24 hours in DC – Travel Guide
Why would someone be crazy enough to only have 24 hours in DC?
Plenty of reasons, they most likely are there for a conference and have to be back to work soon.
The hotels are super expensive and they want to see the most important things fast.
They could also be on their way to somewhere else and wonder if a day trip is worth it.
Or they are flying in to do some other business with their visa, passport, embassy or job.
Either Way DC is a place many people find themselves with very little free time to spend.
What do you do prioritize when you are tight on time?
Plus I’ve already written a leisurely weekend guide to DC, find it here, why not a quick and dirty one for the tired traveler.
DC public transport covers a lot, if the metro doesn’t take you the bus will.
In my notes I’ve added metro line colors or bus numbers when I can.
I’ve given multiple food and activity options.
My prefered 24 hours may not be yours, feel free to mix and match activities to fit your available hours.
This trip doesn’t have too much time for our free national museums, but if you have already see the monuments I suggest The Portrait Gallery (in Chinatown and not on the national mall), The Hirshhorn, and the National Botanical Garden, in that order.
Detailed 24 hours
We will start the dc tour in Shaw near the Historic Black College, Howard, a true DC landmark.
I only suggest one breakfast place because I recommend EVERYONE go for the tea weather they eat or not.
Breakfast: Calabash Tea and Tonic (1 hour or less)
There is a tea shop that everyone needs to know about. They call themselves potions masters as they craft you warm cures to rid you of ails and pains. I follow alone with the owner’s mix of mythology and herbology and could wait for my own love potion. Mike and my grandmother both got a daily cure recommendation and we all felt energized for the long walk a head.
I also wasn’t full from the pastry I had to share with mike so we got a vegan BLT and jerk patty (a local favorite) We ate the sandwich right away and saved the patty for a while later.
Morning: Walking the Monuments (3 hours + 30 mins transit time)
Back on the metro and we we’re off to the monuments.
Take the yellow or green line to Archives/Penn Quarter
Or the blue or orange line to Smithsonians
if you prefer to skip the monuments below in afternoon plans I have two historic neighborhoods outlined)
TIP: If you are going to spend very little time in the city I suggest you get off at the Archives / Penn Quarter and walk the rest of the way to the National Mall. You will see a bit of the city life and architecture as they buzz to and from capitol hill, the white house and judiciary square. You will also get to walk through the sculpture gardens of the Smithsonian Art Museum.
If you are going to see the monuments now is time to walk the whole length of the mall, it’s a long walk but there are plenty of benches to rest on and plenty of trees lining the way.
First you will come to the Washington Monument and if you look to the right you will see the back of the white house. If you feel like getting closer to the White House and want the Pennsylvania Ave shot, now is the time to detour and do it. The only suggestion I have for walking the national mall is to go through the constitution gardens. It is a quiet little duck pond with a man made island. I love this little piece of nature in the middle of the busy city. Plus if you don’t live in a place that has a lot of weeping willow trees it’s a nice time to share space with some.
Plan to spend around 3 hours walking and enjoying the national mall, but you can make it faster by renting a citybike. Although you have to cross a busy street the MLK monument and tidal basin are both wonderful. I would do them last on the way to the metro station.
Once back at the metro station you should have the afternoon in front of you.
It’s time for a little more city and culture.
I would take the yellow line to Chinatown, there are three great places to get lunch.
Lunch in Chinatown (1 hour + 15 mins transit time)
Veganism is growing movements and nothing makes that more clear than the ever expanding selection of restaurants. This is a fastfood place that won’t miss on any of the favorites. If you’ve never had a philly steak, but now you are vegan, HipCityVeg will makes you feel right at home. As if you needed any more convincing, they serve sweet potato fries and milkshakes too.
This is a not a fancy DC resturant but it is an establishment you shouldn’t miss as it’s roots down the history of the chinatown neighborhood. Since building the Virizon Event Center everything in the neighborhood has shifted, even I never knew it before, only after. Chinatown Garden lets you transpas that as the plates are served up with minimal flare but extrodinary flavor. There are amazing options for vegans and you can veganize just about everything on the menu, make sure to only ask about fish sauce. If you tell them you are vegan, you won’t have any trouble. When I dream of chineese food, this place is the only one worth dreaming of.
Busboys and Poets
Of course I have to include Busboys because when I lived in DC this was a place I went often to drink a coffee or eat a sandwich while reading or writing. Not only is the inside of the restaurant full of inspiring architecture, it’s one place that still gets a good mix of interesting people too. If you are out and about with a group of not very adventurous eaters (aka you are the only vegan) this stop is a great compromise for them.
Afternoon plans (time varies)
Now that you belly is full of delicious food you have to choose something for the afternoon.
National Portrait Gallery (3 hours or more or less)
When the smog and humidity of summer set in I would spend my summer Sunday’s walking through air conditioned galleries. The National Portrait gallery is in Chinatown and with the Hirshorn make up my favorite galleries. Plus any of the National Museums are always free, making it good for backpackers and other budget travelers.
Eastern Market (2 hours)
Metro orange or blue line.
This was my favorite neighborhood to visit with charming architecture and streets full of locally owned businesses.
Of course you are on Capitol Hill, you have the market itself to see.
My favorite children’s books store is also in the neighborhood, Fairy Godmother’s.
Around the corner is the overpacked secondhand book store called Capitol Hill Books.
There is great little coffee shops, famous burger places and dive bars along the main street from the Capitol building.
Walk around without the map for a while and see what else you can find.
Dupont Circle (1-3 hours)
Metro red line.
Of course Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe is my favorite thing to do in Dupont.
You will also likely find street musicians around the fountain.
However, if you have a little pocket change there are plenty of historic mansions to tour in this neighborhood.
There is the Heurich House Museum, the Woodrow Wilson House and the Anderson House.
If you don’t have a lot of money to spend you can take a leisurely walk from Dupont to Adams Morgan or go on a bike ride through the shady streets.
Nature Bike Ride (2-3 hours)
If you are up for an unexpected nature adventure in the middle of the city I highly suggest Rock Creek Park.
You can walk or rent a city bike (the second being the better and faster option)
Every time I went I couldn’t believe this park was in the middle of our nation’s capital.
Unlike NYC’s Central park, this city park feels like a forest.
To get there I suggest taking the red line from Chinatown station to Connecticut Avenue then renting the city bike at the metro and riding the path south to 18th st. the famous Adam’s Morgan. At that point I would reward myself with a coffee and long rest in Tryst Coffee shop.
Dinner (1-2 hours)
I suggest seeing one more DC neighborhood for your dinner plans.
The easiest way to get to H st is the Red line to Union Station and then hopping on the free trolly.
There are also a number of easy bus routes you can find on google maps if you aren’t near the red line.
It’s worth the trip, because there are 2 great vegan spots on the H st. corridor for Dinner.
If you are looking for something more casual then Fare Well, the sister restaurant to the vegan Sticky Fingers Bakery, will serve you simple delights and classic sandwiches. With a wide menu of burgers and shakes Fare Well also has a Russian dumpling dish and breakfast all day. As if it wasn’t good enough, the selection of cakes, cookies, pasties and pies is remarkable. There was even a pan au chocolate I took for breakfast the next day.
This restaurant will require a reservation but will serve you a plant based fine dining experience.
If you have always wanted a fancy plate setting but couldn’t find one vegan, this restaurant should not be missed.
Dangerously Delicious Pies also has a vegan option if you are out with inflexible friends, however it is sometimes sold out. Call ahead and see if they still have a piece.
Now that you are on H st you can try out any of the fun bars you walk passed, but these are my favorites.
The Big board –
The prices are consumer driven and the more people drinking a beer on any given night the lower the cost will go.
I liked to take my writing and work on poems while I drank different beers based on current price.
If you are with friends who want to drink and talk, this place will be great for you.
Little Miss Whiskeys
An eclectic place to drink or dance.
There aren’t many places to sit and talk, this is for a quick nightcap or dance.
Rock and Roll Hotel:
If you are in the mood for dancing or hoping to catch a live show, this is the best venue to check out.
There aren’t daily shows, but there happen often enough you may see a punk band, rock band, reggae, or folk.
If there isn’t a live show there is dancing on the upper floors every weekend.
Other dinner options
Of course if you are still in Chinatown check out on of the other restaurants I listed above first,
if not there are a couple DC staples.
Fast and easy.
You add any and all the toppings you want.
Locals eat this a lot after going to a bar, but I always like it any time of day.
Ben’s Chili Bowl
This is exactly as it sounds, you can have a great bowl of chili or a dog or burger.
It’s been in the U st neighborhood “forever” and recently started to expand throughout the city.
Just ask for their veggie chili without cheese if you are vegan.
Extra Night in Town
If you are in town longer and looking for my good bars, I’ll list my favorites sprinkled throughout the city so you can figure out which is closest to you.
U st. Music Hall (dancing)
Black Cat (live shows)
Churchkey (just for a drink)
Blue Jacket (craft beer at the brewery and a walk on the waterfront after)
An alternative 24 hours: For those who don’t want to see the monuments
Morning Rock Creek park or Dupont Circle
Lunch at Amsterdam Falafel
Afternoon on Capitol Hill/Eastern Market
Arrive to H st by bus
Eat at Fancy Radish
Party at Rock and Roll Hotel
Metro to the Navy Yard
Dinner and drinks at Blue Jacket Brewery in the Navy Yard
Evening walking in Yards Park