Tips for Going to Washington DC

Updated on March 07, 2017
G.♣. asks from Springfield, IL
17 answers

We are going to Virginia this summer for a wedding, so I'd like to visit Washington DC for a day or two. My boys will be 8 and 11 when we take the trip.

I was thinking about the National Zoo and possibly the Smithsonian. I'd also like to go the Lincoln Memorial for pictures.

What are some things they might enjoy? Also, any tips for driving or parking or just other tips, in general?

ETA - Thank you for the suggestions so far. I was actually looking for fun things for the kids to do other than the Smithsonian and the monuments. It's nice to know that some kids would be interested in those things, but I'm pretty sure my kids would not stay interested for very long.

Love the Ducks suggestion. We rode the Ducks in Branson - loved the Ducks (kids were too little to remember), but the tour of Branson was not too exciting. A tour of DC would be so much better!

I've been to DC several times (in my 20's and before kids), so I'm just trying to think of DC with kids.

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answers from Los Angeles on

So much to do in D.C. The American History Museum is great and has some things specifically for children to do. Also, the Junior Ranger Program through the National Parks was something my granddaughter enjoyed doing at that age. Have fun!

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answers from Boston on

Air & Space Museum is a must-see! My son was around 8 and loved it, and older kids and adults will be blown away as well!

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answers from Washington DC on


WHEN during the summer? Weather is unpredictable here in DC during the summer. Typically in the high 80's with 60%+ humidity.

Helps to know WHERE you will be staying. Are you renting a car or taking advantage of metro? If you are doing metro? You should buy your tickets in advance. - or if you know someone who lives here? You might ask if they have any extra cards?

The National Zoo is great. Check out their website BEFORE You go so you know what exhibits are open and closed.

If you want to go to the newest museum - the Museum of African history? You need to get tickets in advance. You cannot just walk in like the other museums

The Washington Monument is still closed. You can walk around the outside.

Along the National Mall is the World War II, Korean and Vietnam Memorials.

If you are going to be in Virginia - where helps to know as well - there is the Udvar Hazy Air and Space museum in Chantilly (parking is $15 per vehicle) and entrance is free - and there is MUCH to do in there. You can spend a day there alone.

Take a Duck Tour -
you get to see a lot of DC.

You can buy tickets for the hop on off tour bus
and ride around DC.

The Lincoln Memorial and Jefferson Memorial are hard walking from the National Mall, especially in the summer. It's a good 30 minute walk from Lincoln to Jefferson. You'll walk through the Korean War memorial on your way and walk around part of the Tidal Basin.

* Wear comfortable shoes.
* Use a backpack instead of a purse and ensure it's a SMALL/medium backpack as large ones will be scrutinized by security.
* If you bring water bottles and snacks? That's fine. Just make sure you only consume them in designated areas.
* Wear comfortable clothes

Make sure you keep what you are carrying to a minimum. I can tell you from experience that being bogged down is tough. There are bogatas where you can buy drinks (be prepared to spend $3 for a cup of soda).

While we don't have a lot of pick pockets here, the summer is notorious for crime against tourists picking up. If you have a cross body pouch like these? you will find that you have what you need. The first one might be a bit big but it is great to have something like this when you are here.

I have one similar to this:

Please feel free to send me a message. I'll be happy to send you one of my walking maps of DC and pick up metro passes for you.

Have fun!

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

My kids are 7 and 11 and we are living temporarily just outside of DC for my husband's job. There is a ton for your kids to do! My kids loved:
National Air and Space Museum...the planetarium show is really cool and so are the IMax movies. Splurge on one of these bc they are worth it!
Smithsonian Natural History Museum - My son loves the gems/minerals and my daughter loves the bugs/butterflies.
Spy Museum - both kids LOVED this but I dislike the price. They wish to go back though. I forget the cost...about $20 a ticket
Memorials - our kids REALLY enjoyed the Lincoln memorial, the Jefferson memorial, MLK memorial, and Roosevelt memorial. Those are their favorites
Doing a boat ride in the can do a tour. It's nice to get out on the water.
I liked taking them to the Smithsonian Museum of National History. They kind of found it boring but they liked seeing the original US Flag as well as the pop culture room.
Capitol Building - we did a tour and they both liked it. There is a lot to look at. I LOVED it.
White House - they both seemed to like a walk through tour of the East Wing.
Bureau of Engraving and Printing - they loved this! You get to see money being printed. I thought they would find it boring but they were really into it. You have to stand in line in the morning at a specific time (go early) and then they let only a certain number of people in. You can try again later in the day (this is what we did and ended up getting in the 2nd time)
National Gallery of Art - my kids don't look at art very long...they walk quickly through things. This building is gorgeous inside though and they did get something out of it. You can walk underground from the traditional art to the modern art wing and get gelato in the middle.
Sculpture Garden- it is outside, is really fun and not too big to walk through. Your kids will like the weird sculptures!
Kennedy Center - Friday afternoons there is free music. Check their webpage. You might want to splurge and go to a show! We have taken our kids to two kid friendly musicals and they really enjoyed both.
Hirshhorn Museum - this is another art museum but it has this really cool installation right now called Infinity Mirrors. Monday March 6 at 12:00 (check their webpage) you can try to get's worth a try. Your kids would love this. I'm going to try also.
National Archives...Don't try to see it all but go see the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
National Botanical Garden - it's pretty amazing. They have a kid scavenger hunt that my youngest loved doing.
The Zoo - eh. It's just a zoo. I would personally do other things first that you cannot do anywhere else.
DC is huge and can't do it all. But if you do a couple things a day and stop for snacks and rests/meals your kids will get a lot out of it!
I would do two days. Aim for 2 cool things a day but if the kids are in a good mood and are up for more you can squeeze in one more thing. Since you only have a couple days just stay right in the downtown DC area. Example itinerary:
Day 1: Natural History Smithsonian, lunch, then walk through the sculpture garden and over to the Smithsoinian Air and Space Museum on the mall. Watch an Imax and then walk around. Get ice cream/snack afterwards
Day 2: Take a taxi/uber/lift over to the Monuments. Set a route...for example do MLK, then Roosevelt, then Jefferson...hire a bike ride taxi to take you down to Lincoln (the distances are vast). Get lunch. Do an afternoon boat tour or Duck tour.

Have fun!

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answers from Boston on

Hubby's sister and family live in the DC area so we did a lot of sight seeing when we visited every couple years. So much to see. Your best bet is to sit down as a family and look over everything to figure out your plan of attack.

Our favorites were all the memorials (easy walk to everything) but we LOVED the FDR memorial the most, The Museum of American History, The Museum of Natural History, The Air and Space Museum, and The Udvar-Hazy Center. The last one is actually in Chantilly, VA and totally worth the trip out there. Space Shuttle Discovery is there along with the Enola Gay and a ton of other things like the Gossamer Albatross (which I was freakishly excited to see).

Summer is very humid so make sure you have your walking shoes and plenty of water.

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answers from Abilene on

We visited Washington DC and enjoyed a tour where we could board the trolley all day for two days. It was very interesting because they give you an overview of the city and lots of historical information. There are a bunch of tours to choose from and because we only had a couple of days we decided it was a good fit. The places we wanted to see were spread out and it was cold when we visited.

I know the smithsonian is incredible and deciding which one to see will be challenging. Do research online and decide which one and plan to spend the day. Maybe do the Lincoln memorial in the evening?

Driving there is very challenging. We took a train in. Parking is hard to find and expensive. We stay near the airport and take a train in from there. Think similar to New York. I don't know where you're staying in Virginia but several cities there offer trips into Washington DC. It might be fun to look into that as well.

It's a lot of walking so dress comfortably. You'll have a great time. We visited grand central station and loved it. Trip advisor is a great resource.

Have fun!

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answers from Washington DC on

I would go to the Smithsonian website,, and explore there. As someone noted below, "the Smithsonian" is many museums plus the zoo. Look to see what specific exhibits the different museums will have when you are in town; there might be exhibits that would keep your kids' attention more than you think. (Mummies and dinosaurs and rocks and minerals and space stuff....) There are both the permanent exhibits and temporary ones so it helps to check out the web sites a few weeks before you come.

And the museums do have hands-on activities such as "bug carts" at the Natural History museum where your sons could get the chance to hold live bugs like giant cockroaches and spiders--so these aren't just dull look-at-stuff museums any more! (Things like the hold-a-bug carts are not there every day so you do need to check to avoid disappointment.) Natural History has a live butterfly room you can walk through. There are hands-on rooms in the Natural History and American History museums, too.

The zoo is great but I would frankly not go since there are other zoos and walking the hills of the zoo here will prove unpleasantly hot at that time of year. Many animals don't come out on view much when it's intensely hot. The zoo is in an entirely different part of town from your photo shoot at the Lincoln Memorial and the Smithsonian museums, and while it's totally doable via Metro, you would eat time doing the traveling up to the Zoo and back. (and I say this as a Zoo member who loves it....)

The International Spy Museum is good but possibly better for kids older than yours. It does assume a knowledge of some history that they may not have encountered in school yet. One thing -- the spy museum does have special events for kids and you can look at their web site to see if maybe they're having a spy day for their age group when you're here! Those would be well worth it if your sons are into spy stuff. Otherwise, if they won't last long I would not pay the admission fee. (Smithsonian museums and the zoo are all free.)

Ducks or other tours on wheels can be a great break from walking. But Ducks won't cool you down. DC was built on a literal swamp and the humidity can be tough for those who aren't used to it and those of us who are too. Think mid-90s many days, with humidity of 80 percent or more and regular, intense thunderstorms that make things soupier, not cooler. So plan for getting indoors regularly throughout each day so your kids don't wilt (or worse, complain about the sticky heat!).

If the weather is favorable, your boys might like just walking from the Lincoln Memorial up the mall and stopping when and where they like at the memorials between the Lincoln and the two nearest museums, American History and Natural History. The walk is a nice one, they can run around on the green spaces of the Mall, and they'll end up where they can go inside.

I'm sorry to say the Washington Monument with its terrific views is shut for a few years to come. The Old Post Office clock tower (now part of the Trump hotel on Pennsylvania Ave.) is open once again to visitors and that has a good view of the city if your boys would enjoy getting up in a high spot to see everything.

There used to be a good book called something like "DC with Kids" that was a brief tourbook to help parents plan trips. I'm sure it's out there somewhere so check online.

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answers from Atlanta on

The Smithsonian Aerospace museum is a natural one. I also agree that you should plan to use public transportation rather than driving a car there yourself. DC has a great, easy to use Metro system, and it will save you a lot of headaches.

My personal favorite museum is less well-known, however it's really neat--the National museum of African Art. The building is gorgeous and the displays combine looking at African arts (which are fascinating) and African-American art. It might be well-worth a few hours of your time to give your kids a little exposure to a very different artistic tradition.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

When we go to Washington and visit the Smithsonian we're planning on a week. Just to see it. We like to see all the exhibits and take our time. So if you're only going to spend 2 days there you might want to research the museum and only go to a couple of wings or something.

We went to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) Museum in Nebraska so if the one that Diana B shared is anything like the SAC I can assure you that the kids would love it if they like anything at all to do with flight and space and airplanes.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Please keep in mind that "the Smithsonian" is a collection of 19 different museums, each with a different theme. My favorite of them is the National Archives. It has the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution, the flag about which our National Anthem was written, etc. Nothing symbolizes our country more than this museum. When I lived in that area, I took every single guest I had there and they all loved it. I could see it again and again and not get tired of it.

My second favorite might be convenient to where you are staying, depending on where you will be in Virginia. The Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum (also part of the smithsonians) is located in Virginia out by Dulles airport. It is amazing and my kids loved it too. It is in a huge hanger - there is even a space shuttle inside that your kids will love, plus planes that will mean something to you (but maybe not to them) like the Enola Gay.

The zoo is nice to walk around on a nice day, although if you've been to a zoo, you know what to expect. It's a perfectly nice zoo but nothing extraordinary, IMO.

To get around, I suggest that you park at a metro stop in Virginia and take the subway into town. To see the Archives and the Lincoln Memorial, you'll take the metro to the National Mall stop - it lets you out in the middle by the Washington Monument. To go to the zoo, you have to change trains and take the red line to the National Zoo stop. You can pull up a metro map online to see what I'm talking about.

Since Air and Space is near Dulles, you'll drive there. There is lots of parking at the museum. The museum itself is free, but parking cost about $10 I think.

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answers from Chicago on

You know your kids best, and I think you should stick with that.

Last summer we did a trip to Colonial Williamsburg/D.C. Everyone told us our kids (12,10, and 8) would be bored to death in Williamsburg, and we were concerned it would be the same for D.C.

They loved Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Jamestowne. Keep in mind this when the heat index of 120.

So at the end of trip we hit D.C. We stayed in Old Town Alexandria by King Street Metro Station. It was about a 15 minute ride to D.C.

My kids picked up on the sentimental emotions of the historic sites. So much so that the Air and Space Museum fell flat after the 'rawness' of those other sites.

If this is what you want to avoid I would stay stick to museums and maybe the US mint ( where they print money?).

If you are not already...I would suggest a trip to Virginia Beach...we did and it was so much fun. We loved Lagerheads!

Before going on this trip, my oldest had read Daniel's Story, my daughter had done a report on Pocahontas, and all my kids have read the I Survived series of books so they were interested in seeing these historic sites.

Enjoy your trip!

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answers from Atlanta on

I've visited DC and didn't like driving there. Metro is the way to go.

There is a LOT to do and one or two days won't be enough to see much. You can spend all day in the Air & Space museum.

You can take a trip in a canoe to Roosevelt Island, that's fun!

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answers from Reading on

I lived in DC for 5 years. I highly recommend renting a house (vrbo dot com) rather than staying in a hotel. We stayed in one on Capitol Hill - walking distance to the metro, restaurants, and markets and it was only $800 for the week. Two bedrooms, full kitchen, backyard, parking, very comfortable. Much cheaper than a hotel and with kids it was more convenient - especially because I didn't want to pay for restaurants for every meal - it was just easier for snacks and small meals.

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answers from Charlottesville on

i suspect there are lots of websites that have information about what to do in DC. What you have listed are great ideas. There are a lot of memorials near there in addition to the Lincoln Memorial so you could probably take a whole day just walking around and seeing the memorials. The Holocaust Museum is also good if you think your kids are old enough for it. I haven't been to either of these, but the Newseum and the Spy Museum are supposed to be good as well.
Regardless of where you decide to go, i would definitely recommend driving to a metro stop and taking the subway into DC rather than driving downtown. The roads can be confusing. I try not to drive if I don't have to. However, I recommend that you look online ahead of time to try to figure out which stop to park at, which have parking available without needing a digital pass, etc. There might be options for a day pass where you can ride all day for one price. Otherwise you'll need to know all of the stops you are going to so you can add enough fare to each card. The metro website has good info (I used it to figure out how to get to the inaugural parade so we could see my son march with VMI).
If you go during the week, you'll be dealing with all of the commuters. If you go on the weekend, you'll want to research to see if anything else is going on at the same time that might make it crazy (i.e. cherry blossom festival or 4th of July on the mall). Hope you have fun!

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answers from Rochester on

Definitely don't try to drive in and park. If you can stay next to a metro station that is your best bet. When my brother lived in Maryland that's what we did. It can involve a lot of walking, but it is much less of a headache.

My cousin's kids were about the same age as your kids when they went to the Spy Museum. They thought it was worth the price. They loved it!

The Natural History Museum is a lot of fun. My kids loved the insect area with actual insects. The American History Museum has lots of kid friendly displays. Remember, all of the Smithsonian Museums are free. You can go in and stay even just a short time. You can easily fill a day with just walking to all of the monuments. Personally, if I were only going to be there for a day or two I wouldn't spend it at the zoo. It's a nice zoo, but you can go to a zoo anywhere. I would spend the time seeing things that you can only see in DC.

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answers from New York on

The National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian! "The Smithsonian Institution" is a group of musems and galleries and the zoo. Which part were you thinking your sons would not like?

The zoo is great, but on a trip to DC for only a day or two, I agree with some of the posts below that you can see a zoo elsewhere. (The Bronx Zoo in NYC is great but I would never suggest someone take time out of such a short trip to NYC to go there.)

For only a one or two day visit, when you might want to take plenty of breaks for air conditioning and cold beverages, I think you should focus on things that are important to DC's history and "meaning" in the US, like the monuments. I understand that seeing those might not be the most "fun" for your kids, but it would be a very valuable educational opportunity AND your kids' level of interest might surprise you. You can always sweeten the deal by going for ice cream afterwards!

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answers from New York on

Let them climb the petrified tree behind the Washington Monument! It's huge, feels fantastic and completely awesome and a great picture place to boot! It's a short little fun walk to see the big man from there, it's so cool!

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