4-Day Washington DC Itinerary: Detailed Activities, Food and Hotel Recs 2023

Washington DC

As a family blogger who has called the vibrant city of Washington, D.C. home for the past 12 years, I am excited to share with you an unforgettable 4-day itinerary that will help you make the most of your trip to our nation's capital. Whether you're a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply looking for a fantastic family adventure, Washington, D.C. has something for everyone.

4-Day Washington DC Itinerary memorials

Below, I outline my ideal 4-day itinerary including restaurant recommendations near each of the attractions for the day. I’m also happy to answer any questions via Instagram @FamilyTripGuides. Happy exploring!

4-Day Washington DC Itinerary Outline:

  1. Day 1 - National Mall, Washington Monument, Air and Space Museum (+ best museum lunch in DC and parking recommendations)
  2. Day 2 - White House Tour, Lincoln Monument, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, NMAAHC, DuPont Circle
  3. Day 3 - Day Trip to Mount Vernon or Arlington National Cemetery
  4. Day 4 - Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, International Spy Museum and restaurant recommendations
  5. More Resources:
    1. Hotel Recommendations
    2. National Mall with Kids Age-Specific Recommendations
    3. Best Playgrounds in Washington DC
    4. 15 Free Hidden Gems in DC
    5. More Tours in DC (Click tour on the filter side. e.g.. Segway Tour, Boat Tours, Haunted DC, etc.)

This website uses affiliate links for Viator tours and Booking.com. This means that if you make a purchase, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you!

4-Day Washington DC Itinerary

The author and her son enjoying their trip up to the top of the Washington Monumnet!

Day 1: National Mall, Washington Monument, Air and Space Museum (+ best museum lunch in DC to start your 4-day itinerary!)

Stop #1: Morning Walk on the National Mall

Your adventure begins with a visit to the heart of D.C., the National Mall. Start your day early to beat the crowds and take in the iconic sights at their best. The National Mall in Washington, D.C., stretches for approximately 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) from the United States Capitol on the east end to the Lincoln Memorial on the west end.

Parking Near the National Mall:

I've found street parking near the Mall every visit (over a dozen times!) except once on a weekend! Most street parking is metered and you can pay via credit card or the ParkMobile App (directions on the meter.)

Tip for Street Parking:

There are a couple of options for parking along the National Mall depending on your priorities for the day. I have had good luck on weekdays finding parking around 9:45 AM on Jefferson, Madison, and even Constitution Ave. The Smithsonians open at 10 AM so arriving a little earlier helps! Weekend street parking is harder because the spots in front of many museums are reserved for food trucks.

Parking Garage Near the National Mall:

The closest Parking Garage near the mall is the Ronald Reagan Building on 14th Street. There is also a great food court there! (Security will do a quick screening of your car for any firearms that are not allowed in the parking garage.

metro 4 day itinerary

Metro Near the National Mall, DC

The closest Metro to the National Mall is the Smithsonian Station on the Orange, Silver, and Blue lines. It has 3 entrances:

  1. 12th Street at Jefferson Dr. SW (Escalator, on the National Mall close to the Smithsonian Castle)
  2. NW Corner of 12th St. and Independence Ave. SW (Elevator entrance)
  3. SW Corner 12th St. and Independence Ave. SW (Escalator)

See www.wmata.com for schedules, maps, and their excellent trip planner.

Stop #2: Go Up the Washington Monument

The best view of DC is from the Washington Monument. $1 tickets go live 30 days online and you can check out my best tips for snagging Washington Monument tickets. It is an incredible

*MOM TIP → If you don’t get tickets to the Washington Monument, check out the Old Post Office’s Tower for really great views! It is located on Pennsylvania Ave. in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The tower is operated by the National Park Service and is free to enter. More details can be found here

Washington Dc memorial trip

Check out my tips for snagging those hard-to-get tickets!

Stop #4 Lunch at the Smithsonian's American Indian Museum's Mitisam Food Court

Walk 1.2 miles east towards the Capitol to the Smithsonian's American Indian Museum's Mitisam Food Court. This is not an ordinary museum food court! It's a unique dining destination that offers visitors a journey through Native American cuisine, showcasing an array of traditional and contemporary dishes from various tribal regions.

Some examples include Southwest fry bread tacos and salmon cooked in cedar planks, the Mitisam Food Court immerses patrons in a flavorful tapestry of Native American culinary traditions. They also have coffee and desserts to fuel up for your next stops on the itinerary.

More details about the museum and the kids ImaginNations play area here.

American Indian museum dc

Optional Stops: National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of American History Smithsonians

On your mile-long walk from the Washington Monument to the American Indian Museum, you can easily check in to the Natural History and American History Smithsonians. They are located on the north side of the National Mall and do not require advanced tickets.

I have blog posts on recommended exhibits for kids as we have gone dozens of times with our children!

American History Museum with Kids

Natural History Museum with Kids

American history museum kids

Top 3 Kids Favorites at the American History Museum

Stop #5 Air and Space Museum, Washington DC

Important note that as of Fall 2023, you still need free timed-entry passes to enter the Air and Space Museum in DC. (You do not need passes for their Virginia location which is near Dulles.) The museum underwent a huge renovation last year and more exhibits are forthcoming.

I put all our family's favorite exhibits and tips in thisblog post. The kid's area will reopen in 2024 but there is still plenty of interactive fun in the most popular museum in Washington DC!

air and space museum Washington DC

I put all our family's favorite exhibits and tips in thisblog post.

Stop #6: Dinner in Georgetown

After a well-deserved rest at your hotel or vacation rental, end your day in Georgetown. Georgetown is a charming historic neighborhood with cobblestone streets and elegant townhouses. There are many restaurants along the waterfront where you can enjoy fresh seafood and picturesque views of the Potomac River.


  1. Pinstrips (also has bowling!)
  2. Nick's Riverside Grill (views of Kennedy Center)
  3. Good Stuff Eatery (casual)
  4. Cafe Milano (traditional DC lobbyist type spot!)
  5. Baked & Wired (my favorite cupcakes and coffee)
  6. Explore the C&O Canaland take a leisurely walk along the Potomac River.
Georgetown DC 4 day trip itinerary

Day 2: White House Tour, Lincoln Monument, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and NMAAHC

Stop #1: White House Tour

(Note: Depending on your White House tour time, you can swap this for the Memorials Loop in Stop #2 below)

I was lucky enough to have a friend work at the White House years ago and visit the West Wing after business hours. It's a wonderful experience to see inside a place of such history and importance. The primary way to get tickets is to request them from your Member of Congress. Below is the process.

  1. Contact Your Member of Congress: My Member of Congress has an easy form on their website to submit requests. They have the authority to submit tour requests on your behalf. Be sure to provide them with your name, date of birth, and Social Security number, as they will need this information for security clearance.
  2. Submit Your Request Early: White House tours can be highly sought after, so it's advisable to request tickets well in advance of your planned visit. You can contact your Congressional representatives several months ahead of your desired tour date.
  3. Wait for Confirmation: Once your Congressional office submits your request, you will need to wait for confirmation. The White House Visitors Office will review your request and notify your Congressional office of the status.
  4. Security Screening: If your tour request is approved, you will be required to undergo a security screening on the day of your tour. Ensure you bring a valid government-issued photo ID, such as a driver's license or passport, for all members of your group. Security procedures can be stringent, so plan to arrive early and be prepared for a thorough security check.
  5. Tour Day: On the day of your White House tour, make sure to arrive at the designated meeting point at the specified time. Follow all instructions given by the White House staff and security personnel.
  6. Enjoy Your Tour: During the tour, you'll have the opportunity to explore certain public areas of the White House, guided by a knowledgeable tour guide. Photography may be limited, and visitors are expected to adhere to all rules and guidelines.

Please note that White House tours are subject to availability and can be affected by security concerns or other factors. It's also important to verify the most up-to-date information and procedures as they may change over time. Additionally, tours may be temporarily suspended or modified due to unforeseen circumstances, so check the official White House website or contact your Congressional representatives for the latest updates and guidance on how to obtain tickets.

Itinerary for 4-Day Washington DC White House

Stop #2: Memorials Loop (Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, MLK Jr. Memorial and more)

Depending on your interest and time, the following Memorials are in a 2.6-mile loop which Google Maps says is 53 minutes of walking starting and ending at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. See the parking notes above for Day 1 for the closest parking! I've linked to more information about each memorial and spot below.

  1. WWI and WWII Memorials - with easy and clean public restrooms!
  2. Reflecting Pool
  3. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  4. Korean War Veterans Memorial
  5. Lincoln Memorial
  6. Vietnam Veterans Memorial
  7. Constitution Gardens

Optional: You can also add the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial after MLK Jr. Memorial (and FDR's dog Fala). The DC War Memorial (little known, but beautiful), and/or a walk around the Tidal Basin to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial (Tidal Basin loop adds 2.1 miles).

Martin Luther king jr memorial

Stop #3: Lunch at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

After all that walking and all those memorials, it's time for another unique museum lunch! Return to where you started at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). This is the Smithsonian's newest museum and before you begin your visit, have a great lunch at their Sweet Home Cafe dining experience.

From soulful southern comfort food like fried chicken and collard greens to Creole and Caribbean-inspired dishes, there's something to satisfy every palate. The food court also celebrates the historical significance of African American culinary contributions with dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, and cornbread. Additionally, there are options for those seeking lighter fare, including fresh salads and vegetarian choices. Whether you're looking to explore the flavors of the African diaspora or simply seeking a satisfying meal during your museum visit, the food court at the National Museum of African American History and Culture offers a taste of heritage and culture that perfectly complements your journey through history.

Stop #4: Visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Please note, free timed-entry passes are required for the NMAAHC. You can reserve yours here. Passes are released at 8:00 a.m., for time slots 30 days out. Same-day passes are released beginning at 8:15 a.m.

This museum is in my top 3 of all the wonderful museums in DC to visit. I wrote in length about taking my kids to this museum a couple of times here. It is an incredibly moving museum no matter your background or age. The experience begins 4 floors below ground level and as you make your way up through the exhibits, you are moving forward in history.

African american history museum Washington DC

I wrote in length about taking my kids to this museum a couple of times here.

Stop #4: Evening in DuPont Circle

The neighborhood around DuPont Circle is one of my favorites in DC! It's where my husband and I love to go for date night or I like to meet up with friends. Below are some favorite restaurants and activities:

  1. Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café, a beloved local bookstore with a delightful café and restaurant and sometimes local music.
  2. Hanging out in DuPont Circle Park
  3. Café Dupontfor French cuisine
  4. Hank's Oyster Bar for seafood
  5. Agora for Mediterranean food
dupont circle 4 day trip to dc

Day 3 - Day Trip to Mount Vernon or Arlington National Cemetery, Potomac River Dinner Cruise

Stop #1: Visit Mount Vernon, George Washington's home and estate

Start your day with a trip across the Potomac to Mount Vernon, just 16 miles south of the city. There is no public transportation to Mount Vernon from DC so you will need to drive, Uber or reserve a tour. I recommend Viator as they have a great cancellation policy should your travel plans change. The drive usually takes around 30-45 minutes but as I've been a resident of Northern Virginia for 12 years, it could be double that if traffic is bad!

You could definitely spend an entire day at Mount Vernon as its not just 1 historical home but also includes self-paced access to the historic area, outbuildings, gardens, tomb, farm, trails, and the Museum & Education Center. Note, only the first floor of the mansion is Wheelchair Accessible.

Below are some recommended Viator Tours from DC:

  1. Mount Vernon Day Tour from Washington DC - 6 hours total includes transportation and admission
  2. Mount Vernon and Old Town Alexandria Day Trip from DC - 5 hours includes transportation and admission
  3. Mt Vernon Day Trip with VIP River Cruise and Lunch - 7 hours includes river cruise transportation and admission

The easiest lunch is at the Mount Vernon Education Center!

mount Vernon estate

Stop #2: Arlington National Cemetery

One of the most moving experiences I've had in Washington, D.C. is getting off at the Arlingon National Cemetry Metro Station and walking among the rows of white tombstones. You can enter anytime between 8 AM and 5 PM daily. More information here on the Arlington National Cemetery and Parking.

Recommended tours if you are interested:

  1. Arlington National Cemetery Walking Tour & Changing of the Guards - 1.5 - 2 hours
  2. Arlington National Cemetery Hop-On Hop-Off Tour - 30 minutes
Arlington national cemetery

Photo credit: Another Believer, Creative Commons, link here.

Day 4: Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, International Spy Museum and the Wharf

Stop #1: Breakfast and Morning at Eastern Market on Capitol Hill

Explore one of the most iconic neighborhoods on your final day in Washington DC. Eastern Market, located in the heart of Washington, D.C.'s Capitol Hill neighborhood, boasts a rich history dating back to 1873 when it first opened its doors. Established as a public market, it quickly became a hub for local farmers, artisans, and merchants to sell their goods. All the details are here and if you have children, don't miss a great playground nearby.

Eastern market dc

Photo credit: AgnosticPreachersKid Creative Commons, link here.

Stop #2: International Spy Museum (the only paid museum on this 4-day Washington DC itinerary!) or Planet Word (free and amazing!)

It's hard to pick a favorite museum in DC because there are so many wonderful ones but after 12 years of using the museum as my kids' play places, my two favorites are below! And I have a list of the top 20 best museums for children in DC here.

Best Paid: International Spy Museum - The most immersive and experiential museum especially for kids 7 and older! More details from our visit here.

Best Free: Planet Word in Franklin Park - It sounds like it would be boring to learn about words and languages but the creativity and excitement that these exhibits bring is unparalleled. Includes a Karaoke room, instant ad creation, and a free photo booth!

planet word tickets dc

And for lunch or dinner, check out the 24 kid-friendly DC Restaurants!

kid friendly dc restaurants

And for lunch or dinner, check out the 24 kid-friendly DC Restaurants!

More Resources for Your 4-Day Washington DC Itinerary

  1. Hotel Recommendations
  2. Best Playgrounds in Washington DC
  3. 15 Free Hidden Gems in DC
  4. More Tours in DC (Click tour on the filter side. e.g.. Segway Tour, Boat Tours, Haunted DC, etc.)

National Mall with Kids Age-Specific Recommendations:

Babies and Toddlers:

Stroller - I would highly recommend a stroller or baby carrier while on the National Mall if you have a young one. There is a lot of walking between places and at the museums themselves. Everything is accessible sometimes with a different stroller and wheelchair entrances.

Changing Tables - Located in each of the Smithsonian Museums' restrooms.

Nursing Spots - (Not an exhaustive list but these are spots I’ve seen!)

  • Air and Space Museum: There is a Baby Care room on the first floor which has a metal bench, sink, and outlet for pumping.
  • American History: Lower level benches in areas not many people go to (like the currently closed Wonderplace)
  • Natural History: Garden Lounge on the 2nd Floor has great semi-private areas are not many people! (and outlets to charge your phone)
  • National Gallery of Art: Restrooms near the Atrium have a second room before the restroom that has a “kinda comfortable” bench!

Elementary and Teens:

Your kids are certain to find something interesting at the museums but below are a few additional ideas to make the National Mall outing fun:

  1. Bring a kite, football, soccer ball, or frisbee for the National Mall.
  2. Rent a Scooter: You will see Scooters at many intersections along the mall and if not, just download one of the apps and they will tell you where the closest scooter was left for you. Bird, Bolt, Jump (and bikes) Lime, Lyft, Razor.
  3. Air and Space Museum: The museum has 6 amazing simulator rides including VR Transporter: Spacewalk, Interactive Flight Simulators, and Passenger ride simulators. Tickets cost between $8 and $12. Located on the first floor Gallery 103 on the west end of the museum.
  4. American History Museum Simulators are open on the lower level. Interactive "time-traveling" simulator. Take to the skies as you climb, dive, and roll 360-degrees!
  5. Gift Shop Alternatives: Of course, each museum has its own extensive Gift Shop. One “Mom Hack” I’ve used is to go to the Dollar Tree the week before to get a little souvenir tied to the museum and give it to the kids to avoid the gift shops! Some ideas I’ve used:
    1. plastic dinosaurs before the Natural History Museum
    2. $1 journal and a new pen before American History
    3. Art supplies before the National Gallery of Art
    4. Space toy before Air and Space Museum