Washington DC is one of my favorite cities in the world. I am so blessed to live here and even though I have been here for years, I have still not seen and done it all. If you have only two days in this awesome Capital City, here are my recommendations!
Most of the Smithsonian museums open at 10 am but in order to beat the crowds and make the most of your day, I would recommend getting to the mall around 8 or 9 am. Take time to see the memorials and National Mall in the relative peace and quiet with only the runners and dog walkers.
Start by the Lincoln memorial and walk to see the Vietnam Wall, Korean Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, FDR Memorial, and Jefferson Memorial before circling back towards the World War II memorial and the Washington Monument. This is a gorgeous route and appropriately 2.7 miles. 1-2 hours is enough time to walk at a leisurely pace and still spend a few minutes at each location. If you have time and have it in you, you can also walk by the White House after the Washington Monument. To just see it and take a picture from the edge of Constitution Ave (enter German American Friendship Garden in your GPS) will add .6 miles (round trip) to your walk.
Plan to spend the majority of the day visiting 1-2 Smithsonian Museums. Museums open at 10 am and unless you are extremely lucky there will be a line to get in. However, if you time your first museum arrival for 10:15 or 10:30 you can avoid the initial line of early birders but still beat the late arrivals. The Smithsonian has 19 museums, so you will never see them all in a short trip. The most popular are the Air and Space Museum, Natural History Museum, American History Museum, and the Archives. They are popular for a reason, so unless you are particularly interested in Art or another museum, I recommend you pick from one of these.
Lunch: There are tons of fantastic places to eat in DC; however, they are all a bit off the mall and will eat up precious time if you plan to hit a second museum. For a fast and delicious lunch, hit a food truck. You will have dozens of options outside the L’Enfant metro station or along 14th Street in front of the Washington Memorial.
Visit your second museum after lunch.
The Kennedy Center has a free performance every evening at 6 pm. Too get there, take the metro to Foggy Bottom and take the free shuttle that runs every 15 minutes. It is easy to spot just at the top of the escalator.
End your day with dinner and drinks at either Georgetown or Chinatown. If you opted for the Kennedy Center, then Georgetown is a lovely walk by the river. Chinatown is an easy walk or metro ride and has dozens of great places to choose from.
Start the day off with a tour of the Capitol. Reservations are recommended. The Capitol also opens early (830 am) so you can get an early jump on the day. The closest metro stop is Capitol South, but Union Station is also very close if the red line is easier.
Once done at the Capitol, visit both the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. Both are worthwhile and easily located from the Capitol. The first tour of the day at the Library of Congress is 1030 am, so this can be perfect timing if you get to the Capitol early. The Supreme Court will be the least busy of the three stops. They also have regular tours but also have interesting displays if you just walk in.
Walk up Capitol Hill and stop for lunch along the way on Capitol Hill or at Eastern Market. There are too many options to list here but you can have anything from a slice of pizza at We the Pizza (my husband’s favorite) to Balkan tapas at Ambar. This is a high rent district so nobody can afford to stay in business if they don’t deliver high quality affordable food. Don’t worry, you can’t chose a wrong spot to eat in this area. And most tourists don’t wander past the Capitol so you are more likely to be eating with locals.
After lunch, take the metro back to the National Mall and visit another Smithsonian Museum. Beware, the Smithsonian stop is not necessarily the closest. Depending on which museum you go to, L’Enfant or Archives (or another) may be closer.
End the day with dinner in Georgetown, Gallery Place or Old Town Alexandria (easy metro ride).