24 hours in Washington DC is not a lot of time, but with this itinerary you can maximize the sites that you see and also get a taste for the culture of the nation’s capital. Let’s take a look at the best way to spend 24 hours in Washington DC.
24 Hours In Washington DC: Itinerary Without Kids
To maximize sightseeing in your day trip to DC, you should see DC from East to West. This 24 hours in Washington DC itinerary is fast paced and includes dining and drinks options for you to enjoy.
Scroll down for our 24 Hours In Washington DC with kids itinerary.
Breakfast In Capitol Hill At Eastern Market
Start your day on the east side of Washington DC with an early breakfast in Capitol Hill. Eastern Market in Washington, D.C. holds significant cultural and historical importance. It is one of the oldest continuously operating public markets in the United States. The market is located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and is a popular destination for those seeking a taste of local life, culture, and the opportunity to support local businesses and artisans. It is a must-visit attraction for anyone exploring Washington, D.C.
Walk To Supreme Court And U.S. Capitol Building
From Eastern Market you can walk or take a taxi to the Supreme Court and the U.S. Capitol Building. It’s about 0.8 miles or a 20 minute walk. Take a picture on the steps of the Supreme Court and then take a walk through the Capitol grounds. With only 24 hours it will be hard to do a tour inside the US Capitol Building itself. Admire the government buildings from the outside before heading to the your next destination.
US Botanical Gardens
The US Botanical Gardens are a great option to visit early in the morning. The gated gardens open at 730 AM for early risers. If you want to explore inside you will have to wait until 10 AM. However, if you are happy exploring the outside, take a walk through here before heading to the one of DC’s most popular museums.
Check Out DC’s Secret Garden: Bartholdi Park
Across the street from the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., you can find Bartholdi Park. Bartholdi Park is a beautifully landscaped public garden maintained by the U.S. Botanic Garden. It is named after Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty. The park features various seasonal plantings, trees, and water features, providing a serene and picturesque setting for visitors to enjoy. Not many people even know this exists, so it’s often less crowded than the US Botanical Gardens.
Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum
The Smithsonian National Air And Space Museum is one of the most popular museums in Washington D.C. The museum was free admission but you will need to reserve a time slot. This museum must be reserved in advance especially during peak travel times like during the summer.
From the National Air And Space Museum make your way to the Smithsonian Castle which is just a couple blocks away. You can see this from the outside, take a few pictures and then continue to the National Natural History Museum
Smithsonian National Museum Of Natural History
The Natural History Museum is a short walk from the Smithsonian Castle. You can spend an hour here on a self-guided tour exploring the exhibits. Admission is free and does not require a reservation. From here you can then walk right next door to the National Gallery Of Art.
National Gallery Of Art & Outdoor Sculpture Garden
The National Gallery of Art’s Outdoor Sculpture Garden is a great place to walk through right after a visit to the Natural History Museum. You can grab lunch at the cafe there and then enjoy a short walk around the grounds. After lunch, you can walk to the National Mall to get some views of the monuments.
Washington Monument, Tidal Basin & Jefferson Memorial
Work off your lunch by walking down to the Tidal Basin. Here you can see the amazing views of the cherry blossoms (if they are in season, which is usually around March and April). From this area, make your way to the DC Wharf area.
The DC Wharf is a newer area of DC with plenty of shops and fun restaurants. Other attractions very close to the Wharf that are worth checking out include the International Spy Museum and the Holocaust Museum. From the DC Wharf you can catch the water taxi which is a great way to see many sites and also enjoy a scenic ride on the Potomac River. A ride on the water taxi will also
Water Taxi From Wharf To Georgetown
Arrive in the Georgetown neighborhood by water taxi and walk around the shops and picturesque streets. Here is the schedule for the water taxi (does not run on Mondays and Tuesdays) which arrives at the Georgetown Waterfront Park.
Departs Wharf at 1230 PM, Arrives Georgetown at 1:15 PM
Departs Wharf at 230 PM, Arrives Georgetown at 3:15 PM
Departs Wharf at 430 PM, Arrives Georgetown at 5:15 PM
You can also check out the Dumbarton Oaks Garden and Museum while you are in Georgetown. It is about 1 mile from the water taxi so to be efficient with time you should probably use a ride share or a taxi. After exploring Georgetown, you can take a taxi or walk to Dupont Circle.
Dupont Circle is a popular neighborhood in the DC area. You can grab a happy hour drink outdoors at the Dupont Circle Hotel or just explore the neighborhood. There are also several great Italian restaurants near Dupont Circle if you enjoy Italian cuisine, for dinner. Be sure to wrap up your dinner by 7 pm so that you can leave yourself enough time for the best part of your day.
Night Tour Of Monuments – Top Rated Attraction
One of the best way to see the monuments is at night when they are all lit up. It’s a great way to end your busy day of sightseeing and jam packed one day itinerary of the nation’s capital. Our favorite night tour is 3 hours long and covers 10 sites including the White House (photo stop), U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (Pass By), Lincoln Memorial (photo stop), The National Archives Museum (Pass By), the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, the Washington Monument (Pass By), and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Take in the rich history of one of the best places in the United States all with the ease of traveling by bus.
24 Hours In Washington DC: With Kids
When traveling with kids it’s important to keep enough time for breaks as well as snacks and food. This 24 Hours in Washington DC with young kids itinerary highlights the best things to do in DC without over-exerting yourself or your children.
If you don’t want to walk the tourist attractions with young children, we highly recommend a bus tour that will give you freedom to explore but also can significantly reduce the amount of walking you will have to do.
National Air & Space
No matter what age your kids are the National Air & Space museum is a great place to check out. The museum offers a range of exhibits and interactive displays that are designed to engage and educate children, including a “How Things Fly” exhibit, an IMAX theater, and a planetarium. The museum also offers educational programs and activities for kids, such as the “I Spy” activity for ages 3-5.
Be sure to reserve your timed entry pass ahead of time. If possible, get a timed entry pass for 10 AM when the museum opens. From here you can then check out the nearby attractions.
National Museum Of Natural History
From Air & Space walk over to the less crowded National Museum Of Natural History. Your children may also enjoy walking through the National Gallery Of Art Sculpture Garden at the National Art Gallery. Spend about 45 minutes to one hour at this museum before heading to get some lunch. This museum is free to enter and does not require a previous reservation. You can learn more about it by watching our YouTube video on it here.
Picnic Lunch On The National Mall
The National Mall has plenty of green space as well as a beautiful reflecting pool where you can take a break for lunch. Picnicking is allowed on the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, DC. Small groups are welcome to use the picnic tables and benches throughout the National Mall and Memorial Parks for casual picnics on a first-come, first-use basis.
There is also a large picnic area on Hains Point that can be reserved by groups using Recreation.gov. However, it is important to note that there are some restrictions on picnicking in certain areas, such as near monuments and memorials.
If you didn’t bring a picnic, that’s not a problem. There are several food trucks and food stalls in and around this area. There are also several restaurants both casual and fine dining that are walking distance from the National Mall area.
The spy museum is a short walk from the National Air & Space Museum. You can purchase tickets online before heading over. The museum offers activities and resources for kids, including Spy Camp, Girl Scouts activities, and a Family Highlight Guide for younger children. Kids younger than 9 may not really enjoy it but it is definitely one of the most popular things to do in Washington DC for young adults.
Walk from the Spy Museum over to Artechouse, which is just a couple blocks away.
People of all ages will enjoy a visit to Artechouse. This is an innovative art space located in Washington, DC that showcases experiential and immersive large-scale installations by artists who are forerunners of the new age in arts and technology. It is the first location of the brand to open and is dedicated to the intersection of art, science, and technology.
Visitors can experience physical, immersive art spaces, as well as an extended reality (XR) mobile app. ARTECHOUSE DC is located just off the National Mall and nearby Smithsonian museums and the Wharf. If you are visiting after 4 PM, this fascinating new age art museum has an interactive bar with drinks that coincide with the them of the current exhibit. On the weekends this bar opens at 11 AM.
Tickets are required for all visitors ages 4 and up. Children ages 15 and under must be accompanied by an adult. All children must be closely supervised to ensure their safety and the safety of the artwork.
Dinner At The DC Wharf
The DC Wharf has many dining option and is a great place for the whole family. If you are feeling up to it you can also take the water taxi from here to other parts of DC like Georgetown, Old Town Alexandria, and National Harbor. There are also many kid friendly things to do in the DC wharf itself.
Another great way to get a lot done in 24 hours is to take a Trolley Tour of DC. Trolley Tours of Washington DC are usually a lot of fun for kids. The tours offer a relaxing way for families to visit the best attractions in Washington DC, including the National Air and Space Museum, without having to worry about directions or parking. These tours tend to be kid-friendly and a great way to see the city.
Night Monument Tour
If you have children who can stay up until 10 or 11 PM, the night monument tour is also a great way to enjoy the historic sites. Especially for travelers coming from the west coast, this could be a great activity for a jet lagged family who is naturally going to still have energy at that time.
24 Hours In Washington DC: Summary
The must see sites in 24 hours are the National Air & Space Museum, the many historic monuments, including the United States Capitol Building, and then finally sampling some of the local life and local culture. The water taxi is a great way to get a river view of the monuments and also travel between different parts of the Washington DC area.
The two 24 hours in Washington DC itinerary’s provides a guide for what to do with and without kids in the nation’s capital. If you have more time to fit in a visit to the Arlington National Cemetary or see a show at the Kennedy Center, many people also enjoy visiting these. However, they are not as close to the main attractions which are located near and adjacent to the National Mall.
Night tours are also a great way to see the monuments from a different perspective and will allow you to leave the day free to explore the museums.