You’ve probably learned about the United States’ history and many of its important moments via textbooks in school. You might have read the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr and seen videos of the presidential inaugurations, but there’s nothing like seeing where these important moments took place in real life. With its monuments, memorials, eclectic neighborhoods, and famous landmarks, Washington DC is a living museum worth exploring.
Even though the city is compact and easy to explore, it contains too much history to see it all in just a weekend or short stay. Still, even on a short stay, you can see the best DC has to offer and visit many of its iconic places. The following recommendations will help you achieve this in just 48 hours.
Day One: Morning
Take a walk through the heart of DC; The National Mall. As the most prominent public space in the city, you should dedicate at least a morning to seeing most of its spectacular historical landmarks, and enjoying its famous lawn and reflecting pool. The Mall is two miles long with the Capitol Hill and the Lincoln Memorial at each end.
I recommend starting this day at the Lincoln Memorial. Inside this classical Greek temple style memorial, you’ll see the sitting statue of Lincoln as well as two of his most famous speeches, including the Gettysburg Address. Also, as you climb the stairs, keep an eye on the marker that commemorates the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr stood to give his famous “I Have a Dream” Speech.
From the steps, take a look towards the lawn where you’ll see a beautiful panoramic view of the reflecting pool, Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol.
Walk along the Mall to visit at your own pace to the contrasting Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial on either side of the reflecting pool. The former is abstract, minimalist, but powerful; while the latter is a more literal, life-sized representation of a platoon. Both are just as meaningful and evocative, but with different design approaches.
If you make your way along the right side of the reflecting pool, you can visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, then head to the World War II Memorial before reaching the iconic Washington Monument – a 555 ft. tall obelisk built with marble blocks quarried by slaves.
From here, you can take the Metro from the Smithsonian station and get off at Metro Center in downtown, where there’s a good variety of restaurants for lunch.
Day One: Afternoon
Once you’re done with lunch, take a walk towards the most famous address in all of Washington DC – 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, or The White House. Stand outside the gate to see the classical façade of the house and office of the sitting president. Should you plan your trip well in advance, you can also request a free tour of the interior of the White House.
Retake the Metro to head to Arlington Cemetery station, one of the region’s most austerely beautiful sights. This United States Military cemetery contains the dead of the nation's conflicts beginning with the Civil War, as well as reinterred dead from earlier wars. Two of the most visited memorials are the Tomb of the Unknowns, which contains the remains of unidentified soldiers from several wars, and the grave marker of former President John F. Kennedy.
Day One: Night
Head to the popular neighborhood known as Adams Morgan, where you can wind down with a few drinks at any of its cafés, bars, and restaurants along 18 St NW. I recommend going to Tryst, a relaxed coffeehouse with live music and a good selection of sandwiches and sweets. Try their Molly Wrap; it is delicious!
Day Two: Morning
Head back to the other half of the National Mall where you’ll see 10 of the Smithsonian museums in DC. Obviously, you won’t have enough time to see all of them, but pick the one or two that interest you the most. Some of the most popular museums are the Air and Space Museum, with its original Wright 1903 flyer and Apollo 11 command module; the Natural History Museum, where you can see the Hope Diamond and several fossils; and the American History Museum, where you’ll see the original Star-Spangled Banner and Abraham Lincoln’s gold pocket watch, among many other artifacts.
Also popular is the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture, which explores the significant role of African Americans in US history.
Day Two: Afternoon and Night
Head to always beautiful Georgetown, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Washington DC, and spend the afternoon walking and shopping while learning its history. This vibrant community is full of bars, restaurants, and upscale shops, but, the commercial side of Georgetown is complemented by its charming residential cobblestone streets. Georgetown is not accessible by Metro, but you can either take the DC Circulator Bus from DuPont Circle or Union Station or head there by taxi.
Walk along M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, which are the two main streets full of plenty of places to enjoy happy hour and dinner. You can take a free or paid walking tour to visit Georgetown University’s campus and numerous other landmarks, such as the Volta Bureau and the Old Stone House, which is the oldest unchanged building in Washington.
Alternatively, you can also walk to the Washington Harbor to enjoy dinner with a view of the Potomac Waterfront or take a boat cruise for incredible views of Georgetown and the monuments.
There’s much more to see in Washington DC, but with just two days, these suggestions will give you a broad glimpse of the best this capital city has to offer.
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