The week between Christmas and New Year’s turned out to be a great week for a 4 day getaway to Washington D.C. As Congress was out of session for the holidays, downtown was nearly empty, although the continuing pandemic may have had something to do with it as well. We lucked out with decent, if cold, weather and got in all the major sites below without the hassle of crowds. This 4 day itinerary covers the top things to do, and includes seeing Georgetown which has a charm all its own.
Make sure to check the websites for each activity before your trip, as due to the pandemic there are some restrictions in place, such as requirements for timed tickets which usually need to be purchased the day of and can go quickly.
The subway is easy to figure out and off peak fares are only around $2 each way. Subway stops near the National Mall include Metro Center or Federal Triangle. There is a $30 SmarTrip card that you can purchase for unlimited subway and bus rides for 3 days, however we found it easier to just wear good sneakers and walk to most sites.
I highly recommend staying at a centrally located hotel near the National Mall to save time, if you can. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt which we found reasonable rates for since winter is considered the off-season. Our stay was very comfortable and I can recommend that hotel for this itinerary. Below I also suggest some economical places to eat and any shopping that we found interesting.
Since this trip was taken in December I am including seeing the National Christmas tree. If you decide to take your trip in spring, you may decide to see the cherry blossom trees lining the Tidal Basin instead.
We arrived via train to Union station around noon and grabbed a quick bite at the station. We checked into our hotel, and since the sun came out that afternoon, we wasted no time and headed out to see as many sites as we could walk to.
Lunch – Try nearby DBGB Kitchen and Bar or Panera Bread for a modestly priced meal if you are not eating at Union station.
We walked along H street NW to Lafayette Square which is just north of the White House. You can look at the White House through an iron fence, and walk through the park, which has been the site of numerous rallies over the years. At the intersection of H street NW and 16th street NW is the Black Lives Matter Plaza, where you can view the mural of 50-foot yellow block letters spelling out “Black Lives Matter” on the street.
On the corner is St. John’s Episcopal church, or “The President’s Church”, where almost every U.S. President has attended church service during his presidency. For more information on its history, services and tours, see here.
The White House
This is the official residence and workplace of the sitting President of the United States. Having seen it pictured in so many newscasts and other media throughout time, it truly is amazing just to be able to look at it for yourself. For more information, you can view The White House. For virtual tours, see White House Visitors Center. If you want to tour the White House yourself, it has to be arranged through your member of Congress. For more information, see White House Tours.
The Washington Monument
As you head down you will pass the White House South Lawn on one side and the Treasury Building on the other. Further down is an area called the Ellipse where you can view the National Christmas Tree. When we were there the guards had it closed off because something was going on, so I only saw it from a distance at night on our bus tour (see below). Continuing down 15th street NW will take you straight to the Washington Monument, the towering tribute to the nation’s first president, George Washington. It is 555 feet tall surrounded by 50 flags, one representing each of the 50 states. We learned on our tour that the monument was built without any mortar – each brick is perfectly sized to sit along the next one, secured by its own weight. You can take a tour to the top of the monument which we really tried to do, but for now you can only try to get tickets the day of online, and we had no luck getting them as they were gone within one minute of being released. However, it was memorable just visiting the monument.
World War II Memorial
On your way to the reflecting pool, don’t miss the World War II Memorial, which is flanked by slabs of stone labeled “Pacific” and “Atlantic”, referring to the two fronts of the war. It is purposefully designed to lay low so that there is an unobstructed view from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
As you approach the Lincoln Memorial on the left you will pass the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which honors all those who fought in that war. The larger-than-life steel statues of 19 soldiers pull you into a somber mood and reflective spirit fitting as you gaze towards the dedication stone.
The National Mall and Lincoln Memorial
You are in the National Mall, which among other things contains the Lincoln Memorial and the Tidal Basin. We walked along the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, which is a delightful walk in itself. Yes, you will feel reflective as you look up at the Lincoln Memorial which you are approaching, and the Washington Monument as you look back.
Climb the steps to the Lincoln Memorial to take a closer look through the Doric temples at the formidable statue of the 16th U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln.
This is also a good time to take a rest on the steps and look back over the National Mall, with the Washington Monument reflected in the pool and the Capitol Building peeking out from behind it.
That was enough walking for us for Day One. We headed back down the Mall to our hotel and had a quick dinner at Capitol City Brewing Company [1100 New York Avenue NW], they have delicious burgers.
Dinner – Other good options for dinner might be to make reservations at the oldest restaurant in D.C., Old Ebbitt Grill or try The Hamilton which is nearby.
The U.S. Capitol
The next morning after a quick breakfast at a nearby Le Pain Quotidien, we headed down 9th Avenue NW and Pennsylvania Avenue NW towards the U.S. Capitol. The back of it was closed off, and I spent a sober moment standing at the fence and pondering what had happened on January 6th, 2021. The top of the Capitol is crowned by a statue named “Freedom”, which adds a poignancy.
The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial is also located there. It is a grand statue that makes you ponder the Civil War as you gaze at it.
National Gallery of Art
Turning back along Pennsylvania Avenue NW we approached the West building of the National Gallery of Art, part of the Smithsonian Complex of museums. Some other popular Smithsonian museums to visit which are nearby include the Natural History Museum or the National Air and Space Museums. All museum entrances are free, which is just amazing.
We decided to focus on the National Gallery of Art. You could spend hours here, and in the couple of hours we spent here we viewed such treasures as paintings by Renoir, Monet, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and the only painting by Leonardo Da Vinci in the U.S., his portrait of Ginerva de- Benci, c. 1474/1478.
After our visit to the National Gallery of Art, we headed down to the Wharf to get some lunch. The Wharf is a popular hang out with lots of restaurants and water views during the nicer weather months. For a full list of places to eat and drink at, see District Wharf. That day it was raining a little, so we didn’t spend too much time there. We ducked into a reasonably priced deli/cafe called Chopsmith, and had really good sandwiches – mine had tender cooked salmon, avocado and bacon, his was a delicious veggie burger.
Lunch – try Chopsmith at the Wharf for a healthy and reasonably priced quick lunch.
From the Wharf we were able to walk along Ohio Drive SW towards the Tidal Basin and The Jefferson Memorial.
The Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial
In winter the Tidal Basin is a rather dim and gray body of water, but still impressive in its size as well as the view of the Jefferson Memorial. It honors Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers, primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and the first Secretary of State of the U.S. His statue is surrounded by some of his most famous quotes, and it is impressive to spend a few moments here reflecting on the birth of the Nation.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
As you make your way down the west side of the Tidal Basin you will approach the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. It consists of four outdoor “rooms” that represent each of the four terms he served as the 32nd U.S. president. Famous quotes etched on stone are interspersed with waterfalls and statues of Roosevelt as well as his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, who also played a role in national politics.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Further down the Tidal Basin you will approach the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. An imposing 30 foot statue of Martin Luther King Jr. is carved into stone. Some of his famous quotes are etched in stone surrounding the statue, and we spent some time here reading his words aloud to ourselves and remembering his legacy.
We made our way back to the hotel and got a bite to eat at Elephant and Castle Pub and Restaurant, [1201 Pennsylvania Ave NW, (202) 347-7707] for some comfort food and beer.
Dinner – get Irish pub comfort food at the Elephant and Castle.
After so much walking, day three has a more relaxed pace, with a visit to Georgetown and allowing for an afternoon break before the tour that we took at night. There isn’t a subway stop in Georgetown, so if you don’t have a car then getting a cab or Uber to a point there will be the easiest way to get there.
Breakfast/Coffee break – Baked & Wired [1052 Thomas Jefferson Street NW, (703) 663-8727)
We started the day with delectable baked goods, tea and coffee at the famous Baked & Wired bakery. They have a great selection and a funky vibe. I got the mango black tea and a cheddar and chive scone, a tender and savory treat.
The two main streets in Georgetown are M Street and Wisconsin street, and we headed that way, taking Wisconsin street down the to the waterfront.
Georgetown Waterfront Park
The waterfront is a good place for a pleasant stroll, with views of the Potomac River with the Watergate complex in the distance.
Washington Harbour Mall has some good seafood restaurants and shopping, but it was closed that morning.
After taking in some waterfront views, we headed back up Wisconsin Avenue and saw Grace Church, a local institution. A wonderful restaurant for lunch is Filomena, also located on Wisconsin Avenue, and one of the top Italian restaurants in Washington D.C. The Christmas decorations were fantastic, and the food and hospitality were generous.
Lunch – Filomena Restaurant, [1063 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, (202) 338-8800]
After lunch we strolled up Wisconsin Avenue which has great shops and coffee spots, like Compass Coffee. At O street NW we turned to walk towards Georgetown University.
This was the university where Bill Clinton got his Bachelors degree, and while there weren’t too many students roaming around campus as it was Christmas break when we were there, the air still had a collegiate revere about it. Healy Hall is one of its main buildings, and a beautiful example of gothic architecture.
After seeing the Georgetown campus, a must-do is to go back down to M street to get cupcakes at Georgetown Cupcakes, [3301 M Street NW, (202) 333-8448]. Be prepared, the line is long! They also deliver nationwide.
After getting back to the hotel and grabbing a quick, early dinner from the corner, we headed out to the trolley tour stop for our “Monuments by Moonlight” night tour of D.C. We purchased tickets for it earlier that day at our hotel for around $50 per person. The Trolley bus picks you up at the designated stop at 6:00pm and you tour the Capitol and various memorials to see them lit up at night. There are several stops so that you can walk around and take pictures. The tour ends at 9:00pm. For us it was a chance to also see the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, which was not possible to do on foot. It was also a nice review of everything we had seen during the day. The commentary taught us a few things about each site that we did not know, and it was fun being driven around town after all the walking!
Our train departure wasn’t until 5:00pm, so we had plenty of time for morning activities and to get lunch. After exploring our hotel’s breakfast bar and eating eggs, bacon and a few too many Danish, we had plenty of fuel for the day. We decided to check out one more Smithsonian museum – the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Dupont Circle and Logan Circle.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture
This is the newest of the Smithsonian museums, having been built just five years ago. It is impressive and moving as it takes you through three below ground floors and two floors that are above ground, telling the story of African Americans in the U.S. from the time of slavery to the present day. Give yourself at least two hours to walk through all the exhibits and take it all in. Don’t forget to spend a few moments at the end in the Contemplation room, viewing the waterfall sculpture.
We then walked up to Dupont Circle, a more residential area of Washington D.C. We stopped at Kramers, [1517 Connecticut Avenue NW, (202) 387-1400]. So much more than an independent bookstore, it is also a restaurant, bar and event space. I got a keepsake book about Washington D.C. here, as they have all the latest titles in fiction and non-fiction.
Logan Circle is within walking distance, also a residential area where there are a number of very good restaurants located mainly along 14th street NW. We stopped at Le Diplomate [1601 14th Street NW, (202) 332-333] for lunch. Since we didn’t have reservations and the wait for the next table was 45 minutes, we decided to eat at the bar, which wasn’t crowded at the time. I had the Salad Nicoise and was just blown away by how fresh and carefully prepared it was, delicious from the fresh anchovies, little cornichons and generous amounts of tuna to the nice touch of a basket of warm freshly baked bread and butter to go with it. I highly recommend it.
Other notable places to eat in the area are Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, and the Barcelona Wine Bar.
Washington D.C. is a getaway that will enlighten you about the U.S. national heritage as well as entertain you with classy eateries and independent gems. I’m glad we took four days to be able to see as much as we did. You do have to be lucky with the weather, but December is a great time to go if you want quiet and space to take it all in, and there is a lot to take in!
I hope you found this four day itinerary interesting. If you have been to Washington D.C. already yourself, and have impressions or tips you’d like to share, please do so in the comments below!
Date of trip: December 2021