You are planning to visit Washington, DC. Awesome! How many days do you need to see everything in DC? Well, the truth is, it’s impossible to see everything. But don’t worry, you can still do a ton of fun stuff, whether you’re here for a week or a weekend.
Let’s get this out of the way first: a single day is not enough. One day is simply not enough time and likely you’ll leave exhausted and disappointed by all the things that you missed out on. Don’t try to see Washington, DC on a layover between flights, or because it’s you’re on the east coast visiting another city. Plan a proper trip here. It’s worth it!
How much time it takes to see the monuments and memorials
When you come here for the first time you will want to see the monuments: Lincoln, Jefferson, World War II, and all the others. The monuments tours that Trip Hacks DC offer covers all the major monuments the National Mall. It takes about three total hours. If you’re self guiding your own monuments tour, plan to spend between three and five hours.
How much time it takes to see Smithsonian and other museums
When it comes to museums, the thing that you have to understand is that Smithsonian museums are huge. They are massive. If you are a history buff or an art lover you could spend an entire day in just a single museum. The Smithsonian has said that the average “dwell time” is about two hours at each of their museums. If you spent two hours at each of our museums it would take literally days just to hit them all.
There are a bunch of other great free museums that are not part of the Smithsonian. A few examples are the National Gallery of Art, Botanic Garden, and the Holocaust Museum. Even if they are not officially museums, the National Archives, the Library of Congress and the Bureau of Printing and Engraving are great too. You’re looking at at least a couple hours of piece for each of those.
How much time it takes to see the federal sights
If it’s your first time in DC, you will want to see the Capitol and take a tour. Hopefully, you can get a gallery pass or a floor pass. The Capitol tour takes about an hour and then you can budget another hour on top of that for the other stuff. If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll probably want to take them up to the National Zoo. This can last between anywhere from a few hours to an entire day.
If you want to go to Arlington National Cemetery and do a proper tour you’re looking at another three hours at least. A lot of visitors also want to go to Georgetown, which could be another half a day.
How many days do you really need to see all of this stuff?
You need to consider whether this is going to be the only chance you’ll have in your lifetime to visit Washington, DC or if you might come back for a future trip. If you’re only going to visit here once, either because you’re from out of the country and don’t think you’ll ever be back, you should plan to spend five to seven days here. That amount of time will give you a chance to see and do most of what you really want and not feel like you missed out.
If you live nearby or you think that you might come back to DC again in the future then a weekend trip of three days long should be fine. That will let you see all of your top choices and it will let you save a few things for your next trip.
Tip: Don’t overplan your trip
A good Washington, DC itinerary should leave some slack and should not be planned down to the minute. Sometimes, things take longer than you expect or you discover something really cool after you’ve gotten here.
One of the biggest mistakes that tourists make is that they overplan their trip or try to pack too much into a really small amount of time. At some point it’s more exhausting than enjoyable. Of course overplanning is not a unique problem to DC. However, we have so many free things to do that people do try to plan in more things than they would if they had to pay. Spending more time here and planning less into your trip will give you a better experience.
Coming to Washington, DC and want us to show you around?
Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation’s Capital. Trip Hacks DC provides tips, tricks and travel hacks for planning your trip; and guided tours to show you around once you get here. Our tours are family and school group friendly and our guides specialize in the major Washington, DC sites. Click here to check out the upcoming tour options and to book your tour here today! Feel free to contact us if you have any tour questions.