Do Student Voices

48 Hours in Washington, D.C.

A comprehensive guide to visiting colleges in Washington, D.C., taking all the time and stress out of planning.

Scheduling college tours in Washington, D.C.? Follow this guide to make the most of your trip! Before you ask: food and fun are at the top of the agenda.

Washington, D.C. is home to great food, rich history and exceptional universities. Credit: Alpha Stock Images. 

WASHINGTON – Planning college visits can be stressful. There are only so many breaks and long weekends in the school year, and the odds that high school and college schedules align are slim. To save time and money, you might want to consider visiting multiple colleges during one trip. When I was in high school, I toured both Brown University and Providence College in one weekend. Combining college visits is even easier in major cities like New York or Washington, D.C. where public transportation is available and campuses are in close proximity to one another. 

In addition to touring a university’s campus, it is important for prospective students to tour the surrounding neighborhood and city to get a feel for the culture. Whether you seek a change of pace from your hometown or you want to stick with what you know, understanding a city’s vibe is critical to making your college decision. 

Plus, traveling is fun! College visits are opportunities to taste delicious food, gaze upon beautiful architecture, and meet new people. To help take the stress out of college prep, we crafted this guide to spending 48 hours in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Keep reading for restaurant recommendations, tour tips, and museum must-sees! 

The reviews are in! Founding Farmers’ strawberries and cream waffles and blueberry pancakes are simply “the best!” Credit: @eatsbyani on Instagram.

Day 1

Morning: Have A Big Breakfast

Your first day in Washington, D.C. will likely be tour heavy, especially if you are visiting multiple schools. From my experience, tours typically occur during peak meal hours, i.e. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so it is crucial to enjoy a big breakfast to get you through an afternoon of campus visits. Luckily, Washingtonians know how to make a mean breakfast, so you won’t be starved for choice when you visit. I present my top three picks, based on Yelp reviews, Eater articles, and personal experience. 

Open City: Open City is an adorable diner located in the Woodley Park area, which is near the Smithsonian National Zoo. It features all-day breakfast, wellness lattes, and plenty of patio seating for those sunny D.C. days. Though I cannot personally vouch for Open City, its sister restaurants the Diner and Tryst, both located in Adams Morgan, are some of my favorite spots in the city and are sure to satisfy your early-morning coffee cravings. 

In between your college visits, be sure to stop by Washington, D.C.’s historic buildings and monuments, such as the Capitol Building pictured here. 

Birch and Barley: Parents will certainly enjoy this Logan Circle eatery, which gives new meaning to the term “boozy brunch.” Their $17 special includes two cocktails, hot coffee, and a complimentary basket of craft doughnuts when purchased with an entree. I repeat: a complimentary doughnut basket! As for the food, the menu blends Israeli, Middle Eastern, and American staples that are sure to please your palate. Keep it simple with the belgian waffle or omelette, or get spicy with the avocado toast cilbir or shakshouka. 

Founding Farmers: I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there is a Founding Farmers near almost every major landmark or university in the city, but I’m not complaining! This so-called “urban farmhouse” employs a farm-to-table model to deliver fresh and delicious American classics. I recommend the “Founding Farmers Breakfast,” which grants you two eggs with whatever meat, side, and bread you desire. 

Afternoon: Act Like A College Kid

Now that you’re stuffed, it’s time to strap on your walking shoes and head to campus! Keep in mind that some campuses may have hills, construction, or cobblestone streets; you might want to slather on some sunscreen and pack your water. Oh, and bring an umbrella — Washington weather is unpredictable. 

College Tour Tips: Admissions offices can be very, very hard to find, so I recommend arriving on campus 10-15 minutes early in case you get lost. I also recommend scheduling your tour earlier in the day because 1) students are more likely to be out and about and 2) it frees up the rest of your day for sight-seeing! Come with questions to ask your guides post-tour, but remember to take everything they say with a grain of salt; after all, they are trying to convince you to come to their school! For more advice on college visits, see here

Eat Like a Broke Student: As tired as you might be post-tour, try to resist the temptation to go straight back to the hotel and take a nap. Instead, ask your tour guide where students dine off-campus and make your way to the eatery for lunch. Sure, you can sample the dining hall’s cuisine, but I suggest opting for a more enjoyable (and let’s face it, affordable) lunch. Some great options in the Georgetown/Foggy Bottom area are GW Deli, Wisemiller’s Deli, Good Stuff Eatery, and Dumplings & Beyond. This article from Spoon University contains more city-wide options. 

After you have refueled, it is important to scope out the college neighborhood to see if the atmosphere is right for you. For example, if you prefer quiet evenings and your college is downtown, it might not be the best fit for you. 

Evening: Dine in Downtown, D.C. 

Hands down my favorite time to explore the city is at night when restaurants are bustling, street performers are out, and the monuments are lit. During the holiday season, you can expect to see the larger than life Christmas tree and Menorah on the National Mall, while warmer months feature events like the DC Jazz Festival or the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. In short, avoid ordering takeout to your hotel room and instead feast at one of these restaurants.  

Ben’s Chili Bowl: Located next to the Lincoln Theatre in the U Street Corridor, Ben’s Chili Bowl is a landmark D.C. institution. Virginia Ali founded the restaurant with her husband Ben on August 22, 1958. “But it’s not just a birthday, it’s a celebration of DC’s African American history, culture, and character”( Countless celebrities and politicians have eaten at the restaurant, including Former President Barack Obama, Jimmy Fallon, and Bruno Mars. As for the food, Ben’s has a lot more than chili; their menu also features hot dogs, burgers, and milkshakes. They even have vegetarian options! 

Left: Founded in 1958, the historic Ben’s Chili Bowl is located next to Lincoln Theatre in the U Street Corridor. Credit: Dave Newman via Flickr. 

The Red Hen: This Bloomingdale restaurant offers Italian classics with a twist. Its menus are seasonal, so it is always experimenting with new flavors. Yet some dishes, such as the chicken liver mousse or the sausage rigatoni, are year-round. According to Eater DC, the Red Hen even has secret off-menu items, with their pick being the cacio e pepe. 

Old Ebbitt Grill: The oldest saloon in Washington, D.C., the Old Ebbitt Grill has a rich history. Innkeeper William E. Ebbitt bought it in 1856 and, as a former boarding house, it is said to have hosted famous American figures like Presidents McKinley and Grant. Today, Old Ebbitt Grill is part of Clyde’s Restaurant Group, which also owns Georgetown favorites The Tombs and 1789 (two equally great options for dinner in D.C.). Its speciality is seafood, so expect to see crab cakes, salmon, and oyster platters on the menu. Old Ebbitt also offers up creative cocktails and decadent desserts that are sure to please both parents and students. 

If you’re interested in reading more about the college food scene:  Eat Affordably Like a Hoya

Check out The National Museum of African American History and Culture, pictured here!

Day 2

Morning: Wake Up Ready to Walk

Washingtonians walk a lot. It’s just  in our nature, which is why it’s important to start your second day with another delicious breakfast! However, if you are still stuffed from yesterday’s adventures in eating, these cafes offer lighter fare that are sure to soothe and satisfy. 

Politics and Prose: This Chevy Chase bookstore is a household name in Washington, D.C. because of its vast array of titles and its impressive speaker events. Past guests include Don Lemon, Bryan Stevenson and Queer Eye’s Tan France. P&P also has an in-house coffee and wine bar called The Den where you can enjoy Counter Culture coffee and Bullfrog Bagels. 

Lapis: Located near Adams Morgan, Lapis serves traditional, made-from-scratch afghan dishes. The brunch menu offers millennial staples like acai bowls and avocado toast, as well as experimental afghan dishes such as the kabul frittata and the brunch bolani. The decor is equally delightful; an outside patio allows you to take advantage of those bright and sunny D.C. days, while the colorful interior offers an exotic escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

Afternoon: Make Your Way to the Museums 

If you go to Washington, D.C. and didn’t see at least one museum, did you really go? Sorry my friends, but the answer is no. I get it: college visits are exhausting and there are only 24 hours in a day, which is why I selected the top three museums to visit when in Washington. Plus, they are 100% free, so even short visits are worth your time. See this article for more tips on navigating D.C. 

The National Museum of African American History and Culture: Officially established in 2016, the NMAAHC is the youngest Smithsonian museum and the only one dedicated exclusively to “the documentation of African American life, history, and culture.” The museum’s five expansive floors cover the breadth of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and the continued quest for racial justice, including recent Black Lives Matter protests. Like all Smithsonian museums, the NMAAHC is free, though tickets are required and must be requested in advance. 

National Portrait Gallery: As the name suggests, the National Portrait Gallery depicts “the people who shape the nation’s history, development and culture.” Its building served as a hospital during the Civil War, and it is rumored that both Clara Burton and Walt Whitman worked there. If you visit, you have to see the presidential portrait gallery — the only complete collection outside the White House. The Portrait Gallery also shares its building with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, so you can check two Smithsonian staples off your list! 

National Museum of Natural History: The National Museum of Natural History is littered with hidden gems — literally! The Hope Diamond, a 45.5 carat blue diamond, has welcomed over 100 million visitors since it first arrived at the museum in 1958, according to the Smithsonian. Another standout exhibit is the 13-foot-tall African Bush Elephant, endearingly named Henry, who greets guests the moment they enter the museum. If you can tolerate the heat and humidity, you might consider a stroll through the Butterfly Pavilion; make sure to get a ticket ahead of time, though! 

Evening: Wave Goodbye to Washington

It’s impossible to condense all the must-see monuments and museums in one weekend guide. I have lived outside Washington, D.C. my entire life, and I am still finding new things to do! If you are nearing the end of your stay in D.C. and you want to check a few more sights off your list, find some wheeled transportation! I recommend renting a ZipCar or a Car2Go, but you can also check out these public transportation options! 

Capital Bike Share: I confess that I am incapable of riding a bike, but I know they are a popular form of transportation for college students looking to escape campus for a couple hours or young professionals commuting to work. With over 500 stations across the greater Washington area, Capital Bike Share is an affordable and accessible public transportation system. Tourists might consider the $8 day pass, but $2 single-trip passes are also available. 

Metro ‘Round Town: If you’re considering college in D.C., you definitely want to acquaint yourself with the Metrorail, i.e. D.C.’s version of the New York City Subway. Most trains run underground, so don’t expect a stellar view; your legs, however, will thank you. Metro trains and buses also run in Virginia and Maryland, meaning you can avoid expensive rideshares to the airport or hotel. I won’t lie to you — Metro schedules are often unpredictable, which is why I suggest using the online trip planner or WMATA app to plan your route. 


College visits can be stressful and confusing, but they should also be treated as exciting travel experiences and opportunities for family bonding! Some of my favorite high school  memories are touring colleges in Rhode Island with my dad or driving from the University of South Carolina to the University of Georgia with my mom. So, even if you choose not to attend college in Washington, D.C., I hope this guide helps you plan a fun weekend trip that you will remember for years to come!

The Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial are separated by the Reflection Pool and the World War II Memorial!