Only have one day in Washington DC? Exploring Washington DC in one day can be done! Here’s how my husband and I spent one whole day in the city.
Let me preface this by saying that we only had one day in Washington DC, but I would love to go back for a few days to really check things out.
Back in December, my husband and I were visiting a town near DC and since neither of us had been, we decided to make the most out of it. It was a Sunday, so quite a few popular buildings were closed. A few of those being The White House, US Capitol, Supreme Court, and Library of Congress. We were able to still walk around but that’s not quite the same as a guided tour or going through the doors.
One of the best perks about exploring Washington DC is the free admission to most museums! Before we left, I made a list and mapped out where everything was located along the National Mall. The city seemed very walkable and we definitely got our steps in for the day. 23,832, to be exact!
We flew from DFW into the Dulles International Airport, landed a little before noon, took the short bus ride to our hotel, freshened up, then booked an Uber into DC. Zack and I love exploring Botanic Gardens, so that’s where we started. The United States Botanic Garden has multiple rooms to walk through with various exhibits. It was so fun walking through all the different gardens! There was also a section blocked off for the holidays. Every year they have plant recreations of iconic train stations from across the United States.
From the Botanic Garden, we took the short walk over to look at the United States Capitol Capitol. Since we weren’t able to actually go inside, we started our walk along the National Mall. Before our trip I always assumed there was only one Smithsonian museum. There are actually 19 museums and galleries, as well as the National Zoological Park – and 11 of them are located on the National Mall!
Zack and I probably spent the most time inside the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. After walking through a majority of the exhibits, we walked next door to the Hirshhorn Museum. I was super excited to check out this modern and contemporary art museum. One of my friends recommended that we check out the Pulse interactive technology exhibition, that includes three major installations. I didn’t get any great photos in #PulseDC, but if you search the hashtag on Instagram, you’ll see how awesome of an immersive environment it is! One of my favorite parts of the Hirshhorn was actually a surprise. Outside of the museum was a giant pumpkin from #InfiniteKusama!
By the time we left the Hirshhorn, most of the museums were close to closing, so we decided to head towards The White House. One of the things I was most looking forward to seeing during our trip, was the National Christmas Tree! It was certainly worth the walk and the cold to walk around the giant tree and see the 50 smaller trees for each state. We found the Texas tree, took a few selfies, and went around the other side of The White House. It was actual surreal to see something I’ve seen countless times on tv and in movies, just right there in front of me! Next time we visit Washington DC, I’ll definitely be reaching out to our congressman to request a public tour.
We made our way back to the National Mall and set on the path from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. We considered taking an Uber, but didn’t want to miss anything. During on walk, we stopped along the way to observe the World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The last bit of the walk turned out to be much farther than we initially thought and by that time it was below freezing. There were almost no other tourists but occasionally a local would jog passed us.
Every time we approached a monument or memorial, it was truly awe inspiring. One of the most incredible moments was walking up to the Lincoln Memorial. I can’t wait for my next trip to Washington DC so we can spend more time [not freezing our butts off] exploring each spot!
Since it was getting late and about to start snowing, we decided to find a spot for dinner before making our way back to our hotel. Rather than getting an Uber, we walked back towards The White House, where our phones showed a bunch of dinner options.
When we got over there, it was like a ghost town. Nothing like I imagined Washington DC to be like. For some reason, I assumed DC would be bustling at all times of day and night, but we couldn’t find one restaurant that was open. Maybe it was because it was 7PM on a Sunday or perhaps it was where we were, but it was eerie! After walking a couple blocks with no food or people in sight, we got an Uber, headed back to our hotel and grabbed dinner there.
Even though we accomplished a lot, I know that we didn’t even come close to seeing half of what DC has to offer. So, now we have an excuse to visit again!
Top Spots For Next Time
- Ben’s Chili Bowl
- National Portrait Gallery
- The National Geographic Museum
- The Watergate Hotel
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park
- National Cherry Blossom Festival
Tips for visiting Washington DC
- Make a plan but stay flexible: Some places require a reservation or a purchased ticket in advance. Make sure to get those taken care of before you arrive. Also be sure to check when certain museums and buildings close, some close at 5:30PM and others stay open later.
- Wear your most comfortable walking shoes and pack clothes according to the weather: I showed up wearing leggings, a T-shirt, and a simple jacket. In hindsight, jeans and a bigger coat with a scarf would have been a better option.
- Have a lunch/dinner plan: Especially if it’s your first time visiting and not knowing the area. Oh, and snack are always a good idea!
Have you visited Washington DC? What’s your favorite spot? Let me know in the comments section.
If you liked this post, you might also like my Four Walt Disney World Theme Parks in One Day, Magic Kingdom in One Day, and Sparkling Wine Tasting in Napa! Do you like these one day travel guides? If yes, share where you’re interested in taking a day trip to. I would love to visit and share what we were able to do!