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1 Perfect One Day in Washington DC Itinerary


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Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a one day in Washington DC itinerary. Some little girls dream of being astronauts. Others dream of being princess. (And of course, some dream of being both.) But when I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a spy.

Perhaps this was a result of playing too much Carmen Sandiego or watching From Russia With Love at the tender age of seven. But the number one tourist attraction I wanted to visit for my one day in Washington DC was the famous International Spy Museum.

But if the Spy Museum isn’t your bag, Internet Stranger, never you fear! On this one day in Washington DC itinerary we’ll also hit up one of DC’s outstanding free museums and dine at one of the most celebrated restaurants in our nation’s capital. Plus I will teach you how to sell state secrets to the Russians without getting caught. Don’t say I never did anything for you!

One Day in Washington DC Itinerary

One Day in Washington DC Itinerary

Where to Stay?

Ordinarily, this is an area where I recommend possible hotels for my readers. Sometimes I even just recommend my favorite neighborhood. This is not one of those times. You need to stay at the Malolo Bed and Breakfast for your day of the One Day in Washington DC Itinerary. The rooms are stunning, and there’s an amazing breakfast spread every morning. Plus the owners, George and David, are the nicest people you will ever meet.

It’s not terribly centrally located, but you can get here easily using the subway or a rideshare. Stay here! You have no choice! Your alien overlord commands it!

If you’re looking for a great deal on this hotel, click here. And if you want great deals on hundreds of other hotels in DC, click here.

One Day in Washington DC Itinerary

What to Pack?

  • An excellent small cell charger so you can keep taking pictures all during your One Day in Washington DC Itinerary
  • The best travel guide to Washington DC
  • My book Get Lost, that I wrote myself with all my best travel tips. This book will show you exactly how solo travel can take your life from BLAH to amazing!
  • Want to learn how I saved enough money to travel 16 weeks a year? Check out my top secret How to Afford Travel digital system.
  • I always travel with travel insurance from World Nomads. You never know when something might go wrong, especially in this day and age. But with travel insurance, you’re protected even if you’re attacked by Johnny Reb during your One Day in Washington DC Itinerary
One Day in Washington DC Itinerary

One Day in Washington DC Itinerary

Morning: National Gallery of Art

One of the best things about spending One Day in Washington DC is that it’s full of free museums. Almost every museum worth visiting in the city doesn’t charge admission. (The Spy Museum does charge admission, but we’ll get to that later.) I’m aware that some people find museums overwhelming and don’t know where to start.

Fortunately, the company Museum Hack has a fantastic and fun tour of the National Gallery of Art that’s perfect for art lovers and art fearers alike.

If the tour isn’t running, you can just take these tips and enjoy the museum on your own. But if it is running and you take this tour, I guarantee you’ll have loads of fun and get to explore…

approximately top 5: national gallery of art

One Day in Washington DC Itinerary
1) mona lisa frown

The most famous work in the National Gallery of Art isn’t even American. It’s this lady above, Ginevra de’ Benci. Why is she so famous? Well, she was painted by none other than Mr. Leonardo da Vinci. This portrait was probably done for her engagement, but apparently she was rather unhappily married. I’m sure I couldn’t tell that from the completely miserable expression on her face! You’d think Leonardo could have painted something more cheerful.

The story of how the National Gallery came to obtain this work is one of the wildest I have ever heard. It used to be in the possession of (not joking) the Crown Prince of Liechtenstein. He needed to sell it because of his massive debts. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in my hometown of New York and the National Gallery of Art fought over it, and the NGA won.

So the da Vinci was sent to DC from Liechtenstein with some serious subterfuge and what my guide referred to as a James Bond suitcase. We’re getting ready for the Spy Museum already!

Apparently New York City was cranky about losing the painting, so the New York Times tried to leak details about the transfer of the da Vinci in an effort to make the National Gallery of Art look bad. Yeah, DC! That’s what you get for tangling with NYC! And Jackie O still gave us the Temple of Dendur, so suck it!

one day in Washington dc itinerary
2) a lady writing

Now we come to my favorite painting in the National Gallery of Art, A Lady Writing by Vermeer. I love her because she’s beautiful and because she’s the subject of one of my favorite young adult mysteries, Chasing Vermeer. But I didn’t know that Vermeer himself was the subject of an incredibly bizarre mystery.

There was a Dutch dude named Han van Meegeren who apparently made quite a bit of money selling Vermeers to Nazis during the Second World War. After the war this was frowned upon and he was tried for treason for selling Dutch treasures to the Germans. However, van Meegeren claimed that he in fact had painted all the “Vermeers”, so he was really a national hero for tricking Nazis and taking their money.

The Dutch did not agree that he was a hero, but they did agree that he wasn’t a traitor. He was given a brief sentence for forgery and died in prison of a heart attack. I personally don’t know how he managed to fool anybody because our guide showed us one of his “Vermeers” and it looks like the lady in the painting is melting.

one day in Washington dc itinerary
3) symphony in white no 1

OK, this is one of the other most famous paintings in the National Gallery of Art and one of the most beautiful things we’ll see on our one day in Washington DC itinerary. She’s sometimes referred to as The White Girl, but her official title is Symphony in White No 1 by James Whistler. The girl in the painting is Whistler’s mistress, Joanna Hiffernan. Apparently Whistler wasn’t very nice to her, so she decided to make friends with some other artists.

One of those artists was notoriously intense Frenchman Gustave Courbet. I guess Courbet was having a hard time figuring out how to tell Whistler about the affair, so he decided to say it with a portrait…a large portrait of Joanna Hiffernan’s vagina. (The painting is called L’Origine du Monde and it exists in Paris. I’m not posting it here because my dad reads this blog sometimes.) Anyway, I wonder what Whistler’s mother would have to say about all this drama.

one day in Washington dc itinerary
4) trompe l’oeil

Here we have one of my favorite categories of art: trompe l’oeil. It’s French for “trick the eye”. Trompe l’oeil paintings fool the viewer into thinking they are seeing something they aren’t actually seeing. This painting above is the work of 19th century trompist John Haberle. He was so talented at painting money that the US government considered him to be a potential forger and tried to get him to stop.

Haberle responded by…aggressively painting more and more realistic money in an effort to get arrested. Being provoking the United States government and painting their friends’ mistresses’ vaginas, it seems like 19th century artists were generally a lot more aggressive than artists nowadays. I feel like all artists do nowadays is drink cold brew and create didactic video installations.

one day in Washington dc itinerary
5) watson and the shark

One reason Museum Hack’s tours are so fun is that they are interactive. We played several games on the tour, but my favorite was Tableau Vivant. You can probably tell from my photo, but we were trying to recreate the John Singleton Copley painting in the background, Watson and the Shark.

Watson was a real 14 year old boy who had his foot bitten off by while vacationing in Cuba. Copley had never been to Cuba, and the painting, though dramatic, is not very realistic. Most of all because Watson in the painting is way too muscular to be a believable 14 year old boy.

Anyway, you can see from our Tableau Vivant that we were all having a high old time pretending to go on a shark hunk/have our foot bitten off. I can’t quite decide who was having the most fun though: the dude pretending to stab the shark or the dude pretending to be the shark. Or perhaps it was the other patrons in the museum trying to figure out what the hell we were doing.

one day in Washington dc itinerary

One Day in Washington DC Itinerary

Afternoon: International Spy Museum

At last! It’s time on our One Day in Washington DC itinerary to visit the International Spy Museum and learn the skills we’ll need to betray our government by having conversations with our shoes. I recommend getting the City Sightseeing Pass here if you’re having more than a one day in Washington DC itinerary because you’ll save money on other attractions.

Pitango gelato
24 hour treat

I had a big breakfast at the B and B this morning, and we have a large dinner ahead on our one day in Washington DC itinerary, so I wasn’t super hungry for lunch. But if you’ve got a little extra time, wait on line at Pitango gelato for a snack. If it’s a warm day, that line will be long, but it’s worth it. I got a mixture of passionfruit sorbet and Gianduja gelato.

Gianduja is my favorite gelato flavor, a mischievous blend of hazelnuts and chocolate that always hits the spot. And now that our bellies are full, it’s time to hit the Spy Museum! I know that I can already spy…

three fun facts: spy museum

one day in washington dc itinerary
1) do you actually get to be a spy at the spy museum?

Sort of! After you enter the Spy Museum, you are assigned a fake identity and cover story. Mine was Greta Schmidt, a “German” “astronomer”. I was a little freaked out because I don’t speak German and I know nothing about astronomy. Also I didn’t like that the Spy Museum seemed to think I was 33.

But it turns out that there’s no consequence to blowing your cover. At the end of the Spy Museum, you can play a game against a computer. You answer some questions about your cover and try to fool the computer into thinking you aren’t very suspicious. I didn’t pass, but I wasn’t tried for treason or anything. And if I had been, I just would have claimed to have been selling fake Vermeers to Nazis and then everything would have been okay.

one day in washington dc itinerary
2) what’s the worst object in the spy museum?

That’s easy, Internet Stranger! It’s this rectal concealment for cyanide capsule. Of course some spies are caught from time to time, and then they have to make a decision. Do they want to risk capture and giving up their valuable information? Or do they want to take the quick way out? That’s why some spies concealed cyanide in their person. And obviously putting something in your rectum is the easiest way of concealing it during a search.

What makes this rectal concealment so awful is who it belonged to: high-ranking Nazi official Rudolf Hess. I think if we were making a list of objects I would never, never, never want to touch, a rectal concealment capsule that belonged to a Nazi might be first on that list.

one day in washington dc itinerary
3) what about the cold war?

Glad you asked! Any self-respecting spy museum’s got to have lots on the Cold War. These dummies above are demonstrating how people escaped from Communist East Berlin into capitalist West Berlin during the Cold War. The security was right because it was bad publicity for East Berlin to have so many people want to escape to West Berlin.

So the refugees had to think of clever ways of escaping the Eastern Bloc when passing through the checkpoints like the famous Checkpoint Charlie. One of those clever ways was hiding under the backseat of car. This dummy is making it look easy, but if you were a real person, I imagine it would be very painful. And of course both the escapee and the person helping them escape had to be very brave because if you were caught, you’d likely be shot on sight.

one day in washington dc itinerary

On a lighter note, this KGB lipstick pistol is the coolest item in the Spy Museum. I’m proud to be an American, but if the KGB had offered me this lipstick pistol, I think it would have been fairly easy to turn me against my country. As long as they didn’t make me use a rectal capsule. No lipstick pistol is worth that.

one day in washington dc itinerary

One Day in Washington DC Itinerary

Evening: Dinner at The Dabney

Ah! At last it’s time on our one day in Washington DC itinerary for dinner. Digging deep into regional and historical cuisine has become a major international trend. But even though technically I am from the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, I never really thought of the Mid-Atlantic as having its own cuisine.

At least, not until I dined at The Dabney. But Chef Jeremiah Langhorne’s restaurant uses the freshest local ingredients and traditional recipes to take the diner through a scrumptious history lesson.

radishes the dabney
24 hour tip

The Dabney is a small plates menu, so I suggest trying several dishes. Three plates plus dessert was a good amount of food for one me. I began light with radishes served with herb butter, sea salt, and dried scallops. You eat these with your hands, which I always enjoy doing at a high-class joint like this. The radishes were so fresh and delicious I even loved eating the radish greens, which I’d never tried before.

one day in washington dc itinerary

The menu changes seasonally, so not all of the items I enjoyed will still be on the menu when you visit. I went to The Dabney in the spring time, and in the spring I feel honor bound to eat every ramp I see on a restaurant menu. So when I saw this pumpernickel toast with strawberries, ramps, feta, and honey, I knew it needed to get in my belly.

Every time I eat a truly seasonal dish like this, I always long to have my own garden and eat nothing but vegetables that I grow with my own fair hands. But then I remember that I live in New York City and I’m scared of dirt, so I abandon this foolish pipe dream.

one day in washington dc itinerary
24 hour treat: sugar toad

If you’re anything like me, Internet Stranger, you’ll be thinking to yourself, “Bluh? What is a sugar toad?” Now I’ve eaten frogs before, and if sugar toads were actually toads, I would have eaten them anyway. But they are not. Sugar toads are just a type of pufferfish that swims along the coast of the Atlantic.

At The Dabney they are usually on the menu, fried and served with hot honey. They are so snackable that I feel disappointed to have never seen them on the menu at any other restaurant. As a bonus, you get to eat them with your hands! I almost wonder why The Dabney bothers to give you forks and knives at all.

one day in washington dc itinerary

Of course the dessert was just as seasonal as the rest of the menu. This vernal beauty is made with woodruff, a natural sweetener I had also tasted in Galway, charred rhubard, and spring herbs. Rhubarb, ramps, and asparagus are the three foods that most make me think of spring. If only there were some way to combine them into a dish that weren’t completely disgusting. Get on it chefs of the world! Don’t make me threaten you with my KGB lipstick pistol!

One Day in Washington DC Itinerary

One Day in Washington DC Itinerary

How to Get There?

By Car: This is an easy way to get to your One Day in Washington DC Itinerary, if you are coming from somewhere else on the East Coast in the United States. You can drive here easily from many major East Coast cities.

However, I don’t know how to drive, so this wasn’t an option for me. Fortunately Uber is widely available in DC, and the metro system runs very efficiently, so you don’t need a car. If you need to rent a car, you can use the search engine Expedia to find the best price from the available car rental companies.

By Plane: Fortunately, there is more than one airport in Washington DC! I have never needed to use them because I live close enough to DC to get there by bus and train. But if you’re coming from far away, you can fly directly into the city. (Again, I recommend using a search engine like Expedia to search for the best prices on flights.)

One Day in Washington DC Itinerary

By Train or Bus: I have used the Amtrak train to get from NYC to my One Day in Washington DC Itinerary, and it was easier than riding George Washington’s horse. If you live on the East Coast, I definitely think taking the train or bus to DC is the way to go.

I have also used Megabus to get to DC, and this is definitely the cheapest option. It’s pretty reliable too, though it takes longer than the train. If you’re on a tight budget, this is my preferred option.

one day in washington dc itinerary

That’s a Perfect One Day in Washington DC Itinerary!

What would you do with a One Day in Washington DC itinerary? Does the KGB still give out lipstick pistols? And could there conceivably be a more disgusting object than a Nazi rectal concealment? Please leave your thoughts below!

Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend a One Day in Washington DC itinerary. If you have another One Day in Washington DC itinerary, try this itinerary. And if you have time for another One Day in Washington DC itinerary with the National Mall, click here.

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