In a perfect world, every visitor coming to Washington, D.C. would have unlimited time to stroll among the city’s iconic monuments and wander through exhibit-filled museums. Of course, it’s not a perfect world and few tourists have the luxury of this much time. Whatever your constraints, 10Best has put together a high-energy, 1-day itinerary of Washington’s “must sees.” Fortunately, there are plenty grouped in a few square miles of downtown D.C. and you’ll head home with plenty of tales to tell.
The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. — Photo courtesy of R Linger
Get yourself to the Lincoln Memorial, where we are going to start our super speedy visit. Every visitor must stand on the steps in front of Old Abe and look up the National Mall towards the Capitol. Remember the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech. Remember the famous Reflecting Pool scene from Forrest Gump. Time to move on.
Quickly veer off to the north side of Lincoln and walk past the somber Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, better known as the Wall. Pause and consider the thousands of names etched in the black stone.
The National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. — Photo courtesy of Bernt Rostad
Head east another couple of blocks along the Reflecting Pool and come to the stirring National World War II Memorial. Again, stop and consider the sacrifice of what many call our Greatest Generation. Look for an old veteran in a wheelchair – some visit the memorial nearly every day – and offer him or her a word of thanks.
Now cruise on up the mall as fast as you can, by foot or taxi. You will see the mighty Washington Monument. No need to stop. It’s been closed ever since a 2011 earthquake damaged the structure. Along the way, glance to the right and note the famed Tidal Basin lined with Cherry Blossom trees and the Jefferson Memorial beyond.
Your next destination is the Air & Space Museum, one of the great Smithsonian museums. Zip inside (it’s free!) and head straight for the 1903 Flyer, the famed plane that the Wright Brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk, N.C. On your way in and out, note the scores of other planes, aircraft and space capsules hanging from the ceiling overhead.
From the Mall, head up Capitol Hill to the U.S. Capitol. If lines are long, admire it from the outside and keep moving. If you can get in and take the roughly hour-long tour, go for it, but it’s not a deal-breaker. As you leave, admire the Supreme Court building across the street.
Now, with your running shoes securely tied (or via a taxi), head back down the north side of the mall and head for the National Museum of American History. Sometimes called “America’s attic,” there are a thousand things to see in this treasure trove of history – but there are three absolute musts: the original Star-Spangled Banner, the top hat President Lincoln was wearing the night he was assassinated and the ruby red slippers worn by Dorothy in the film, The Wizard of Oz.
The White House in the evening — Photo courtesy of Charles Pence
From the museum, you are just a short walk to the White House. Don’t worry about taking an inside tour. Unless you’ve set it up in advance, you’re not likely to get inside. So stroll around the wrought iron fence that surrounds the Executive Mansion, pose for photos with the other tourists and wave to the President, who may or may not be looking out the window at that moment.
At this point, you are likely exhausted and nighttime is coming. Head off for dinner at D.C.’s Blue Duck Tavern (our favorite!) and then call it a day.