lincoln memorial washington dc

Things to do in Washington DC: How to see everything in just one day!

Aktualisiert am: 02/04/2023

Seeing Washington in one day is a challenging undertaking. How fortunate that pretty much all the major Washington attractions are gathered in one central spot: On the Mall (no, it’s not a shopping mall) are all major government buildings and numerous museums of the Smithsonian Institution like the Museum of Natural History. The Capitol, the White House or the Washington Monument are just some of the major sights here.

Tips for Washington in a day: the best sightseeing attractions

Being in Washington right now was exciting. The presidential election had just been decided. The world was still in shock, while comedians around the world were rubbing their hands: There wouldn’t be any lack of material for new comedy programs for the next four years.

eisenhower building washington dc
Welcome to my travel blog!

Hey, I’m Tatiana, a German-Brazilian living in Berlin & the author behind The Happy Jetlagger. I’ve been writing about my travels since 2014. In addition to my job as a flight attendant, this blog is my passion project!

In my job as a flight attendant, you get to go places that you often would never have gotten to otherwise. Every leg, every layover can be a new experience. And sometimes you are just at the right place at the right time like here in Washington, DC. For example, when you walk through London still exhausted from your early morning shift and are wondering about the masses people on the side of the road – and then suddenly the Queen drives past you, waving.

Or when, after arriving at the terminal, your own landing is shown from all angles on all the big screens. Because you had the local football club on board, which has just brought home an important trophy and you didn’t notice at all during the flight! Life in aviation can be so crazy. And so I happened to be in Washington DC just as the whole country was preparing everything for the new president.

#1 The White House

For the first time I stood in front of the White House and then in these exciting times. While outside construction workers were already putting together the stands for the festivities, inside people were probably packing boxes. Poor Obama. Moving is really exhausting. Especially if you don’t get along at all with the next tenant.

So I wished the Obamas well in my mind and at the same time wondered if they might not be a little glad to be moving away, because the White House looks somehow much smaller from the outside than I had imagined. And not glamourous at all!

#2 Washington Monument

In general, it’s one thing with architecture in Washington. I had just come from Brasília, a planned capital with extravagant architecture, so I could compare two very different capitals. The two cities are pretty similar: lots of space, lots of unusual architecture. The Washington Monument is located in the middle of the Mall on top of a hill: From here, you have the perfect view of the Capitol and the Mall in general. And on sunny days (and a wide-angle lens) you’ll get surreal photos like this one.

lincoln memorial washington dc

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#3 Lincoln Memorial

Washington is the center of power. Somehow, it wasn’t quite as impressive as I expected. Lots of open space and the architecture is more are a copy of ancient Greek and Roman buildings. Places you’ve seen a zillion times on TV, the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the oversized Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, the Lincoln Memorial itself. Often when you get to see famous places like these in real life, it’s quite impressive. However, that failed to happen in Washington, I wasn’t as flashed as I expected. But it was still enough for a nice photo at the Lincoln Memorial.

lincoln memorial reflecting pool washington dc

#4 The Capitol

I could only admire the Capitol, the seat of the U.S. Congress, from afar (above from the Washington Monument), because time was too short! In hindsight, I would have preferred to spend a little more time at the Capitol and to take one of the tours there. Tours of the Capitol must be booked in advance.

Visiting the Capitol

capitol washington dc
At the end of the Mall in Washington DC: The Capitol.

#5 Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

The Mall is lined with some of the best museums in the entire world. One thing I didn’t know before: The admission in all the museums along The Mall is free. So great! I could have spent the whole day just by exploring the various museums here. If I had done better research before, I would now know that most of the state museums in Washington, DC are free of charge. And that’s how I ended up at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History! And I loved it. The quality of the exhibition is truly unique. A lot of volunteers are on hand to answer any questions you might have. An experience not only for children.

Book a guided tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History*.

national museum of natural history washington dc
Things to do in Washington DC
I fell in love with the butterfly garden.
butterfly garden smithsonian
Trillions of butterflies like in a jungle: The Butterfly Garden!

#6 The Mall

Of course, there’s much more to discover in Washington DC – but a walk on the Mall actually covers the basics like the White House, the Washington Monument and the Capitol and gives a good overview of the center of power of the USA. And you could spend hours in each of the museums along the Mall. However, if you are short on time, it is best to pick one or two museums depending on your own interests. In any case, a visit is always worthwhile – if only because admission to all museums is free!

Are you curious how Washington, DC is in real life? Then just make a stopover in Washington, DC on your next trip to the USA.

Find accommodations in Washington, DC here*.

You can also save time and money with a Washington Sightseeing Pass! Save time & get discounts for most sights in Washington, DC! A bus tour is also included!

Book your Sightseeing Pass with Bus Tour of Washington, DC* here.

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  1. Great photos of DC! I have been wanting to go back and really tour the capitol as an adult. We went as kids on a field trip and I didn’t quite appreciate all the history and importance back then. I would love to go back to the Smithsonian especially!

    • I guess, that’s the thing with most field trips in school, lol ;) But you should definitely go back, especially the Smithsonian is awesome!

  2. I’m going to DC in 2 weeks so I’ll look forward to checking out a lot of this. The city has such beautiful architecture. I can’t wait!

  3. Ahh, but the butterfly gardens aren’t free. I think you hit DC on the head. You come for the monuments but stay for the museums. You have seen each and every one of the monuments so often that you NEED to see them in person. They are big. The museums are, perhaps, the best free attraction anywhere. Where else can you see the Hope Diamond, an Apollo capsule and the American flag that inspired the Star Spangled Banner.

  4. Lovely pictures. I specially liked the street with the leafless trees, the close up shot of the Roman lettering and the one with the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.

  5. Lovely photos. I’d really like to visit Washington DC – it’s right up there on my wishlist

  6. I had the same impression the first time I saw the white house too! It seemed strange and out of place. Amazing how different things look on TV

  7. I was just in DC and went to see where Obama is moving to. We found the house, and low and behold, there were moving trucks parked outside and security teams installing cameras. Not surprisingly, Obama and Michelle were not there carrying in any boxes…

  8. I’ve heard lots of others tell me that when they got there it was much smaller than they had imagined – it is funny seeing buildings that seem familiar to you in real life though! The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool looks so beautiful and peaceful though, I could do a lot of thinking there.

  9. It’s always so interesting to see how places compare to what you had always imagined, isn’t it? We felt the same way when we saw the White House and some of the monuments. I love that the Smithsonian Museums are free too!

  10. I love visiting Washington D.C. All the beautiful monuments and architectural buildings are truly fascinating. The first time I visit Washington D.C., I was surprised that it offered free museums too but I couldn’t be more happier. I love learning and exploring new things so it really made my trip better.