Make It A Long Weekend: Guide to 4 Days in DC

May 22, 2017

Washington, D.C., is more than just monuments and museums.

Centuries of history, cuisine from around the world and free attractions make the nation's capital a popular family vacation destination -– especially in the summer.

With so many things to see and do, how do you fit it all in? Here are our suggestions on how to do D.C. in a long weekend -- with some money-saving tips, because, that's kind of our thing.

DAY ONE / FRIDAY

While many Americans have visited the National Mall on a field trip at some point, the 146-acre park affectionately known as "America's Front Yard" is lined with monuments and museums, and it's a good place to start your D.C. visit. (Going during the week also means you'll avoid weekend crowds.)

Get an early start to see the sunrise from behind the Capitol Building before fueling up for the busy day with a hearty breakfast at D.C.'s "greenest restaurant," Founding Farmers on Pennsylvania Avenue. Making history in 2017 as the most-booked restaurant in the U.S. on OpenTable for the fifth consecutive year, the restaurant serves a menu sourced from hundreds of family farms in the region.

After breakfast, get in line to visit D.C.'s hottest ticket and the Smithsonian Institution's newest addition, The National Museum of African American History & Culture, which opened in September 2016. Same-day passes are available online each day at 6:30 a.m. (they go quickly) and a limited supply of walk-up passes are only available on weekdays after 1 p.m. To reserve timed entry passes in advance, click here.

Travelers who aren't up for hoofing it across the 2-mile Mall can utilize the D.C. Circulator's $1 fares for bus routes around the monuments and throughout the city (bonus: kids under 5 ride free).

Unwind after a day of sightseeing by packing a picnic for an evening outdoors at the National Gallery of Art. The museum hosts complimentary jazz concerts on Friday evenings from May-August in the Sculpture Garden.

Photo by Joe Loong


DAY TWO / SATURDAY

Brunch is an event in D.C. -- with some of the city's poshest restaurants getting in on the act.

Several of the most popular venues are found in Georgetown, the city's oldest neighborhood, where even breakfast spots are steeped with history. For a side of D.C.'s past with your pancakes, reserve a table at Martin's Tavern where every president since Harry S. Truman has dined. Craving romance? Request Booth Three where John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie in 1953.

Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg for Travelzoo

Sightsee while sweating off brunch by joining one of the neighborhood's running clubs that meet on weekend mornings and welcome newcomers, for free or with a suggested donation. Running routes snake out along the Potomac River, through Rock Creek Park and up all 75 of the so-called "Exorcist" steps leading to Georgetown University's campus.

Georgetown is home to the most upscale shopping in the District. If the price tags at the designer boutiques don't fit into your vacation budget, splurge on a delicious snack instead. To skip the line at Georgetown Cupcake from TLC's hit reality TV show "DC Cupcakes," purchase your order online and simply pick up at the counter.

One of the only points in the city with direct access to the Potomac River, Georgetown's Waterfront is an excellent place to board a monument cruise. The 10-acre park also offers interactive fountains, paths for walking and biking, plus plenty of green space.

Later on, those who aren't afraid of the dark can get a glimpse into the haunted past of the historic neighborhood on a Ghosts of Georgetown tour.


DAY THREE / SUNDAY

Travelers of all faiths are welcomed at the Washington National Cathedral, located at the city's highest point. Aspiring architects can appreciate the stonework behind the flying buttresses and gothic spires of DC's longest-running construction project -- lasting from 1907 to 1990. (For a fun diversion for the kids, see if they can find the Darth Vader helmet on the Cathedral.)

Tour fees are waived on Sundays, so tag along for a free lesson about those interred in the crypt, including Helen Keller and former President Woodrow Wilson.

Smithsonian's National Zoo is home to nearly 2,000 animals and offers interactive displays that offer kids of all ages an up-close look at exotic species. Open for more than 100 years, the zoo is one of the oldest in the U.S. and is best-known for the three giant pandas inhabiting its Asia Trail exhibit. While wandering the 3,200-acre campus, make sure to look up -- orangutans use a system of towers and cables to travel over the heads of visitors, known by locals as the "O Line."

How about a Sunday afternoon at the ballpark? Before the game, sports fans can head to Bluejacket to sample any of the house-made craft beers, and get a taste of mumbo sauce, an only-in-DC condiment best-served on fried chicken sandwiches.

Cheering on the Washington Nationals is one thing that all of D.C. can agree on. In the middle of the action, Republicans and Democrats come together to cheer for past leaders like Lincoln and Jefferson in the Presidents Race, held during the fourth inning. (Hint: Don't bet on Teddy Roosevelt to win.) After regular season home games on Sundays, kids ages 4 to 12 are invited to run the bases for free.

 

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D.C. summers can be hot and humid -- for a cool breeze and equally refreshing cocktail, head to one of the city's rooftop bars to drink hand-crafted concoctions alongside views of the memorials and embassies. The W Hotel's POV Rooftop Lounge and Terrace is one of our favorite watering holes -- where the beautiful people of D.C. mix and mingle against a backdrop of the Washington Monument.


DAY FOUR/ MONDAY

Start your final day by exploring D.C.'s neighborhoods.

The birthplace of legendary musician Duke Ellington, U Street, earned the nickname Black Broadway during the Jazz Age and has been famous for its live music venues ever since. Now home to award-winning art galleries, restaurants and bars, the historic neighborhood is transforming into one of the trendiest and most diverse in the District.

 

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Grab lunch at Ben's Chili Bowl, the family-owned and operated favorite of locals, tourists and celebrities for over 50 years.

Home to D.C.'s signature dish, Ben's Famous Chili Half Smoke, the restaurant also serves up chili dogs, burgers, fries and thick milkshakes. Despite boasting visitors like former President Barack Obama and appearing on Travel Channel's "Man vs. Food," this iconic restaurant serves meals for less than $6 per person.

Style one-of-a-kind outfits with vintage pieces from the neighborhood's secondhand shops before posing for photos in front of the area's gallery-worthy compositions. Local artists have transformed the century-old brick buildings with murals including one commissioned by the Phillips Collection, America's first museum of modern art, located near Dupont Circle.

 

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Visitors extending their stay into the workweek stand a better chance at snagging a table at one of the hottest restaurants in town.

Crowned "Restaurant City of the Year" by Bon Appetit in 2016, D.C. now offers the choice of 12 Michelin-starred eateries after getting its first Michelin Guide last year. Our favorites are the 13-course tasting menu at 2-star Pineapple and Pearls near the Navy Yard; or Plume, the Jefferson Hotel's 1-star steakhouse and the only restaurant in D.C. named to Forbes Travel Guide's 5-star list.


If you're in town for a long weekend over one of the summer holidays, make sure to add these activities to your agenda …

MEMORIAL DAY

• Pay respects to our servicemen and women at the war memorials and in Arlington National Cemetery • Attend PBS's free concert held on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Sunday • Wake up early for a front-row seat at America's largest Memorial Day parade in the country on Monday • Visit the National Portrait Gallery's new exhibit, "The Faces of Battle: Americans at War, 9/11 to Now"

FOURTH OF JULY

• Dance and sing along at the 50th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival; the free event starts on June 29 and overlaps with the holiday weekend. • Visit the National Archives for an up-close look at the Declaration of Independence; admission is free • Skip the crowded National Mall and watch the fireworks from a family-friendly cruise on the Potomac River or spend the day at Mount Vernon, the home of our first president to see military re-enactments and daytime fireworks. Stay after dark for unobstructed views of the National Mall's celebration.

LABOR DAY

• Listen to the National Symphony Orchestra perform its free annual concert on the Capitol's lawn this Sunday • More than 100 award-winning authors and illustrators will be at the Washington Convention Center on Saturday, Sept. 2 to sign books during the National Book Festival

 

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