day trip travel washington dc

Top Ten Sites to Visit in Washington DC

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Washington DC is an amazing place to visit. I would bet it would take you over a week to see everything, I mean everything within the different museums, monuments and memorials. The National Gallery of Art has more than 130,000 prints, paintings, drawings and so much more. 

So just think of this. If you were to look at every item in the National Gallery of Art for ONE SECOND it would take you over 36 hours to see every piece of art in that building. When you consider most of the Smithsonian’s are only open from 10am to 5 pm. It would take you over FIVE days to see everything. I don’t know about you but I don’t have that kind of time. 

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So let’s take a look at the top sites to visit that you could do in a day or over the weekend. No you won’t be able to stare at the 1989 Tim Burton Batmobile for hours but you will be able to see that any so much more over at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. This list also isn’t in any kind of order. It’s just the top 10 sites I feel you should make sure you see when visiting DC. 

10. WHITE HOUSE

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Can you really visit Washington DC without stopping and seeing the White House. No matter if you like the guy or not who lives there it is still worth a visit. 

You can’t get close to it anymore but you can still get a great view. If you visit in December the National Christmas Tree is located right here as well.

09. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY

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You could spend a whole day looking around the National Museum of American History. It is jam packed full of American History. From money, movies, advertisements, the Batmobile and Dorothy’s ruby slippers. There is just so much to see. Even doing a quick walk through will take you an hour or so and that is not leaving you much time to really check anything out.  

08. LINCOLN MEMORIAL

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DC is one of those cities that I feel is better at Night. The Lincoln Memorial is no different. It is beautifully lit up at night time and with all the other people walking around you can feel safe unlike walking around other cities after dusk. So if you want to see the Lincoln Memorial with the lowest amount of crowds come and hour or two AFTER sunset. 

07. JEFFERSON MEMORIAL

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This is another Memorial that is better seen at Night than during the day. This Memorial however, is better for the great photo ops. If you visit when the Cherry Blossoms are in bloom you can get some amazing photos. 

06. WASHINGTON MONUMENT

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You can see the Washington Monument from all around DC and the surrounding area. This building sits at 555 feet tall and you can get an amazing view of DC from the top. If you only visit one Monument or Memorial in DC this should be your go to one. Get here early as they run out of tickets fast during peak times.

05. CAPITOL BUILDING

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Just a beautiful building located in DC. Not that any of the buildings in DC aren’t beautiful. This one just takes it up a notch or three. Walk up the steps and center yourself in the middle. Than turn around and just look at the sheer distance from the Capitol Building all they way to the Lincoln Memorial. 

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To visit the inside  you need to walk around to the front. The Capitol is open at 08:30 Monday to Saturday. Just note people do start arriving around 8am and it can get very busy at certain times of the year.

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04. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

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Ever want to see a mummy? Or what the bones of a Monkey look like? Then you need to come and see all the amazing things at the National Museum of Natural History. See the origins of Humans. Found out what lies deep in the Ocean. View 2000 year old mummies or see the skeletons of many animals from around the world.

Did you know some of these skeletons have been on display since 1881?

03. WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL

There has never been a more costly war than World War II. There has never been a better memorial to those who fought in WWII than the World War II Memorial in Washington DC or around the country. 

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Come found your state and take a picture standing by it. You will see people all around doing this very thing.

02. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR MEMORIAL

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This memorial is massive. That’s kind of the point of it anyway. While any time of day is a great time to come and see it. Visiting around sunset can get you some spectacular views of the memorial and sky.  

01. VIETNAM WAR MEMORIAL 

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There is just something about this memorial that is so powerful. It’s also so sad seeing all the names on the wall. This is a simple yet very moving memorial located close to the Lincoln Memorial. 

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So there are my top ten sites to visit when visiting DC. But what order do you do them in? Does it matter which order you do them in. It really depends if you are doing everything in one day or two or more. I will always suggest visiting at least 2  days. Arrive on a Friday evening and staying till Sunday afternoon is great if you leave within a couple hour drive. Traffic is a little lighter on the weekend than during the week. 

Here is my suggestion on how and what order you should visit these 10 sites. This route covers all 10 sites and is about 6.6 miles of walking. According to google maps it would take you 2 hours and 14 minutes to walk this route without stops. 

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I’d start off at 08:30 am at the Washington Monument to get your tickets to go inside. The Monument opens at 09:00 am. After you visit the inside head over to the National Museum of American History. Just note that they don’t usually open until 10:00am. After you spend at least an hour or 2 you can grab a bite to eat from one of the many food trucks lined up along 14th street SW or wait till after you are done at the National Museum of Natural History which you head to next. After the Natural History Museum grab that delicious food truck food at 7th Street SW if you didn’t eat already and head towards the Capitol Building. 

If you are an art lover you might want to duck into the National Gallery of Art while on your way to the Capitol Building. It is definitely worth a visit just not a top ten site of mine. Once you visit the Capitol Building and look down along the National Mall. When you leave the Capitol Building head towards Independence Ave SW.

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If you have time check out the United States Botanic Gardens, National Museum of the American Indian, National Air and Space Museum (under heavy renovations that is why it currently isn’t a must see), and Smithsonian Castle. You will pass many great museums and memorials while en-route to the Jefferson Memorial

Also walking along the tidal basin to get to the Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial you will pass many wonderful memorials. Give yourself a little extra time to check them out. Plus the views from the tidal basin are pretty spectacular. Chances are if you follow my suggestion you will get to the Jefferson Memorial after 4pm.

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If you are visiting in the Fall and Winter you should arrive when these memorials are all lit up which really makes them pop. Continue along the tidal basin and head over to the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. It is amazing to see this around sunset when you have a colorful sky in the background.

After you get a little inspiration from the different Martin Luther King quotes around this area head towards the World War II Memorial. If you follow this route you should be hitting all these memorials around dusk or later. They should all be lit up and looking amazing. 

After visiting the World War II Memorial do yourself a favor and head towards the Lincoln Memorial from the left. Take a stop over and see the Korean War Memorial. This one just missed my top ten list. Once you get to the Lincoln Memorial head up the steps before you turn around. Just like from the Capitol, the view from the Lincoln Memorial looking along the National Mall is stunning. For fun, see if you can grab a photo of your finger on top of the Washington Monument.

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After you take in the awe inspiring feel of good ol’ Honest Abe head over to the Vietnam War Memorial. Remember to be respectful when visiting this site and the others. Family and friends come here often to show respect for the ones they lost to this war. Names are still being added to the wall.

After the Vietnam War Memorial are last stop is the White House. If you visit in December you can also view the national Christmas tree. The White House truly is an amazing building full of history. While you can’t get as close to it as you used to be able to you can still get some great photos from the view area.  

So there you have it. Our list of the top 10 sites to visit in DC and a suggested route for you to take. I like to take a drive down to DC at least twice a year. I try to visit in spring when the Cherry Blossoms are blooming and in Fall/Winter. While I am always adding new places to my visit I try to hit these ones up each time I go. 

Let me know what your favorite sites are in Washington DC in the comments below. Do you come just for the day or do you spend a few days in the city? If you are planning on spending a couple days in DC and are looking for a place to stay, check out our review on Hyatt Place National Mall. It’s in a great location only minutes away from the Capitol Building. 

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