We wanted to visit Washington DC when my son graduated from 8th grade with our entire family. We had visited before in 2009, but my children had pretty much forgotten everything about that trip. There are so many activities in Washington DC and we couldn't select everything as we were only there for five days. We skipped the zoo and the aquarium as we have those in our own city and focused on activities that are not readily available to us here in Chicago.
10 Things to Do with Kids In Washington, DC.
A DAY AT THE MUSEUMS
The museums in the National Mall are all free. In the one-mile span of the National Mall, you can wander all day in and out of one and into another and not worry about getting your money's worth. There are 10 museums and we personally recommend the Air and Space, Hirshhorn, Natural History and American History. My kids liked the American Indian Museum as well. But you may also enjoy the National Gallery of Art and The Smithsonian Castle.
Here is what you will see along the one-mile National Mall:
- National Air and Space
- Arts and Industries
- African Art
- The Smithsonian Castle
- American History
- Natural History.
- American Indian Museum
- The National Gallery of Art
We took the metro and the exit puts you right in the middle of the National Mall and numerous signs point out which building is which. The walk can be daunting to some, and it actually might be worth it to span these museums visits out over two days.
A DAY AT THE MONUMENTS
After the Mall, prepare to see the Memorials.
Take the afternoon to explore some of DC’s monuments and memorials. Begin at the Washington Monument, and head towards The Tidal Basin walk the path around. There are even paddle boats to rent if you are up for that excursion. Next, walk to the Lincoln Memorial. Stop and have some ice cream and rest a bit. Then head towards the reflecting pool, and end at the World War II Memorial.
This World War II Memorial has 56 pillars, one for each state or territory of the U.S. in existence during World War II. There is a wall with 4,000 stars and each star represents 100 U.S. soldiers who died during World War II. Take the opportunity to walk down into the center of the monument to see a pool with water fountains. My kids cooled off their feet here.
Here is what you will see along the way:
• Washington Monument
• Thomas Jefferson Memorial
• Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
• Korean War Veterans Memorial
• Lincoln Memorial
• Vietnam Veterans Memorial
• World War II Memorial
The loop is about 3½ miles long, so wear comfortable shoes and bring bottled water. The Washington Monument is open but tickets are needed to enter. They are free and available at the kiosk on 15th street. Park Rangers start giving out the FREE tickets at 8:30 am. Get there early enough and you'll be able to pick your tour, which is anytime from 9 am-11:30 pm.
If you are not lucky enough to get tickets to see the Washington Monument, simply take in a view of the city from downtown DC’s second-highest point: the clock tower at the Old Post Office Pavilion. This free tour is one of DC’s best-kept secrets. The observation deck provides 360-degree views of the city.
THE WHITE HOUSE
If you would like to take a tour of the White House, contact your local congressman's office for tickets. We did this, but only four months in advance and they were already booked for the time we were visiting Washington DC. Thus, only a walk about for us. We walked up Pennsylvania Ave. and took some images in front of the White House.
Free tickets can be obtained on the morning of your visit at the White House Visitor's Center on Pennsylvania Ave. We didn't want to wait in line for the free tickets though. White House tours are only available Tuesday-Saturday.
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Arlington Cemetery opens at 8 a.m., so head out on the metro early. First, check out JFK's grave and the Eternal Flame. Be sure to take in all the views of the city. Keep an eye on the clock because you'll want to make your way to the Tomb of the Unknowns before the top of the hour.
The Changing of the Guards takes place every hour between October 1st and March 31st, and every half-hour between April 1st and September 30th in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns. This presentation takes about 10 minutes.
TOUR THE CAPITOL
Admission is free and guided tours are available. This tour took about an hour or so. We had a pre-scheduled tour through our local congressman's office and I would highly recommend this tour. The Capitol is currently under construction and the tours are still running.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
This is a free tour. The Thomas Jefferson Building has amazing architecture and art. On exhibit is the $5 bill that was in Lincoln’s pocket when he was assassinated, a collection of Bibles, and books from Jefferson’s library. You may or may not enjoy this tour. My girls loved it as they were able to see the Gutenberg Bible.
Gutenberg completed the first book ever printed by movable type: the Bible in Latin. Gutenberg’s work is the most rare and valuable printed material in the world.
We did not have the opportunity to sit in a session, but were able to wander around the building. The building closes at 4:30 p.m.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are on display in the National Archives. Depending on how long the lines are, this will take approximately an hour. (no picture taking allowed)
HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM
The Holocaust Museum, is an educational journey through a tragic period in our history. This visit will take about two hours. The permanent exhibition tells the chronological history of the Holocaust, starting on the fourth floor with Hitler’s rise to power and working its way downward. This exhibition is meant for elementary tomiddle-school aged children and can be quite sad. You will need a pass to visit the Holocaust Museum and only a certain number are distributed for a timed-entry pass on a first-come, first-served basis for use the same day.
A trip to Mount Vernon is going to take half the day but it is worth it. Mount Vernon is George Washington's home. In addition to touring the 16 buildings and grounds, a presentation of Washington's last moments and the funeral procession is done in dramatic fashion. Also, 100 of Washington's personal effects are on display as it was during his time.
We drove our vehicle to Mount Vernon as it is only about 20 miles away from Washington DC. Just get on the George Washington Memorial Parkway and follow it to Mount Vernon. Parking is free.
We had a great time in Washington DC again this time around, five years after our first family visit to this city. I love the vibe of the city and so did my kids. We used the Metro to get around the city and it couldn't have been easier. We did do other activities and sights, but this list is our top 10 Things to Do with Kids In Washington, DC.