Washington DC is easy to overlook as a solo female traveler, especially if you grew up on the East Coast and took obligatory school trips. Isn’t it all just a bunch of government stuff? This 5 day Washington DC itinerary is the perfect chance for solo female travelers to explore beyond the typical whirlwind of memorials and monuments. Time your trip for March or April to enjoy cherry blossoms in Washington DC!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission from any purchase you make, at no extra cost to you. All opinions are my own.
Table of Contents
The Best Time to Visit Washington DC
My favorite time to visit Washington DC as a solo female traveler is late March to mid-April for cherry blossom season. The exact dates of peak bloom vary a bit from year to year depending on weather. 2023 peak bloom dates have not yet been forecast.
Winter is a great time to visit Washington DC. It’s off season so you’ll get better prices and fewer crowds. While cold and snow are definitely possible, temperatures are often surprisingly mild. There are also great holiday lights and events around the city.
You don’t have to avoid summer in Washington DC, but if you are visiting in May or June, steer clear of the National Mall where there will be an even higher than usual number of school groups.
How to Get to Washington DC
There are several airports serving the Washington area.
Ronald Reagan Airport (DCA) is the closest to the city center, but only serves domestic flights plus a couple routes to Canada, so if you are not already in North America, you’ll need another port of entry. Take the yellow line of the Metro to L’Enfant Plaza to get from DCA to the city center. It’s about a 10-minute ride. (Also tip: folks in the know just call this National Airport!)
Dulles Airport (IAD) is the largest international airport in the area and now directly connected to the Metro Silver Line! The ride to Metro Center takes about an hour and you no longer have to do any awkward cash-only bus connections. (Halle-frickin-lujah lol)
Baltimore Washington Airport (BWI) is further out, but one of my favorite airports to use because of its ample budget flight options for international routes and the relative ease of connecting to the city center. Take a free shuttle to BWI Marshall Amtrak station or take the MARC suburban commuter train to Union Station. Amtrak is a little bit faster, but MARC is much cheaper, costing only $7 one-way compared to Amtrak’s $15-45 prices. Both will take close to 30 minutes.
None of the DC area airports have storage or showers, so try to arrive close to your accommodations’ check-in time if possible.
If you are already in the US, you can also reach Washington DC by train. Union Station is served by 10 Amtrak routes with connections to Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Richmond, Raleigh, Atlanta, New Orleans, Charleston, Orlando, and Miami. Union Station, on the Red Line of the DC Metro, is within walking distance of the Capitol building and National Mall.
Getting Around Washington DC
Washington DC has a pretty simple Metro system with six color-coded lines. The Silver and Orange Lines run east to west, forming important connections to suburbs in Maryland and Virginia, including Arlington. The Blue Line overlaps with the Silver line for a while before branching off to reach Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon and DCA Airport. The Smithsonian metro stop is on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. The Yellow and Green lines cut through the center of DC, running north to south through U Street, Chinatown and the National Mall. The Red line connects central stops like Union Station to northern neighborhoods, like Georgetown, Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan.
You will need a SmarTrip card for the Metro. You can buy a SmarTrip card online or at a Metro station. There is a 7 Day Unlimited Pass available for $58, but I think for 5 days in Washington DC, you are better off just buying your own SmarTrip card and loading it with $30 to start.
Where to Stay for 5 Days in Washington DC
There are a few hostels in Washington DC of varying quality. Hostels are not as popular in the US as they are in Europe and other parts of the world. The Hostelling International chain is probably your best bet for American hostels. HI Washington DC is very highly rated and located on K Street, not far from the National Mall. Another well rated hostel in Washington DC is Highroad Hostel DC, which is about a 15-minute walk from the National Zoo. Both cost about $40 per night for an all-female dorm.
Another budget-friendly option for accommodations in Washington DC is Airbnb. Airbnb is legal in Washington DC. You can easily find a room for about $100 a night in a convenient location.
My new go-to is Sonder, which has apartment-style rentals with contactless check-in in a few different neighborhoods. (And many other cities worldwide!) There is a Sonder with small hotel-style rooms in Dupont Circle and one with larger suites that include a full kitchen in Navy Yard. I’ve stayed in both as a solo female traveler and felt completely safe and comfortable. There are also Sonder properties in Georgetown and Alexandria. You can sign up for a free Sonder membership and book on their app for a 15% discount on all stays. I regularly use Sonder for a place to stay in Washington DC that costs around $100-150 a night. (And then I often use my travel credit card points to make my stay totally free!)
If you prefer to stay in a hotel, The Architect is a budget-to-mid-range option about a 10-minute walk from the White House. Rooms are decent and about $150 a night. I have stayed here once but the area didn’t feel great as a solo female traveler. It wasn’t unsafe per se, but it was kind of barren being so centrally downtown. I prefer to have some bars and restaurants nearby for a little activity – that means more lighting and more potential witnesses if something happens walking by myself at night.
In my opinion, the best neighborhood to stay in Washington DC is Dupont Circle. It’s a great neighborhood for long walks on leafy residential streets and it’s very safe for solo female travelers. It has lots shopping, restaurants, and bars and is super LGBTQ friendly. If you love nightlife, stay near Adams Morgan. If you don’t mind being off the beaten path a bit, Navy Yard/Barracks Row has become a safe option for solo female travelers.
Tips for Solo Female Travelers in Washington DC
Washington DC is a large city with a lot of tourists and a lot of commuters. Stay aware of your surroundings, particularly when walking by yourself at night. Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Navy Yard, Arlington and Alexandria are all safe places to stay for solo female travelers in Washington DC. Stick close to tourist areas and exercise more caution in the northeast part of the city.
It’s easy to get around Washington DC and you’ll have plenty to do. There are restaurants and bars that are friendly to solo travelers, and it’s not too difficult to meet locals in area bars. Just be prepared for lots of questions, especially ones that focus on what you do for a living and where you’re from. These are common small talk items most places, but especially frequent in Washington DC.
Keep an eye on major political issues in the US leading up to your trip. Big protests and marches aren’t uncommon. If tensions are riding high and there’s a major protest event planned during your trip, you might give a wider berth to the Capitol, White House, and Supreme Court.
Your biggest risk as a solo female traveler in Washington DC is theft. The District has relatively high crime rates, but if you exercise common sense, it is still be perfectly safe to visit DC alone. I have been to DC several times throughout most of my life, oftentimes by myself, and have never had any safety issues. Keep an eye on your belongings, especially on the Metro. I carry a cross-body anti-theft bag for my day bag.
What to Pack for 5 Days in Washington DC
For a full list of everything I travel with, read my complete packing list for solo female travelers. These are a few items I consider must-haves for Washington DC.
Make sure you have a cross-body bag so it’s easy to keep an eye on your belongings during crowded Metro rides.
Every penny counts in an expensive city like DC. Save on bottled water and stay hydrated with a reusable water bottle.
If you plan on taking lots of photos, pack a sturdy, lightweight travel tripod.
Even with the Metro, you’ll be doing a LOT of walking in Washington DC. I love traveling with Tieks or Allbirds Tree Breezers as stylish flats. You’ll also often see me in simple white Keds around DC.
I also like to travel with a nicer dress for going out and with 5 days in Washington DC, I might even up that to a few cute dresses. If you’re walking long distances and wearing a dress, a pair of Bandelettes is a must-have!
Day 1: Test Your Wine Knowledge
This 5 day Washington DC itinerary has you arrive on a Wednesday.
Take your time navigating the Metro and getting settled in at your accommodations. Then, head down to Navy Yard for a unique experience.
District Winery is an urban winery, which means they ship in grapes from around the country to produce wine at their city-based location. They have great special events on Wednesdays. One series you might see is “Smarter Than the Somm” where you can try all of their wines in a blind tasting and see if you can guess what varietal they are.
In winter 2023, their Wednesday tasting event is “Sideways,” billed as a crash course in the different ways regions across America produce the same varietal grape. (So you might compare a Merlot from California to one from Virginia.)
This is one of my favorite things to do as a solo female traveler in Washington DC — being alone, it’s easy to grab a last-minute seat and you’ll meet a lot of locals.
They have a restaurant onsite when you’re ready to line your stomach after that tasting, or you can head down the street to Gatsby, a super cute Art Deco bar near the Nationals ballpark.
Day 2: Visit a Smithsonian Museum (or a Few!)
Spending 5 days in Washington DC can get pricey when it comes to dining and accommodations. Luckily, there are tons of free things to do in Washington DC, including all 20 of the Smithsonian museums and galleries. Going on a Thursday
The Smithsonian Museums on the National Mall, listed in order of location from the Washington Monument to the Capitol building, include:
- African-American History and Culture Museum
- American History Museum
- Natural History Museum
- Freer Gallery
- Sackler Gallery
- Smithsonian Castle and Gardens
- African Art Museum
- Arts and Industries Building (currently closed for renovations)
- Hirshhorn Museum
- Air and Space Museum
- American Indian Museum
The classic top three museums to visit in Washington DC are the Natural History Museum, the American History Museum and the Air and Space Museum. The African-American History and Culture Museum and the American Indian Museum are excellent additions in more recent years that tell a much more complete history of the United States.
If you want to see the African-American History and Culture Museum, schedule your visit in advance and give yourself at least a few hours to explore. If you’re a read everything nerd like me you’ll honestly need a whole day just for this one museum, but it’s worth it! In fact, if you only visit one museum in Washington DC, I think it should be the African-American History and Culture Museum.
If you are a visual arts fan, the Hirshhorn Museum is a must-see for its modern and contemporary art collection and its great outdoor sculpture garden. The national Portrait Gallery and the American Art Museum are also very popular, but those are not directly on the National Mall — they are located at 8th and F Streets.
Pick your favorite or visit several and then take a break to grab lunch from an area food truck. Some popular ones are Dogs on the Curb, PhoWheels, Swizzler, and CapMac. Download the Food Truck Fiesta app to see a map of food truck locations in DC, updated in real time.
Day 2: Tour the Library of Congress
If you need an afternoon stop between museums and the nighttime tour below (which begins at 7:30pm), head to the Library of Congress.
This is the largest library in the world and the architecture is really gorgeous.
Why does it belong in this specific spot on your itinerary? On Thursdays, the Library of Congress has special extended hours. Normally, the last entry of the day is at 4:30pm, but on Thursdays, Live! at the Library is a happy hour event from 5pm to 8pm. You can enjoy after hours time in the building and even buy a drink and a snack in the Great Hall.
Day 2: Monuments & Memorials
Whether it’s your first or your fifth time in the nation’s capital, one of the best things to do in Washington DC is see the city’s memorials and monuments lit up after dark. The 3-hour Washington Under the Stars tour is a great way to fit in some classic sightseeing without eating up an extra day of your itinerary. You’ll see the Capitol building, the White House, the Washington Monument, the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, the Franklin D. Roosevelt memorial, the Vietnam War memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. The tour starts at 7:30pm and has a mix of bus travel and walking.
Day 3: Eat Your Way Down U Street
Washington DC is becoming more and more of a foodie destination every year, and the city is also home to some of the nation’s most important Black history. Carpe DC’s excellent food tour of U Street is no longer in operation but there is a very similar tour available with Blue Fern Travel.
U Street is a historically Black neighborhood that saw jazz greats in the 1920s and dangerous riots in the late ’60s. A good food tour won’t just take you to great eats, but will also describe the critical history of this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood.
Stops may include Ben’s Chili Bowl (an institution since the 1950s), a traditional restaurant in Little Ethiopia, a secret speakeasy behind Capo Deli, and Calabash Tea & Tonic, a vegan bakery and tearoom on 7th Street.
Tickets are $99 and the tour starts at 11:30am.
Day 3: Check Out an Alternative Museum
Thanks to the Smithsonian, most of the museums in Washington DC are free, but there are a couple that charge admission.
The International Spy Museum is the perfect place to indulge your inner adolescent. Exhibits cover the history of espionage around the world, cool gadgets and tech, spies in pop culture and more with loads of engaging, interactive features. The museum recently moved from its location on F Street to a new building (twice the size!) at L’Enfant Plaza. Tickets are $25 but for one of the most unique and fun museums in the world, it’s worth every penny.
Just down the street from the Spy Museum and tucked into an odd spot, is ARTECHOUSE an all-digital immersive art museum. Frequently their spring installation is flower-themed, so you can be completely surrounded by beautiful, color-saturated floral projections to cap off your cherry blossom visit. Tickets to this are also $25, which I find pretty steep but digital art is very expensive to produce and a museum like this works with original artists unlike that very corporatized Van Gogh thing.
(Note: DC’s other most popular paid museum, The Newseum, permanently closed as of December 31, 2019.)
Day 3: Grab Dinner in Georgetown
Head to Georgetown for one of the best affordable dinners in Washington DC! Oki Bowl is heavy on the atmosphere with every corner covered in colorful fake flowers, lanterns, birdcages and where-do-I-look-next kitsch. And the food is good! They have tasty, filling ramen bowls that aren’t too hard on the budget. This is an awesome spot for solo female travelers if you aren’t used to eating by yourself because just looking around the restaurant will help keep you out of your head.
Day 4: Take a Long Walk (in or out of the city!)
Up and at ’em! Washington DC is a great city to just enjoy a nice long walk. You got all your museum and monument time in during the week so now the busier weekend is yours to get off the beaten path.
Choose a neighborhood walk, like Dupont Circle. Grab a coffee at Firehook Bakery or a gelato at Dolcezza. Browse the famed Kramers Books or an entire wall of gloriously scented loose leaf teas at Tea Mansion. (I could lose an entire paycheck in that place.) Dupont Underground has turned a former cable car line into street art central, but it’s only open for select events. Keep an eye on Eventbrite for opportunities to check out this unique thing to do in Washington DC.
If you want to get out of the city, take a page out of the locals’ books and head to Rock Creek Park. There are loads of good hiking trails here. You won’t believe you’re still in DC! It’s about a 30 minute bus ride north of the city, or a 15 minute walk from the Red Line Metro at Cleveland Park station.
Day 4: Treat Yourself to a Nice Dinner
Flight is an awesome wine bar, very friendly to solo diners. As the name suggests, they serve flights of wine and I highly recommend trying one that features Virginia wines. Washington DC is just an hour or two from a lesser known wine region where you can find quality Bordeaux-style blends, dry Provencal-style roses, and full-bodied whites like Chardonnay and Viognier. If you prefer something different, though, Flight’s bottle list has over 600 labels! The dinner menu is a mix of small plates and entrees, many of which have a little Mediterranean flair. Wine flights are $18 and plates range from $12-24.
Another treat yourself spot for dinner in Washington DC is Zaytinya, from celebrity chef Jose Andres. I don’t love their cocktail menu, but the food is pretty good with a mix of Greek, Turkish, and Lebanese influences. It’s all small plates, so you can rack up a bill really fast. My light eating, penny pincher’s combo is fattoush salad and crispy eggplant for a total of $21. A glass of wine is about $15.
Both of these restaurants are near Chinatown/Gallery Place.
Day 5: Grab Brunch before Heading Home
Washington DC is a solid Sunday brunch city.
One very popular spot for brunch in Washington DC is Unconventional Diner on 9th Street. They are friendly to solo diners and the food is pretty good, albeit a little pricey. This is definitely a higher end, splurge on brunch place.
One of my favorite brunch spots in Washington DC, though, is Duke’s in Dupont Circle. This is the least pretentious atmosphere and I love their duck confit and waffles for an indulgent Sunday brunch. (Much more filling than a lot of brunch plates in the area!) They also have a location in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood.
What to Do with More Than 5 Days in Washington DC
Tour the Capitol & Supreme Court to learn more about the US government. Tickets for the Capitol must be booked in advance.
Spot flowers at the United States Botanic Garden.
Grab a sweet treat on a DIY walking tour of Georgetown.
Get out on the water. The Potomac River is one of Washington DC’s defining characteristics, cutting through the urban landscape. Explore National Harbor, stroll along The Wharf, join a group of kayakers or paddle-boarders, or take a paddle boat out on Tidal Basin.
Explore more neighborhoods more deeply. One of my favorite walking spots is Malcolm X Park in Columbia Heights.
Check out popular food halls like Union Market.
Day Trips from Washington DC
Alexandria sits just minutes from the city center with a super charming 18th century old town and the cute, trendy Del Ray neighborhood.
Tour Mount Vernon, the private home of George Washington.
Taste Virginia wines in Loudoun County. My favorite wineries in northern Virginia horse country are Sunset Hills Vineyard, Boxwood Estate, and Breaux Vineyards.
Escape to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Charlottesville. This historic central Virginia town has great hiking, lots of wineries and craft breweries, and a bourgeoning art scene.
If you want just the mountains, go hiking or camping in Shenandoah National Park.
Baltimore is also prime day trip from DC territory. Visit the National Aquarium, walk in Edgar Allan Poe’s footsteps, and have a crabcake at a restaurant along the harbor.
Want to hang on to these tips for your Washington DC getaway? Save this post to Pinterest.