Washington DC is one of my favorite cities for a budget-friendly getaway in the United States. Not only is the city ripe with interesting history and art, but there are so many things to do in Washington DC that don’t cost a single penny! In fact, you could spend 3 days in Washington DC without spending any money on activities! If you’re looking for a budget-friendly weekend getaway, check out this itinerary for 3 days in Washington DC!
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Note: This itinerary is designed for first or second-time visitors to Washington DC. If you frequent the city, you may be interested in looking for some more off-the-beaten-path activities to fill your time!
Day 1: Free Museums in Washington DC and Eastern National Mall
Your first day will be spent hopping around through some free museums in Washington DC and checking out the Eastern end of the National Mall. You definitely will not have time for all the free museums in the city, but these are some of the most frequently visited and best museums in DC. If you want more options to choose from, check out these 20 free things to do in Washington DC.
Do keep in mind that you’ll need to limit your time in each museum. 1 hour to 1.5 hours should be the max at each museum. The museums start closing around 5:20 pm, so make sure you keep track of your time. If you’re the kind of person who really likes to take their time reading all the plaques and stuff in museums, it might be a good idea to narrow down your museum lists to about 3 or 4 museums. It’s up to you.
National Museum of American History
Start your morning off at the National Museum of American History. This museum guides visitors through some of the important times in United States history, and has an assortment of important artifacts on display. One of the most significant things to see here is the original Star Spangled Banner: The flag that inspired the United States National Anthem. It’s a huge museum and you probably won’t have time to see everything, but it’s definitely worth a stop in!
National Museum of Natural History
Next, across the street to the
Kitty-corner from the Museum of Natural History is the National Archives. Unless you’re super into American history and reading a lot of stuff, there’s really only one section of the museum you need to visit. Once you get through security, head right to the Rotunda, where you can view original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights for the United States.
The Capitol Building
When you’re finished, take a little walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s time to check out the Capitol Building! If you enter through the back of the building, you will find the Capitol Building Visitor Center. There are a few small exhibits and a gift shop you can view at no cost. If you are interested in seeing more of the Capitol Building, you’ll have to schedule a tour in advance and reserve a time. These tours are free of charge.
Exit out the back of the Capitol Building and cross the street to the Supreme Court building. It’s only open to the public from Monday-Friday, so depending on when your weekend visit starts, you may only be able to see the building from the outside. If you do happen to visit on a Friday, you will be able to see the Courtroom and a few exhibits on the first and ground floors.
Library of Congress
Next, move onto one of my favorite buildings in Washington DC: The Library of Congress! The interior of this building is absolutely stunning. You have to be a registered researcher in order to actually go into the reading rooms, but there is a viewing area where you can see
From the Library of Congress, head back towards the National Mall and make a stop at Union Square. This lovely little area is perfect for getting photos of the Capitol Building, the Capitol Reflection Pool, and the National Mall. This is also a great area to take a rest from all the DC exploring you’ve done so far!
National Air and Space Museum
Next, begin heading westwards on the National Mall to the National Air and Space Museum. This interesting museum has a huge collection of artifacts and exhibits about outer space, space exploration, and aviation. Anyone with a curiosity about space and how things fly will love this museum!
Holocaust Memorial Museum
Before the end of the day, make sure you have at least an hour and a half for the Holocaust Memorial Museum. If you’re visiting in the late-spring/summer months you may want to consider pre-booking your entry tickets to make sure you can get in. The museum serves as a memorial to Holocaust victims as well as an education center. Emotionally heavy and graphic material is on display, so the museum is not really suitable for young kids.
If you’re not too pooped after your first of 3 days in Washington DC, you can do a little monument and memorial exploring in the evening of day one. They can even look more beautiful at the end of the
Day 2: Western National Mall: Monuments, Memorials, and The Tidal Basin
After a full day of museum hopping, it’s time to spend a day outdoors, enjoying the monuments and memorials of the Western National Mall. Make sure to check the weather forecast during your visit to Washington DC. You may want to do this on day
The White House
Start your day off at the iconic White House- the residence for the President of the United States. You can tour the inside for free, but it requires some pre-planning. You must submit a tour request in writing to your local Member of Congress no later than 21 days in advance to your visit. Though, it’s recommended to submit your request around 3 months in advance to ensure your entry.
Otherwise, you can still make a stop and see the outside of the White House. You can also stop by the White House Visitor Center at the corner of 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue if you’re interested in learning more about the White House.
Head south from the White House to the Washington Monument. This towering structure serves as a monument to the very first President of the United States: George Washington. Believe it or not, this monument was once the tallest building in the world! Now, that title belongs to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, but the Washington Monument still holds the title of the world’s tallest stone structure and obelisk.
After a long period of restoration and reconstruction, the interior of the Washington Monument is due to open again in Spring of 2019!
World War II Memorial
Head west on the National Mall and you’ll find yourself at the World War II Memorial. This giant and ornate memorial honors the millions of people who served for the United States during World War II. One of my favorite parts of the memorial is the Freedom Wall. Here, 4,048 golden stars are mounted to represent every American life lost during World War II. It’s a beautiful memorial and can’t be missed during your 3 days in Washington DC.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Continue along the Reflection Pool past the Constitution Gardens to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. There are three parts to this memorial. First and probably most well-known is the long Memorial wall with over 58,000 names engraved to commemorate Americans who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. The other two parts to the memorial are the Three Soldiers statue and the Vietnam Women’s memorial.
At the other end of the Reflection Pool, you don’t want to miss the Lincoln Memorial. This huge marble structure is dedicated to honoring the 16th President of the United States: Abraham Lincoln. Inside, there is a huge statue of the president himself.
If you’re interested to know more about the memorial or President Lincoln, try to coordinate your visit with one of the daily Ranger Talks, which happen every hour, on the hour, starting at 10 am and ending at 11 pm.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
Heading around to the other side of the Reflection Pool will bring you to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. This memorial honors those who fought in the Korean War. Dedicated in 1995, it is made up of the Memorial Wall, the Pool of Remembrance and several steel soldier statues.
Now it’s time to head to the Tidal Basin area. This tends to be a popular area for tourists, especially during the spring when the Cherry Blossoms bloom. Depending on when you are visiting, this area may get quite crowded. But the memorials around the Tidal Basin and the water itself are quite scenic. If you don’t want to deal with crowds at peak times, try visiting early in the morning, or late at night.
As you make your way around the Tidal Basin, here are a few highlights you’ll want to make sure to visit:
- Martin Luther King Jr Memorial
- Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial
- George Mason Memorial
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
If there’s more time…
If you have more time to explore Washington DC after you’ve seen all these important monuments and memorials, there are still lots of budget-friendly things you can do in Washington DC! You can easily go back to any of the museums from Day 1 where you needed more time. Or, there are plenty of other free things to do in Washington DC you can check out!
Day 3: Georgetown and Arlington
Before you head home from your 3 days in Washington DC, spend your final day hitting up two more must-see spots just outside of the city center. This day’s itinerary is a little more flexible, to accommodate your departure time and allow extra time for anything else in the city you wanted to visit.
Arlington National Cemetery
At the top of many “Things to do in Washington DC” articles, you’ll find Arlington National Cemetery. While not necessarily the most exciting stop you’ll make during your 3 days in Washington DC, Arlington National Cemetery is an incredibly moving and powerful place to visit.
There are a number of tours you can take through the cemetery, which will lead you to the gravesites of many important figures in United States history. You are also welcome to roam the cemetery on your own, to quietly reflect. There is an app you can download which you can use as a self-guide through the site.
The most iconic thing to witness within Arlington National Cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This elegant marble sarcophagus marks the grave of an unidentified American soldier from World War I, and represents all the soldiers who died while fighting for The United States without recognition.
If you can, try to time your visit with the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From October to March 31, the guard changes every hour, on the hour. From April to September 30, the guard changes every 30 minutes.
Wander through Georgetown
After a heavy morning visiting Arlington National Cemetery, your final activity in Washington DC is to explore the adorable little neighborhood of Georgetown. This cute, colonial neighborhood is the perfect way to enjoy your last day in DC. There are a number of fantastic restaurants and boutique shops. You can also enjoy a walk along the C&O Canal, check out all the adorable houses, or visit the famous “Exorcist” stairs if you wish! But my favorite thing about Georgetown? All the great desserts!
Visiting Washington DC is a great way to see some incredible and important parts of United States history. DC makes a perfect budget-friendly weekend getaway if you’re tight on cash. There are so many things to do in Washington DC that you can’t possibly do it all in a short weekend. But 3 days in Washington DC is a great amount of time for first-time visitors to get a taste of the city!
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