24 Hours in Washington DC

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Welcome to Washington DC, the capital of the United States of America! As the epicenter of the American government, the first things that may come to mind may be politics and buttoned-up suits. To be fair, I can’t blame you, especially with all the seasons of West Wing that are probably on rerun somewhere in the world. All jokes aside, DC is a place that has so much to offer and goes far beyond just the politics. We’ve got good food, aesthetic buildings, and a bit of culture to discover too. In this 24-hour guide, I’m showing you DC from a local perspective. From where to eat, what to see, and what to do, this guide will give you the perfect taste of what DC is all about.

How to Spend the Perfect 24 Hours in Washington DC from a Local’s Perspective

Advice on how to spend the perfect 24 hours in Washington DC from a local’s perspective. Go beyond the best things to do in Washington DC and discover the local favorites.

Morning

Start your morning with Breakfast at Teaism in Penn Quarter

breakfast meal from Teaism restaurant in washington dc

So you’ve just hopped off the plane, or train, or whatever brought you here to the nation’s capital. Chances are, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably starving and trying to figure out where to grab a bite to eat. Teaism will be your answer to that question and our first stop of the day!

As the name suggests, Teaism is a cozy little tea shop with 3 downtown locations: Penn Quarter, Dupont Circle, and Lafayette Park. Since we’re tight on time, I would recommend either the Penn Quarter or Lafayette Park locations since they’re closest to the National Mall.

On the menu, you’ll find a unique fusion of Asian-inspired dishes like okonomiyaki and panko fried salmon cake. For me, nothing beats Thai chicken curry so I’ll always go for that! Of course, being a tea house, you’ll find an extensive selection of teas available on the menu too. As a chai lover, I always opt for the chai latte. It’s a deliciously warm blend of spices and milk. If comfort could come in a cup, this chai latte would be it for me.

Enjoy a morning wandering the National Mall

After breakfast, make your way over to the National Mall to see some of the most iconic sites of DC. If it’s your first time in DC, you have to make a stop by the National Mall no matter how touristy it may seem!

The National Mall is quintessentially DC. You’ve got the Lincoln Memorial on the far West side overlooking the Reflecting Pool, the Capitol building on the East Side, and the Washington Monument smack dab in the middle.

Everything is within walking distance so there’s no need to travel far or coordinate transportation. I would recommend picking one side to start on and making your way over to the other side. Keep in mind, that the mall is also quite large. Since we’re going to the National Botanical Gardens after the National Mall, I would suggest starting at the Lincoln Memorial and then making your way toward the Capitol building. The whole loop is about five miles and takes around 1.5 – 2 hours to walk assuming you don’t stop along the way.

While you wander around the area, pop into one of the many Smithsonian museums that surround the National Mall. The best part is all Smithsonian museums are world-class research institutes that are free to the public for access. Each one has uniquely gorgeous architecture and is filled with extensive exhibits that you could explore for hours. If you’re looking for a place to start, I’d make you go to the National Air and Space Museum because I love seeing the planes and also the National Gallery of Art because the building is art itself but in all honesty, all of them are fantastic.

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The National Botanical Gardens

I feel like the National Botanical Gardens doesn’t get nearly enough of the recognition it deserves. It’s tucked away on the grounds of the Capitol so it can often get overlooked but it really should be added to your list!

Described as a “living plant museum”, the National Botanical Garden is one of my favorite places in the city. Stepping inside the conservatory, you’ll find yourself transported to a tropical rainforest. Not something you would typically think of for DC but pretty cool right?!

The main part of the conservatory is in a pretty humid room that has a mini waterfall that flows through the first floor. Outside of the main conservatory area, you’ll also find less humid areas dedicated to other types of plants like succulents and garden vegetables. My favorite part of the conservatory is the catwalks that run along the second floor’s perimeter, allowing you to get an aerial view of the tropical plants. It’s the perfect place for photo ops!

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Afternoon

Have lunch in Georgetown

As one of the oldest neighborhoods in DC, Georgetown holds a special place in my heart.

Walking through Georgetown, you’ll find cobblestoned roads, narrow alleyways, canals, and those classic red brick buildings reminiscent of colonial America. It’s this old-world charm that has quickly made Georgetown one of my favorite neighborhoods in DC.

Since we’re here for lunch, I would recommend heading down to the waterfront for dining with a view of the river. Although pricey, restaurants like Fiola Mare and Farmers, Fishers, and Bakers will offer that fine dining experience complete with a sweeping view of the river. Filomena Restaurante is also an amazing Italian restaurant that’s tucked on the street right above the canal and gets rave reviews for its pasta.

If you’re looking for something more casual instead, there’s Good Stuff Eatery for the classic American burger or Falafel Inc for some of the crispiest falafels in the city. Chaia Georgetown is also a great vegetarian and vegan taco spot tucked away in the cutest building.

After lunch take a stroll down M street and you’ll find plenty of boutique and name-brand shops to peruse through. I love coming to Georgetown for the boutique shops, especially the local bookstores since there’s always so much to find!

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Tudor Place and Dumbarton Oaks

If Bridgerton were to film in DC, I have a feeling Tudor Place and Dumbarton Oaks would make the cut as sets for the show.

Located in Georgetown Heights, Tudor Place was originally the family home of Martha Washington, the wife of George Washington, the first president of the United States. The property takes up one city block and consists of a gorgeous Federal-style mansion complete with perfectly manicured gardens.

Just a 4-minute walk from Tudor Place is Dumbarton Oaks, a “Harvard University research institute, library, museum, and garden located in Washington, DC”. While that may sound fancy and intimidating, don’t let that deter you from visiting! Dumbarton Oaks is located in a pretty quiet neighborhood which makes for a pretty peaceful and calm ambience while on the property. My favorite part of Dumbarton Oaks is the gardens that surround the property. They’re gorgeously designed with plants and water installments thoughtfully arranged in intricate patterns. Keep in mind you will need tickets for entry into Tudor Place and Dumbarton Oaks!

Enjoy the Best View of DC…from Virginia

Now this one is truly a hidden gem. You might think that getting the best view of DC would mean finding the rooftop of a super tall building in DC, which to be honest, there are not that many because of DC’s building height restrictions.

That’s why we’re going to go across the river instead.

Just a 20-25 minute walk across the Key Bridge from Georgetown or a quick Metro ride from Washington DC is Rosslyn in Arlington, VA.

When we get to Rosslyn, we’re headed for The View of DC. It’s an observation deck that offers the best 360° views of DC and Northern Virginia. Windows are floor to ceiling meaning you don’t have to take turns with everyone else (ahem…looking at you Washington Monument). The best part is that it’s free to the public with a valid form of identification. Every time I’ve come to The View, there’s never been more than 10 people at a time which means you get plenty of space to enjoy the views.

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Evening

Have Dinner in Dupont Circle/Logan Circle

Now, DC is home to some incredible restaurants. We’ve had several award-winning restaurants circulate through the area these past few years. The presence of Michelin-star restaurants in the area has steadily grown throughout the years and we’re now up to 54 Michelin-star restaurants in the nation’s capital!

For our last meal of the day, I would recommend immersing yourself in DC’s dining scene. There are so many amazing restaurants throughout the DC area but to give you the most diverse array of options, I would recommend staying in the Dupont Circle/Logan Circle areas (which are both right next to each other). Here you’ll find casual options like the decadent ramen bowls at Jinya Ramen or higher-end options like the legendary French cuisine at Le Diplomate. My personal favorite is Agora which serves Turkish small plates that are literally to die for. Each one has a perfect blend of spices, meats, and vegetables that makes for a very satisfying dinner.

Try to Find the Entrances to Speakeasies

After enjoying your meal, head over to U Street to see if you can find the entrances to all the speakeasy bars in the area.

For those who are unfamiliar, speakeasies are secret bars that gained popularity during America’s prohibition era, a time when alcohol was banned in the country. They were often hidden in basements, attics, and sometimes disguised as other businesses to prevent the authorities from knocking on their doors.

That is if you can find the door to begin with! A lot of the entrances are discreetly hidden in creative ways like behind a bookshelf, in a storage room, or even behind a mirror.

Though America no longer has a ban on alcohol, the speakeasies still remain and have become a really fun way to kick off a Friday night out! You’ll find that many of the speakeasies have their own themes to them with specialty cocktails to go right along with it.

End the Night with a Midnight Snack: A Pizza Slice Larger than Your Face

If you’ve still got the energy and happen to also have the munchies, head over to Home Slice in Adams Morgan. There they’ll serve you the largest pizza slice you will have ever seen in your life. I’m talking larger than your head so much so that it needs to be served on two plates. It’s cheesy goodness that will leave you feeling satisfied for the night.

Tips for One Day in Washington DC

How to Get Around Washington DC

DC is super walkable. In fact, we’re the 3rd most walkable city in the United States! If you’re just staying within the downtown area and looking to do most of the iconic tourist attractions, then walking from attraction to attraction will be your fastest option.

If you plan to travel outside of the downtown area and farther away from the center, I would recommend taking public transport as it will be your fastest and most reliable option. The main public transportation system that runs throughout DC is the Metro system which has both the train and the bus. Typically fares for the train can range between $2 – $6 depending on the distance you travel and the time at which you travel. The Metrobus, on the other hand, runs on a flat fare system of $2 per ride. Both transportation options can take you nearly anywhere you need to go within the DC area and some parts of Maryland as well as Northern Virginia.

Since we’re only here for 24 hours, there’s really no need to rent a car. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend renting a car at all no matter the duration of the trip unless you want to make a trip to places that are not accessible by Metro. Driving through DC can be chaotic and parking is even more chaotic so just save yourself the trouble and headache.

Best Time of Year to Visit DC

As an East Coast city, DC has 4 distinct seasons: winter, summer, fall, and spring. I would most recommend visiting around the shoulder seasons in either spring or fall. In the spring, you’ll be treated to the sights of the pink and white cherry blossoms taking bloom all across the city. For those with allergies, just be aware that this will be the time with the most pollen floating through the air. In the fall, you’ll get those warm oranges and reds taking over the city as the leaves change from their summery green to their autumnal colors.

Although we don’t get as cold as our New York City and Boston neighbors up north, winters can still get quite chilly in the nation’s capital. And let’s just say DC summers are something that DC transplants mentally have to prepare themselves for because of how hot and humid it can get. But I will say that winter and summer can still be quite fun in DC as there are plenty of activities that happen around those times of the year like outdoor movies in the summer and holiday markets in the winter.

For more tips, tricks, and info on visiting Washington DC check out the Complete Guide to Washington DC

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