Washington DC is so cool and I’m excited to have recently crossed a visit off my bucket list. My lucky kids got to cross DC off their lists the same time as me. Not fair, really! Because there is so much to see and do, and it can be difficult to plan if you’ve never been, I thought I’d share my tips on how to do Washington DC with kids. I learned a lot and I think we managed quite well, we saw everything we intended (and then some), and our feet weren’t too terribly sore by the end.
I highly recommend getting a hop-on hop-off bus pass for 2-days! We used Big Bus Tours, and while the tour guides and bus schedules weren’t as consistent as the Big Bus operation in Philly, it still did the job. Just be aware that their weekend schedules can get wonky based on what’s going on in the city. Check their website to find out which stops may not be open. A 2-day pass will also gain you a trip on the night bus, to see the monuments lit up at night.
With Big Bus Tours, you can get on and off as many times as you want, and between their three loops, it will take you to everything you could want to see. The guides are also good about letting you know which stops are transfer stops, where you can switch to a new loop. We did DC in 3 full days, and I really feel like I saw and did enough. Let me take you through what we did and loved.
The monuments around the National Mall. Some you can see from the bus and you may not feel the need to get off. Others, like the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, you will want to get off the bus and walk up so you can see the full monument. It’s worth it!
Just outside of the Washington Monument, there should be tons of food trucks for lunch, but it may only be on the weekends. You can’t miss the huge line of food trucks, which is super fun.
The Smithsonian Air & Space Museum – this is a favorite for many so don’t miss this one. The fantastic thing about most of the Smithsonians is that they’re free! There are some shows inside that do cost money, so decide if it’s something you want to do. We loved learning about the Wright Brothers and seeing the very first airplane! You can also learn a lot about the different Apollo missions, and see some of their gear.
The Smithsonian Natural History Museum was a family favorite. We spent a lot of time looking at the animals from all over the world – it’s quite amazing! They even have a Narwal!
National Archives is a cool stop to see the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and the Constitution. My twins were in awe over these and even bought the documents as souvenirs. A little tip – the documents are cheaper in the Capitol gift shop!!
The Holocaust Museum was fantastic for me to see and experience, and a lot of people shy away from taking their kids here. However, it is free and the main floor has a wonderful exhibit that is a lot more kid-friendly. It’s a great way to educate the kids about this terrible point in history. There is a lot of power in this museum and can be emotionally gut wrenching. I couldn’t not go, and I’m glad I did.
Hop on the yellow loop and ride into Arlington to do a little mall shopping and see the Arlington Cemetery. You will also drive by the Pentagon and if you make appointments ahead of time, you can go in. We didn’t do this and didn’t have the time anyhow.
Stop by the white house! If you make an appointment way in advance, you can even tour the white house. We settled for just walking by and snapping some photos. Some interesting characters that hang out around here (plus protestors), and some serious security guards. It’s smaller than I imagined, and while we were driving by the front one time, it happened to be when the president came out onto the lawn for a moment of silence for Las Vegas. The road is quite far from the front of the house, but we could see the media and many people standing on the lawn for this.
Go into the Library of Congress just to look around. Look up at the ceiling and peek into the library. It’s kind of awesome. Then take the underground tunnel that leads into the Capitol! Walk around and see all there is to see, for the public, and check out the gift shops if you’d like. Prices were good here!
When you purchase a 2-day Big Bus Tours pass, you should get free passes to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. This is a stop on the red line and it doesn’t take a long time. Totally fun for a quick break from regular museums and sitting on the bus. This wax museum is different in that they have all of the past presidents before getting to the superstars. Totally fun to compare the president’s heights!
For a seriously good time for those into espionage, visit the International Spy Museum. We met up with my brother’s family here and the kids had a great time solving puzzles, finding clues, and climbing through tunnels. Get a secret identity and memorize the details of your identity, to be quizzed later on in the museum. The kids get a little prize at the end if they’ve solved the mysteries.
Beyond all of the clues, there are a ton of artifacts and cool things to learn about spies! This museum does cost, but because most everything else is free, it was worth it.
After your time playing spy, walk on over to Ford’s Theatre. It’s free, but you do have to get tickets to go inside. See the running theatre where President Lincoln was shot. They have his balcony all decked out, and easy to spot. The ticket will also get you into the Petersen house which is across the street. This is where Lincoln was taken after he was shot, and where he eventually succumbed to is injuries. You learn a lot about the happenings of the shooting and after, and we found it quite fascinating!
I think that about covers it! I know how to cover a city in a few days. We were hopping and going going going, but we had a blast! We spent as much time as anyone wanted in each place, which for my kids isn’t a lot of time. You can easily spend more time in DC if you like to take your time in each and every museum. For my 13 year old, almost 12 year old twins and 8 year old, this schedule worked perfectly! Enjoy!