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I love visiting new cities and I love being a straight-up tourist. Don’t tell me to tour like a local, y’all, I want the super touristy stuff in my life! And nothing brings more tourists to their city than Washington, DC’s museums and monuments. Here’s a one day in Washington DC tour for history fans & tourists.
This one is a little bit of a cheat since about 3 years ago we moved to the DC area. But there’s so much to see and do, I still feel like a tourist in my own backyard!
Here are my favorite ways to see the city in a Washington DC one-day touring plan for history & museum fans.
Picking a Hotel in Washington DC
You know you’ll need a place to stay in DC, even if it’s just an overnight stop. And you have many places to choose from when you travel to the nation’s capital.
Best Places to Stay in Washington DC
Kimpton George Hotel
15 E STREET N.W., WASHINGTON, DC 20001
Reservations (800) 576-8331 Hotel: (202) 347-4200 Fax: (202) 347-4213
While there are going to be a ton of options, my vote for the best place to stay in DC is clear.
I recently had a hosted stay at the charming Kimpton George Hotel.
It is one of the best hotels in the DC area for both business travelers and families alike. But I do love the Kimpton brand, so I am a bit biased.
US World & News Report, as well as Fodor’s, has recognized The George for its excellence.
First of all, location matters in Washington, DC. Everything is around 5-20-minute walk from this Capitol Hill location. If you are arriving to the city via Union Station, this hotel is close enough you don’t need a cab or Uber to get to it.
And you’ll pass by the Capitol Building just a couple streets over as you do.
The George offers rooms a variety of rooms, including ones that sleep 6 (2 queen beds and a pull-out double couch) which provide a ton of room for families. We stayed in one of these as part of our First Family Package, which included a few fun amenities for the kiddos!
The nightly wine bar is a lovely perk and one you’ll want to take advantage of after your day of touring DC: it’s free!
The only negative my family felt about The George is the lack of an onsite pool.
But the location more than makes up for that detail in our touring.
Tour the US Capitol Building
This is one of the big must-do for anyone visiting Washington DC for a day.
You can plan to tour the Capitol building in advance by making reservations online. And I highly recommend you do this to save some time in line!
Even the most history averse kid will enjoy these guided tours and the knowledge the guides give.
You might even see a member of congress so keep your eyes peeled (if you’re into that sort of thing!).
Spend A Day Visiting The Smithsonian Museums
There are so many to choose from in the Mall and Capitol Hill area- and you just can’t pick a bad one. Fitting them all in for a one-day Washington DC tour is impossible, but you can probably cover 2 (or 3 if you just look for the highlights!)
I think at this point, my family has been through almost all of them and we all have our individual favorites.
So I can’t even tell you which one is THE BEST Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC.
Across from Union Station is the US Postal Museum, one that took me by surprise as being pretty kid-friendly and entertaining.
We also love the American History Museum and the Natural History Museum as well.
And I can spend hours wandering the halls of the Portrait Gallery.
If your one-day in DC happens to be 4th of July, I insist that you spend time at the National Archives. It’s an incredible experience, especially on the holiday.
Walk The Monuments at Night
The National Mall is chock full of important US monuments and I want to tell you not to miss a single one!
But of course, you only have a one-day tour of Washington, DC and you just can’t get everything covered.
Or can you? My secret: tour the National Mall monuments at night.
You’ll get a different perspective of the entire area and generally have a lot fewer crowds to contend with as well. Plus it’s a beautiful area at night (and yes, very safe if you stick to the tourist areas!).
We started at the Tidal Basin, walking from Thomas Jefferson to the Washington Monument. Then down the right-hand side toward the World War II Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and the Lincoln.
From Lincoln, we walked back up the other side of the Reflecting Pool to the Korean War Memorial and crossed back over to the Tidal Basin area at Martin Luther King, Jr. We finished the walking tour with the FDR Memorial, which happens to be the biggest one in DC!
If you do this tour during Cherry Blossom Season (April-ish), I do suggest going as the sun comes up for peak Cherry Blossom WOW!
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Patty Holliday is a Marvel loving, Disney obsessed wife, and mother of four. She’s a travel agent specializing in Disney & Universal vacations- and loves a candid confession. Find her in Virginia (or anywhere frequent flyer miles or her trusty minivan takes her.)
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