Capital of the United States! Washington DC is home to American politics, history (quite a crazy one at that!), monuments, shopping and the world-renowned Smithsonian museums. If you’re looking for a vibrant city that’s beautiful, diverse and clean, look no further.
Now, seeing everything you can in DC in just 24 hours can seem impossible – especially if you’re trying to stick to a budget, as DC can be VERY expensive. But, there are plenty of things to do and see that won’t break the bank. Just follow this guide to enjoy the free offerings of DC in 24 hours.
Getting from the Airport
Washington DC has an incredibly convenient Metrorail System that will get you wherever you need to go for cheap. For a whole day of DC exploring, I suggest purchasing the One-Day SmarTrip Pass. For $14.50, you can take the Metro as many times as you want from the moment the train starts running until the last train finishes.
9am – 12pm. National Mall (East)
Sorry but this isn’t a mall for shopping. The National Mall is actually a large park in Downtown DC that’s home to all the famous Smithsonian Museums, tons of gardens, National Memorials, Monuments and the Capital. Spanning 146 acres from the Lincoln Memorial in the west to the Capitol Building in the east, there’s so much to see and experience at the National Mall!
All 14 museums, 10 gardens, and over 20 monuments and memorials are all free! If you love being outside, exploring museums and American History, this will be one of the most fun (and free) places to visit!
I suggest starting at the eastern end, where the capital building is, and museum hopping the full way around the eastern portion of the National Mall. Some personal favourites are the US Botanic Garden, National Air and Space Museum, National Gallery of Art, and the National Museum of Natural History. Good luck trying to go to all of them, fully seeing every museum and every exhibit could take a whole day on its own!
- Find it at: Washington, DC 20565
- Opens at: Park itself is 24/7 but most museums open 9am-5pm
- Costs: Free
- Nearest Metros: Federal Center SW, L’Enfant Plaza, Pennsylvania Avenue, Smithsonian, Washington Monument Federal Triangle, McPhearson Square, Foggy Bottom (see nearby hotels here)
- Website: National Mall
Lunch. 12pm – 1pm
You can always get lunch at the food kiosks and pop ups in the National Mall if you want to keep visiting the museums. But, if you really want to explore (and especially if it’s Sunday) take a short trip and visit…
If you’re a foodie at heart, then you should definitely visit the Eastern Market. The Eastern Market is a local favourite for farm fresh produce, flowers, meats and some of the best (and affordable) food in DC. If you’re fortunate enough to be in DC on a Sunday, there’s also live music, art and crafts in a bustling marketplace right outside the building. No matter what, you have to try the blueberry pancakes, they’re a huge favourite for locals and visitors alike.
- Find it at: Union Market, 1309 5th St NE, Washington, DC 20002
- Opens at: Tue-Fri 7am-7pm, Sat 7am-6pm, Sun 9am-5pm and closed Mon
- Costs: Most food is affordable at around $10 for a great meal (check the website every week to see who’s cooking!)
- Nearest Metro: Eastern Market station
- Website: Eastern Market
2pm – 4pm. Smithsonian National Zoo
I know, you’re probably thinking, “going to a zoo seems childish”. If you’re not, then you’re like me and you think animals are adorable. Especially when you get to see those animals for free! The Smithsonian Zoo is home to the famous giant pandas Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and Bei Bei, it will take a lot of willpower not to try and jump in and hug them.
The zoo sits on 163 acres, only a 15 minute metro ride from Downtown DC, and is home to over 1,500 animals across 300 different species. If you love animals and want a slight break from the busy city for a little bit, this should be your next stop.
Also, a litter of cheetah cubs was born just recently (so cute!)
- Find it at: 3001 Connecticut Ave., NW Washington, DC 20008
- Opens at: 8am – 7am
- Costs: Free
- Nearest Metro: Woodley Park stop, or Cleveland Park stop (see hotels nearby here)
- Website: Smithsonian National Zoo
5pm – 8pm. Georgetown
With a full day of culture, history, art and fuzzy animals, sometimes it’s nice to take a break and do some window (or actual) shopping, and enjoy a little glamor. Georgetown is not only one of the most beautiful and oldest areas in DC. It also has some of the nicest shops, boutiques and restaurants. Georgetown really is the trendiest place you’ll go to in DC. Although buying anything here may be a bit much for a budget traveler (like me), it’s still tons of fun to window shop and explore the area.
After you have your fill of window-shopping, take a nice walk along the Georgetown waterfront along the canals and the Potomac River for a great view.
Oh, and if you’ve ever seen that show DC Cupcakes on TLC, that cupcake shop is in Georgetown too.
- Find it at: Georgetown Neighbourhood in Washington, DC.
- Opens at: 10am – 7pm
- Nearest Metro: Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro station (see hotels nearby here)
- Costs: Free to look, $3.25 for a cupcake
DC offers tons of incredible food options both in the city and in the outskirts. But, if you want the most for your money, then just visit check online at Food Truck Fiesta. This super handy website tells you the location of all the food trucks in DC. Whether you want BBQ, sushi, empanadas or even Korean Tacos, there are hundreds of food trucks to choose from! Plus, if you don’t feel like moving anywhere, you can just look to see what food truck is closest to you, which I call a win-win.
National Mall (West)
If you haven’t gone to the western side of the National Mall yet, this is one of the best times to do it. All the monuments and memorials are lit up with lights once the sun goes down, creating one of the most breathtaking sights you can imagine. From the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, and every memorial and monument in-between, it makes for a great walk (or bike ride if you don’t mind spending about $8 to rent a bicycle) around. The reflection pool catches the lights from all around and makes for some of the best pictures you can take. Of course, also can’t forget that Dr. Martin Luther King made his famous “I have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, making it that much more awesome!
Author Bio: I’m Kate, half of the team behind Hotels Near DC Metro; I’m also a mother and wife with plenty of experience living, and traveling, in Washington, DC. Huge fan of art and being outside exploring new adventures. Avid Internet searcher for cute animal pictures, especially puppies and any animal in baby form.