A weekend trip to Washington, DC can get jam-packed pretty quick. Between monuments, memorials, museums, restaurants, and historic sites, there's tons to see and do. Hitting up a few of DC's most iconic attractions makes for a great reminder of America's history and just why this country is pretty awesome.
Start your tour with a sober reminder of the darker side of American history at Ford's Theatre, where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated days after bringing the brutal Civil War to a close.
Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary, along with Henry Rathbone and his fiancee, were watching a production of the comedy "My American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre, when actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth quietly entered the booth where the group was sitting, and shot Lincoln in the back of the head. Rathbone managed to land a slash on Booth's shoulder before the assassin jumped from the balcony and onto the stage, shouting "sic semper tyrannis!" (fun fact: the phrase translates to "thus always to tyrants" and is Virginia's state motto). He broke his leg, but managed to escape in the ensuing chaos.
As the political center of the country, this city sees lots of influences from other countries. At SUNdeVICH, you can take a culinary tour of the globe without leaving DC! With sandwiches that draw inspiration from various locales across the world, you can play it safe with the ham, egg, and cheese-loaded Paris sandwich, or go adventurous with something like the Shiraz, featuring beef tongue and pickled vegetables.
If you think that suspecting the mysterious guy behind you in line for coffee of espionage is a sign of an overactive imagination, or the result of watching too many James Bond movies, then let the International Spy Museum prove you otherwise.
The museum tells the history of secret agents through firsthand accounts, primary sources, and a collection of gadgets, from cipher devices and enigma machines, to shoes with transmitters in the heel and glasses with cyanide capsules hidden inside.
Once you've learned everything you can from the exhibits, you can take your spy training a step further with one of their two interactive experiences. "Operation Spy" transports you to the fictional country of Khandar, where you'll collect evidence, evade capture, break codes, and escape from a high-security compound as you search for a stolen trigger device. The other hands-on adventure is called "Spy in the City", which is awesome because you get to combine a good, old-fashioned tour of the monuments with an exciting espionage element. You're sent clues through a GPS device that sends you on a mission across town.
Beyond the world-renowned Smithsonian museums (we'll get to those later), there are some other really great museums in DC. The Newseum is a little more serious than the Spy Museum, but it's no less fun and interesting. Dedicated to the history of journalism, the news, and media, the interactive displays here are super informative, and there's no better place to learn about the "fourth estate" than here in DC!
Eat like (American) royalty at the elegant Blue Duck Tavern. Their menu changes seasonally, and you can tell that the chef has a massive amount of respect for the ingredients: not only is everything here prepared to bring out the best of each item, they even tell you where the meat, seafood, and veggies came from. If you order one thing here, make it the bone marrow appetizer...it's rich and totally satisfying.
"American Ice Company" might sound more like a business than a bar, and that's because it was actually a factory before it was converted into one of DC's coolest bars, and most laid-back spots. Get a sense for how varied the population of Washington really is, from hipsters to suit-clad grown-ups, as you enjoy a craft beer.
Whatever kind of mood you're in, you'll be satisfied grabbing a drink at The Brixton. The lower level is more laid-back, while the second floor has more of a dance party-vibe. Plus, their rooftop patio has an incredible view of the city!
If you want to continue the party, head to Dodge City. This club-esque venue has DJs playing great music, cheap beer, and a funky, art-filled setting... so basically, everything you could want for a more wild night out in DC!
Few hotels have the history and charm of old DC like the Hotel Tabard Inn. Actually made of several brownstones that have been converted into one hotel, the rooms are all different and a little quirky, and decorated with unique antiques. It's more of a B&B-type experience, but the beautiful buildings, and touches like live jazz, a patio, and breakfast, make this an unforgettable place to spend the night.
Kapnos is a chic, modern, Greek restaurant that serves up quite the brunch spread. Baklava waffles, Greek coffee waffles, flatbreads, their famous kegged lemonade spiked with various liquors, and good people-watching on the patio make this a prime brunch destination.
Most of DC's most recognized attractions and icons are located here along the massive National Mall. It's nearly two miles long and features 17 or so museums and about as many monuments. Serviced by the National Park Service, and intended as a place where memorials could be protected and as a public gathering space, it sees millions of visitors each year. Most notably, one end is marked by the US Capitol Building and the other is where the Lincoln and Washington Memorials sit.
One of the most celebrated Smithsonian Museums is the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, which is packed to the gills with well-curated exhibits on the sciences...and it's totally free. To keep from getting too overwhelmed, pick out a few "can't-miss" features to visit here. We suggest the Hope Diamond and the Neanderthal exhibits.
If America's more recent past is more your jam, then head to the National Museum of American History. Another totally free Smithsonian museum where you can check out stellar displays on topics like toys and childhood, transportation, the American Presidency, various celebs, movie props, sports memorabilia, food, and tons more. Don't miss out on the actual flag that inspired our National Anthem!
Founding Farmers is a co-op-owned eatery that provides food that's just as delicious as it is sustainable. Sandwiches, pasta, salads, and loads of veggie-friendly options make this a good place for lunch-- if you're starving or just in the mood for something light, they have a dish for you.
The Washington Monument is definitely one of the more prominent icons on the National Mall. The 555-foot-tall white obelisk spent time as the world's tallest structure after it was completed in 1888, and even though it might seem tiny now, the view from the top is no less impressive.
Many find the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to be one of DC's most moving memorials. The wall, which names every soldier who gave his or her life in the war, starts small and grows to be over 10 feet tall before tapering off. Remember to be respectful: it's not uncommon to see people leaving flowers or crying as they visit.
The Lincoln Memorial is a great place to take a break and do some reflecting...and not just because the Reflecting Pool is right there. The giant stone steps leading up into the temple, which houses a giant statue of Abraham Lincoln, are a great place to sit down and take a load off. It's nice to look at all the different kinds of people who have made the pilgrimage to this place, and think about all of the historic events that have occurred here!
Right on the edge of the water is the dome-shaped, pillar-encircled Thomas Jefferson Memorial. It lights up in a really pretty way at night, so stop by during or after sunset to see it at its most majestic, and check out the inscriptions on the walls, all quotes by Thomas Jefferson himself.
After dinner at Rasika, you might never look at Indian food the same again. The sophisticated, modern restaurant serves up dishes that are both familiar, and a little more exotic than you'd find at an average Indian eatery. Classics like naan, tikka masala, vindaloo and more are all elevated and served alongside dishes like palak chaat, black cod, kulcha, and more. Plus, the cocktails are the perfect way to wash it all down.
An homage to DC native Marvin Gaye, Marvin's blends his Southern roots with his time in Belgium to create an interesting concept restaurant and bar. A neighborhood joint with a good crowd, boozy cocktails inspired by the singer, and an awesome rooftop, it's a great place to toast your trip to DC.
The best time of year for a 48-hour adventure in Washington DC: Generally a bustling city any time of year, spring and fall mean cooler temperatures while you're walking from attraction to attraction...although there are so many free museums with A/C that summer isn't that unbearable. Winters get chilly, and spring sees a big uptick in tourism thanks to the famed Cherry Blossom Festival, so if you visit then, expect higher prices, bigger crowds...and stunning flowers.