USA

How To Spend 5 Days in Washington DC – Ultimate Itinerary

If you’re looking for the perfect 5 days in Washington DC itinerary? Then I’ve got you covered!

From iconic monuments and memorials honoring American history to modern cultural hot spots – this 5-day in Washington DC itinerary is filled with all the highlights you need to see on your trip.

I have absolutely loved my visit to Washington DC, but it can be so hard to pick the perfect things to do when there is so much the city has to offer.

Whether it’s your first time visiting or you’re back to DC with new sites on your list of must-sees, my itinerary will help you make the most of your visit – without the hassle of planning something.

Let’s dive right in!

washington dc in spring

This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. Read my disclaimer for further information.

Day 1 – Explore the National Mall and Visit the Smithsonian Museums

Grab your walking shoes and get ready to absorb some history and culture on your first day in Washington DC.

Morning: National Mall

Start your day off right by exploring the National Mall, where you’ll be surrounded by the stunning architecture of some of our nation’s most important buildings.

The National Mall is one of the most iconic and popular locations in Washington, DC and for good reason! Spanning over two miles from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall showcases some of our nation’s most important monuments, memorials, and of course the famous Smithsonian museums.

In Washington DC, guided tours are available of many of the iconic monuments and memorials that line the National Mall.

You can take a guided tour to learn about the history and significance of monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial, The Washington Monument, and The Vietnam War Memorial. Or, if you just want to explore and take some pictures you can take a walk around the National Mall and explore by yourself.

Another Memorial worth visiting is the Martin Luther King Memorial.

Afternoon: Smithsonian Museums

In the afternoon, head over to the Smithsonian Museums for a glimpse into the worlds of art, science, history, and beyond.

There are different museums in Washington DC that cater to almost every taste and interest. My favorite Museum is the National Museum of American History.

The Smithsonian Museums in Washington DC offer a variety of collections and exhibits for visitors to explore.

The list includes the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of American History, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Renwick Gallery. This museum is also a super interesting place if you visit Washington DC with kids.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Smithsonian National Zoological Park are interesting to see as well.

The National Portrait Gallery is also one of the best museums in Washington DC. It is located just north of the White House in Penn Quarter. It is telling stories about prominent Americans whose lives have made a lasting mark on our nation’s history.

At the National Museum of American History, visitors can explore a wide range of collections and artifacts that reflect the history and culture of the United States. The collection includes items such as clothing, housewares, toys, books, and tools from early colonial times all the way up to the current day. Visitors can also see collections of paintings, sculptures, and interactive exhibitions.

I suggest you do not pick more than two museums for an interesting afternoon in Washington DC. Personally, I spent about two hours in the National Museum of American History and it was not nearly enough.

I was extremely interested to learn about American History from an American point of view. My previous knowledge contained mostly what we were taught in school in Europe. There are quite some differences.

Best Restaurants in Washington DC
Breakfast:
Tony’s Place
The Coupe
Ellē
Cracked Eggery
Ted’s Bulletin
YELLOW Georgetown
Lunch:
Le Diplomate
Unconventional Diner
Commissary
The Capital Grille
Ambar Capitol Hill
Equinox Restaurant
Dinner:
Marcels by Robert Wiedmaier
Bistro Cacao
Fiola
Lafayette Restaurant
Al Tiramisu
Taberna Del Alabardero


Day 2 – Chinatown, the Tidal Basin, and the Ford’s Theatre

Day 2 in D.C. is all about indulging your senses and getting a taste of the capital. From a nice morning and lunch in Chinatown, the day will bring a visit to the Tidal Basin and a roaring night at the Ford’s Theatre.

Morning: Chinatown

Chinatown in Washington DC is located near downtown, in the heart of the city. It lies directly to the east of Dupont Circle and north of Farragut Square, at the corner of 7th and H Streets NW.

From Union Station, you can easily reach Chinatown in Washington DC. The journey takes roughly 10 minutes and involves taking the Metro Red Line. Hop out at the Gallery Place – Chinatown stops. From there, you can either walk or take a short cab ride to reach Chinatown.

Chinatown in Washington DC offers plenty to do for visitors. Whether you are looking for a unique cultural experience, delicious food, or shopping opportunities, you can find it all in Chinatown.

For those interested in learning more about the Chinese-American culture and history, take a walking tour of the area guided by knowledgeable local guides

Start your morning off exploring Chinatown and for lunch eat your way through the bustling streets. From dim sum to noodles, and bubble tea to traditional Chinese sweets, there’s something to satisfy any craving.

I always love visiting Chinatown in any bigger city I travel to. This is something completely foreign to me since I grew up in the countryside.

Crammed street in china town with chinese lamps as decorations
Chinatown

Afternoon: The Tidal Basin

The Tidal Basin in Washington DC is an iconic man-made basin that is located between the Potomac River and the western bank of the District of Columbia.

It is home to a number of significant monuments, including the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, and the MLK Jr. Memorial. The basin was created in the early 1800.

The Tidal Basin in Washington DC was built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers as part of a project to expand the Potomac River and create a wider swath of navigable water.

Take in the beautiful cherry blossom trees (if you visit in Spring, which I can highly recommend) and enjoy the serene water. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a swan or two.

The Tidal Basin Loop is a popular walking route in Washington DC that follows the circumference of the basin. Stretching for just over a mile, it passes some of the city’s most iconic monuments, as well as several memorials that commemorate significant events and figures in US history.

I was lucky enough to visit the Tidal Basin in spring, and the experience was unique and touching. Over 3000 cherry trees bloom all over the city, especially around the Tidal Basin and the National Mall.

The Tidal Basin in Washington Dc in spring with cherry trees in full bloom around it at sunrise
Tidal Basin in Spring

Evening: The Ford’s Theatre

End your day on a high note by catching a show at Ford’s Theatre. Not only is it a historic landmark, but it’s also the perfect spot to experience live theatre.

Ford’s Theatre has a long and intertwined history with American culture and politics. Originally built in 1833 as a First Baptist Church. Later, the site was converted into the infamous Ford’s Theatre in 1861.

It served as President Abraham Lincoln’s favorite spot to enjoy a show back in the day.

At Ford’s Theatre, you can take in a variety of live theatrical performances. From Broadway musicals to classic plays, there is something for everyone.

As a historical landmark, the theater also hosts lectures and special events that explore the history of American culture and politics.

Ford’s Theatre is conveniently located in the heart of Washington, D.C., at 512 10th Street NW. It is easy to get there by car, train, or public transportation. The closest metro station is Gallery Place.

If driving, several parking garages and lots are available in the area offering reasonable rates for extended stays.

Red Brick building with white roof in Washington DC Fords Theatre
Ford’s Theatre

Day 3 – Visit the White House and Georgetown

Are you ready for Day 3 of your DC adventure? Today’s itinerary includes a photo op at the iconic White House, art galleries in charming Georgetown, and maybe even a dinner at a fancy rooftop restaurant.

Morning: The White House

The White House is the official residence and workplace of the President of the United States. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500.

The building has 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, and 6 levels that make up about 55,000 square feet. However, it looks quite small from the outside, so I was a bit surprised when I saw it.

Since the White House was completed in 1800, a total of 45 US presidents have lived in the iconic building – from George Washington to Joe Biden.

It has also been home to numerous First Families and their pets, such as Thomas Jefferson’s two grizzly bears and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottish terrier.

Visitors can go into the White House, but they must first be invited or take a guided tour. Tours are conducted through the White House Visitors Center and begin on the south side of East Executive Avenue.

Tours may require reservations up to six months in advance and no more than five people can tour together at one time.

If you are not lucky enough to catch a tour (we weren’t at least) then it is still a good place for a photo op. The National Treasury is right across the street, and it also looks quite picturesque.

Afternoon: Visit Georgetown

Georgetown is a scenic and lovely neighborhood in Washington, DC located northwest of the downtown area. It was established in 1751 by the Maryland legislature and adopted its name from George Gordon, the fourth Lord Baltimore.

Georgetown is an incredibly vibrant and lively place to explore. You will enjoy a wide variety of activities and attractions, including shopping, dining, sightseeing, and entertainment.

When it comes to shopping, Georgetown offers a great selection of retail stores ranging from quaint boutiques to major brands. I found all of my favorite brands there. Georgetown is home to many historic sites and landmarks, beautiful streets, and fancy art galleries.

Georgetown is renowned for its beautiful architecture, much of which dates back to the colonial period.

Along M Street and Wisconsin Avenue you can find numerous historic buildings, including the Old Stone House, Healy Hall on the campus of Georgetown University, and Tudor Place, a Federal-style house dating back to 1816.

Row of brick buildings in georgetown
Georgetown

Dinner at a Rooftop Restaurant

One of my favorite places to eat in this world are rooftop restaurants. You have an amazing view while you eat and sip a glass of wine – simply amazing.

One of the best rooftop restaurants in DC is The Observatory at W Hotel Washington DC. Other great places in Washington DC with a view are:

  • The Rooftop at The Ven at Embassy Row
  • Vue Rooftop
  • TAKODA – Rooftop Restaurant & Beer Garden
  • Summit the Rooftop at Conrad

Day 4 – Learn About America’s Political and Judicial System in the Capitol and the Supreme Court

Morning: The Supreme Court

As a lawyer, I found nothing more interesting than the visit to the Supreme Court and I knew I had to put this in my 5 days in Washington DC itinerary.

The Supreme Court was built in 1935, just a year after the completion of the United States Capitol building.

Designed by architect Cass Gilbert, the building is an example of Neoclassical architecture with a Greek Revival style.

The American Supreme Court is open to the public for visits. Tours are available and visitors can observe court sessions in the Great Hall.

It is also possible to view selections from the Court’s rare book collection or visit other areas such as the courtrooms and chambers of Justices.

We participated in a tour and sat in on a mock hearing in one of the courtrooms. They explain everything about the history of the place and how the US judicial system works.

The entrance to the Supreme Court is free! The Supreme Court of the United States is located in Washington DC on Capitol Hill, at One First Street NE.

To be honest, Day 4 is my favorite day on the 5 days in Washington DC itinerary.

Afternoon: The United States Capitol

The United States Capitol is the seat of the U.S. Congress and home to the legislative branch of the federal government. It is right next to the Supreme Court, so it is easy to combine a visit.

The Capitol building is a neoclassical architectural masterpiece and one of Washington, D.C.’s most iconic landmarks. It is an amazing place for some Instagram-worthy Washington DC pictures.

Anyone is welcome to visit the Capitol. It is open for visitors from Monday to Saturday and admission is free of charge.

You can take a tour of the dome and the rotunda, as well as visit the House and Senate chambers. Inside you will find art galleries, statues of famous figures in American history, historical documents, and many more interesting artifacts.

Day 5 – Visit the Arlington Cemetery

Morning: Arlington Cemetery

Visiting the Arlington Cemetery is an amazing choice for the last day of the 5 days in Washington DC itinerary.

Now, before you start picturing a boring, gloomy cemetery filled with nothing but tombstones, let me tell you that Arlington is so much more than that. It’s a place filled with history, honor, and courage.

You can witness the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, pay tribute to the graves of President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

If you are lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the adorable Army-Navy gnomes that are hidden throughout the cemetery.

As a military spouse, I find it important to visit these significant places on my trips, and I felt very humbled by the stories of heroism and sacrifice that lie within Arlington’s 624 acres.

Aa for transportation, there are plenty of options available. The most convenient way is to take the Metrorail; you can get on either the Blue or Orange Line and disembark at the Arlington Cemetery Station.

From there, it’s a short walk to the cemetery entrance.

Arlington Cemetery is free and open to the public 365 days a year from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

You can even book a guided tour through the cemetery that included a changing of the guards.

ArlingtonArlintong Cemetery

Afternoon:

This will be your last afternoon in Washington DC. You will either be grabbing some souvenirs, pack up your luggage or choose one of my bonus ideas to fill your last afternoon in Washington DC.

Bonus Ideas and Things to Do in Washington DC

I personally like to take itineraries that I can find online and tweak them to my own preferences. For this reason, I have designed this itinerary with the idea in mind, that you will in the gaps with some bonus activities.

Apart from the absolute Must-See Things in Washington DC, there are many more amazing and interesting activities you can try. Check out these bonus activities to fill your 5 days in Washington DC itinerary.

Dumbarton Oaks

Dumbarton Oaks is a historic estate located in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.

The 19-acre property contains two museums, formal gardens, and a research library that specializes in Byzantine studies. The building combines ultimate luxury with classic elegance.

It was given to Harvard University in 1940 as part of the Bliss-Bok Sisters’ legacy. The building became quite famous later on, in 1944 the United Nations Charta was drafted there.

Dumbarton Oaks is open to the public 365 days a year from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon is the former home of America’s first President, George Washington. It is a  two-and-a-half-story British Georgian building, famous for its red roof and white walls. Who doesn’t wanna see how the president used to live?

It is located in Fairfax County, Virginia, and is now a popular tourist destination. The estate was owned by George Washington from 1754. He used to own it right until his death in 1799. You can go with a guided tour, to make the trip easier.

In 1860, the house was opened to the public. The entrance fee is about USD 20,00.

International Spy Museum

The International Spy Museum in Washington DC is an interactive museum that will make for a fun evening. The museum takes you on an interesting journey to explore the world of espionage. This experience reminds me so much of my favorite TV Shows Alias and Homeland.

Located in the heart of the city, the museum features a variety of exhibits and activities that reveal secrets about the history and techniques of international spies.

The museum harbors about 6.000 original spy exhibits that were actually used in real life. My favorite part: you can even try being a spy yourself.

The entrance fee is about 24.95 USD.

Rock Creek Park

If you are a fan of beautiful parks, then you will absolutely love visiting Rock Creek Park.

Rock Creek Park is a 1,754-acre urban oasis and it is located right in the heart of Washington DC.

It is the nation’s oldest and largest National Park, since it has been established in 1890 by Congress.

The Rock Creek Park is famous for winding trails, rocky creeks, and picturesque views. Visitors love hopping in there for a small break from the city.

Christian Heurich House Museum

The Christian Heurich House Museum is a beautiful and historically important attraction located in Washington DC. As a wine lover, this as a go-to place for me!

The museum is centered around the life of 19th century brewer Christian Heurich. It was built in 1892.

This stunning red-brick mansion stands as one of the oldest surviving structures in the city and contains numerous artifacts from Heurich himself. He lived a legendary life as a wine-maker and died of the age of 102.

The entrance fee is USD 5,00.

Other Tours and Activities

Washington DC Moonlit Tour of the National Mall & Stops at 10 Sites

DC Monuments and Memorials Night Tour

African-American History Tour with Museum Admission

Skip-the-line National Archives Building Private Guided Tour

What to Pack for Washington DC

When packing for a 5 days in Washington DC trip there are quite a few essential items that should be on your packing list.

Some of the most important items include comfortable walking shoes, a hat or umbrella for protection from the sun and rain, an extra layer of clothing for cooler days or evenings.

If you are traveling in summer, make sure to bring some sunscreen.

For everyone that does not rely on phones for all their info, I suggest bringing a pocket map or guidebook of the city.

Some of the restaurants I recommended are quite chic, so I would also pack some nicer clothes for the evening events.

Conclusion: 5 Days in Washington DC Itinerary

There are so many amazingly interesting things to do in Washington DC, that 5 days there are almost not enough.

If you choose to follow this itinerary, I promise you that you will have the most important sights and highlights covered.

My secret tip: go in spring, it is the most beautiful season in Washington DC.

FAQ

How many days do you need at Washington DC?

I suggest taking 5 days for your trip to Washington DC. If you just want to see the landmarks from the outside, you can probably done within two days. If you plan on visiting museums and attractions, then 5 days is a good time.

How many days do I need to see the Smithsonian?

To see all of the Smithsonian museums in DC you probably need a week. They have many different museums in different locations, and looking at them in-depth can take a lot of time. I would suggest a couple of hours per museum.

Is DC a walkable city?

Yes, Washington DC is very walkable. You can see all the major sights without having to rent a car. If you wish to see things a bit outside of the city, you can use the metro or the bus. Booking a guided tour is also a great option.

Washington DC Bucket Lisst
blonde girl pink dress in front of blue door santorini

About the Author

Sabrina is a passionate travel blogger and content creator, based in New Mexico. She spends about half of the year traveling to various destinations together with her husband.

She provides slow-paced itineraries that focus on quality over quantity. Sabrina wants to help her readers to get more out of their travel experiences – while doing less. Read more.