From the iconic White House and the poignant Vietnam Veterans Memorial to some of America's most prestigious museums, Washington DC is teeming with tourist attractions. Visitors could spend days exploring the spirited city's sights, but even with just 24 hours, it's still possible to take in the highlights. To help you plan your trip, here are some dos and don'ts for one day in DC.
DON'T try to see everything in one day.
It's impossible to take in every single attraction in one day, so choose in advance what you want to see most. Opt for a tour of the White House or the Capitol, take in the view from the top of the Washington Monument and then spend the afternoon hopping between the many landmarks along the National Mall. Alternatively, travelers can save time by booking a comprehensive sightseeing tour for an overview of the main sights. When it comes to DC's many museums, pick just one or two to explore—the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Air and Space Museum are all top choices, while children may be interested in the International Spy Museum or the National Geographic Museum.
DO book a guided sightseeing tour.
With so many sights to see, it can be hard to come up with a DIY plan and make sure you don't miss anything. Booking a guided tour saves both times and effort, leaving travelers free to enjoy the city rather than poring over a map. Opt for a Washington DC in one day tour for a prearranged guided tour of the US Capitol, a stop at the White House Visitors Center, and the opportunity to visit the museums of your choice. Alternatively, a full-day DC sightseeing tour may combine sights like the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II Memorial with an atmospheric river cruise along the Potomac River and around Theodore Roosevelt Island.
DON'T leave your planning until the last minute.
Touring the Capitol Building is an undeniable highlight, but don't expect to just turn up and gain entry on the spot—tickets are hard to come by. But a VIP best of DC tour includes coveted reserved entry to the Capitol and the National Archives Building. Booking museum and attraction tickets in advance will also save time.
DO make an early start.
Don’t underestimate how long you'll spend touring the top attractions—16 million tourists descend on the US capital every year and the crowds can be enormous. Opt to visit the most popular spots as early as possible to avoid the biggest crowds; most sights open between 8:30 and 10am. If visiting in the summer, make the most of the nice weather and explore the city by night. Also be sure to allot time for lines and security checks.
DON'T spend too much on entrance fees.
Budget-conscious travelers will be pleased to know that many of Washington's attractions are free, including all 19 Smithsonian museums and the Library of Congress, so there's no need to spend a fortune on entrance fees. Instead, opt for a memorable city tour, a sunset dinner cruise along the scenic Potomac River, a hop-on, hop-off trolley pass or a VIP experience.