Mall at the eastern end is one of the most iconic buildings in the country: the Capitol Building. It’s here where the Senate and the Congress make and pass laws. Completed in 1800, the name, Capitol, is short for Capitolium, a reference to Capitoline Hill in Rome. Be sure to stop into the Visitors Center to get a better look at the interior of the building. But if you want to get the most out of your visit and skip the long lines, consider taking a tour of the National Archives.

large white building with dome surrounded by greenery
Make sure to take time to stroll around this American institution. Photo credit: Samuel Schroth

Day 2: Day in the Museum

Explore the National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art was established in 1937 and entry is free of charge. The impressive collection focuses on European and American art dating back to the medieval period. The paintings and sculptures on display here are a who’s who of the art world of centuries past. These include works by Renaissance masters Botticelli, Titian, Raphael, as well as El Greco, Albrecht Dũrer, Rogier van der Weyden, Rembrandt, Goya, and Vermeer. 

The National Gallery is one of the country’s top museums. Photo credit: Gryffindor

Make History fun at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

The Smithsonian has museums that are nearly encircling a part of the National Mall. One of the best is the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Sure, there are a lot of centuries-old artifacts here, such as the desk where the Declaration of Independence was signed, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat, and clothes that George Washington wore. But there’s also the red slippers that Dorothy wore in “The Wizard of Oz,” Prince’s yellow Cloud guitar, and a boxing robe worn by Muhamed Ali, proving that history museums don’t have to be boring. 

The Smithsonian has just about everything you could imagine. Make sure to plan your trip wisely to make the most out of its massive collections. Photo credit: xhowardlee

Indulge in some Ethiopian fare

If all that museum-going has built up an appetite, spend the evening portion of your second day in DC by grazing on Ethiopian fare. Why the cuisine of this East African nation? Because the largest Ethiopian community outside of Africa is in and around Washington, DC.

That means if you want quality Ethiopian food without getting on a plane to Addis Ababa, take some time to indulge in one of the world’s great cuisines. Ethiopian is unique and fun to eat, as it doesn’t require utensils. You scoop it up with spongy bread called injera. One of the best places to sample it is at Dukem, which has been serving the local Ethiopian communist (and those who love their food) since 1997. 

dish with food loaded onto large flatbread
If you’re looking for some tasty Ethiopian food, pop in to delicious Dukem. Photo credit: Ryan Snyder

Day 3: Stroll around Georgetown

Georgetown is one of the most atmospheric and beautiful neighborhoods in the city, if not the entire country. Outside of Capitol Hill, it’s the place you’re most likely to see a Senator or a former president going about their daily life. The neighborhood is a fun place to stroll the streets, taking in the historic stone houses, the canal from the mid 19th century, and the various shops and cafes. It’s also home to Georgetown University, one of the most prestigious universities in the country. If you want to see the best of this charming area, consider taking an in-depth tour of Georgetown.

A view of Georgetown University in the distance
The nation’s first federally-chartered university, Georgetown University was founded January 23, 1789. Photo credit: Billy Wilson

Eat a half-smoke sausage and indulge in DC’s culinary history  

A “half-smoke” is a sausage that is endemic to DC, one of the few foods that locals can truly call their own. This signature sausage is smoked and grilled. The meat inside this tubular sensation is ground more coarsely than most sausages. 

The best place to sample one is at Ben’s Chili Bowl. For over 65 years, the famous and the politically powerful have been coming here to eat a half-smoke sausage. It’s become a tradition for presidents, at least one time in their term, to stop by to eat one. Afterward, take some time to linger in the alley next door where you can enjoy looking at the mural on the side of Ben’s where there are images of famous black Americans, including the Obamas, Dave Chapelle, Prince and Ella Fitzgerald, among others. 

Insider’s Tip: Ben’s Chili Bowl is on our list of the 8 great historic restaurants in Washington, DC. Don’t miss it!

Ben's Chili Bowl restaurant facade
Ben’s Chili Bowl has been a hit with locals, tourists, and celebrities since 1958. Photo credit: Ted Eytan

Walk around the Capitol Riverfront

The atmospheric neighborhood on the water that is filled with historic brick warehouses-turned-restaurants didn’t really come into its own until the Nationals, the Major League Baseball team, moved into the neighborhood. Today the area is a fun to spend time in as it is crammed with entertaining street life, breweries, outdoor restaurants, and plenty of cafes. 

The Capitol Riverfront is a wonderful place to take a stroll and enjoy some people watching. Photo credit: F Delventhal

Take a walking tour of Washington DC’s best

Yes, you’re right, three days is not enough to see and experience all of the American capital. But our recommended 3 day Washington DC itinerary is enough to get a good sense of this vibrant city and all that it has to offer. And if you’re really looking to get a sense of the city’s true history, make sure to reserve a spot on one of our Walking Tours around Washington, DC. Our small-group tours are led by knowledgeable locals who take you to the very best sites while revealing their history. Don’t miss out!

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About the author

David Farley is a West Village-based food and travel writer whose work appears regularly in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC, and Food & Wine, among other publications. He’s the author of three books, including “An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town,” which was made into a documentary by the National Geographic Channel. You can find Farley’s online homes at and

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