How to Spend the Perfect 24 Hours in Washington DC

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The ideal itinerary for a short trip to or layover in this capital city.

Washington DC is more than politics and cherry blossoms. It's even more than the rich history it's built on. DC is one of the most diverse culture hubs in the United States, making it an epicenter of unparalleled art, food, music, and worldly experiences. 

Each neighborhood is teeming with its own secret passageways, bars, galleries, and gardens. Since many of the nation's most high-profile individuals live and work in this city, there have to be secret––even remote––places for them to dine and spend time. We've got the intel from true DC insiders (like David Santori, the creator of #TheOtherDC––an incredible source for off the beaten track DC) and we're ready to share (some of) the secrets of this city that is so much more than meets the White House.

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Sure, the Smithsonian can't be missed and the ever-changing Newseum is an absolutely necessary stop, but between your walks through monuments and photos captured under the spring bloom along the National Mall, be sure to break up your trip with a few less toured sights. We recommend venturing to more farfetched neighborhoods for incredible views, cobblestone streets, and some of the best Ethiopian dishes in the country.

9:30 a.m.: Before setting out for the day, drop your bags at The Jefferson, where you absolutely must stay during your trip to DC. This luxury hotel pays homage to Thomas Jefferson's love of literature: it's cocooned in books old and new and even has its own literary programs. Quill, the hotel's lounge, serves literary-themed cocktails...something to look forward to after a day wandering the wide DC streets.

Courtesy The Jefferson

Related: These Washington, D.C. Hotels Combine Style with Social Consciousness

10:00 a.m.: It's brunch time. And like every other city, DC does brunch its own way. Generally, think bourbon- and whiskey-inspired mid-morning cocktails over mimosas and heartily crafted dishes à la Irish and English traditional breakfasts. Alternatively, DC does luxe brunch like few other places. This time around, pop down to The Greenhouse, The Jefferson's own highly-esteemed restaurant. Brunch here is all-encompassing––every kind of fair, from avocado toast to chicken and waffles and lobster benedict (a DC mainstay dish and a must-try), is available and elevated. Pair your Osetra Caviar Parfait with a glass of Adami ‘Col Credas’ Prosecco to start your luxe DC experience off right.

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11:30 p.m.: Ease into the city with a trip to Georgetown. At noon, it's perfect for a stroll along its cobblestone streets while everyone has just popped into a nearby haunt for lunch. In the springtime, the blooms and vines that adorn the colorful townhomes are remarkable. In the fall and winter, Georgetown lights up with holiday charm. Take a bookshop tour, starting on the west end at Bridge Street Books, around this little neighborhood and hit the grounds of Georgetown University on the east for a moment with your new reads.

1:00 p.m.: After an appropriately slow afternoon to flâneur in the Paris of the U.S. (George Washington commissioned Paris' urban architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant to begin DC's design), grab a mid-day pick-me-up at The Berliner, a local favorite and totally stylish bar on Georgetown's east end. During the day, the space is wide and well-lit––very inviting for an aperitif regardless of the season. Or try Chez Billy Sud for a cozy, slightly hidden French experience.

Courtesy Chez Billy Sud

2:00 p.m.: From Georgetown, hop in a cab and head south across the bridge and into Virginia. Yes, Virginia. Think of DC as another New York City––outside of the inner city there are some incredible spots less traveled to by tourists. Old Town Alexandria is a short fifteen-minute scenic drive from DC and worth every minute. Similar to Georgetown, Old Town was a significant port during settlement. Now, it's known for its seafood and European-esque streets. Go shopping here along King Street at every luxe favorite from Sur La Table to Lululemon and be sure to experience the Torpedo Factory for local art. There's even a free trolley that travels up and down King Street to make your afternoon here even more easygoing.

2:45 p.m.: Stop at Virtue Feed & Grain along the water for a bite of totally delicious gourmet North American fare or quiz yourself on your Lord of the Rings knowledge at Bilbo Baggins accompanied by a local brew and an even more local pub experience. Or take your traveling partner to PX, a longstanding speakeasy-style bar (you'll know it by the red light above an unmarked door). But don't fill up, because...

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3:30 p.m.: It's time to head to Officina for an immersive Italian experience. This 3-story culinary collective was started by Chef Nicholas Stefanelli of Michelin-star restaurant Masseria. Get your pasta-and-spritz on before heading uptown a few blocks to the National Mall and tucking into the Art Museum of the Americas, an Aztec-tiled hideaway of a museum, less-frequented than, though just as stunning as, the other busy museums in the area.

6:00 p.m.: Because of the sheer amount of renowned options for dinner in DC, you've got choices. About a 10-minute drive north of the Mall, adjacent to Chinatown, lies another rather large culinary experience: bright and airy Mediterranean restaurant Zaytinya, which boasts beautiful tapas and raki. Excited for DCs legendary (West) Ethiopian? Go for the homegrown Bib Gourmand-awarded Chercher in Shaw. 

8:00 p.m.: End your day in the lively Penn Quarter slinging some axes at Kraken Axes or head back to The Jefferson for one of those lit-themed nightcaps we mentioned earlier. The perfect way to end a day in the U.S.'s intellectual capital.

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