Washington DC itinerary - White House

The Best 3 Day Washington DC Itinerary

Are you thinking of planning a trip to Washington DC? Want help planning a 3-day Washington DC itinerary?  How about a 4 or 5-day Washington DC itinerary?

Perfect, you are in the right spot! Washington DC is one of my favorite places and I am excited to share with you all of the best places to visit.

I'm sad to say 3 days in Washington DC is not enough to see everything.  In fact, we lived in DC for a year and still didn't experience everything!  However, I will give you the best itinerary for Washington DC with a list of the best places to see in Washington DC. 

In this post, we are going to list some of the most popular sites in and near Washington DC.  If you only have a weekend in Washington DC or want to create a Washington DC 3-day itinerary, this list will help you plan a trip to DC.

I will also give you a Washington DC itinerary for 4 days in Washington DC as well as a 5-day Washington DC itinerary.  The longer the better! 

Let's get started with creating the best itinerary for Washington DC! 

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Contents show

Flying into Washington DC

Flying to Disneyland

As you plan your trip to Washington DC, one of the first things that you might wonder is what the best way to travel to Washington DC is.  

Well, you are in luck because there are 3 airport options to choose from when traveling to Washington DC.  I always look at which airport is offering the best price.  

Washington DC Travel Tips

The three airports are:

  • DCA – Ronald Reagan National Airport in Arlington VA
  • IAD – Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia
  • BWI- Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in Maryland

All of these airports are within an hour of Washington DC. 

Ronald Reagan National Airport

The closest airport is DCA.  DCA has great public transportation options to/from Washington DC if you do not want to rent a car. It is the most convenient airport in DC because it is easy to get to the National Mall. 

Dulles International Airport

IAD – I love IAD.  It is located in Dulles, VA which is about 40 minutes west of Washington DC.  Public transportation is not easily accessible from Dulles. Renting a car is your best bet.

If you do fly into this airport be sure to make your first stop at the Steven Udvar: Air and Space Museum in Chantilly.  It is amazing! It is on your way to Washington DC. 

Baltimore Washington International

BWI – Baltimore is a huge Southwest hub.  If you like flying SWA you will probably find yourself at BWI.  It is about 50 minutes from Washington DC. 

If you do fly into this airport make your first stops at Fort Mc Henry and the National Aquarium.  They are located very close to the airport.  

Where to Stay in Washington DC

Plan a trip to Washington DC - hotels

There are lots of hotels in Washington DC.  One thing to keep in mind is that no matter where your hotel is you are going to be walking. 

If you can find a hotel that is within a 10-minute or less walk to the National Mall you doing well. I always like to check google maps to see how close it is to the different DC landmarks. 

Some of the best places in Washington DC to stay are:

If you are staying with a large family Residence Inn has some bigger suites.  We stayed at two Residence Inns on our last trip to DC.  Both were great!

If you are looking for a fun option the Gaylord might be a good choice.  It is located at the National Harbor.  It is not close to downtown Washington DC, so you will have to have a car to commute.  


Should I Rent a Car in Washington DC

Car Rentals for Disneyland

Should you get a rental car in Washington DC?  Good question.  

You won't need a rental car if you plan to fly into DCA and stay right near the National Mall.  

You will need a rental car if you decide to go out of the city.  There are some great day trips from Washington DC that might make it worth it.  

Washington DC Travel Tips

I wanted to give you a few things to think about if you decide to rent or not to rent a car in Washington DC. 


Parking in DC is expensive! Keep that in mind.  It will cost you close to $50 per night to have a car at the hotels in DC.  

Also, you can not drive from your hotel and park easily near the monuments.  There are a few free lots but they will most likely be full.  There is paid street parking but that is very stressful if you have never been to Washington DC. 

Parking can add up and also be inconvenient. 


DC does have a metro.  It is fabulous for commuters.  You can get out of the city in a lot of different directions.  When we worked in DC, it was awesome. 

As a traveler, the metro does not get you too close to all of the tourist attractions.  You have to walk a lot. 


We took Uber a few times but Uber can add up too! 

Our Experience

We rented a car for a few of the days we were in DC.  We wanted to visit friends and go to Mount Vernon and the Air and Space Museum in Chantilly.  I am glad we did.  If you plan to be entirely in Washington DC you do not need a car. There are many other ways to get around Washington DC

Things to Do as You Plan a Trip to Washington DC and Create Your 3-Day Washington DC Itinerary

3-day Washington DC Itinerary

Planning a trip to Washington DC takes a little work. When you plan your itinerary for Washington DC, you will need to do a few things ahead of time.

I am going to let you know which tours and sites you need to book ahead of time. 

Important Washington DC Travel Tips

Before you plan your 3-Day Washington DC itinerary be sure to contact your senator or congressman if you want a tour of the White House or US Capitol.  

Even if you try to book months in advance you still might not be able to get a tour time. We reached out 5 months before our trip and could not get a tour of either.  

How Many Days Do I Need in Washington DC

4 Day Washington DC itinerary

We are planning a 3-Day Washington DC itinerary as an example.  We will also include a few more ideas if you can stay longer.  

3-4 days in Washington DC proper is a good amount of time to explore. A week in Washington DC is even better because this will give you time to include some day trips from Washington DC. 

But I get it if you only have a weekend in Washington DC.

Narrow Down What You Want to Do on Your 3-Day Washington DC Itinerary

itinerary for Washington DC - memorials

Before we jump to some 3-day Washington DC itinerary examples, I think it is good to get an idea of what attractions and landmarks interest you most. This is important when visiting DC.  

I am going to list out some of the best things to do in Washington DC and then we will make an itinerary for Washington DC that you will be excited about. 

1. Washington DC Museums

3 day itinerary for Washington DC

You could truly plan an entire 3-day Washington DC itinerary with the intent of only visiting the National Smithsonian sites.   

I am going to list some of the National Smithsonian and other amazing museums in Washington DC. Just by looking at this list, you can easily tell that creating a 5-day Washington DC itinerary could be easily consumed by visiting museums! 

I am going to highlight in black my absolute favorites that I feel like should be added to your Washington DC itinerary. The blue highlights are museums with tours available. 

Museums in Washington DC

  • National Museum of Natural History (Tour Available)
  • National Museum of American History (Tour Available)
  • National Air and Space Museum (Tour Available)
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture 
  • National Museum of the American Indian
  • Arts and Industries Building 
  • National Museum of Asian Art
  • National Museum of African Art
  • Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
  • Renwick Gallery
  • Steven F Udvar (Air and Space in Chantilly) 
  • National Postal Museum
  • American Art Museum
  • National Portrait Gallery (Tour Available)
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • National Gallery of Art (Tour Available) 
  • National Building Museum
  • International Spy Museum  

The museums in DC are fabulous!  Most of the museums are free.  There are a few of these museums where you will need to reserve a ticket (Holocaust, Spy), but for most of them, you can just walk-in.  

Most of the National Smithsonian Museums open at 10:00 am and close at 5:30 pm.  The American Art Museum is open until 7:00 pm.

If you are traveling with children some of the best museums in DC for kids are highlighted above. 

2. National Historic Sites

plan a trip to DC tomb of the unknown Solider

It is worth adding to your Washington DC itinerary some National Historic sites that don't really fall under the category of the museum. A weekend trip to Washington DC is not complete unless you visit at least one of the following locations. 

All of these places are amazing! It is going to be so hard to narrow down what you want to include on your 3-day Washington DC itinerary! 

For some of these locations, you can book your tickets ahead of time. I would look at the official websites for each individual site and decide if you need to get tickets ahead of time. 

3. Washington DC Monuments

Iwo Jima DC Monuments at Night

Viewing the monuments is one of the best things to add to your itinerary for Washington DC.  There are lots of incredible memorials and monuments located right along the National Mall.  

To walk around the entire National Mall is about 5 miles.  It is a lot of walking and can be very hot during the summer.  Viewing the Monuments at night is a great option.  There are lots of fun nighttime tours offered.

Monuments Viewable from the National Mall

  • Washington Monument
  • Korean War Veterans Memorial
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial
  • Vietnam Memorial 
  • WWII Memorial

There are more memorials located throughout Washington DC. One of my favorites is Iwo Jima!   

4. Visit The Washington DC Wharf

Washington DC itinerary -The Wharf

The Wharf is a fun area to visit in Washington DC.  It is a short walk from the Spy Museum.  Along the Wharf there are restaurants with great views.  You can also enjoy a dinner cruise on the Potomac.  You can also book a private boat tour for your family. 

Weekend in Washington DC

If you want to go out on the town and enjoy a nice restaurant this is a great area.  It is a must for a fun weekend in Washington DC.

5. National Zoo

Zoo Smithsonian Museums for kids

A lot of people do not even know there is a National Zoo.  It is one of the best zoos in America.  

Washington DC Weekend Trip

If you love animals, the National Zoo is a great place to go for a Washington DC weekend trip.  There are giant pandas!  There are lots of activities for kids and great exhibits to check out.  You can easily spend 2-3 hours at the National Zoo.  

Admission and Hours

Admission is free! It is located just North of the White House.  It is about a 10-12 minute drive or a 20-minute metro ride. It is open year-round from 8:00 am – 4:00 pm

5. Georgetown

Washington DC 3 day itinerary Georgetown

Georgetown is fun. It is home to Georgetown University.  It is a hip shopping and eating district.  

Food Tours

If you are a foodie like me this may be one of your favorite stops in Washington DC. In fact, there are lots of food tours in Georgetown

The famous DC Cupcakes are in Georgetown.  (The line will always be long.) It is worth it! We loved the cheesecake-based cupcakes the best! 

We also loved Levain Bakery.  The shopping is fabulous too! If you love historic homes you can go on a walking tour and learn all about the history of the area. 

This is one of the best things to do on your Washington DC weekend. Go eat a nice dinner and enjoy the great bakeries! 


You can get to Georgetown on the Metro.  I decided to drive and parking is difficult to find and is expensive. I recommend the Metro.

Getting Out of Washington DC

5 day Washington DC Itinerary

The National Mall is awesome.  There is really so much to do downtown but if you want to see a little more, Virginia and Maryland have some great historic sites that are worth checking out.  

If you are planning a Washington DC vacation it really is worth your time to visit some of the historical sites that are nearby.

6. Mount Vernon

Visit Mount Vernon estate

Visiting Mount Vernon the home of George Washington is a must! 

Admission and Hours

There are a few ways to get from Washington DC to Mount VernonDriving is probably the best option as it takes about 40 minutes to get there.  Mount Vernon opens at 9:00 am closes at 4:00 pm.

There is an admission fee for Mount Vernon.  Booking a basic ticket will allow you a tour of the estate as well as the interactive museum.  There are more ticket options but if it is your first time a basic ticket is perfect. 

George Washington's Estate

George Washington's estate is beautiful.  I love learning all about his life.  The museum is awesome! It is a great place to take the kids as it is very interactive. There is a children's area that is fantastic as well. 

7. Fort McHenry

Itinerary for Washington DC Fort Mchenry

Fort McHenry is one of my favorite places near DC. It is located near Baltimore.  I would add this location to your 3 – day Washington DC itinerary if you fly into BWI. 

What is Fort McHenry?

What is Fort McHenry you ask?  Well, the most important thing to know is that during the War of 1812, a battle took place, and America won (obviously) but during that war, the inspiration and lyrics for the Star Spangled Banner were born. 

It is one of the most inspiring places I have been.  Okay, I may cry every time I hear the Star-Spangled Banner.  I just love American and feel so blessed to live in the USA. 

Hours and Admission

If you have a National Park Pass it will work here otherwise it is about $15 per person.  Fort McHenry is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

8. National Aquarium

Trip to DC National Aquarium

The National Aquarium is located near Fort McHenry and is in Baltimore.  This is another DC attraction to add to your 3-days in Washington DC itinerary if you fly into BWI.

Admission and Hours

The National Aquarium is open from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm and costs between $30-$40 depending on your age.  

Interactive Experience

The aquarium is impressive.  There are lots of interactive events like a behind-the-scenes with sharks event and a 4-D experience.  It is a fun way to spend a day.  You could probably do both Fort McHenry and the Aquarium in one day. 

9. National Harbor

Plan a trip to DC National Harbor

The National Harbor is a fun place to shop, dine, and explore.  The Capitol Ferris Wheel is located on the dock! 

Great Place to Stay in Washington DC

This is a beautiful area located just outside of Washington DC in Maryland.  There are some amazing hotels at the harbor.  The Gaylord (which offers lots of fun activities year-round), MGM, and the Westin are a few worth mentioning.  

I really wanted to stay at the Gaylord but decided not to because the distance between the Harbor and Washington DC is a little too far. A night out in the harbor would be perfect! 

10. Steven Uvdar: Air and Space Museum in Chantilly

Washington DC travel tips - Air and Space Museum Chantilly

The Air and Space Museum located in Washington DC is awesome.  The Air and Space Museum located in Chantilly, Virginia is a sister site that is full of famous planes and rockets. 

Historic Planes

The Enola Gay, Space Shuttle Discovery, and famous Boeing planes are all on display. There are also many WWII planes and other space crafts.   This place is huge! It is fun to explore. 

Hours and Admission

This museum is located near the IAD airport which is about 40 minutes from Washington DC.  It is open from 10:00 am – 5:30 pm.  There is a $15 parking fee but admission is free.  I would include this in your itinerary for Washington DC if you fly into IAD.  

2 Day Washington DC Itinerary

2-DAy Washington DC Itinerary

If you only have two days in Washington DC here is a sample 2-day Washington DC itinerary.  Remember that most museums close at 5:30 pm.  The first part of your day is busy!

You will want to make the most of your 2 days in Washington DC, this itinerary includes the best things to do while visiting DC. 

2-Day Washington DC Itinerary

Day 1

  • American History Museum 
  • Washington Monument (Need to Book Tickets Ahead of Time)
  • Capitol Tour or White House Tour (If you can get a Tour.)
  • National Archives (You can walk in or there are Skip the Line Tickets)
  • Natural History Museum 
  • Take a Break Eat and Rest
  • Take a Night Tour of the Monuments

Day 2

3 Day Washington DC Itinerary

3 Day Washington DC itinerary - WWII Memorial

With a 3-day Washington DC itinerary you have a little more time to spread out all of the DC attractions. 

3-Day Washington DC Itinerary

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

You can get a lot done when you visit DC in 3 days. With this 3-day Washington DC itinerary you can be flexible and switch things up and make it your own.  This is just a sample Washington DC itinerary.

4 Day Washington DC Itinerary

4 day Washington DC itinerary - Jefferson

I think a 4 day Washington DC itinerary is a little better than 3.  Mainly because the day you come in can be utilized.  

Day 1

  • If you fly into BWI  go to Fort McHenry and/or the National Aquarium
  • If you fly into IAD go to Steven F. Udvar -Air and Space Museum in Chantilly.
  • If you fly into DCA go right into the city or if you rent a car go to Mount Vernon and stop at the National Harbor on your way back into the city.  

Day 2

  • American History Museum
  • National Archives
  • Washington Monument Tour (Get Tickets Ahead of Time.)
  • White House or Capitol Tour (If you can get a Tour.)
  • Ford's Theater (Get Tickets Ahead of Time.)
  • Take a break
  • Georgetown for Dinner

Day 3

Day 4

5 Day Washington DC Itinerary

5 day Washington DC itinerary - Roosevelt Memorial

A 5 day Washington DC itinerary will give you plenty of time to see the best DC attractions.

Day 1 (Same as 4 Day Washington DC Itinerary) 

  • If you fly into BWI  go to Fort McHenry and/or the National Aquarium
  • If you fly into IAD go to Steven F. Udvar -Air and Space Museum in Chantilly.
  • If you fly into DCA go right into the city or if you rent a car go to Mount Vernon and stop at the National Harbor on your way back into the city.  

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

  • Postal Museum
  • Air and Space Museum
  • American Indian Museum
  • White House or Capitol Tour 
  • American Art Museum
  • Monuments at Night Tour

Day 5

  • Option 1: Explore more Museums
  • Option 2: Get out of the city and see the sites that are not located on or near the National Mall
  • Option 3: Take a tour that interest you the most.  

Best Places to Eat in Washington DC

Washington DC Itinerary Food Options

Eating in Washington DC can be tricky.  Most of the museums have cafes.  They are usually pretty expensive.

There is a cafeteria in the US Capitol building and another in the Longworth Building.  This is where most government employees eat because the food is pretty good and it is inexpensive.  


Georgetown is a great place to eat.  There are so many great restaurants and fun specialty eateries.  You can find fast food, bakeries, and fine dining.  It is the perfect place to end your day. 


The Wharf is another great area with lots of options for food. You can hit a Shake Shack or dine in a sit-down restaurant. This area is beautiful so you can guarantee a great atmosphere. 

Are you Ready to Plan your Itinerary for Washington DC?

Washington DC itinerary - aerial view

Planning an itinerary for Washington DC can be overwhelming.  There are seriously so many things to see and do! 

Hopefully, this 3-Day Washington DC itinerary helps!  I couldn't help throwing in a bonus 4 and 5-day Washington DC itinerary as well! 

Washington DC is one of my most favorite places! I know you will have a great time! If you have any more questions please ask! 

We decided to do a road trip from Washington DC and included Shenandoah National Park, Monticello (Thomas Jefferson's Estate), and Williamsburg because we wanted to go to Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens to ride the coasters.  Gettysburg is also an awesome road trip from DC.

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  1. Fantastic post and I’ll definitely be bookmarking this one as well! I have wanted to take the kids to the nation’s capital but have felt overwhelmed with thinking of what to do and must see places and monuments. You’ve really given me great ideas and I’ll definitely be referring back to this post. Thank you!

  2. There’s always a lot to do in in DC. You have a great list of the best 3 day itineraries in Washington D.C.! One of our favorite things to do is visiting the Smithsonian. I could spend days there!

  3. Mount Vernon is a great add on to a 3 day Washington DC itinerary. Of course, there is so much to do in the city, it’s hard to leave.

  4. I remember going a lot of these places growing up and it makes me want to take my kids! I never did make it to Mount Vernon though, and I think that would be really cool! Great 3 day itinerary for Washington DC

  5. Bookmarking this 3 Day Washington DC itinerary for when we visit my daughter. The silver line on the Metro now goes to IAD, Dulles making it so easy to commute!

  6. I’ve been to DC a couple of times, but my husband and daughter haven’t. We are actually planning our summer road trip right now, and we are driving from Missouri to Niagara Falls and then over to Maine to Acadia National Park. We then plan to drive down the coast to Boston and end with DC.

    I think we’ll do a few things in DC and then go back again sometime. I’d like to do the zoo, a couple of museums, and the night monument tour. We’ll see what happens! Sometimes we’re a tad tired at the end of our long road trips, so plans change. We’re excited, though. I have the lodging reserved through Boston. I hope to finish the rest this weekend. Then, we’ll start reserving our activities. This is the trip we were planning the summer Covid happened. I’m excited for a retry!

  7. These are great itineraries for DC! I was there four days last fall and could have spent much longer. There’s so much to do there! I stayed at citizenM which is close enough to the National Mall to walk. It’s a fun, quirky hotel.

  8. These itineraries are phenomenal! With such amazing details, one will have an amazing 3-day vacation in Washington, DC.

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