The ultimate long weekend in Washington, DC

While I admit I’m biased, Washington, DC, holds the key to my heart.

It’s practically impossible to be bored here, what with a constant stream of new experiences, exhibits and events seeming to pop up daily. This makes DC one of the best cities around for a long weekend break – and one worth returning to on a regular basis.

These are my top recommendations.

  • When to arrive: Mid-morning, the sweet spot after rush hour. After dropping off your luggage at your hotel, you can explore the city a bit before your afternoon check-in. 

How to get from the airport:

  • From Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA): The airport connects to the Metro, so hop on any northbound blue or yellow lines. Ridesharing is always a great option, but if you’re arriving during surge pricing, opt to stand in the taxi line and hail a local cab instead. 
  • From Dulles International Airport (IAD): A newly opened Metro extension to Dulles means you can ride into DC at an affordable price (though it will take about an hour). A rideshare or taxi into DC will cost you, but it may be worth it for overpackers. 
  • From Baltimore Washington International Airport (BWI): This “DC” airport is nearly an hour from the city. Opt to take a short bus to the nearby rail station, hop on any southbound Maryland Rail (MARC) or Amtrak train, then get off at Union Station. 

Getting around DC is easier than you think – here’s our full transportation guide

  • Where to stay: If you want something central and budget-friendly, try the Yotel, Hotel Hive or Hotel Zena. On the luxury end, get spoiled at Black-owned Salamander Washington DC. For a balance of old school and new glamor, stay at one of downtown’s historic properties, such as the Willard InterContinental Hotel.
  • What to pack: DC is infamous for its swampy summer heat, and no matter the season, you can experience a range of weather. Always pack layers and an umbrella, and don’t forget the mosquito spray.  
Visitors look at a painting of the portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama by artist Amy Sherald at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, USA
The National Portrait Gallery is filled with the likenesses of prominent Americans – such as Michelle Obama © Matt Smith Photographer / Shutterstock


Morning: Imagine the disbelief on my face when I moved away from DC and discovered people pay for museums everywhere else. Not in my city.

Get to the National Mall early to visit one or two of the Smithsonian-affiliated institutions, which are always free. I adore the National Museum of the American Indian and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden – and the National Museum of Asian Art is an underrated favorite. (Note that while you’ll never have to pay to enter, you may need to reserve a timed entry ticket; check ahead of your visit). 

Want more free activities? These incredible experiences won’t cost you a thing

How to spend the day: The Chinatown/Gallery Place area in downtown DC has changed quite a bit over the years and is always worth a browse. Sometimes, I like to stop into the National Portrait Gallery to marvel at Amy Sherald’s iconic portrait of Michelle Obama. Few can resist a photo among CityCenterDC’s colorful alleys. Lunch must be done at China Chilcano or Oyamel, one of the gems in DC superstar chef José Andrés’ portfolio. 

Dinner: Maketto on H St has a little bit of everything: it’s a clothing shop and communal space serving Cambodian-Taiwanese fare. Afterward, have a nightcap at Copycat Company, served up in a tiki glass. 

After dark: I’m not ashamed to say that my idea of a fun night in DC is a visit to the majestic monuments. There are no crowds, and you’ll witness some of the nation’s greatest treasures illuminated under the moonlight. The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial is particularly moving to me. 

Afterward, I like to drop in at a speakeasy, like Allegory in the basement of the boutique Eaton DC hotel. I know the monument-cocktail thing makes a peculiar combo, but it works. Trust me.

Inside the historic Eastern Market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, Washington, DC, USA
Eastern Market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood is a major draw on weekends © cdrin / Shutterstock


Morning: Grab a coffee from your hotel and try to catch the sunrise over the Lincoln Memorial. This was one of my favorite memories as a kid.

How to spend the day: A visit to DC isn’t complete without a stop at what I call our golden triangle: the US Capitol Building, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress, which are all across the street from each other. 

The leafy Capitol Hill neighborhood extends from the pearly white political buildings, and it’s the perfect weekend spot. Since no one does brunch like DC (it’s a proven fact), you must delight in the bottomless version at Ambar Capitol Hill. This vibrant neighborhood also holds one of DC’s most precious gifts: Eastern Market. Get lost in the three market offerings here: a flea market, an indoor market and an outdoor market. But be warned that a trip here always hurts my wallet: I always come just to window shop and yet always leave with something.  

Dinner: U Street is a buzzing neighborhood with a culturally rich history, stunning murals and some of DC’s best restaurants. I love St. James, which serves elevated Caribbean cuisine with tiny twists that surprise you. Order the curried crab with taro dumplings, then wash it down with a sorrel margarita. You won’t regret it. 

After dark: If you enjoy fun nights out on the town, you’re on the right street. Check out who’s performing at 9:30 Club, just across the way. 

A man walks by historic buildings along the C&O Canal in Georgetown, Washington, DC, USA
The C&O Canal flows past some of the finest houses in historic Georgetown © Steve Heap / Getty Images


Morning: Lace up your walking shoes for an early-morning stroll in DC’s oldest neighborhood, Georgetown. It’s also my favorite place to wander. I love strolling the C&O Canal Towpath, dreaming of living in one of those iconic row houses. Stumble down the famous Exorcist steps, then marvel at the Key Bridge from Georgetown Waterfront Park. 

End your walk with a light breakfast at Kafe Leopold, likely the fanciest back-alley brunch spot I’ve ever visited. 

Keep exploring Georgetown on the writer’s favorite walking route

How to spend the day: A good weekend in DC must include a stop at The Wharf area – at minimum to smell Old Bay seasoning lingering in the air at the Municipal Fish Market. Most come for the steamed blue crabs – though I opt for shrimp because I can’t crack crabs to save my life. Grab a late lunch at Bistro du Jour, browse some of the colorful boutiques and stop into District Doughnut for a treasured crème brûlée donut.   

The Wharf also offers the chance to get out on the water. Try renting an electric boat for a DIY adventure, or splurge on a hot-tub boat ride down the Potomac with Sea the City. 

Tourists on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at night, Washington, DC, USA
Don’t underestimate the majesty of DC’s monuments after dark © Martin Child / Getty Images

And just like that, you’ll have to head back home. 

But don’t worry – DC is always here to welcome you back with a slate of completely new experiences and sights. As a local, I am constantly discovering new gems scattered throughout my city.

And that’s why I love it so much.

Ready to plan your trip to Washington, DC?

These experiences should be on your DC itinerary 
Get to know DC like a local in these top neighborhoods
Find the best times to visit
Venture beyond the US capital on these day trips

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