DC: The relaxed 3-day tour

D.C. is a great city to visit, not just because of all there is to do and see but because it is relatively easy to get away from the crowds and the hustle of the city.

If you’re visiting D.C., you might not want to figure out your own itinerary and do all of the work in figuring out what things are close, how you can make your way through the city. Fortunately, we are happy to do the work for you. 

Day 1: 

Morning: 

Dumbarton Oaks

Dumbarton Oaks, located in the northwest part of the city, features some of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in the city. If you like walking through trees and parks, then this is a great place to go. It is definitely one of the less well-known parts of the city. You will rarely find it on top lists of the city, but that is more because it is not as well known and also in a different part of the city than many of the touristy attractions in D.C. 

Connected to the park is a museum of art. The exhibitions are rotational and change from time to time — so if you have already been here, it may be worth coming back to see the new exhibitions.

Dumbarton Oaks and its museum are definitely a worthwhile part of the city to visit, especially if you’re heading northwest to visit the zoo or Embassy Row

Afternoon:

Arlington National Cemetery 

Located very close to the city in Virginia, Arlington National Cemetery is host to the gravesites of thousands of Americans who were involved with the military or, sometimes, the government. 

The cemetery is huge, and the gravesites that you can visit and pay memorial to are vastly numerous. You can see the graves of two Présidents of the United States, John F. Kennedy and William Taft. 

You can also see the graves of many former military commanders from the history of the United States, including those of figures such as Douglas MacArthur, Omar Bradley, Chester A. Nimitz, and others. 

The most famous part of Arlington National Cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where an honor guard keeps watch 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Every hour in the winter and every half hour in the summer, the guards perform a famous ceremony during the changing of the guards. It is a very traditional, solemn ceremony, and should not be missed if you are in the park. 

Evening:

Monuments and memorials 

One of the greatest things about visiting D.C. is the plethora of memorials, monuments, statues, and parks that there are to visit.  There are so many that listing them all would be take several articles on their own. So, for the purposes of this article, we’ll list some of the best.

Visiting the monuments is good at any time of day.  At night, my personal favorite time to visit, it is quiet and you can have the monuments mostly to yourselves.  The brightness of the monuments creates a sharp contrast against the dark sky and landscape, and the views are stunning.  During the day, it is a great hike for you to take. Regardless of when you go, there is an order in which you can see a number of the best and most popular monuments in one or two hours.  It is a big hike, but the monuments are pretty accessible for those with more limited mobility.

For the first stop in this tour, walk from the White House to the Washington Monument.  On the way, you’ll pass a number of important and cool buildings. While you’re at the Washington Monument, you can enjoy the views of the U.S. Capitol Building, the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and many other parts of the city, while standing next to the tallest structure in the city.  Note: the grounds right at the monument are closed until late 2018 or 2019.

From the Washington Monument, walk toward the Lincoln Memorial.  After you cross the street, you’ll be at the World War II Memorial.  This memorial, recently added, is beautiful especially in the warmer times of the year when the fountains are going.  The World War II Memorial features monuments to both the Atlantic and Pacific fronts of the war, as well as honoring the U.S. states and territories that participated in the war efforts.  

After that, keep walking toward the Lincoln Memorial, along the Reflecting Pool.  Facing the Lincoln Memorial, you can walk on the left of the pool or the right. Whichever you choose, you can see memorials and then walk back on the other side.  On the left side you can see the Korean War Memorial, which features haunting figures of soldiers rising from the ground (this memorial is especially effective at night).  On the right side, there is the Vietnam War Memorial, one of the most somber spots in the city (again, this is better at night). As you descend deeper, the black wall of the memorial covers you more fully in emotion.  There are a number of other memorials scattered around, as well.

At the end of the Reflecting Pool is the Lincoln Memorial.  This memorial features some of the finest Greco-Roman architecture in the city.  Up the steps is the chamber with the statue of Abraham Lincoln, as well as the words of the Gettysburg Address on the wall.  Below this is a small museum to the monument. While standing at the top of the stairs, look for the plaque marking where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I have a dream.”

Day 2: 

Morning:

Asian and African Art Museums

The Asian and African Art Museums are located off of the National Mall, like many of the other Smithsonian Institution museums. However, they are a little less busy than many of the other Smithsonian museums, and many people do not even realize they are there. However, they are a great way to spend some time if you are in the area. They are not huge, but they are more sizeable than they seem. They go deep underground, so while the aboveground portion of the building may seem small, they are bigger than you might think. Connected by an underground passageway, they can easily be done individually or as part of the same trip.

Afternoon:

Georgetown

Georgetown, home to the famous, world class university, is also a wonderful district of the city. It features a beautiful waterfront, great shops and some of the best restaurants in the city, and a beautiful campus.

If the weather is nice, it is wonderful to walk along the waterfront. Stretching from Foggy Bottom to the campus, the waterfront is gorgeous and has a nice collection of places to sit and walk.

The downtown area in Georgetown has some of the best restaurants in the city, ranging from cheaper options to expensive ones. It also has a bunch of little shops that are great for spending your day at. Some of the things unique to the area include Georgetown Cupcakes, which many would argue are the best cupcakes you can find in the city. They are a little pricey, but absolutely worth the money. If you are visiting with your significant other, it is a great place to go on dates. 

The campus itself is also great to visit. The buildings are very cool and the grounds are beautiful, and you can easily make a few hours out of just hanging out on campus.

Evening:

Tidal Basin

The Tidal Basin, for most of the year, is a somewhat neglected part of the city.  Home to several great monuments such as the Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, and other smaller memorials, the Tidal Basin is a circular basin surrounded by walkways.  It is most well known for the annual Cherry Blossom festival in late March and early April, when the basin is surrounded by beautiful pink and white cherry blossoms. This is the best time of the year to see the Tidal Basin, but also by far the busiest time to visit there and one of the busier times in D.C., period.  However, even in the rest of the year when it is quiet and calm, the Tidal Basin remains one of the best parts of the city not only for its monuments but for the beauty of the water and the trees around it. It is great to visit during both the day and the night. In the day, especially on nice days, the Tidal Basin is radiant and beautiful.  At night, the monuments create a very striking picture with the water and their reflections.

If you start at the northernmost parts of the Tidal Basin, you can walk in a circle around the Basin. Start with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. At this monument, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s figure stands overlooking the Basin, surrounded by his words in the stone around him. The monument attracted some controversy when it was built, with some saying that his statue was too imposing or angry-looking. However, having visited multiple times, it is a very good monument that is definitely worth visiting. 

After the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is the monument to Franklin D. Roosevelt. This memorial features beautiful stone work and water features (if you are there when they are running). Throughout the monument are quotes of his and memorials to eras of his long tenure as president, including the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the New Deal. There is also a memorial to Eleanor Roosevelt, whose accomplishments are numerous and influential. Two of my favorite features of the memorial are the ways in which Eleanor is honored for her own work, rather than just being included as a side part of her husband’s life, and the way that Franklin is portrayed in his wheelchair. 

After these, you come to a couple smaller memorials, including one for George Mason, one of Virginia’s founding fathers. Following this, you eventually come to the Jefferson Memorial. Featuring beautiful architecture, this is worth a visit just for the views and the architecture (even if you are not a fan of Jefferson himself, for various reasons including his slave ownership). Picturesque especially in the Cherry Blossom season, this is one of the most beautiful monuments in the city. 

Day 3: 

Morning:

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Located on the campus of the Catholic University of America, near Brookland, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest basilica in the United States. It is free to visit and walk around. 

To get there, just take the Red Line to the Brookland-CUA stop. From there, it is a short walk to the basilica.

The inside is very large. On the ground floor, the crypt is massive, and you can easily spend quite a while looking at the different tombs and names around the area. There are rooms devoted to certain parts of the world and certain individuals or groups. Upstairs is the main room, which has beautiful architecture, glass, and art. Whether or not you are Catholic, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is a beautiful building. You can spend time worshiping there if you are religiously inclined to, or simply take in the art and beauty of the building. It is larger than it looks from the outside, and you can easily spend a long time exploring the building. Pay special attention to some of the smaller rooms on the side devoted to certain parts of the Catholic church around the United States and the world, as they are some of the most beautiful.

Afternoon:

National Postal Museum

The National Postal Museum, located next to Union Station, is regarded by many who have visited as one of the more underrated places to visit in the city. It is located in a beautiful building, and despite the lack of fame is a fairly sizeable museum. As part of the Smithsonian Institution, it is free to visit, and is perhaps a good place to go just because of the fact that it is less crowded than many of the other museums.


It is easy to get to, being right next to Union Station. Not only is Union Station connected to the red line, but it is connected to Amtrak and other passenger services such as Greyhound and Megabus. Furthermore, if you need food there are a number of options within Union Station.

It is a good place to go if you are hanging around the area near the United States Capitol Building, being almost directly north from the Capitol, and is recommended as a bit of a deep cut within Washington, D.C.

Evening:

To finish off, these two museums can be a little more crowded than most of the places on this list, but in the evening they don’t tend to be quite as busy and they are open until 7.

American Art Museum

The last two in this article are actually physically the same building, but in different halves of the building. The American Art Museum is devoted entirely to art either by Americans or about America. It has a surprisingly large collection, with art ranging from 18th Century art to contemporary art and everything in between. There are some of the most impressive landscape paintings you will find in the city, along with all sorts of art by American artists, both about America and other places around the world.

It is divided into three floors. The first two are about American art from mostly the 18th and 19th centuries. The third is focused on contemporary art, and includes a wide range of interesting works. In all, the museum does a very good job of exhibiting American art, and if you like art at all you’ll enjoy it.

It is connected to the National Portrait Gallery, and they definitely compliment each other. However, they are definitely different museums, and you do not need to visit both to make a trip worthwhile. 

National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery, the other half of the building from the American Art Museum, is the only museum in D.C. devoted entirely to portraits. The majority are focused on individuals that had a role in the United States, but there is a large variety from around the world. Like the American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery is divided into three floors. On one of the floors, there is an extensive set of portraits of every President of the United States. Additionally, there is a growing number of portraits of African Americans and other under represented populations within the United States. The National Portrait Gallery has been very popular recently, as the official portraits of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama just went up last month. 

The National Portrait Gallery does not sound tremendously exciting but it is very much worth a trip. I know a number of people, including myself, who discounted the museum because it did not sound too interesting. However, the variety of portrait styles and subjects makes the museum very much worth a trip, especially if you were also planning on visiting the American Art Museum.

Between the two halves of the building is a covered courtyard. This is a beautiful place to sit and have a snack from the cafe or even just relax. It is covered by a roof made of glass and metal, and there are fountains on the floor. If you are looking for a place to do some work, this could be a great place if it is not too crowded (or, if you don’t mind a crowd, even if it was crowded).

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