Ask 10 Washingtonians for their sightseeing hit lists and you’ll get 10 different answers. There’s so much to see here, and everyone has her own way of seeing it. But I can make some suggestions. This chapter lays out a key itinerary for a 3-day tour of the capital’s iconic sites, plus two themed itineraries: one devoted to family activities, the other to exploring women’s history. Follow them to the letter or adapt them for your own purposes—it’s up to you.

If you’re the type of traveler who doesn’t like surprises, call ahead and make sure all of the attractions on your desired itinerary are open. Be calm and flexible: Lines to enter public buildings are longer than ever, thanks to security clearance procedures and the capital’s continuing popularity as a tourist destination. Reserve spots on tours to avoid some of those waits, and book advance reservations at recommended restaurants to make sure you get a table. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions. The U.S. Capitol police officers, the National Park Service rangers on duty at the memorials, and the staff at all the museums know an awful lot; take advantage of their expertise.

Following the itineraries is an overview of D.C.’s neighborhoods. Among the most enjoyable activities in D.C. is exploring its neighborhoods on foot, so if you tire of crowded museums and structured itineraries, choose a neighborhood that appeals to you and simply stroll.

Three Sometimes Difficult-to-Visit Attractions 

An ideal Washington, D.C., itinerary would include a visit to the National Museum of African American History & Culture, a trip to the top of the Washington Monument, and a tour of the White House. However, the popularity and/or admission procedures of these sites can make visits difficult to incorporate into a set schedule. For instance, the only way to visit the interior of the White House is by making a reservation through the office of your congressional representative or senator, as much as 3 months in advance. Best advice? Absolutely try in advance to 1) book a White House tour, 2) order advance tickets to visit the Washington Monument, and 3) obtain an African American Museum entry pass. Then, if you're successful, tweak the following itineraries accordingly. 


Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.