Home to the seat of the US government, Washington DC exudes an inspirational air with a plethora of historical landmarks and attractions in and around the city. All that government talk can make the city seem stuffy, but the bustling restaurant scene and cultural activities show there’s plenty of fun to be had. And it's easy to navigate—DC’s metro stations are clean and modern.
I grew up within driving distance of the capital city and my younger brother has called DC home for close to 15 years. These lifelong connections allow me to experience the city’s neighborhoods, restaurants, museums, and memorials from a local and tourist perspective. To navigate the best of Washington DC, follow my itinerary for first-time visitors.
Expect warm, muggy summers; cold, snowy winters; and pleasant spring and fall temperatures.
If you only have time for one thing, make it the National Mall, peppered with monuments, memorials, and museums.
If the weather’s right, hop aboard a seasonal boat cruise on the Potomac River to see the sights from the water. Or explore Georgetown, a charming neighborhood with federal-style architecture, cobblestone streets, and plenty of shops. It’s also home to Georgetown University, so expect to find college bars and hangouts.
On your second day, explore some of the city’s many museums and galleries, such as the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, National Gallery of Art, and Air and Space Museum. Or wander around some of the residential neighborhoods like Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan, which boasts a range of international restaurants from Vietnamese to Ethiopian.
At night, see the monuments illuminated against the sky and visit DC’s National Harbor to ride the observation wheel, which spins on the waterfront. It’s also home to the Gaylord National Resort and MGM National Harbor, both of which offer dining, shopping, and entertainment.
On your final day, head across the Potomac to visit Arlington National Cemetery to take a tour that stops at John F. Kennedy's gravesite, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where you can watch the Changing of the Guard, and other notable sites.
From there, travel to Old Town Alexandria, Virginia and wander along the quaint brick sidewalks and pass by the well-preserved 18th- and 19th-century buildings. Along King Street, you can browse specialty shops and boutiques. Note that the Metro’s blue line services both Alexandria and Arlington. You can also reach Old Town Alexandria via the yellow line.