Washington DC in 1 Day: all you need to know

A 24-hour visit to Washington DC doesn't sound so far-fetched. In this whirlwind tour I propose a route to make the most of your day in this city!

Laura Gómez

Laura Gómez

8 min read

Washington DC in 1 Day: all you need to know

Washington at sunset | ©National Park Service

Washington DC is the city where the President of the United States lives and where the history of modern America laid its foundations. Thousands of visitors from home and abroad arrive daily, inspired by its patriotism, history and all there is to see and do in Washington.

I bring you a tour to visit Washington DC from sunrise to sunset. To start, a basic: the National Mall, where you will see monuments and other spaces of American pride and then enter some of its museums. In the afternoon, you will visit the Logan Circle neighborhood and close your day either with a night tour or in the bars of the famous U Street.

Start the day with a tour of the National Mall by tour bus or streetcar

National Mall| ©Sebastian Bassi
National Mall| ©Sebastian Bassi

In Washington DC, patriotism is everywhere... so if you're a first-time visitor, a tour of the buildings and monuments on the National Mall should not be missing from your itinerary. You can do the tour on foot, but for a day trip with a lot to do, I recommend that you take advantage of the Big Bus tour bus or the tourist streetcar.

Both options will allow you to make a first approach to the sites that every visitor to Washington DC should know:

  • White House.
  • Washington Monument.
  • Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  • Smithsonian Institution Museums.
  • And many more.

One of the great advantages of these transports is that you can hop on and off as many times as you want, allowing you to move at your own pace and spend more or less time at each attraction according to your interests.

Reserve a seat on the Washington Sightseeing Bus

Now it's time for a museum: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

National Museum of Natural History| ©Cynthia LaRue
National Museum of Natural History| ©Cynthia LaRue

Among all the best museums in Washington, my favorite is the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; it is also one of the most visited and fascinating. Here you will find exhibits on the history of man, nature and its evolution in rooms that show the importance of the oceans, forests, climate, insects... Even Egyptian mummies!

Getting to this museum by bus is very easy. Get off at stop #8, located at the corner of 10th NW and Constitution Ave, and the museum is right in front of you. And if you have hired the Big Bus tour bus, your arrival at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History will be even easier, because one of the stops is precisely at this museum.

By the way, so you don't get lost among the more than 146 million specimens of flora, fauna, minerals, etc. in the museum, I recommend that you hire a two-hour guided tour. It couldn't be easier!

Book a guided tour for the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Next stop: National Museum of American History

National Museum of American History| ©Carol M. Highsmith
National Museum of American History| ©Carol M. Highsmith

To get to your next destination, the National Museum of American History, just cross 12th St NW and in less than 5 minutes you'll be there.

This visit will be fun, relaxed and yet amazing. You will see everything from Morse, Edison and Bell patents, historical artifacts such as cannons and guns, vintage print advertising, and childhood memories in front of the TV such as the Muppets", Sesame Street or Bob Ross paintings.

Since your time will be limited, I recommend that you review the exhibits available in advance on the museum's website at this link and note the ones that interest you most. Remember that this is a first visit and it is impossible to see everything, but... something is better, isn't it?

Departure from the National Mall to the Logan Circle neighborhood

Logan Circle| ©Carol M. Highsmith
Logan Circle| ©Carol M. Highsmith

The next stop on this itinerary of Washington in a day is the Logan Circle neighborhood, a good place to stop and recharge your batteries.

14th St. is the best reference, and you will find all kinds of restaurants and businesses. It is one of the "trendy" areas to go to eat in the city, and in Logan Circle you will find a mix of international cuisine that reflects the richness of this neighborhood. A richness where its faithful lifelong residents, migrants from all over the world, college students renting basements and a strong LGBTQ community, coexist peacefully.

Of course, being a highly sought after area in the city, prices can be very high, but that does not mean that there is not for all budgets. In this link you can see some of the options available.

How to get to Logan Circle from the National Mall

Take note of the steps you need to take to get to Logan Circle from your previous stop at the National Museum of American History:

  • Cross Madison Dr NW and you'll soon be lining up at the Smithsonian Metro station.
  • Take the silver line towards Wiehle-Reston East.
  • Transfer at the second stop, at the Metro Center station, to the red line towards Glenmont.
  • Transfer again at the next stop, this time to the yellow line for Greenbelt.
  • You have arrived at your destination: Mt. Vernon Sq. station.

It may sound a little complicated, but the official Metro Transit map will show you better.

Then, as you exit the subway station, walk on M St. NW from 9th to 14th St., or 5 blocks. With the number of buildings with such fascinating architecture and a perfectly manicured tree-lined area, you'll forget for a moment what you came for.

Two options for the afternoon-evening

Evening at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool| ©Vince Costanzo
Evening at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool| ©Vince Costanzo

For the rest of the tour, I leave you with two options. The first, stay in the Logan Circle neighborhood and enjoy the nightlife; the second, return to the perimeter of the National Mall and its surroundings for a night tour of the city.

Mind you, if you feel like this second option, keep in mind that the tours have an approximate departure time of 7:30 pm, and you have to go with plenty of time on the subway or cab to take you there.

First option: Logan Circle

Take advantage of the fact that Logan Circle has become one of the most popular areas of the city's nightlife scene by heading to the U St. corridor. In recent years, the U St. corridor has been transformed into a long row of bars, interspersed with jazz centers and other music venues. You'll love walking down this street before packing your bags.

One option I recommend here is the 9:30 Club which, in its more than four decades of existence, has been the scene of live independent music shows and the occasional surprise from music legends.

Or if you want to continue eating and tasting iconic dishes of the city, you can go to Ben's Chilli Bowl, where a decades-old chili recipe awaits you in a very vintage and original establishment.

Second option: night tour

Like me, you know that touring a city at night is a very interesting experience and, whenever possible, you have to experience it. Even if you visit places that you have already visited during the day, seeing them at night is something else, thanks to the lights that adorn the streets, buildings and monuments.

In Washington DC you have several options:

  • Night Bicycle Tour: In this night tour you will travel about 8 kilometers and you can visit places and monuments such as the Vietnam War, Lincoln and World War II and learn about its history and ins and outs, as you will have a guide. Suitable for the more athletic!
  • Night streetcar tour: In 2 and a half hours you will get to know up to 100 of the most important monuments of the American capital under the charm of the sunset and, in addition, you will be able to access the Franklin Delano Roosevelt monument. This tour is for you if your feet are already tired after walking all day.
  • Night tour by electric car: Live a totally personalized experience in this 2-hour tour in which a maximum of 7 people will tour the National Mall at night. This tour is for you if you like intimacy and prefer to travel in small groups.
  • Night Bus Tour: Tour one of the most beautiful cities in the world at night in a luxury open-top bus, an experience not to be missed!
  • Ghost Tour: Experience a terrifying night in which you will learn about the legends and horror stories of the American capital by touring some of the most famous places in the city. Only suitable for mystery lovers!

Book a night tour of Washington

Some final tips for your visit

Visiting the Capitol| ©Ed Uthman
Visiting the Capitol| ©Ed Uthman
  • More of a "must do" than a suggestion. Find out in advance about the museums you'll find within the perimeter of the National Mall, their locations and the exhibits available at each so you can choose the ones that interest you.
  • With the President of the United States living in this area, it's no wonder that Washington DC, and the National Mall in particular, is an area with extreme security. The DC Police, Capitol Police, Park Police and even the Secret Service guard it, so don't worry if you have to visit at night (although it's not the most common thing to do). Either way, being alert and with your wits about you is essential for your own safety and comfort.
  • Try to arrive at the National Mall with a full breakfast. Sometimes, due to rushing or simply because your stomach doesn't accept anything because of the excitement, you leave without a good breakfast. When you walk around here, don't rely on "there as something," because it won't be easy. On the one hand, there are very few options for the crowds that arrive here every day and, on the other hand, you will lose a lot of time that you can take advantage of in the museums. Another thing you can do is to bring a snack and eat it at one of the stops so that hunger does not attack you. Oh, and don't forget to bring water because, even if you are on a tour on wheels, the intense midday sun will do its thing.

Your day's itinerary in a picture

  • In the morning
  • First approach and museums
  • Take a sightseeing bus or trolley tour
  • Visit Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
  • Visit the National Museum of American History
  • Noontime
  • Stroll and lunch in the trendiest area
  • Stroll through the Logan Circle neighborhood
  • Refuel at a restaurant
  • In the evening
  • Two options
  • Experience the nightlife scene on U St.
  • Take a night tour of the city, by bicycle, streetcar, electric car, bus or ghost tour.