Having lived in Maryland most of our lives, we are lucky to be in such close proximity to our nation’s capital. Washington DC is a place that we visit frequently. With so many museums and historical sights, this city makes an excellent travel destination in the USA. For one day, we acted like tourists, scouting out the perfect walking tour for first-timers to Washington DC.
If you would prefer to have an experienced guide take you around Washington DC, then we provide some highly rated suggestions towards the end of this article. Those tours include interesting insights about Washington DC and transportation to minimize walking.
About this Walking Tour
Distance: 5 miles of walking
See the best of Washington DC: The White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian Museum, The National Mall, The World War II Memorial (and more!)
Dine at some of DC’s most famous spots: The Old Ebbitt Grill, the Willard Hotel, and The Capital Grille
Walking Tour of Washington DC
How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (points of interest and the walking route). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest. If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
Morning: The Capitol Building and the Smithsonian Museums
Start your day in front of the Capitol Building. Take in the view. You can look down along the National Mall to the National Monument. The National Mall is a national park that stretches almost two miles from the Capitol Building in the east to the Lincoln Memorial in the west. Today’s walk will cover most of this distance.
The Smithsonian Museums line the National Mall, along with the United States Botanic Garden (located near the Capitol Building) and the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden.
Take your pick from the Smithsonian museums that line the National Mall, of which there are many.
- National Gallery of Art
- National Museum of Natural History
- National Museum of American History
- National Museum of African American History and Culture
- Freer Gallery of Art
- Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
- Smithsonian National Museum of African Art
- Smithsonian Castle
- Hirshhorn Museum
- Air and Space Museum
- National Museum of the America Indian
For first time visitors, we recommend the National Museum of Natural History or the Air and Space Museum. It takes several hours to visit one of these museums so it will fill all of your time this morning.
Guided Museum Tours: If you would like to have a guided museum tour then consider this National Museum of Natural History Guided Tour or this National Museum of African American History and Culture Guided Tour.
The museums have small cafes or restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat. For something quick and budget friendly, buy lunch at one of the many food trucks that line the National Mall and.
The Capital Grille is one of the highest rated restaurants in Washington DC. The food is delicious, with options like French onion soup, steak, seafood, and sandwiches. A meal here is expensive and will take at least an hour of your time. If you do not want to spend the time or money here for lunch, it also makes a great spot for dinner at the end of the day (make your reservation in advance for dinner). The Capital Grille is located on the north side of the National Mall near the National Gallery of Art.
Continue your walk down the National Mall to the Washington Monument.
The Washington Monument is the world’s tallest obelisk, standing at 555 feet tall. When construction was completed in 1888, it was the world’s tallest structure for an entire year until the Eiffel Tower was built in 1889.
Click here for information on how to reserve your tickets.
The World War II Memorial
Sitting between the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool is the World War II Memorial. This is a free, quick visit with a cool view down the Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial.
Martin Luther King Memorial
From the World War II Memorial, you will walk out to the Tidal Basin to the Martin Luther King Memorial. If the cherry blossoms are blooming, you are in for a treat because the Tidal Basin is the prettiest spot to visit in Washington DC at the end of March into early April.
The Martin Luther King Memorial is one of the newer monuments in Washington DC, opened in 2011. See the 30-foot statue of Martin Luther King and read 14 of his most inspirational quotes that are inscribed on the granite walls.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
Head back towards the Reflecting Pool and Lincoln Memorial, stopping briefly at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
The Lincoln Memorial
Say hello to Honest Abe at the Lincoln Memorial. This is a popular spot so expect large crowds midday. From the top of the steps you have one of the best views of the National Mall and Washington DC.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
From the Lincoln Memorial, walk the short distance to The Three Soldiers. This is a bronze statue commemorating the Vietnam War.
Just beyond The Three Soldiers is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. On the Memorial Wall are the names of the servicemen who were killed or missing in action in the Vietnam War. The names were added in chronological order starting in 1959.
This is another quick, scenic stop. Within the Gardens is a memorial to the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. See the engraved signatures of John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, and Thomas Jefferson.
The White House
From Constitution Gardens, leave the National Mall and walk briefly along Constitution Avenue. Walk on the Ellipse, a large park that separates the White House from the National Monument. For an up close view of the White House, you can see it from the pedestrian street, Pennsylvania Avenue.
Inside the White House
It is possible to arrange a tour of the White House. Click here to learn more.
Dinner at Old Ebbitt Grill
Only one block away from the White House is Old Ebbitt Grill. The Old Ebbitt Grill is the oldest saloon in Washington DC, dating back to 1856. This saloon has been visited by Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, and Theodore Roosevelt. The location of the grill has moved several times but it has been in its present location since the early 1900’s.
Now the Old Ebbitt Grill is a restaurant owned by Clyde’s. Dine on traditional American food. We recommend the raw oysters…they were the best dish we tried while eating dinner here.
End your day with a cocktail at the Willard Hotel
This is a very historic spot in Washington DC. Martin Luther King finished writing his “I Have a Dream” speech while staying here. The Willard has hosted almost every President since 1853. Abraham Lincoln had his inaugural luncheon here. And Mark Twain and Alexander Graham Bell were guests here.
End your day with a drink at the famous Round Robin bar.
Where to Park for this Walking Tour
The best way to get around Washington DC is by metro, but if you have a car, there are plenty of parking garages to choose from.
I recommend parking near Union Station. There are numerous parking garages in this area. From Union Station, it is a short walk to the Capitol Building and the National Mall.
After dinner and drinks at the Old Ebbitt Grill and the Willard Hotel, walk three blocks to Metro Center Station. Ride the red line three stops to Union Station (direction Wheaton-Glenmont) to get back to your car.
Guided Tours with Transportation
If you would prefer to explore Washington DC with an experienced guide, then here are several highly rated tours to consider:
With More Time in Washington DC
Here are some ideas of things to do if you have more than one day in Washington DC:
- Visit the Smithsonian Museums
- Tour the Capitol Building (learn more here)
- Tour the White House (learn more here)
- See the Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin in April
- Visit the International Spy Museum
- Spend a day in Georgetown
- Visit the National Zoo
- Tour the US Holocaust Museum
- Visit the Arlington National Cemetery
- Visit the Washington National Cathedral
- Take a day trip out to Mount Vernon
- See the Library of Congress
Seeing the Cherry Blossoms
The average time of the cherry blossoms peak bloom is April 4. However, in recent years, the trees have bloomed as early as March 20 and as late as April 10. In 2019, peak bloom was on April 1. In 2021, the peak bloom occurred on March 28.
The blooms last roughly 10 to 14 days, depending on the weather (if it’s windy, they don’t last long). So, if you are coming from out of town, you will need a little luck in seeing the cherry blossoms at their peak.
The best place to see the cherry blossoms is at the Tidal Basin. There are also cherry trees at nearby monuments and memorials.
On a weekend during peak bloom, expect HUGE crowds. We visited DC on April 6, 2019, a Saturday, to tour the White House, and walked down to the Tidal Basin to see the blossoms. This was the most crowded we have ever seen Washington DC. If you can, visit on a weekday and try to get here in the morning, before the crowds arrive, for the most peaceful experience.
Are you planning a trip in the United States? Read all of our articles about the USA in our United States Travel Guide.
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