How to Plan a Weekend Getaway to Washington, D.C.

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.

Are you ready for a great D.C. weekend?!?

How to Plan a Weekend Getaway to Washington, D.C.
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How to Plan a Weekend Getaway to Washington, D.C.

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.

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-monument
Washington Monument

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.

We were too early to see the Cherry Blossoms. Only a few trees we saw were flowering.
We were a little too early to see the Cherry Blossoms. The trees we were just beginning to flower.

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.

Day 1

Focus on the “Lincoln Memorial side” of the National Mall.

DCLincolnmemorialside

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. 

Pete and I at the Lincoln Memorial.

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.

Korean War Memorial Washington D.C.
Korean War 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 to what you feel the tour was worth. These walks are well-done and led by history experts.

For tours and activities, take a look at popular offerings like this night tour of D.C. on the Get Your Guide website. 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.

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

If you visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum between March and August, you should reserve a timed entry pass. Timed passes may be available on 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.

White House Washington DC

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?

Research and book fantastic hotels on TripAdvisor and Booking.com


Day 2

Focus on the “U.S. Capitol Building side” of the National Mall.

washingtodcmap

Make a clockwise loop from the National Archives, around the U.S. Capitol Building, to the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress, finishing at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

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.

If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to print or visit the Young Readers Center for activity sheets and a scavenger hunt to help your kids engage and have fun on their visit.

Library of Congress Washington DC
Library of Congress

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.

air-and-space-museum Washington DC
Air and Space 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.

My crab cake sandwich went perfectly with J. Paul's Amber Ale.
My crab cake sandwich went perfectly with J. Paul’s Amber Ale.

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 Booking and VRBO.

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.

If you’d like to use hotel points to book an award stay, use websites like Hotel Hustle and AwardMapper to research hotels with loyalty programs.

Screenshot of hotels shown by AwardMapper just outside of Washington, D.C.
Screenshot of hotels shown by AwardMapper just outside of Washington, D.C.

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 more local to D.C. and heading in from Virginia, why not skip the parking hassle and expense and take the bus from Norfolk to D.C.

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.? 

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How to Plan a weekend getaway to Washington, D.C.
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18 thoughts on “How to Plan a Weekend Getaway to Washington, D.C.”

  1. This is great because there is SO much to do in D,C! I ended up spending the full day at Congress (politics geek) then didn’t leave enough time for the heaps of museums. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Did you get to see Congress in session, Gemma? Next time, definitely check out some of the museums!

  2. I used to live in DC and we go back often. The public transportation system is really easy and can take you just about anywhere you’d want to go relatively quickly. We like to stay right in the city, in Penn Quarter or Chinatown, which makes for easy walking to almost everywhere tourists want to go. It’s a great city. Love it.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      D.C. must have been such a fun city to live in, Laura! We are big fans of public transportation. It’s a way of life here in NYC. With only a couple of days and having driven from NYC, it made sense for us to use our cars. Otherwise, though, we would have definitely taken advantage of D.C.’s public transportation.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      So true, Hugo! There are so many museums and sights to see. You could definitely plan a few trips (or 1 long one!) to see everything.

  3. Looks like you had a successful trip. I love exploring DC but have not been in about 5-6 years. I love to stay at the Hay Adams Hotel and the Korean War Memorial is my favorite. I love doing the walking tour of the National Mall and including a stop by Georgetown for upscale dining and to the museums including the International Spy Museum. Shopping at Tysons Corner cannot be missed either. 😉

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      I agree, Melody. The Korean War Memorial is by far the most visually interesting. We considered the International Spy Museum, but saw mixed reviews. Glad to hear you liked it. We’ll have to check it out next time!

  4. Great information! I like the way you included the transport options from where you stayed. I assume that you drove there in your own vehicle – If you had flown in, do you think it would have been worthwhile renting a car, or would the public/private transport options been just as convenient?

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Glad the post is useful, Dave. We did drive from NYC. If you had flown in, there are rail, bus, shuttle, and taxi options available. Renting a car wouldn’t be necessary. However, there are three airports that serve the D.C. area, so it’s good to look at flight costs and how much it will cost from that particular airport. Sometimes the money saved on a flight isn’t worth it once the transport costs to downtown are factored in. Hope that helps! 🙂

  5. I haven’t been to Washington, D.C., but it is on my list of future travel destinations. Thank you for all of the great travel tips! I appreciate the suggestions related to family travel.

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Glad it’s useful, Nancy! D.C. is great for families and it’s important to engage kids so they get the most out of their visit, too!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Definitely take advantage of a visit with a friend living there! It’s always great to have a local’s perspective, Karilyn.

  6. I went to D.C. in high school for academic purposes and absolutely loved it. Hopefully, I’ll visit again soon!

    1. Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie

      Thanks for reading, Aaron. Lots to learn at DC’s museums and monuments. Hope you can visit again soon, too! 🙂

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