What to see in Washington DC in one day + Top 10 attractions

Who I am
Lluis Enric Mayans

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Washington DC, the capital of the United States, is one of my favorite cities - nowhere does it feel like this American dream, testified by national monuments and museums scattered almost everywhere. Furthermore, it is a city with very large spaces, immense horizons, with very low buildings (especially if we think of the imaginary of the great American cities) that make the sky always clearly visible.

There are so many things to visit and places of interest, but what if we only have 24 hours available? In short, if we find ourselves a Washington what to see in one day? What if we have more time? What are the attractions not to be missed, what not to give up during a visit?

To answer these questions I have divided this article into 2 sections: in the first list the 10 things to see in Washington, in the second I propose a 1 day itinerary which I tested directly in the field.


  • Top 10 on what to see in Washington
    • National Mall
    • Georgetown
    • Arlington Cemetery
    • U Street
    • Capitol Hill
    • Dupont Circle
    • Zoo di Washington
    • Downtown
    • Chinatown e Penn Quarter
    • Adams morgan
  • Washington: what to see in 1 day? Recommended itinerary
    • Union Station
    • The Capitol, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress
    • National Gallery e Washington Monument
    • I Memorial
    • What to do in Washington if I have more days?
  • What to see around Washington?
  • Tips for staying overnight in Washington

Top 10 on what to see in Washington

National Mall

I National Mall are the main reason for visit Washington, so much so that for many tourists the stay in the city coincides and ends with the visit of the Malls themselves. But what is it about? It is a large cross-plan park where the monuments, museums, memorials and places of power most famous of all the United States.

You can decide to dedicate a long walk to it, admiring its touching memorials without going inside the buildings, and only in this way the visit will require you at least half a day, then if you decide to enter its museums or institutions then the times will get longer, because the concentration of things to see is truly impressive.

Among the main places of interest you will find:

  • Lincoln memorial
  • White House
  • Capitol Hill
  • Washington Monument
  • jefferson memorial
  • a large array of beautiful museums, all free (here you will find the 6 museums in Washington that we absolutely recommend to visit).

For a complete list of all the attractions of the National Mall and advice on how to set up your visit, I refer you to our guide on how to visit the National Malls in Washington DC.


M Street, Georgetown

Those who love lively and quaint neighborhoods will find that Washington has many to offer and Georgetown is probably the most interesting example. University district animated by the students of the homonymous university, with many shops and restaurants, picturesque colorful houses, brick alleys full of history, and sumptuous nineteenth-century villas. To reach the neighborhood and discover its many things to see, I refer you to our guide on Georgetown.

Arlington Cemetery

Although technically the Arlington Cemetery lies outside the boundaries of the District of Columbia, certainly can not miss in a top 10 of the things to see in Washington DC. As you probably know this is not just any cemetery, but the American military cemetery par excellence, a true symbol of US patriotism.

Walking among the endless expanse of white tombstones is an experience that requires a religious silence, as is a visit to Kennedy's tomb or the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Near the entrance to the cemetery you can then admire one of the Washington monuments most famous, the Marine Corps Memorial, in memory of the battle of Iwo Jima. Read our guide to Arlington Cemetery to find out more.

U Street

If you're wondering what to do in Washington in the evening, in addition to Georgetown, you must definitely consider the U Street and surroundings, where some of the most renowned are located jazz club of the city, such as Jojo, The Brixton and Twin Jazz.

It is a lively area with a strong Afro-American presence, whose history and tradition are celebrated by the neighborhood museum, theAfrican American Civil War Museum and from the homonymous memorial. To reach U Street, just take the yellow or green metro and get off at U St / African-Amer Civil War Memorial / Cardozo.

Capitol Hill

Townhouses on Capitol Hill

Il historic district of the Capitol (Capitol Hill is the very hill that houses the US Congress building) stretches from the eastern side of the National Mall for several blocks, bordered by the Lincoln Park district to the east, Staunton Park to the north and Capitol Riverfront to the south. Here, in addition to the Capitol, there are also other important institutional offices, such as the offices of the senators, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress (the latter can be visited freely).

But beyond the area of ​​the buildings of power, the neighborhood reveals its residential soul, with its pretty terraced houses and placid city parks. A pleasant walk through these streets will lead you to Eastern Market, the neighborhood market, a small paradise for those in search of fresh and refined food. This district also has its own area dotted with pubs and restaurants, this is the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue that starts from the Library of Congress and then continues on eighth street.

The best tube stops for visiting Capitol Hill are Capitol South e Union Station, the beautiful station that serves as the starting point of the daily itinerary that you find just below.

Dupont Circle

The district owes its name to the homonymous square with a fountain in the center, a meeting place and reference point for many locals. It is one of the most vibrant areas of the city, with restaurants, bistros, independent bookstores, underground record shops and an unsuspected array of notable historical museums and institutions to visit. The busiest street is Connecticut Avenue, so if you are looking for life, this is where you must go.

In this neighborhood you can find:

  • the first modern art museum to open in the United States, the Phillips Collection, with works of great importance, from Renoir to Rothko;
  • Brewmaster’s Castle, mansion dating back to the Gilded Age; it is one of the finest in the neighborhood and belonged to Washington DC's first brewmaster, Christian Heurich. The house boasts an original interior and an interesting story to tell.
  • the original Georgian mansion inhabited by presidente Woodrow Wilson, which has remained unchanged since the 20s.
  • la Anderson House, another historic home where documents from the era of the American Revolution are kept, from manuscripts to maps, graphic arts and other documents.

Zoo di Washington

Why on earth visit a zoo during a stay in the American capital? Well, it may not be one of the first Washington attractions that come to mind, but it is Smithsonian’s National Zoo (Also known as National Zoological Park) is one of the largest zoos in the world, with a remarkable variety of species, many of which are endangered. I have visited it personally and I must say that it was a very interesting experience.

A curiosity: while walking along the path between the cages of the animals you may notice some orangutans climbing on cables that pass over your heads, apparently free; do not worry, everything is perfectly safe, these animals can move between one area and another of the zoo without risk for them or for visitors.

To reach the Washington Zoo, take the red line and get off at the stop Woodley Park-Zoo Metro Station.


Behind the White House, the neighborhood of Downtown, the city city, mostly occupied by workers and offices (including the headquarters of the FBI and National Geographic). Walking in this area is pleasant as it is an area made up of elegant modern buildings but not skyscrapers. This is due to a federal law that limits the height of buildings in the city, making it the Downtown di Washington DC unlike that of many other American cities.

But don't expect only offices, in this area there are many restaurants, shops and museums: for example the shopping center CityCenterDC, a multi-block luxury shopping complex, also renamed Washington DC's Rodeo Drive, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, entirely dedicated to the contribution made by women to art, with works by Frida Kahlo, Sarah Bernhardt and Mary Cassatt, and the National Geographic Museum, the museum dedicated to exploration and research housed in the headquarters of the famous magazine.

Chinatown e Penn Quarter

Southeast of Downtown are the 2 small neighborhoods of Chinatown e Penn Quarter, which represent one of the most heterogeneous areas of the whole city: here you will find sporting events, clubs and restaurants to have fun, shops and interesting museums. Getting off at the Gallery Place - Chinatown metro stop, you will immediately be blown away by the large 18-meter high Chinese arch and the numerous neon lights of the many clubs that testify to the commercial vocation and great vitality of this district.

If you want to see an NBA game, concert or other type of show you can choose between the Capital One Arena and Ford’s Theatre (in the latter, President Lincoln was killed in 1862); if you are interested in museums you can visit the National Portrait Gallery, with its large collection of paintings, sculptures, photographs and drawings, the Newseum, dedicated to the history of journalism, lo Smithsonian American Art Museum, which boasts one of the largest and most comprehensive art collections in the world, and the ubiquitous wax museum of Madame Tussauds.

Also from the point of view of catering this Washington district does not disappoint: you can go in search of a Chinese restaurant in the alleys of Chinatown (for example between H Street and I Street), choose among the numerous ethnic restaurants in the district, with Greek cuisine Mexican to Spanish, or focus on the classic American cuisine pub.

Adams morgan

The neighborhood of Adams Morgan comes to life at the intersection of Columbia Road and 18th Street, where restaurants, bars, vintage boutiques and independent bookstores are encamped for a mile, framed by quaint Victorian townhouses in a variety of colors. Ethnic restaurants abound here, from Korean to Belgian, Ethiopian to Mexican, and spirits lovers will find in the Jack Rose Dining Saloon one of the most popular bars.

In this youthful neighborhood, the right space is also given to art, with the DC Arts Center, an art gallery as well as a space for performances whose mission is to raise awareness of emerging Washington DC artists. Every year, on the second Sunday of September, theAdams Morgan Day, which floods the street with live music and food tastings from around the world.

Washington: what to see in 1 day? Recommended itinerary

Top view of the National Mall

We come now to the painful notes: you have only 1 day to visit Washington DC? It is evident that it is impossible to include all the things to see mentioned above in your itinerary. So here is an itinerary, tested in the field, which will allow you to get into the spirit of the city even if you have little time to dedicate it.

First of all you need to prepare to do a nice walk. America is a land of great distances and this also applies to the interior of cities. The metropolitan transport system of the District of Columbia (DC) it will help you by taking you to the area, but from there you will have to get by on foot if you don't want to miss the most interesting attractions.

Union Station

We take the Metro (red line) and get off at Union Station, Washington DC's beautiful neoclassical-style station, with a majestic arched facade and an interesting trinket market inside. The station was built in 1908 and is one of the busiest arteries in the city with an annual traffic of 32 million people!

Union Station a Washington DC
Union Station: Monument to Christopher Columbus
View of the Capitol from Union Station

As soon as you leave the station, take a look at the Monument of Christopher Columbus, just to feel a little at home! Looking around you will notice the Capitol Hill (Capitol), the official seat of the two branches of the US Congress. It is in that direction that we must head, crossing the pleasant squirrel-filled parks of the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Legs on your shoulders then!

The Capitol, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress

You will soon be surrounded by a series of beautiful neoclassical buildings (a constant in Washington). After passing the Senate offices, you will find on your left the Supreme Court and Library of Congress (enter the latter if you want to retrace the deeds of Nicholas Cage in "The Mystery of the Templars - National Treasure"), while on the right you will finally have a close view of the majestic Capitol.

Senate offices in Washington DC
Washington DC: Supreme Court
Library of Congress, Washington DC

Il Capitol It is one of the main ones Washington DC landmarks, and one of the few government offices that you will be allowed to visit, so take advantage of it, it is still the building where the most important decisions in the world are made! It is open from 8:30 am to 16:30 pm (Monday to Saturday). The duration of the visit should be around 30/40 minutes, read our in-depth article to learn more about how the visit to the Capitol works.

Capitol (Capitol).
The dome of the Capitol from the inside
View of the Capitol in Washington DC

Once out of the Capitol, go around it to admire the beautiful panorama: the big one will stand out in your eyes plain of the National Mall, with the Washington Monument in the foreground and the Lincoln Memorial in the background and Washington's most important museums. So it's time to head into the National Malls: then straight to Constitution Avenue!

Are you headed to Washington? You discover...
  • The best areas to sleep
  • How to get around the city
  • I National Mall
  • How to outline an itinerary based on the days available
  • The Best Time to Visit Washington
  • Where to eat in Washington

National Gallery e Washington Monument

After walking for about 10 minutes, you will find la National Gallery of Art, a large museum where you can admire the masterpieces of world art history. Go inside, visit the museum and take advantage of it have a snack (the advice is to be taken into consideration not so much because the museum has food of who knows what quality, but simply because restaurants do not abound in large quantities in the malls!).

Leaving the museum, a beautiful walk along the National Mall is waiting for you, which will take you to the Washington Monument, the tall white obelisk that rises in the center of the Mall, the second tallest building in the city after the bell tower of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Base del Washington Monument
Washington Monument night view
View of the National Mall from the Capitol. What to see in Washington DC in one day.

Climbing up to admire the view can be a great idea, the attraction was reopened after the damage caused by the Virginia earthquake of the summer of 2011 (thanks to Lara for reporting); it is likely that you will find a kilometer long queue so you will want to book. You can do it on this page, or, if you plan to visit other attractions, you can book combined tours that include, in addition to the obelisk itself, other monuments or points of interest in the city.

Updating: Washington Monument is closed again until spring 2019 due to elevator modernization works. For more info check the official website.

I Memorial

Continue forward, you will meet two beautiful memorials: one dedicated to the Second World War and one to the victims of the Vietnam War. But the most famous monument is the one you will find at the bottom of the plain: the Lincoln memorial, now immortalized in many American films. Visit the temple, the interesting museum below and enjoy the historic view of the pool, the place where Martin Luther King gave his historic “I have a dream” speech. In this case, the view will be opposite to that which you have been able to admire from the Capitol, but perhaps even more beautiful.

Lincoln memorial
"I have a dream", the place of the famous speech by Martin Luther King
Vietnam Veterans Memorial statue

Now one last effort: leave the Lincoln memorial to your left and resume walking in the opposite direction you came from. Cross the Korean War Veteran Memorial and take a very short stop on the Tidal Basin, just to admire the jefferson memorial, a temple built near an artificial lake. From this vantage point you can often enjoy fantastic views, and if you are lucky enough to come in spring you can also admire the cherry blossoms.

Cherry Blossoms in Spring near the Jefferson Memorial
Jefferson Memorial: vista sul Tidal Basin
View from Tidal Biasin

Now resume the walk to finally arrive at the Smithsonian Subway Station, the point where our itinerary ends. However, we know that a self-respecting itinerary must satisfy not only the eyes, but also the palate. It's time to eat!

For a very lively area in the evening, with several places to eat and get to know and easy to reach by metro stop at Gallery Place Chinatown. Leaving the Gallery side you will find many restaurants (for example Ruby Tuesday, an excellent chain serving American cuisine: steak, burgers but also fish dishes). If you are looking for something more refined or particular, I recommend our guide on where to eat in Washington DC, with an entire section devoted to restaurants (not many actually) near the National Mall.

What to do in Washington if I have more days?

If you have more days to dedicate to the American capital, you could explore the Georgetown district, spend more time visiting the museums in Washington, visit Arlington Cemetery, one of the symbols of American patriotism, or even take an excursion in the surrounding area (see chapter under). To learn more, we wrote an article dedicated to how many days to spend in Washington, where you can find some strategic advice on how to distribute the attractions of the city based on the number of days available.

What to see around Washington?


Many do not know it but the surroundings of Washington are really rich in places of both historical and naturalistic interest. Here is a short summary list:

  • Annapolis, a charming historic port town
  • Eastern Shore, an island where you can go hunting for rural landscapes and peaceful fishing villages
  • Great Falls in Virginia, majestic waterfalls near Washington DC
  • Virginia Historic Triangle: the 3 historic towns Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown
  • Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington
  • La Thomas Jefferson's home a Monticello
  • Gettysburg National Military Park, historical site of the famous battle
  • Alexandria, a historic town of which you can also find information in this travelogue in Virginia
  • Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, a well-preserved historic town from the XNUMXth century
  • Shenandoah National Park, a national park about an hour and a quarter from Washington DC
  • Baltimore, a large city in Maryland 3/4 of an hour from the capital of the United States

If, on the other hand, by surroundings you mean a wider-ranging on the road trip, having 10/15 days available, the main destinations to consider are New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Niagara Falls. If you want to organize a trip of this type, I refer you to our section dedicated to itineraries in the Mid Atlantic region.

Tips for staying overnight in Washington

If you are looking for a accommodation for the night, you may need some advice on where to sleep in Washington. In the article indicated you will find not only advice on the best areas to look for accommodation, but also recommended hotels and alternative solutions to the classic hotel.

Finally, if on your vacation you plan to land in Washington DC, then I remind you of the advice we always give: often instead of booking the flight and the hotel separately it is cheaper to buy the combined flight + hotel package. Check it out for yourself on this page.

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