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48 Hours | Mid-Atlantic States
48 Hours in Washington D.C.


The Nation's Capital is a destination unlike any other. Boasting an international food scene, 20 Smithsonian sites, plus the seat of American governance, there is something to entertain everyone. Book your activities early to ensure a successful trip. Many museums, even if free, still require timed entry tickets.

Washington DC Metro. Photo by kickstand/iStock.comWashington DC Metro. Photo by kickstand/

Try to arrive at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) instead of Washington D.C.’s other airport, Washington Dulles (IAD). DCA is much closer to the city, and the airport is an architectural gem with a museum. To leave the airport, use the Metro. The Blue and Yellow lines are right outside.

Hotels are plentiful, and the Metro puts everything within reach. Consider The Grand Hyatt or the Washington Marriott Georgetown as a home base for your trip.

A first trip to Washington D.C. must include visits to the U.S. government buildings. Begin with The Supreme Court, as it's closed on weekends. Courtroom Lectures explain "the judicial functions of the Supreme Court, the history of the building, and the architecture of the Courtroom." After your tour, spend the afternoon exploring the war memorials and monuments stretched out before you.

Walk down The National Mall to the Washington Monument, then turn north to The White House. A small Smithsonian site called the Renwick Gallery is just behind the White House. Seeing its rotating exhibits and contemporary craft installations is free and worthy of a detour.

Returning to The Mall to conclude your tour, continue west to the Lincoln Memorial situated on the Potomac. Many guided tour options are available if the stories behind the memorials interest you. You can also do a self-guided walk using the mobile app VoiceMap ($8.99).

For dinner, let the Blue Duck Tavern, a three-year holder of a Michelin star, impress you with its "simple, rustic food."

United States Capitol Building. Photo by DmitryVinogradov/iStock.comUnited States Capitol Building. Photo by DmitryVinogradov/
Start the day at Ted's Bulletin for a delicious diner-style breakfast. Ride the Metro to the original Capitol Hill location. After breakfast and some of their famous Ted's Tarts, walk towards the east end of The Mall.

Continue exploring the seat of the U.S. Government with tours of the Library of Congress and Capitol. Guided tours are required in the Capitol, and the Library of Congress offers a helpful audio guide. Both experiences take about 90 minutes each.

After an afternoon inside, get some fresh air at the free US Botanic Garden, steps away from the Capitol.

End the day with a moonlight tour of the monuments. Even though you saw them yesterday, seeing them illuminated and with fewer crowds is an entirely different experience.

Wharf District. Photo by EvgeniaParajanian/iStock.comWharf District. Photo by EvgeniaParajanian/
Hop on the Metro for a morning outside of D.C. Ride to the King St - Old Town stop in Alexandria, VA. You'll arrive at the top of King Street. Walk east until you reach the Potomac River. Take your time, window shop, and stop somewhere to eat along the way. Consider Mia's Italian Kitchen at the eastern end of the street.

At the bottom of the street, check out the Torpedo Factory Arts Center. Inside, you'll find the studios of 71 artists, both selling their wares and actively creating as you watch.

Return to D.C. by taking the free trolley up King Street back to the Metro or crossing the Potomac River on the water taxi, which will take you to The Wharf.

Walking north from The Wharf, you'll come upon the south end of The Mall, home to the newly remodeled Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Adults and kids alike will enjoy the exhibits inside, highlighting the time from the Wright brothers' first flight to modern space exploration.

For dinner, reserve a table at the famous French restaurant Le Diplomate. Its location in Washington D.C.’s 14th St Corridor means you'll have many options for a pre-dinner drink and an inviting streetscape to explore.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Photo NoDerog/iStock.comSmithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Photo NoDerog/
Explore Ford's Theatre before leaving Washington D.C. Be careful what ticket you buy, as each includes access to different areas of the complex. Be sure to check out the museum, the theater itself, and the Petersen House.

If you have more time before your flight, schedule additional Smithsonian museums into your itinerary. The National Postal Museum is a fun one for all ages to explore.