Washington D.C. 2 Day Itinerary – Must-Do Attractions & Museums
As the capital city of the United States, Washington DC is a must for history-buffs and museum lovers. With over 20 million visitors annually, it’s one of the most visited cities in the world. While the United States of America may not have a long history – it sure is an interesting one! And I’m a bit of a U.S. history nerd – so I was super stoked to finally see everything for myself.
Did you know? Washington D.C. became the capital of the United States in 1790 after both New York and Philadelphia had their time in the spotlight
What I didn’t realize, was just how much there is to do here and how many Instagrammable places there are in Washington DC. Looking at this city on a map makes it look small – “Oh yeah it’s just a big park with museums around it” No. It’s not.
Theres way more to do here than you might think, but 2 days in Washington DC is a good intro to the city. I actually planned my trip over a course of four days, but days 1 and 2 of my trip were travel days and therefore I didn’t spend much time in the city.
Both days are early morning to night so grab a comfy pair of walking shoes and read on to find out what you must see in Washington DC in 2 days!
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Essential Links For Booking Your Trip To Washington D.C.
Top Washington D.C. Tours & Experiences:
- Georgetown Walking Food Tour
- Washington DC Hop On Hop Of Sightseeing Tour
- Monuments by Moonlight Trolley Tour
Best Places to Stay in Washington DC:
- Luxury: Intercontinental Washington DC
- Boutique: Hotel Hive
- Mid-Range: Hilton Garden Inn Washington DC/Georgetown
Don’t Forget to Pack: Packing Cubes / Travel Wallet / Washington DC Travel guide
Where To Stay In Washington DC
Finding somewhere to stay in Washington DC with a budget in mind was kind of difficult. I wanted somewhere that was in walking distance of the main attractions – or anywhere along the National Mall.
One of the best places to stay in Washington DC is the Dupont Circle, this area is great for public transport and local restaurants. Unfortunately everything within my price range had been booked well in advance.
So i opted to stay at the Hotel Hive. This was recently purchased and revamped into it’s current state. I was incredibly happy with this hotel and if you are looking for somewhere on the cheaper side definitely give this place a chance.
I arrived in DC a little after 3pm and after being up from 2am I had a nap before waiting for my friend to join me. The beds were super comfy and the bathrooms modern and clean. I was surprised to see how much space there was in the room too. They’ve really taken into account making the most of the space they have with this design.
It’s a boutique style hotel with lots of character. Check in was a great experience, the bar and rooftop bars were great and they also have an onsite pizza place! The pizza was really good actually, and so convenient when you’ve done a long early flight. I spent my first night in Washington DC watching TV in the Hotel Hive and eating pizza on the bed (I was exhausted!)
Day 1 of 2 Days In Washington DC – National Archives & National Mall
Day 1 of this Washington DC 2 day Itinerary takes you to see some of the most important documents in US History. Finished off with some amazing food and drink!
National Archives Museum
Start your day by heading to the National Archives Museum. The National Archives Museum houses one of the most important pieces of paper to the United States – The Declaration of Independence!
The museum is home to the very original Declaration of Independence, along with the Bill of Rights and United States Constitution – these are all housed is the same exhibit and no photos are allowed. Other historical artefacts in the museum include the Emancipation Proclamation and the Louisiana Purchase Treaty.
This is one of the top things to do in Washington DC – and there’s no guessing why. The National Archives Museum has a line up before it even opens. It’s a popular place, especially during the summer holidays when kids are off school!
I arrived for my tour of the archives at 8:00am and there were already people waiting for the general admission line. Booking a tour of the National Archives Museum is a must! Why? It grants you access to the building before ANYONE else can get in – meaning you can see the exhibits without 1 million people in front of you, and you’ll get to learn a little more about U.S. history.
Tip: If you did manage to book a tour, keep in mind the entrance for booked tours is through the “Members Entrance” and not through the general admission line! I made this mistake and as a result ended up missing the start of my tour!
When you enter the building to join your tour, you’ll have to go through security. No large bags or backpacks are allowed inside the National Archives.
Visit The Washington Monument
What’s the most iconic thing that comes to mind when you think of Washington DC? For me, one them is the Washington Monument!
The Washington Monument was built to commemorate the first President of the United States, George Washington. You can see this iconic needle from just about anywhere along the National Mall, but did you know you can actually visit the inside too?
During my visit the monument was unfortunately under refurbishment and therefore closed to visitors. Tickets can be booked through the official website and will give you access to the elevators inside. This observation deck sits at 500 feet and gives guests a birds eye view of the city.
Tickets are timed and must be reserved in advance!
Abraham Lincoln Memorial & Reflecting Pool
Thanks to my love of Walt Disney (and Walt Disney’s love of Abraham Lincoln) Lincoln is my all time favourite President. (I love “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” in Disneyland!)
Seeing the Lincoln Memorial up close in person has been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember. The Lincoln Memorial really is a vast and grand as it looks. It sits at the western end of the National Mall and Dominates the landscape.
Inside the monument is a 19 feet tall statue of the 16th President of the United States, and to the left of him is the famous Gettysburg Address.
The Lincoln Memorial is free to visit but expect to see lots of other people there. It’s a great spot to sit on the steps and appreciate the view of the National Mall. The reflecting pool which sits adjacent to the Lincoln Memorial is a perfect spot to get great photos of the Washington Monument.
Tour The National Mall At Sunset
The National Mall is the biggest attraction in DC but it’s also one of the largest! Along the National Mall you’ll find lots of benches and water fountains to keep you hydrated during the summer months. At sunset this area really comes to life.
Explore the memorials along the National Mall. Some of the memorials to check out are the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the WWII Memorial. I really enjoyed sitting by the WWII memorial for a few moments to rest my feet. It’s okay if you want to dip your feet in the fountains just remember to be respectful and no swimming!
Visit The Jefferson Memorial & Martin Luther King Memorial
Getting to the Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, is a little bit more difficult.
If you’re set on seeing these three memorials I would suggest getting a taxi if your feet hurt! We’d been walking all day and I only had enough energy to muster to see the Jefferson Memorial.
All three of the Memorials mentioned above are located a little further out on the Tidal Basin. It looks like a short walk but I discovered myself it isn’t!
This little area is really calm and quiet. It’s the perfect place to take a time out and soak in the views across the Tidal Basin. If you only have time for one memorial in this area – make it the Jefferson Memorial. It’s such a grand a pretty place.
Experience The Food Scene In Georgetown
End your first day in Washington Dc by experiencing the food scene in Georgetown. Take a food tour to see all this neighbourhood has to offer!
Day 2 of 2 Days In Washington DC – Us Capitol & The White House
Get an early start to the day because today we are taking a tour of the US Capitol building! Day 2 of this Washington DC itinerary takes you from one end of the National Mall to the other.
Tour The US Capitol
The US Capitol is home to the United States Congress and the seat of the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government. My tour was booked for 9:40am but there are earlier tours you can book further in advance.
The US Capitol Building is located at the Eastern end of the National Mall. If you’re going from the opposite side of the National Mall like I was, I was advise leaving at least an hour before. As I was running late I ordered an Uber which took us around 40 minutes with traffic to get here.
Once you arrive at the Capitol Building, you’ll want to head to the visitor centre which is where you’ll check in. This can be quite a walk if your Uber drops you off at the wrong side (Yes that happened to me!) If taking a Taxi, Uber or Lyft, put in Capitol Building VISITOR CENTER as this will save you so much time!
Check-in was also rather lengthy. There were hoards of people already waiting to get into the visitor centre. You’ll have to go through security again. Large bags with a dimension larger than 18” wide x 14” high x 8.5” deep are not permitted.
Although we were maybe 10 minutes late to our scheduled tour we were just let onto the next one which was 15 minutes after. Of course, this is no guarantee it will be this way should you miss your tour – so arrive with lots of time to spare just in case!
The tour through the Capitol Building lasts approximately 45 minutes with a 13-minute orientation film. During your tour you’ll visit the famous Rotunda which displays paintings of many important moments of United States History. The tour also passes the centre of Washington DC, marked by a gold star on the ground.
After your tour you are free to wander through the exhibitions on display or head to the restaurant for a bite to eat. We got snacks and coffee here but there are better places of lunch!
If you’d like to visit either the Galleries of the Senate or House of Representatives you can do so by inquiring at the desks located inside the Visitor Centre. If you do opt to do this, the security is (naturally) very strict. No phones or cameras allowed, no bags whatsoever, and you’ll be required to store your possessions in a storage container before entering.
Library Of Congress
After finishing your tour at the Capitol Building, make your way to the Library of Congress
Tip: There’s no need to leave the Capitol Building to access the Library of Congress! Follow the signs for the underground walkway that will take you directly between the two. And since you’ve already been through security – you can skip this part!
With a collection of 168 million items, the Library of Congress is the largest in the world. Some of the most important works are house in the Library of Congress. On display you’ll find a copy of the Gutenberg bible, named after it’s creator Johannes Gutenberg. It was among the earliest major books printed using moveable type in Europe.
Explore The Smithsonian National Museum Of Natural History
Since the morning is still young, head to some of the more popular museums in DC. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is the most visited natural history museum in the world with 7.1 million visitors! (Another reason to do it early!)
The museum itself houses a collection of over 126 million specimens! The lines to get into this particular museum are rather long, which is why it’s recommended to do this earlier in the day (or later?)
One of my favourite sections of this museum was the “Hall of Human Origins” which documents human evolution through the years. Several busts have been created based on DNA samples to create images of what neanderthals would have looked like – so surreal!
See The Flag That Started It All
Head next door to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. This museum displays exhibits that represent American heritage and it’s history.One of the most popular and important items on display here is the original flag that inspired the United States national anthem.
The Star Spangled Banner, or Garrison flag, was the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor at the Battle of Baltimore during the war of 1812. This flag was the inspiration behind Francis Scott Key’s poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry” which eventually became the national anthem of the United States, The Star Spangled Banner.
Among the other items on display is the top hat worn by Abraham Lincoln on the night he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre on April 14th 1865. If you’re a fan of U.S. history or just history in general – this museum is a must!
Stop By The White House
The White House is a must do during your 2 days in Washington DC. The White House is the official residence of the United States President, and has been for every President since John Adams in 1800.
The White house can be viewed from both the front and back, due to the new barriers that have been erected you can’t get as close as you could before. The front view is far better than the back view since you can get closer.
There will be crowds outside the White House at all times of day usually, so there’s no recommended set time to come, unless it’s super early in the morning.
Take A Tour Of The National Mall At Night
Finish your time in Washington DC by experiencing the National Mall at night. The National Mall looks so much different at night – the place lights up!
If you’re legs are tired by this point, you can always opt to take an open top bus tour and save your legs the energy!
End your final night indulging in one of the many great places to eat in Washington D.C.
How To Get To Washington DC
There are three main airports that service Washington DC, Dulles International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Baltimore International Airport. Depending on what airline and where you are flying in from will depend which airport you land in. All have good connections to the city, but Ronald Reagan is the closest to the city.
How To Get Around Washington DC
For the majority of my stay in Washington DC I walked. Everything seemed within 10-20 minutes away. But if every single attraction was within that distance you’d spend a lot of time walking! My feet were just done by the end of each day. Wearing comfy shoes is a must.
I used Uber & Lyft 2 or 3 times. Mostly because my feet hurt that much from walking! I’d call an Uber when there was no public transport around.
Public transport is also an option. You can opt to take the metro if staying further out from the downtown area.
There are an abundance of things to do in Washington DC in 2 days. While there are some things you must book tickets for in advance, there’s also many free attractions which means you can also plan as you go.
This Washington DC 2 day itinerary hits the cities best spots and best attractions. It’s perfect for a first time visitor! With so much ground to cover it’s impossible to do absolutely everything in 2 day- I would recommend at least 3 – 4 days in this amazing place.
If you have a few more days and would like to explore further, there are some amazing day trips from Washington DC to experience!
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This is a great summary of what to see. I haven’t been to Washington yet but it’s on my list!
Thanks Ann, you should definitely go it’s a great city!
I took my kids to visit DC last year and it was SUCH a good trip!! We got to do most of the things you had listed. Didn’t get a chance to tour the capitol, but there’s always next time!
It’s a big city with tons to see, there’s more I’d like to see if I ever go back. Thanks for reading xx
Washington is definitely on my bucket list. I have been to LA, Las Vegas and New York – maybe next trip!.
It’s a pretty amazing place!