Washington DC is famous for many things, but most notably- it’s politics, as the home to the President, Senate, Congress and Supreme Court. Fortunately for everyone, that’s the last you’ll hear about politics in this guide. Packed with more history, culture and buzz per square mile than just about anywhere else in the U.S, this is a phenomenal place to visit, and if you only have a weekend we’ll show you exactly how to spend 48 hours in Washington DC…
Note: We”ve made an easy to use Google Maps list of every single place mentioned on here, so click here to download a full map, with reviews – of what to do.
You’ll be spoiled for choice. With highly rated hotels at their very best in Washington DC, thanks to state visits from foreign dignitaries and a bustling business community this is one of the best cities to experience a great hotel stay. But being well located is key to truly maximizing your time. Centrally located and within walking distance of great restaurants, bars and sites we recommend Grand Hyatt Washington, The Jefferson, or Kimpton Mason and Rook Hotel. If you’d prefer to be closer to the excitement of Georgetown, with its classic cobblestone streets, then choose from Rosewood Washington DC, The Graham Georgetown or The Avery Georgetown.
Coffee before everything, right? If you enjoy the very best and most potent brews, in great settings, we highly recommend starting the day at Compass Coffee, Chinatown Coffee Co or the aptly named ‘The Coffee Bar‘. All perfect for artisan coffee, delicious muffins, pastries and likely, some hipsters too. For a more traditional cafe, head to Georgetown where Baked & Wired will offer an excellent cup and some cakes. Can you say no to cupcakes for breakfast?
Mandatory Sight Seeing
Whether it’s your first time or hundredth time, DC attractions are on another level to most major cities. Fortunately, most are one next door to another, making it easy to get a lot done in a short amount of time.
Start by heading down to the Lincoln Memorial, and then carry on, walking along to the Washington Monument. While you’re there, grab the perfect picture in the reflecting water, all while imagining the iconic scene from ‘Forest Gump’. If you haven’t seen Forest Gump, please stop reading this and visit your preferred movie rental outlet.
From there, head slightly north for a glimpse of The White House, then back down and for the pretty walk up the National Mall to see The United States Capitol building. It’s a spectacular piece of history and impressive from every angle.
By now, it’s time for some space food – and some natural history. No DC trip is nearly complete without a visit to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum or the Museum of Natural History. Where else can you see something that landed on the moon, or Fonzie’s leather jacket? Oh, and be sure to visit Air and Space before lunch, because the fighter plane simulators do flips.
If you’re a fan of Indian food then you have to go to Rasika. There are two locations in the city and both are excellent on levels not found in many places outside of India. Make sure you order the signature Palak Chaat (crispy baby spinach) to start, or as a side. It’s one of the most delicious dishes we’ve had. If spice isn’t your thing then try Blue Duck Tavern, Fiola or Founding Farmers DC – all very good options, but you may need to make a reservation.
If you’re not already staying in Georgetown, then head that way for the afternoon. The historic waterfront town is a stunningly beautiful place to wander the city, with plenty of character and pretty cobblestone streets. It’s the perfect place for a spot of shopping, with plenty of boutiques, antique shops and high street chains too. You can’t go wrong on M Street or Wisconsin Avenue. If your travel companions are not as shopping enthused, there are great ice cream and cake shops, and good pubs too. Georgetown waterfront is the perfect area for a relaxing stroll and a little shade – especially in the summer months.
Dinner and Cocktails
Washington DC is an excellent city for all things food and drink, with superb choices at all ends of the price and flavor spectrum.
If you’re planning ahead- immediately, like- right now, go on line to book a reservation at minibar/barmini by José Andrés. The first one for food, second for cocktails and dessert. Both are exceptionally good and loved by patrons, with inventive dishes, deserts and mixology that could only be designed by a multi Michelin starred chef. On the high list, Marcel’s, Fiola Mare, The Capital Grille and Plume are all (potentially) worthy of the expense, depending on who’s paying.
Iron Gate is also in a beautiful and charming setting with a quality menu, in a more local neighborhood. If those don’t do the trick, hit up Rose’s Luxury, a great spot for small sharing plates with top notch cocktails, and/or Hazel, which is a fun evening spot.
For a little more nightlife Georgetown is the place to be – especially as it’s basically a college town. If you’re looking to stay out a little late and let your hair down, but stick to quality drinks, then try some of these spots: Unum, The Rye Bar, ENO Wine Bar and Martin’s Tavern.
Old Town Alexandria
Just a 25 minute car ride from downtown you can find the pretty and quaint area known as Old Town Alexandria. A charming place on the Potomac River, once home to George Washington, the area is full of spies, independent boutiques and restaurants, all with a sense of character and history rarely seen in America. Start on King Street for a beautiful walk and great shops before making your way to the waterfront – the perfect place to spend a lovely few hours.
Museums and Art Galleries
We get it- everyone has different interests. Some people love spending hours wandering around a gallery relishing each and every brushstroke, of every painting, while others like a quick in and out. No matter which one you are, Washington DC has some world class galleries and museums to fit all interests and attention spans. And many of them are free! We recommend stopping by the National Gallery of Art, National Portrait Gallery, Freer Gallery of Art, Hirshhorn Museum, The Phillips Collection, Smithsonian Institution and for any James Bond fans: the International Spy Museum. We’re sure there are more, but with just 48 hours, you’re running out of time!
What’s your favorite thing to do in Washington DC?
Featured Image Copyright: sepavo / 123RF Stock Photo
It’s Sight seeing – as in you see the ‘sights’..
if you’re going to use an in-your-face font size, might as well spell correctly. 🙂
Nice list. The Renwick Gallery is underrated. If someone visiting is really into gambling, they could go to the MGM at National Harbor. The DC Wharf area is all new and has potential.
Generally good recommendations. Here’s my take from four years ago:
Having spent over 40 years in DC I generally groan at these posts. I was pleasantly surprised to see that you didn’t even mention Ben’s or Old Ebbitt. They always seem to make these sorts of posts. If I were to tell someone visiting the one place that is worth standing in line for it would not be Rose’s Luxury (though the lychee salad is almost worth the wait), it would be Little Serow. Great Issan Thai food brought to you by a Greek chef – trust me it works. If you want something a little more authentic then head to Thip Kao for Laotian/Northern Thai food.
Gary, great post though I am sad to say Puppatella is a far cry from what it once was (I can’t recall the last time I saw Enzo manning the oven) but Kogiya has gotten even better since you shipped out to Austin.
For those flying through Dulles airport (IAD), check out the (Smithsonian Museum’s) Udvar-Hazy Center located a mile or two (as the crow flies) to the south. It is much larger than the Air & Space Museum on the Washington Mall and has such treasures as the Space Shuttle Discovery and the gorgeous YF-23 stealth fighter (which somehow lost out to the F-22 that the USAF flies today). While you’re there, drive up Route 28, west on Waxpool Road and then south on Loudoun County Parkway to Verizon headquarters. Within a mile or two in any direction, you’ll be in range of the largest concentration of data centers and fiber optic traffic in the nation. You can drive west on Route 7 to the west end of Loudoun County to see farms, horses, and even vineyards/wineries, or you can drive an hour north on Route 15 from Leesburg, VA, past Frederick MD to Gettysburg National Military Park in PA. What transpired on the hills outside Gettysburg changed the course of American (and world) history.
I agree with TomC’s advice to check out Baltimore also. The Inner Harbor is a great area with an aquarium, sports teams/stadiums (Ravens and Orioles), restaurants, shopping, ships, etc. all within walking distance.
Gary, delete this worthless racist bigoted comment.
Good post but Rose’s Luxury is bleh…not even in the same league as Rasika which is amazing and worth the price point.
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