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Resting on the banks of the Potomac River, the iconic U.S. Capitol of Washington D.C. boasts a rich history, ornate architecture, and some of the best sights in the whole country. It truly is no surprise that it attracts countless tourists every year.
Despite being so compact, the streets buzz with countless activities. From marveling at its white, stone structures, to meandering around one of its impressive museums; relaxing in the urban green spaces to dining in high scale restaurants, Washington D.C. delights history buffs and avid sightseers alike.
It doesn’t matter if you’re here on a midweek getaway or a weekend escape – there’s something here for everyone.
Know Before You Go
Before you start your D.C. tour, it’s a great idea to brush up on some of your local knowledge. Though you can always expect fun-filled days and smiling locals, there are a few other important things to take note of:
Downtown Washington D.C. is lucky enough to have three airports nearby, but prioritize convenience by flying into the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport- or DCA. This airport is just under 5 miles from Washington D.C., making transfers smooth and stress-free.
Washington D.C. is famed for its small size, but people are always surprised by how far apart some of the main attractions are. To save time, stress and money getting from one stop to the next, make sure to hop on an Old Town Trolley Tour for your first two days.
One thing you’ll quickly realize in Washington D.C. is that there are almost too many museums to count. Aside from the tourist favorites, save a little time to escape into smaller museums, like the striking National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Tours of the White House and the U.S. Capitol must be requested up to three months in advance and no less than 21 days in advance.
Must Visit Neighborhoods
Every neighborhood in Washington fits together like a small but perfectly formed jigsaw, with each one showcasing its own unique, alluring vibe that visitors will relish:
Catch sight of stunning, Victorian buildings in Georgetown, where upmarket eateries and abundant art galleries offer an undeniable charm. This area is particularly beautiful in the fall months, where glowing, red leaves of old trees light up the cobbled streets in a whole new way.
As one of the best neighborhoods for international cuisine in Washington D.C., visitors are never short on snacks to sample or cocktails to try in Adams Morgan. As a true kaleidoscope in the daytime, it takes on a life of its own after dark.
Adding to the colorful urban environment of Washington D.C., Dupont Circle has welcome green spaces and unbeatable shopping opportunities. This versatile neighborhood allows visitors to try cheap eats alongside Michelin star restaurants.
2 Best Hotels to Stay In
Like any weekend destination, Washington D.C. offers various accommodation options for all budgets. There are a few dotted around the urban area that boast a regular Old Town Trolley hotel shuttle service, but here are the best two:
Known for its historic architecture and welcoming staff, The Mayflower Hotel is located right in the heart of Washington D.C. In fact, it is only a short walk from the White House. Old Town Trolley shuttle busses depart from the hotel every half an hour, from 9:15am to 1:45pm, so you’ll find exploring a breeze.
Throwing a modern twist into the mix, The Wink boasts some incredible four-star facilities at an affordable rate. Situated close to some of the main tourist attractions, visitors will also be happy to know that the Old Town Trolley shuttle departs every hour, from 9:15am to 1:15pm, allowing you to access all of Washington D.C.’s hidden gems.
It is no secret that Washington D.C. is home to The White House, and tourists from all over the world can enjoy tours around this iconic building at any time of the year. It is the perfect place to kick off your tour, and it helps that an Old Town Trolley stop is right outside the grounds.
The domed ceiling of the US Capitol will forever be one of the most loved treasures of Washington D.C. Situated on Capitol Hill, it is famed for being the home of Congress, and is easily reached by jumping off the Old Town Trolley at Stop 6.
At the same stop is the ever-vibrant National Mall, which is home to the famous National Monument. Walk across to see the Lincoln and Korean War Memorials, before boarding the Old Town Trolley at Stop 13.
All around central Washington D.C., visitors can find lunchtime dining to suit any taste. Make sure not to stray too far from your Old Town Trolley Stop, and tuck into a high-end American lunch at The Oval Room. Located just outside the White House, the Old Ebbitt Grill is the oldest bar in Washington D.C., and is known for its oyster dishes. Further north in Dupont Circle, try some light, Mediterranean cuisine at CAVA before setting out to explore again.
The National Gallery of Art is one of the most famous buildings in the world, but there are far more wonders to be indulged in once inside. It features everything from ancient stone sculptures, to contemporary exhibitions. Hop off the Old Town Trolley at Stop 7 and take a short walk to reach it.
Lying even closer to Stop 7 is the futuristic Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, where space research takes place, and some key historic space aircraft are on show.
When evening comes, the city resonates with a power you can only feel in The District. Aboard the Monuments by Moonlight Tour, visitors will experience the magic of the night as they explore the history, valor, and courage preserved in the granite and marble of its most revered monuments enhanced all the more by the glow they radiate at night. Visitors will never be short of dinnertime options in Washington D.C., but a firm favorite of both tourists and locals is Tail Up Goat. This trendy bistro doubles as a cocktail bar, making it the perfect place to start your night. Le Diplomate serves up some hearty French food, and the stylish Brothers and Sisters lounge bar puts a global twist on American cuisine. Later on, sample local craft beer at ChurchKey, and high-end whiskeys in the open-top bar of Jack Rose. Dance the night away to live music at Tropicalia, or have a wholesome night by watching the National Mall monuments light up after dark.
As one of the most memorable stops on any Washington D.C. tour, the International Spy Museum is home to everything espionage. Showcasing artifacts from historical and modern espionage, you can reach it by jumping off the Old Town Trolley at Stop 9.
The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is dedicated to one of the most prominent founding fathers of the United States. Surrounded by cherry trees of the Tidal Basin, it is equally beautiful as it is breath-taking. Visitors can get off at Stop 11 to get there.
Hop off at Stop 12 to see two of the most significant figures in American history: The Franklin D Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorials. Overlooking the Potomac River, they are only a stone’s throw apart.
On day two, try out the cozy, communal lunch setting at The Market Lunch. This renowned lunch spot serves the best of American cuisine, from fluffy bacon pancakes to crab cakes. Enjoy Spanish light bites and tasty tapas at the centrally located Jaleo, where visitors might like to sip on cooling sangria on warmer days. In the East End, dine in at the charming French Bistro Bis.
Visitors are always pleasantly surprised by Washington D.C.’s global food scene, where eclectic nights can be spent dining in at favorites like Himitsu. In the hipster neighborhood of Bloomingdale, sample the Italian delights of Red Hen, or keep it simple by indulging on the mid-Atlantic dishes of The Dabney. For evening drinks, stop by the Dacha Beer Garden in Shaw, where large groups are welcome on weekend breaks. Gin enthusiasts can head to Wisdom for creative tipples and a vintage vibe, before watching world famous shows at the art-deco Howard Theater.
Regular visitors will know that Washington D.C. is filled with all sorts of shopping hubs, where everything from designer clothes to gift shop souvenirs can be found. Discover shopping complexes with mainstream stores in Penn Quarter, and pick up some unique items in the thriving Eastern and Union Markets. Don’t forget to sample some of the best street food in Washington D.C., made with fresh and local produce. Lovers of all things luxury can indulge in the designer boutiques of Dupont Circle, and only a short metro ride away, the sprawling Friendship Heights metropolis has everything from popular stores to high-end gems.
Aside from the usual tourist hotspots, there are a few other activities to enjoy on your free day that are guaranteed to be highlights:
There are few museums which delight the senses in the same way The Natural History Museum does. As the world’s largest natural history museum, you’ll find it easy to get lost in the various, fascinating artifacts, which range from its colossal elephant sculpture to ancient dinosaur skeletons.
As the poster child of Washington D.C., no weekend getaway is the same without taking some timeout to relax in the Georgetown Waterfront Park. With both blooming park views and silvery city views, don’t miss out on the chance to have a riverside picnic in the warmer, summer months.
One of Washington D.C.’s best kept secrets, Theodore Roosevelt Island is an oasis amidst a bustling urban setting. It can be easily reached by following the bridge into the middle of the Potomac River. With hiking trails suitable for all ages and abilities, escape the city for a few hours on your last day in Washington D.C.