Tips for Visiting Washington D.C. with Kids!

I first visited Washington D.C. as a Senior in High School.  My mom and I visited my sister who was an Intern for Senator McCain... American history suddenly came alive and I was hooked! ♥ I've been waiting for my girls to get old enough so I could share this amazing place full of fond memories.  I was a tour guide in D.C. for my internship in college (I majored in Tourism) and lived there for 1 1/2 years as a missionary.  I was a little worried my youngest would be too young, she just turned five.  But thanks to our stroller and careful planning she did ok. πŸ‘Œ  

The first thing to consider when planning a trip to D.C. is when to come?  We visited over July 4th so we could see the fireworks on the National Mall on my Birthday.  It's been on my bucket list for a long time. But I would actually recommend visiting during spring or fall instead because it was hot. In the spring you can see the cherry blossoms and in the fall you'll see the leaves changing colors. 

Next, where to stay?  After an Airbnb fiasco we ended up at the Grand Hyatt Washington, a 10-minute walk to the National Mall (the area between the Lincoln Memorial & the U.S. Capitol).  The Airbnb fiasco ended up being a blessing in disguise... being in walking distance to our hotel after the fireworks show rather than taking the crowded metro was muy bien.  The Grand Hyatt Washington didn't charge for rollaway beds and it's located at Metro Center.  It made it super easy to just go downstairs when we needed to hop on the metro and it was only a 20-minute metro ride from the hotel to Reagan National Airport.  If your traveling with children stay within a 15-minute walk to the National Mall.

Transportation:  Washington D.C. has great transportation.  You can use the metro, bus or taxi.  Tip:  Make sure you add the Uber or Lyft app to your phone (cheaper than taking a taxi).  We used this later in the day when my kids were tired.  Tip: You can rent a bike through Capital Bikeshare.  Get the app to find out where to pick up and drop off your bike... bike rentals are $8 for a 24 hour pass.  Tip: One of my favorite free travel app's is Rome2Rio.  Put in your destination and it gives you all of your options with travel times and the cost.  Here's an example: ↓
Food: Food isn't cheap in D.C.  If you're on a budget you'll want to plan accordingly.  The museum restaurants are pricey, but the good news is all of the museums and monuments we visited were free.  There are food trucks that line the mall. Tip:  Check out www.foodtruckfiesta.com, It searches social media to find out where food trucks will be.  Check out the map and see what's nearby.

Tours: You can get in-depth tours by local historians and scholars at Context Travel.  Capitol Escapes is a tour company that does a great job catering to families and the elderly.

Get your kids ready:  I checked out a lot of books from our library on Washington D.C. to get my girls excited about our visit.  We memorized facts about the buildings, (the tour guide in me) etc. 😊

Our itinerary:  Our girls ages are 5 and 10...  I tried keeping this in mind when planning our trip.  

Day 1:  National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, The Carousel on the National Mall
Day 2: National Gallery of Art, National Museum of the American Indian, lunch at the Mitsitam Cafe, National Air and Space Museum, walked past the White House while the sun was setting.
Day 3: Biked to all the monuments & memorials, dinner with friends in Bethesda, MD
Day 4: U.S. Capitol tour, Library of Congress, lunch at Union Station, National Archives, Old Post Office Tower, Fords Theatre, World War II & Lincoln Memorial (we wanted to see at night)
Day 5: Rented a car:  Arlington National Cemetery, National Cathedral, Washington D.C. Temple, Embassy Row, Georgetown, A Capitol Fourth (Dress Rehearsal).
Day 6: Independence Day Parade, revisited the Museum of Natural History, watched an IMAX movie at Air & Space Museum, Fireworks on the mall.

Here's a list of museums and activities you might want to include in your itinerary (we ran out of time):  Supreme Court, National Zoo, U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (get tickets at ticket booth March 4-Nov.), Mount Vernon ($-George Washington's home), U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (get tickets in advance here March 1-Aug. 31), Newseum ($), International Spy Museum ($), National Portrait Gallery, National Museum of African American History and Culture (get advance tickets here), United States Botanic Garden, A night tour, The Kennedy Center (they have free shows at 6), U.S. National Arboretum, Old Town Alexandria- Gadsby's Tavern (George Washington used to dine here), Christ Church (George Washington went to this church) and the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America (check out the catacombs).

Tip: Pre-book your no-wait tickets online... I'll let you know which ones you can pre-book in this post .  I scheduled all of my no-wait tickets on day 4 since I was trying to get White House tickets and was keeping my schedule open incase the tickets came through.

Tip: One of the first things my tours included when I was a tour guide was a Night Tour. We always planned this for the High School groups first evening in D.C.  It got them excited for what they would see during their stay.  You will enjoy... Washington D.C. comes alive at night!

Tip: Bring comfortable shoes... you'll be doing lot's of walking.  Everything on the National Mall is farther than it looks. πŸ˜†

Tip: Some of the best souvenirs are found at the Museum gift shops.  One of my favorites is the National Gallery of Art Gallery Shops.

Throughout this post I'm including lot's of Tip's! 

Day 1
National Museum of American History
I wanted to start our trip with a visit to one of my favorite museums.  I was excited for my daughters to see Dorothy's ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz, but they weren't there😩.  Guess it will have to wait... After visiting the Spark! Lab we saw the Batman mobile, Star-Spangled Banner, Abraham Lincoln's Top Hat (he wore this the night he was assassinated at Ford's Theatre), First Ladies gowns and Julia Child's Kitchen. We ate lunch here at the America's Table Cafe (I wouldn't recommend... overpriced and the food was just ok).

#American History

National Museum of Natural History
My kids loved the dinosaurs, mammals, insects, mummy's and gems (Hope Diamond) so much we visited this museum twice!  Tip: Cicily loved the Butterfly Pavilion!  You do have to pay extra for it but it was her favorite!!

#Butterfly Love ❥

The Carousel on the National Mall
After visiting 2 museums we were ready for a treat.  One of Cicily's D.C. favorite's was riding the carousel 🎠 near the Air and Space.  After a full day we walked back to our hotel and had dinner at  Shake Shack. πŸ˜‹ 
Day 2
National Gallery of Art
I was so excited to share my favorite Museum with my girls but was a little worried they might not enjoy it as much as me.  Tip: We took the free family audio tour and my girls loved it.  We used the map they gave us at the information desk to find the paintings my girls wanted to learn more about.  Then we went on a scavenger hunt to find them.  Just pushing the buttons on the audio device was entertaining for them πŸ˜†.  We didn't bring a stroller to the Gallery but we were able to use one of their's for free.  I purchased the prints in these pics at the gallery shop years ago and still love them!  Tip:  On Friday nights from May through August you can see free jazz concerts at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden.

East Building- National Gallery of Art
The East Building houses modern and contemporary art and was designed by I.M. Pei. Tip: If you rub the pointy edge it will bring you good luck! 😏

National Museum of American Indian
My girls could have spent hours in the ImagiNATIONS Activity Center.  They made crafts, got passport stamps, made an iglu and weaved a basket.  Tip: This was my favorite museum restaurant.  We had lunch in the Mitsitam Cafe (indigenous cuisines of the Americas) we loved the selection of food and it was really good!! 
#Basket Weaving 101 πŸ‘Š 
Charlotte getting her Julia Child on 🍳

National Air and Space Museum
Besides touching the Moon rock I loved seeing the 747 aircraft... my favorite plane I've worked on!  Always amazed this massive plane can make it off the ground. 😜 ✈ Tip:  Arrive early to beat the crowds, this museum is popular.  Tip:  When you're ready to sit down and relax visit an IMAX movie or the Planetarium.  We came back on July 4th and watched Jurassic World on IMAX.  It gave us a break from the heat and the crowds on the mall for a few hours.

After dinner we treated ourselves to dessert while we walked past the White House and Washington Monument.
Day 3
We rented our bikes through Bike and Roll and picked them up at L'Enfant Plaza.  Our first stop was the Thomas Jefferson Memorial followed by FDR, MLK, Korean, Lincoln, Vietnam, Albert Einstein, World War II, and finally the Washington Monument. Tip:  Bring water.  Tip: You can make a reservation on their website.  Cicily is still using training wheels so the tandem bikes worked great for us.

We rolled past all of the memorials and it's a good thing since it was a hot day!  The breeze from the ride made it bearable and my girls wouldn't have been able to walk that far.  This is the only way to see the memorials especially with kids.  The pictures are from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, MLK Jr. Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

SWA flying over the Lincoln Memorial!

Don't forget to stop at the Albert Einstein Memorial.  He's so cute!  It's across the street from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
FDR once told a friend he didn't want a memorial bigger than his desk.  The bottom picture was the only memorial to him for years (it's in front of the Nat. Archives building).  It took 40 years of planning before the much bigger memorial to him was dedicated in 1997.  I wonder how he feels about them going against his wishes? 😏

#Biking D.C. πŸ‘Š

Washington Monument
We studied up on Washington D.C. before we visited and the height of the Washington Monument is one of the facts my girls memorized.  Their also standing in front of the National Christmas Tree.  The Washington Monument was closed for repairs during our visit.  It will re-open in the Spring of 2019.  Tip: Once it opens click here for advance tickets.  You'll  pay a $1.50 service charge per ticket.  You can get tickets 3 months in advance.

Tour Guide Charlotte! πŸ’

D.C. Metro
After our bike ride we took the metro to Bethesda, Maryland to visit friends I met while serving as a missionary in Washington D.C.  My girls thought the Metro was so cool!  Our little miss independent about scared me to death when she got a head of me on the escalator.  Some of the escalators here are so long!  The longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere is at the Wheaton Station.  It takes about 3 minutes each way.  I took it when I lived here and let me tell you I've never held on so tight to the handrail!  Tip:  Click here to see how to purchase a metro ticket.
#Metro πŸš‡

Day 4
United States Capitol
You can book a tour online here for the U.S. Capitol.  Tip: Book online so you don't have to wait in a line.  You can pick the time of your tour, just know they'll ask you to arrive 45 minutes early to go through security.  It didn't take us long to get through security but it was nice to have time to explore the visitor center.  Tip:  They won't allow any liquids inside including water.  Tip: It's not as crowded earlier in the day.  Tip:  Unfortunately you won't see much on the Capitol tour so contact your Congressman to get gallery passes to visit the House and Senate Chambers... you'll get more of a behind the scenes tour.  You can also visit your Representatives while you are there just find out where they are on the Hill.  Tip:  If you are arriving by Uber have them drop you off between the Supreme Court and the Capitol.  This will get you closer to the entrance.

Library of Congress
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world.  It has 883 miles of shelving and has the largest collection of maps.  You'll feel like your in a Cathedral more than a library and the architecture is breathtaking. Tip: Visit the Library of Congress after the Capitol and use the tunnel from the Capitol to enter the Library of Congress.  It will save you time since you won't have to go through security again.  My friend Eric and I were tour guides together here years ago.  He's still a tour guide... it was so great to catch up over lunch at Union Station.  He gave us a mini tour before dropping us off at the National Archives.     
National Archives
We visited the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  We went a few days before July 4th and it really made the holiday extra special for us.  Tip:  Between March and Labor Day you'll want to get advance reservations.  You'll only pay the service charge...  Click here to get tickets.  Tip: There are 2 lines you'll have to wait in before getting to the Rotunda.  By getting advance tickets you'll skip the first line that forms outside.

Old Post Office Tower
Tip: Since the Washington Monument is closed another option for views is the Old Post Office Tower.  While the Old Post Office is being used as the Trump International Hotel, the tower is operated by the National Park Service.  It's free and open daily from 9-5.

Ford's Theatre and the Peterson House
A visit to the museum will provide insight into Abraham Lincoln.  You'll learn about the struggles of his Presidency and his assassination. You'll start your visit in the basement museum where you can see the gun that was used to assassinate President Lincoln.  Then you'll enter the working theatre and view the balcony box were President Lincoln was shot. Tip: Make sure to go when the National Park Ranger tells the story of the assassination, or see One Destiny, a 30-minute, two-man play about the events of the assassination.  Across the street was a boarding house (Peterson House) where Lincoln was taken after he was shot and eventually died.  My kids liked the hands on activities at the Peterson House. Tip: You can pay a fee to get tickets in advance by clicking here.

White House
I was so bummed that I didn't score tickets to the White House.  This was something I never got sick of seeing when I was a tour guide.  Tip:  If you plan on going make sure to get tickets ASAP.  You can get them up to 3 months in advance through your Member of Congress, more details can be found on the White House Website.   I tried 1 1/2 months in advance and they said there was too much demand (after going through the whole process).   They will ask for lots of personal information since they do background checks on everyone.

World War II Memorial
This is a beautiful tribute to our armed forces who served in World War II.  Each of the columns represent the states that were in the union at the time of the war.  It was breathtaking to see as the sun was setting. 

#WWII Memorial

#Lincoln Memorial

Day 5
National Cathedral
On day 5 we rented a car so we could see a few things outside of the district.  We rented a car from Reagan National Airport.  It was only a 20 minute ride on the metro from our hotel so it wasn't too bad.  We drove to Arlington National Cemetery and visited the visitor center.  Because of the heat and tantrums😳we skipped walking to the gravesites (you can also pay to take a bus).  My kids weren't excited about visiting a cemetery.  Maybe they were too young to get it? πŸ˜₯ I've seen it a bajillion times and guess our kids will have to wait. :)  

We made our way to the National Cathedral through the most beautiful neighborhoods.  I'm amazed by the architecture, landscape and trees (not cactus) in this area.  I love cactus, I love cactus! πŸ˜‚  I'll keep telling myself that.  

We took a self guided tour of the National Cathedral.  My kids felt like they were in a Harry Potter movie so they were in Heaven!  The architecture is amazing!  Don't forget to see the moon rock in the space window (stained glass).  Buzz Aldrin delivered it here himself in 1974.  Helen Keller and President Woodrow Wilson are buried in the crypt level.  Also be on the lookout for the grotesque of Darth Vader and the hippie gargoyle.  Tip: Don't forget to take the elevator up to see the beautiful views.  
#architecture ⛪πŸ‘

Washington D.C. Temple
I spent 18 month on my mission at the Washington D.C. Temple Visitor Center.  I met so many wonderful people from all around the world... for a traveler like myself I was in Heaven!!!  It was a fabulous experience serving the people in this area and sharing how families can be together forever.  The architecture is stunning and the Temple seems to change with the different seasons.  Tip: Once the Temple reopens in 2020 you can visit the beautiful flower gardens.  You can learn more about the Temple in the Visitor Center (open during construction).  They have a model of the Temple in the Visitor Center where you can see the different rooms.  Tip: If your in D.C. in December check out the Festival of Lights at the Washington D.C. Temple Visitor Center.  The holiday lights are spectacular!  They also have free concerts, Christmas Tree's and creches from many foreign countries.

The picture on the top left is a friend from my mission who happened to be passing through after graduating form Harvard.  It was so great to meet up in our mission!  We had hoped to visit the National Zoo after our visit to the Temple but it was too hot!  No bueno... I know I should be use to heat. πŸ˜‚

Canadian Embassy
One of the easiest Embassies to find belongs to our neighbors to the North.  The Canadian Embassy is across the street from the National Gallery of Art.  It's also the closest Embassy to the U.S. Capitol.  Embassy Row is where you'll find most of the Embassies in Washington D.C.  They are within a few blocks of each other on Massachusetts Avenue NW, North of Dupont Circle.  This area used to be called Millionaires Row but they moved out and the Embassies moved in.  We drove past Embassy Row after visiting the Washington D.C. Temple.  It's fun to see all of the different country flags...  We tried guessing what country the flags belonged to.  Tip:  If you visit D.C. in May you can go to the EU Open House or Around the World Embassy Tour.  The embassies are open to the public for viewing.  Years ago I was invited to a reception at the Russian Embassy for Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow.  It was his first visited to America as a new Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.  It was such a cool experience and the Embassy was so beautiful!

Awe... Georgetown!  One of my favorite places!  Walk the cobblestone street's, buy a cupcake, grab a bite (in that order😏), shop and admire the beautiful 18th and 19th century architecture.  You can play in the splash pad at Georgetown waterfront park, kayak the Potomac or drive past Julia Child's home where she gave cooking lessons and worked on her first cook book (2706 Olive Street). 

A Capitol Fourth- Dress Rehearsal 
This is a televised concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building.  The lineup included The Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffet, Andy Grammar, the host was John Stamos.  Gates opened at 3 p.m. and it started at 8 p.m.  We picked up food on the way and arrived a few minutes before it started.  It was crowded but we still found a place where we could see the stage in the distance.  Tip:  Go to the dress rehearsal if you want to see the fireworks from the reflecting pool area.

Cicily enjoying the festivities! πŸ’•

Tip:  We used this ground sheet that I bought on Amazon for A Capitol Fourth, Independence Day parade and the firework show.  It was perfect... it's so small it easily fit into my purse.
Day 6
Independence Day Parade
The Independence day Parade begins at 11:45.  We found a spot in front of the National Museum of Natural History (my girls wanted to visit this museum after the parade). We loved the parade... We saw floats, balloons, bands and drill teams.  The bottom left picture was taken near our hotel with a few girls who were in the parade.

#Yankee Doodle Dandy πŸ’‚

National Museum of Natural History
After the parade we returned to my daughters favorite museum... the National Museum of Natural History.  He had lunch then went to the National Air and Space Museum to watch an IMAX movie.  We went back to our hotel and rested before watching the fireworks show.  

Fireworks πŸŽ†
The fireworks show began just after 9:00 p.m. from the reflecting pool area.  We watched the fireworks near the Washington Monument.  Tip: Anywhere between the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument is a great spot to see them.  If you want to be near the reflection pool you will have to go through security.  Were glad we stayed in a hotel nearby since it was so crowded after the show.  I'm grateful we were able to celebrate America's birthday (and mine) in our Nations Capitol!  And happy to finally cross this off my bucket list! πŸ™Œ

Day 7
Honor Flight
On day 7 we flew out of Reagan National Airport.  Before we left we saw an Honor Flight Arriving.  We were so happy we could join others in welcoming our Veterans home to see the Memorials to the war they fought in!  I couldn't have thought of a better way to end our trip to our Nations Capitol!

Hope all of these tips help you in planning your vacation to Washington D.C.  


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