a historic room with art on the ceiling and a vintage wooden and flags behind it
Planning a last minute trip to Washington DC? 

If you’re booking your trip to DC last minute, we have you covered. Below are some of the top tours, hotels, and more!

Popular tours/activities in Washington DC:
National Mall Tour By Electric Vehicle
Full-Day Tour with a Scenic River Cruise
Georgetown: Ghost Story Walking Tour

Top Hotels in DC:
Luxury: Riggs DC
Boutique: Kimpton Hotel Monaco Washington DC
Mid-Range: The Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection
Historical: The Hay - Adams

Want to get from the airport to your DC hotel hassle-free? Find the best transfer option here!

Where to Stay in Washington DC

Finding the ideal neighborhood to stay in DC as a tourist depends on several factors. Are you looking to spend your entire trip sightseeing at historical attractions? You may want to stay near Capitol Hill. Is nightlife your primary concern? Consider Dupont Circle.

For more budget-friendly options, consider nearby DC suburbs like Alexandria or Arlington. Check out my post on the best tourist-friendly DC neighborhoods for a detailed answer.

2-Day DC Itinerary: DAY 1

White House

White House

Visiting the White House takes a lot more effort than you might think. While it’s easy to get photos in the front lawn of the White House near Lafayette Avenue, getting inside can be trickier. Tours of the White House are free, but they must be requested through a Member of Congress and can be submitted up to three months in advance and no less than 21 days in advance. If you’re not an America citizen, you can still visit but you have to reach out to your country’s embassy for help.

Library of Congress: A Must Visit in Washington DC

I visited the Library of Congress on a rainy weekday, hoping that I would beat the crowds. It wasn’t as busy as a summer weekend, but there were still a lot of visitors, including a few school groups. You must get a ticket online, valid for a one-hour entry.

I recommend not bringing a large bag, as they aren’t allowed into the reading room. If you want to visit the reading room, you need to apply online and come in to get your photo taken. You can apply the same day, but I would recommend doing this in advance if you plan on visiting during a busy time. It’s gorgeous, but photos are not allowed. Doesn’t it look like it’s out of a Harry Potter movie?

a historical reading space with lots of old books and heavy wooden seats and bookshelves
Library of Congress reading room

National Monument and Mall

Catching the sunrise on the National Mall is a magical moment. It’s also the best time to go because you can get a great shot with fewer people. But if you don’t care about photos then there isn’t a wrong time to visit the National Mall and Monument.

Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be doing a lot of walking. The Lincoln Memorial is about a 20-minute walk from the National Monument, and there are many other things to see nearby. You’ll also pass a lot of food trucks. If you decide to eat a food truck, ask the price before purchasing. 2 ice creams can cost about $20 dollars at some trucks. It’s best to buy from a brick-and-mortar location.

Exploring DC at Night

The city does not fall asleep at night. It’s my favorite time to visit the National Mall. I love riding around on a scooter without having to duck other visitors. Plus, there’s so much to do around the National Mall and Smithsonian Museums.

Many museums host special after-hours events, such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s “Luce Unplugged” concerts or the National Gallery of Art’s extended hours with guided tours and jazz concerts. The Hirshhorn Museum’s “After Hours” events feature art, music, and mocktails, and a good time. Additionally, the National Museum of American History sometimes hosts Smithsonian Sleepovers, where kids can explore exhibits and participate in activities overnight.

2-Day DC Itinerary: DAY 2

For your second day of DC I recommend visiting the free Smithsonian museums and nearby attractions. There’s so much history and art in Washington DC, you can spend months celebrating the over 20 free museums. For this itinerary, I’ll try to keep it to less than five but you can read more about free DC museums here.

Museum of Natural History

At the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., visitors can explore a wide range of exhibits showcasing the wonders of the natural world. Highlights include the Hall of Dinosaurs, featuring fossils like the Tyrannosaurus rex and the Triceratops. The Hope Diamond, one of the world’s most famous gems, is on display in the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals. The Ocean Hall presents a life-size model of a North Atlantic right whale and fascinating displays on marine life. Additionally, the Hall of Human Origins traces the evolutionary journey of humans, while the Butterfly Pavilion offers an immersive experience with live butterflies. With its extensive and diverse collections, the museum provides an engaging and educational adventure for all ages.

Museum of African American History

At the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., visitors can dive into the vibrant and inspiring story of African American history and culture. The museum’s exhibits cover everything from the resilience during slavery and the fight for civil rights to the triumphs in arts, sports, and politics. You’ll find fascinating artifacts like Harriet Tubman’s shawl, Emmett Till’s casket, and Chuck Berry’s Cadillac. Interactive displays and multimedia presentations make learning fun and engaging. Music lovers will enjoy exhibits on jazz, hip-hop, and gospel, and there’s even a serene Reflection Room for a quiet moment. This museum offers a lively and heartfelt celebration of African American history and its rich contributions to the nation.

DC Arboretum and National Columns

The National Capitol Columns are one of D.C.’s hidden gems. Despite living in D.C. for years, I only recently discovered them.

They’re located at the back of the National Arboretum, and they remind me of ancient Greece. They’re easy to overlook, so make sure to walk or drive to the back. Admission is free, and visiting on a weekday is recommended. You can spend hours exploring the trails and wandering through the enchanting bonsai gardens.

Black woman with long afro in yellow dress standing next to a large column with other columns around her

Best Restaurants to Visit

DC has many good restaurants. It’s known for its heavy brunch and tapas culture. My favorite brunch spots are Ambar, Agora, and Sequoia in Georgetown. Ben’s Chilli Bowl is an iconic restaurant, and it’s vegetarian-friendly! Check out this list of vegan restaurants in DC and dessert spots.

Should You Rent a Car?

I don’t recommend renting a car because parking in DC is a nightmare, and a great Metro system goes to all the hot spots. Most people visiting DC for the first time explore the White House, Smithsonian museums, and the National Mall for a few days. Most places are within walking distance, so you probably won’t need a car. If all fails, you can always find an Uber.

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