Is there a place you’ve been meaning to visit for a weekend getaway, but haven’t gotten around to planning it yet?
I’d been talking about getting away to Washington, D.C. for a weekend, but longer, trips abroad always pushed that D.C. weekend down to the bottom of the list. Finally, though, I made it happen.
We drove from New York City and arrived late on a Thursday night, with plans to explore Washington, D.C. Friday and Saturday, and then return home on Sunday. Washington, D.C. is one of those cities where there’s always more to see. Two days is the perfect amount of time and just before museum fatigue sets in.
How to Plan a Weekend Getaway to Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. is an ultimate budget-friendly destination, with many of the national museums and attractions being free to visit. It’s definitely tough to decide how to divide up your time.
Washington, D.C. is also very spread out and you don’t want to use an hour of the day walking from one museum to another. Instead, plan on sectioning off the National Mall into 2 parts and focusing for a day on each part. Here’s a tourist map of Washington to help you see how everything is laid out.
If you visit in spring, consider these Washington, D.C. cherry blossom tips. The city is alive with gorgeous pink and white blossoms, but also with lots of visitors so it’s best to know what to expect before you arrive.
Focus on the “Lincoln Memorial side” of the National Mall.
Begin at the Washington Monument and make a counterclockwise loop to the Lincoln Memorial and back. You can go inside the Washington Monument for views of the Mall and Reflecting Pool. Same day tickets are free and passed out starting at 8:30 a.m. Lines form early so it’s best to reserve tickets online ahead of time for just $1.50 a ticket. (Update: The Washington Monument is closed until the spring of 2019.)
From the Washington Monument, walk toward the Lincoln Memorial to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the World War II Memorial.
If you’d like a guided tour through these Washington, D.C. monuments and memorials, join a free walking tour with DC by Foot. There are tours daily covering the classic sights, as well as themes like Lincoln’s assassination and the Ghosts of Georgetown. At the end of the tour, be sure to tip your tour guide what you feel the tour was worth. These walks are well-done and led by history experts.
For more specialized tours and activities, take a look at offerings on Get Your Guide. What I like in particular about Get Your Guide is how they name who runs the tour. While looking at a tour or activity on Get Your Guide, scroll to the bottom past the reviews to where it says “Organized by.” You can search this tour company for additional reviews before booking on the platform.
If you choose to sightsee on your own, plan a 2-hour time period for a leisurely walk of this route. Afterward, make your way to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which is shown above in the bottom right corner of the map.
The Holocaust Memorial is an overwhelming collection of resources that teach about the horrors of this time period, while also honoring the lives and memories of the victims and survivors. The memorial is incredibly well-done and is a must-see.
If you visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum between March and August, you should reserve a timed entry pass. Timed passes may be available the day of your visit, but they are distributed on a first come, first serve basis beginning at 10 a.m.
Also, keep in mind, the Holocaust Memorial is not for children 11 and under. There’s a separate exhibit within the museum suitable for young children.
If you moved at a quicker pace or didn’t want to visit the Holocaust Memorial, you could also visit the Smithsonian American History Museum or pass by the White House while you are on this side of the Mall.
To tour the inside of the White House, as well as other buildings like the U.S. Capitol Building, and the Pentagon, contact one of your members of Congress a few months before your visit to arrange a tour.
Traveling to Washington, D.C. soon?
Focus on the “U.S. Capitol Building side” of the National Mall.
Spend at most 90 minutes in the National Archives and you’ll be able to comfortably see the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence.
The Library of Congress is not to be missed. The building is beautifully designed with ornate details and marble columns. The design alone is worth a visit! Inside, you’ll be able to walk through Thomas Jefferson’s Library, see an original Gutenberg Bible, and experience a selection of featured historical exhibits. Guided public tours are offered daily.
The popular Smithsonian Air and Space Museum has real airplanes and spacecraft hung from every available support beam. There are exhibits ranging from World War II planes to spacecraft from the Apollo missions to the Wright Brothers’ Original Flyer. You can watch Imax movies throughout the day. The Museum offers Free science demonstrations for kids on a first-come-first-served basis, as well as numerous other hands-on exhibits throughout the museum.
After a day full of sightseeing and exploring Washington’s monuments and museums, head to Georgetown for dinner. The neighborhood has a laid-back feel, with small streets that are perfect for strolling. You’re sure to enjoy the shops, restaurants, and scenic waterfront. We loved the busy bar scene and good eats at J.Paul’s.
If you drove into Washington, D.C. and parked downtown, drive over to Georgetown and park again there. You’ll find metered street parking and parking garages and an easy exit back to your hotel in Maryland or Virginia.
Where to Stay
We stayed 8 miles outside of Washington, D.C. at a budget Country Inn and Suites on the Maryland side to take advantage of an extremely lucrative Club Carlson points-earning promotion that earned us free nights in Europe. The location was convenient to D.C. and the hotel was comfortable.
If it hadn’t been for the promotion, though, we would’ve stayed in Alexandria on the Virginia side. It’s also ideally located but offers more of a historic “Old Town” than where we stayed, with restaurants, sights, and free trolley to get around.
Of course, Washington, D.C. has plenty of fantastic hotels, as well as different types of accommodations through websites like Airbnb and Homeaway. Expect higher prices than the hotels in Maryland or Virginia. Keep in mind, Washington, D.C. is spread out and not as pedestrian-friendly as it might seem. Pay close attention to your location within D.C. and understand you’ll likely need to use public transportation or taxis to avoid walking long distances.
Getting into Washington, D.C.
There was a train close to our hotel that would have brought us into D.C., but we opted to do the 15-minute drive into downtown and park in order to have more flexibility. We paid just $20 on Friday and $15 on Saturday. This was far less than the cost of taxis.
You can compare parking garage costs for many cities on the Best Parking website.
If you’re like me, you’ll wonder why, with so many museums and sights, you put off visiting Washington, D.C. for so long!
What would you like to see and do on a weekend getaway to Washington, D.C.? Where have you spent an enjoyable weekend getaway?
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