Its close proximity to other US East Coast hubs, as well as a compact cityscape brimming with exciting places to explore, eat and experience, make Washington, DC an excellent option for an easy, extended escape. Bookend your weekend away with an extra couple of days and make the most of your stay in the nation’s capital, with our suggested four-day itinerary.

Day 1: Monuments and memorials

Washington, DC is packed with monuments and memorials, and they’re a good a place as any to start sightseeing.

After grabbing breakfast at one of the vendors inside DC’s historic Eastern Market (you can – and definitely should – order the blueberry buckwheat pancakes from The Market Lunch) head to The National Mall … but don’t be misled by the name!

You may not find stores at this 2.5kilomtret long landscaped park near downtown DC, but it certainly serves as a perfect starting point for seeing the main sights of the District. Dedicate your day to the monuments and memorials in the area, with some of the most iconic including: US Capitol (home of the United States Congress and the legislative branch of the US Federal Government); Library of Congress (the largest in the world); the United States Supreme Court (east of the Capitol); Ford’s Theatre (famous for being the site of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln); The White House (while the official residence and workplace of the US President may not be open to the general public its visitor centre is) and the Washington Monument (a trip to the observation deck at the top of the world’s tallest obelisk is highly encouraged!).

From monuments to memorials, The National Mall is also sated in statues and sculptures honouring the founding fathers of the United States. These include the Lincoln Memorial (with the iconic seated statue of the former president); the Jefferson Memorial (a neo-classical tribute to the 3rd PUSA) and The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (featuring bronze statues depicting scenes from FDR’s presidency). The Martin Luther King Memorial (a dedication to the famed civil rights hero) and WWII, Korean and Vietnam War Memorials (in honour of the Americans who served in various battles) are also worth visiting.

With all that walking no doubt working up an appetite, your best bet is to head to Dupont Circle for dinner. As well as the stately buildings that line Embassy Row, this popular residential neighbourhood is brimming with an abundance of ethnic eateries that accurately (and deliciously) reflect the multicultural composition of the District. These include; Komi (who serve traditional Greek fare); Rice (for fine Thai cuisine) and Mission (where authentic Mexican is served in stylish surrounds). Or visit nearby Ben’s Chili Bowl – famous for hot dogs, ribs and the kind of classic American cuisine that former presidents patiently line up for.

Check out one of the dive bars and dance clubs clustered on Connecticut Avenue, head downtown for a drink at Pilar (a Hemmingway-themed bar on 14th Street for happy-hour cocktails in an artsy setting), or make your way to U Street – an important African-American cultural hub from the 1920s that is now packed with live theatres, rooftop bars and jazz lounges set among vibrant street murals.

Day 2: Museums for every interest

The National Mall conveniently contains a number of museums, galleries and cultural organisations of the Smithsonian Institution, and today it’s time to head back and try to tackle as many as you can manage. And don’t fret about making your dollars count, as entry to all of the Smithsonians is absolutely free!

Take your pick from the ones that most pique your interest. The National Museum of American History (which preserves and displays more than three million artefacts – including the original Star-Spangled Banner) is ideal for those with an interest in great American achievements; the National Museum of Natural History – where you can check out the $US250 million Hope Diamond, an ancient Egyptian mummified cat, live coral reef and newly opened fossil hall – will allow you to experience the most visited natural history museum in the world; and the National Air & Space Museum (which holds the largest collection of air and spacecraft in the world) is sure to excite intergalactic travel buffs.

Travellers with a passion for art should head to the National Portrait Gallery – a museum that uses visual and performing arts to portray the visionaries and villains whose lives tell the American story. Alternately, those interested in another perspective of the United States should check out The National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC). Established in 2003 and opened on September 2016 in a ceremony led by then-President Barack Obama, the latest addition to the Smithsonian Institute collection prides itself as ‘the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history and culture.’

Stop for lunch – without losing your museum momentum – by popping into Clyde’s Gallery Place. Located in the renewed Penn Quarter this two-storey Victorian saloon recreates a museum-like setting that pays opulent homage to American sports – through sports-themed prints, sculptures and original works of art that line the walls. With four lounges, a raw bar and five dining rooms – plus 17-hour days of operation – Clyde’s is the perfect place for a pitt stop. (But don’t be alarmed if one of their homemade desserts ends up being the masterpiece of your museum meanders!).

As the sun sets, make the move away from the museums of the National Mall and get parochial by cheering on one of Washington, DC’s many successful sports squads. The city has teams across several codes (the Nationals, Wizards and Redskins and DC United play baseball, basketball, American football and soccer respectively), so you may want to consider packing your pom poms and scheduling your stay to coincide with your favourite sporting season.

If you prefer stage shows to team sports, you’re in luck! Washington, DC is a theatre town. And with both big theatres (like the Kennedy Center, Warner Theatre and National Theatre) and intimate ones (such as Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and Shakespeare Theatre Company), hosting a variety of performances you’re always guaranteed one of the best seats in the house!

Day 3: More than the Mall

Beyond Capitol Hill, lie the neighbourhoods of DC – packed with cool, creative, culturally diverse experiences that reflect the lives of their residents, they’re perfect for every type of traveller.
And your third day in the district is the opportune time to visit one (or more!) of your choosing.

Among the unique suburbs of the city are Adams Morgan – an eccentric university enclave packed with bookstores, vintage shops and gritty live music venues; U Street Corridor – a historical hood filled with colourful and political street art that reflects its black cultural roots; Logan Circle – where traditional Edwardian mansions exist alongside fantastic food destinations to create a melting pot of upmarket and urban; Columbia Heights – a bustling ‘burb exploding with Latin American and South Asian influences (especially the culinary type!); NOMA – where the recently redeveloped Union Market food hall proudly showcases a variety of food stalls, pop-ups, distilleries and events throughout the year; H Street NE – a borough where hipsters pack the dive bars, and tattoo shops; and Foggy Bottom – the quirkily named precinct that is home to the Kennedy Center, Watergate Hotel and George Washington University.

If you can only opt for one, go to Georgetown. As well as its close proximity to the beautiful Washington National Cathedral (aka The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul), the bustling streets of this hilly locale are an impressive intersection of present and past – packed with modern shopping destinations, superstar sweet shops (celebs such as Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift have been spotted at Georgetown Cupcakes!) and hip hotels … as well as historical mansions (including the former Kennedy family home), narrow, tree-lined cobbled paths and the oldest abode in Washington, DC – on M Street.

Weather permitting, follow the lead of locals and head to Georgetown Waterfront Park to admire some of the most expensive real estate in the city and take in the (free) views of the Potomac River. Or hop onto a water taxi for the 25-minute trip to The Wharf district. With relaxed restaurants, a myriad of music venues and endless entertainment (including a seasonal ice rink), this exciting waterside neighbourhood gathers both locals and visitors alike.

Day 4: Anything you’ve missed?

You didn’t really think you’d manage to see everything this amazing district has to offer in 72 hours, did you? Today’s the chance to revisit any new favourites or head back to places you may have missed.

Perhaps you might want to consider some of the inconspicuous – though no less impressive sights – that won’t have found their way to the first pages of your guide books? These include the Newseum – where you can view a piece of the Berlin Wall, the 9/11 Gallery and the New York Times Great Hall; the National Zoo – which is part of the Smithsonian Institution and does not charge admission fees; and the new and exciting International Spy Museum – where you can become a spy among the largest collection of espionage artefacts. (But be sure to secure your tickets in advance.)

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – a creative space which now features a combination of rehearsal and educational spaces with flexible indoor and outdoor areas, as a result of the recent REACH expansion project – hosts free shows daily at 6pm and is also a great option for a family-friendly day out.

You also have the time to head out of the District and check out some of the sites that surround it – such as the Arlington National Cemetery, which is also the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Or, you may just want to get a different DC perspective (literally!) with a Potomac River Cruise, Segway Night Tour or a custom food crawl.

But our final suggestion should you dare to accept it… fold up your map and take the time on day four to Discover the Real DC for yourself!