As a history fanatic and former resident of the District of Columbia, I’m a huge of fan of our nation’s capital. While politics (and politicians) might be a turn-off for many, Washington offers so much more: a rich variety of food, culture, and history that can’t be found elsewhere in the United States.
Almost 20 million tourists are fortunate enough to vacation to Washington, DC annually, but many find themselves there just for one day, some adjacent to a conference (because no one has more conferences than DC!) or others just passing through.
If you are one of these travelers who finds yourself in “the District” for a relatively short period of time, this post is for you. I am here to make sure you get the most out of your time in my favorite city and have listed my picks with what to do with just one day in Washington, DC.
Breakfast: A bacon Pop Tart and art
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and D.C. is a walking city, so make sure to have a hearty meal. While there are a million great restaurants for a delicious breakfast, why limit yourself to one option when you can explore dozens at once in Washington’s Eastern Market?
This section of town, located southeast of the Capitol Building, has an amazing Food & Arts Market every Saturday. So, you can start your day with some fresh food while shopping for unique works. My favorite treat is found at Ted’s Bulletin, a restaurant that pays homage to old world journalism and whose menu includes a homemade bacon and peanut butter Pop Tart.
Morning: See 17 free museums
From there, it’s a pleasant 20-minute walk to the National Mall where you can find seventeen of the finest museums in the world from the Smithsonian Institute all surrounding the National Mall. The best part? They are all free! Bounce around from museum to museum, see the exhibits that most interest you, and never worry about wasting an admission fee.
I personally recommend the National Air & Space Museum where you can view historical gems like the Spirit of St. Louis and the Apollo 11 command module. This museum is where kids go to dream.
Lunch: Eat a classic
From the National Mall you are a quick Metro ride away from a Washington classic – Ben’s Chili Bowl. Serving chili dogs and fries since 1958, Ben’s not only serves up delicious fare, but also has an important place in the city’s history.
During the 1968 DC riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ben’s uniquely obtained permission to stay open past curfew and served both activists and police. Today, it is a delicious D.C. mainstay for a quick and tasty (but sadly not too healthy!) lunch. Don’t be surprised if you spot celebrities there – Ben’s biggest fan is actor and comedian Bill Cosby.
Afternoon: Get off the beaten path
Many would contend that a visit to “the District” would be incomplete without a visit to the Capitol Building for a tour or the White House for a photo. While both are wonderful experiences, I suggest you explore some of Washington’s lesser-known treasures, such as its multiple house museums.
Why not check out the Marjorie Merriweather Post estate? Known as Hillwood and found in northwest D.C., the former home of Merriweather Post (who had been married to Joseph Davies, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union in the 1930s) boasts the most comprehensive collection of Russian imperial art in the United States, including beautiful Faberge eggs.
Dinner: Use your hands
The Washington area has one of the highest concentrations of Ethiopian immigrants in the country, complete with some of the best Ethiopian food on the continent.
If you’ve never had Ethiopian food, it is a delectable and unique experience. With dishes served on top of injera (think of a large soft pancake), Ethiopian food is extremely social with dishes shared among a group and traditionally eaten with your hands. The vegetable dishes and spiced meats are distinctive, delicious, and some of Washington’s most beloved local cuisine
While there are dozens of highly rated restaurants, you should try Dukem, an unpretentious mainstay of the U Street Corridor.
Evening: A tour of the monuments
There is no better way to digest a meal than to take a leisurely walk and no better time to see Washington’s famous monuments than at night.
From the nighttime majesty of the Jefferson, FDR, MLK, and Lincoln Memorials to the solemn silence of the World War II, Vietnam, and Korean War Memorials, the late night walk is an unmatched experience. For those who love hidden gems, try to find the World War I memorial, dedicated for “The World War” in 1931 on the south side of the reflecting pool.
So, there it is! 24 hours in D.C. filled with culture, sightseeing, delicious food, and one-of-a-kind experiences. There are so many great sites to see in Washington and so many combinations for a visit that you can’t go wrong Just don’t forget your walking shoes.
About the Author
David Donner Chait is the co-founder and CEO of group travel planner Travefy and writes a regular column on startup life for Entrepreneur. He previously served as senior policy advisor at the SBA, worked as a consultant at McKinsey & Company, and writes. You can find David @DonnerChait.
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