Washington DC in 2 Days: everything you need to know

Two days is the minimum time you need to see the highlights of the U.S. capital. Discover the best itinerary

Carlos Bleda

Carlos Bleda

9 min read

Washington DC in 2 Days: everything you need to know

Abraham Lincoln Memorial | ©Pixabay

Washington DC is a huge city, but, fortunately, the most important places are concentrated in the National Mall, an extension of gardens and streets of about three kilometers where you will find all the buildings and most of the attractions you must see: The Capitol, the White House, the Washington Monument... Know everything you can't miss in your list of things to see in the capital of the USA in your 48-hour trip.

Day 1: Visit the Library of Congress, the Capitol and the main monuments

Sunset on Capitol Hill| ©Anthony Quintano
Sunset on Capitol Hill| ©Anthony Quintano

Although both days of this itinerary run along the National Mall, the first day is focused on touring this area from west to east. That is, from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, passing by the famous Washington Obelisk. It is about 3 kilometers from one end to the other that can be done in an hour, but with the corresponding stops it will take us the whole day.

Let yourself be dazzled by the Library of Congress

The starting point of this itinerary is the Library of Congress, an impressive building located next to the Capitol that is somewhat overshadowed by it until we go inside. It is one of the most important libraries in the world and proof of this is its beauty.

Its architecture and decoration highlights the Beaux-Arts style façade, the murals and mosaics, the impressive reading area and the recreation of Thomas Jefferson's book collection. As a curiosity, one of the original Gutenberg Bibles is kept here, among other priceless works. All of this can be seen on a guided tour organized by the library itself from Monday to Saturday.

Visit the Capitol

The most representative building in Washington, with the exception of the White House, is undoubtedly the Capitol. The center of political power in the United States. Fortunately, you can visit it for free. Of course, you will need to book the visit from their website and it is not easy, since the demand is very high. Booking well in advance is more of a must than a tip.

You can visit some of the most important rooms of the Capitol, such as the rotunda room under its huge and beautiful dome, the room of the statues, etc.. Visits are from Monday to Saturday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. In this link you can find all the information to visit it. If you do not manage, I recommend you spend a few minutes to admire it from the outside. In fact, you can learn more about this representative building if you book a tour of scandals and political secrets in Washington DC

Book a tour of political scandals and secrets

Visit the National Archives Museum

Although there are endless museums in the area, on this first day I recommend you stop at one. This is the guided tour of the National Archives, a plan very much in keeping with the character of the monuments you will see on this first day. This building is home to the most important founding documents of the country, such as the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence, as well as a host of documents, illustrations, photographs, etc..

Next, I recommend that you eat around the National Mall. There is no shortage of options: from street stalls to fast food restaurants to more gourmet options. My recommendation for American-style dining, without having to travel far and at a good price, is the Shake Shack chain. You can also book a Washington food tour.

Book a guided tour of the National Archives

Take in the views from the George Washington Monument

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

The centerpiece of any visit to the capital is the George Washington Monument. And I say central, since this famous obelisk is located in the center of the National Mall. Inaugurated in 1884, this monument in the form of an Egyptian obelisk was erected as a tribute to the first president of the United States, George Washington, and took more than 30 years to build.

When the work was finished it became the tallest building in the world thanks to its 170 meters high, until a few years later the Eiffel Tower in Paris snatched this title. Its main attraction, in addition to its spectacular nature, are its views. You can climb to the observation deck at the top to enjoy the best views of Washington and the National Mall. As in the capitol, tickets are free, but require advance reservations. You can do it online through their website.

Book the Washington Sightseeing Bus

Don't miss the Abraham Lincoln Memorial

The ideal spot to end the first day of this itinerary is the Abraham Lincoln Memorial. It is located just opposite the Capitol, on the west side of the National Mall on the banks of the Potomac River and has been the scene of some famous movies or historical events as relevant as the speech of Martin Luther King in 1963, where he uttered his famous phrase I have a dream.

The monument is a building inspired by Greek temples, inside which rests the famous statue of Abraham Lincoln seated, which about six meters was sculpted by artist Daniel Chester and is one of the most photographed places in Washington. It can be visited freely, as the memorial is permanently open to the public 365 days a year and 24 hours a day.

At the end, I recommend that you dine at a restaurant like Old Ebbitt Grill, one of the most emblematic of the capital; or the famous Art and Soul fried chicken, just 10 minutes walk away. In any case, the area around the National Mall is full of restaurants. And if you are looking for a more romantic and original plan, you can book a dinner cruise in Washington.

Book a dinner cruise in Washington

Day 2: Spend a day at the museums, memorials and White House

White House| ©Rob Young
White House| ©Rob Young

Once you've seen most of the government buildings and some of the monuments on the National Mall, it's time to set aside the second day to see the rest. Starting with the home of the President of the United States, the White House, and continuing with the museums in the area, of which there are dozens, and among which you will have to choose which one to visit. Finally, nothing better than touring the memorials that you did not see on the first day.

Book a bike tour of Washington

Be dazzled by the White House

The second day you will start at the famous White House. The building that since 1800 is home to the presidents of the country and one of the stops on the architecture tour of Washington. Normally you will have to settle for seeing it from the gate, but there is the possibility of taking a tour, although it is not an easy task. You have to book at least 21 days in advance, but to be sure, I recommend that you do it about three months in advance. There are several ways to do this:

If you finally manage to visit it, you will be able to see the Blue Room, the Red Room and the Green Room, the State Dining Room, the China Room and a view of the White House Rose Garden. And no, you won't be able to access the Oval Office if you're wondering. But, in any case, it's quite a privilege. Keep in mind that, unsurprisingly, the security measures here are extreme.

Visit the Washington Museums

Thanks in large part to a historic institution like the Smithsonian, Washington is one of the best cities in the world to visit museums for its variety and because many of them are among the most important in the world and is one of the plans that can not miss on your trip to Washington. As there are so many and everyone has their own tastes, I leave you a short list.

  • Air and Space Museum: one of the most important museums in Washington for the value of the pieces on display and for being almost unique in the world. Here you can see the Apollo 11 module, the first manned mission to reach the moon, Kennedy's Air Force One or the Spirit of St. Louis, the first plane to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The museum is free, although there is an admission fee for certain attractions inside and it is open all year round from 10 am to 5:30 pm.
  • National Museum of Natural History: administered by the Smithsonian Institution, the natural history museum has one of the most complete and important collections of animals, fossils, minerals, meteorites and all kinds of natural elements in the world. This makes it the second most visited museum in Washington. It is also free and open Monday through Sunday from 10:00 to 17:30.
  • National Museum of African American History This is the best place to learn about the short but interesting history of the United States through unique exhibits and artifacts displayed on its three floors. Like all Smithsonian museums, it is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and admission is free.
  • National Gallery of Art: One of the most complete art collections in the world. The museum is divided into two wings, one for art before the twentieth century with works by Rubens, Rembrand or Monet and another wing for art from the twentieth century. Admission is also free and the opening hours are Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm and Sundays from 11 am to 6 pm.

Of course there are many more, but I leave you this link where you will find the best museums in Washington with all the information you need to visit the ones you choose.

Book a visit to the Natural History Museum

Stop for lunch

After visiting some of these museums it is time to recharge your batteries and here there are two options. Either you eat in the cafeterias of the museums themselves, something I do not recommend unless you want to save time, or choose from the multitude of options in the surrounding area.

For example, a couple of blocks behind the National Gallery of Art are concentrated a lot of restaurants among which I recommend the legendary Penn Quarter Sports on Indiana Avenue. Another option that does not fail is to book a gastronomic tour Washington. And when you finish eating it's time to continue the tour and visit themost important war memorials.

book a Washington food tour

Tour the Memorials

Dr. King Memorial on the National Mall| ©Daniel Lobo
Dr. King Memorial on the National Mall| ©Daniel Lobo

Memorials are another hallmark of Washington. These monuments, built to honor different personalities and victims of some of the historic moments that marked the U.S., number in the dozens on the National Mall. Most of them are located on the west side of the National Mall starting from the Washington Monument:

  • World War II Memorial: located just in front of the obelisk, this tribute to the combatants of the war is formed by a shallow pool of 70 meters long surrounded by sculptures.

  • Vietnam War Veterans Memorial: a polished black marble wall bearing the names of the more than 50,000 war dead. In the same line you can also see the Korean War memorial.

  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial: it is the best place to end your two-day visit to the capital of the United States, Washington DC.

  • Other memorials are: the Martin Luther King Memorial, the Holocaust Memorial or the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial.

And then you can book the Arlington National Cemetery Sightseeing Tram for a short tour of this iconic site. If your visit ends on time and you want to say goodbye to Washington with a nice dinner, head to The Wharf area. This is a modern area on the waterfront of a canal on the Potomac that is home to an endless number of restaurants and a very pleasant nightlife scene.

Book the Arlington National Cemetery Sightseeing Trolley Tour