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How to Spend a Day in Washington D.C.

I took an East Coast road trip and decided to break up my stay by visiting Washington D.C. I'm glad I did!

View from Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial

View from Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial

Start Your Day at the National Mall

I started my day by parking in D.C.’s central hub. This long park is where you will find all of the main monuments, buildings, and memorials such as…

  • Washington Monument
  • World War II Memorial
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial
  • The White House
  • United States Capitol Building
  • Jefferson Memorial

There are also museums everywhere you look! As someone who had no idea that the National Mall existed, I was delightfully surprised by its layout. The National Mall will have an amazing view of the United States Capitol building on one end and the Washington Monument on the other end of the park. I wouldn’t mind having a picnic there one day!

Where to Go First

With so many places to see in such a short time (and such a condensed area!) it was hard to decide where to go first. But I'm happy with my choice!

Washington Monument

This monument will be the first site you approach if you’re coming from the National Mall and want to see the Lincoln Memorial. It is so tall; you can see it everywhere you go. I never got tired of looking at it no matter where I was in D.C.

World War II Memorial

One thing that I absolutely loved about the World War II Memorial was seeing the number of people sitting with their feet in the water fountain. At first, I wasn’t sure if this was even allowed. However, a sign can be found that explains, "At the end of WWII, troops celebrated in the fountains in Europe". Every person at the memorial with their feet in the water was honoring our World War II veterans.

Lincoln Memorial

Walk along the Reflecting Pool on your way to see the incredible statue of Abraham Lincoln and stand where Martin Luther King Jr. held his “Dream” speech. It was overwhelming to be standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking out across the Pool reflecting the Washington Monument, and to be thinking about the many lives King changed in that moment.

Where to Spend Your Afternoon

After hitting some of the big sites on the National Mall, there are plenty of great ways to spend an afternoon.

Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial

This can be found on your way towards walking to the White House from the Lincoln Memorial. It can be found at Carp Pond. If you are pressed for time or are coming from another direction, I wouldn’t go out of your way to see it. There are more interesting places to see in my opinion.

The White House

Walk back towards the Washington Monument, and you will see this building in the distance to the left. This view of the building will be the back side of the White House. I highly recommend walking all the way around to get a view of the front side as well. This will also allow you to see other sites and buildings.

Sculpture Garden

This garden is located across from the National Archives Museum. Cutting through it made an interesting way to continue my walk through the city.

A Museum You're Interested In

I was most interested in going to the National Archives Museum to see documents like the Declaration of Independence.

Lunch at Penn Quarter Sports Tavern

This spot is located a block from the National Archives Museum. If you are on a budget, this would be a great place to stop by for lunch.

Where to End Your Day

United States Capitol

Personally, I was okay doing just a drive-by to see this building up close. I had such a great view of it from the National Mall, I didn’t see it as necessary to walk up and see it closer. However, there is a Capitol Reflecting Pool in front of the building that photographers or admirers might be willing to see on foot.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

This memorial is across the Tidal Basin away from the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. I didn't stay long, but I'm glad I checked it out.

Arlington Cemetery

I almost skipped out on this activity because I didn't think I would enjoy it. I was surprised to find that it was a beautiful and big cemetery rich in history. My favorite part was walking up to Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, which can be seen sitting at the top of a hill overlooking D.C. There you will learn who stayed on the property and what their purpose was on the land you stand on.

A Reflection On My Experience

A lot of the sites may all be in the same area, but you will still be doing a lot of walking! I was so happy that I made the decision to ditch my flip-flops for my comfy sneakers that had plenty of support. There are also a number of ice cream trucks lined up down the streets by the National Mall with treats to cool you off in the summer.

Although D.C. can be explored in a day, some people may prefer 2–3 days to really relax and soak in history. I arrived close to 11:00am on a Sunday, and I was surprised that traffic was light and street parking was easy to find. However, a part of me wonders if this was because of Covid-19.

If I Go Back Again...

  1. I would walk around the National Mall at night. I bet it's beautiful!
  2. I would go to the National Archives Museum.

© 2021 Jackie Zelko

Comments

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 22, 2021:

That is one place that I have never visited, but I would like to remedy that. Thanks for your tips about the free parking on Sundays, etc.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 22, 2021:

This is a very good article about travel to Washington DC, Jackie. I have been there and seen most of those sites, but I would love to return. It is a wonderful place to visit. I like your pictures and your information.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 22, 2021:

Thanks for sharing those travel tips.

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