What to Do/where to Stay in Washington DC for a 4 Day Weekend with 8&9 Year Olds

Updated on August 04, 2015
X.C. asks from Natick, MA
16 answers

Considering going to DC for a four day weekend in September with our 8 and 9 year olds (girl and boy). Since its such a short trip, what are the top spots to visit with kids that age? What area of DC should we stay in? Hotel recommendations would be helpful too.

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answers from New York on

We did a 4-day weekend (Labor Day weekend) a few years ago when my oldest was about that age and my youngest must have been about 6 or 7. We stayed at the Capitol Hyatt - literally about a block from the National Mall with all the memorials and museums. But like others have said, it is a LOT of walking. The family liked the National Zoo the best - took the free subway up to it. Washington DC is so great because most of the attractions are free!

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answers from Rochester on

Any of the Smithsonian Museums are great! My cousin took her kids to the Spy Museum when they were about that age and they loved it! The zoo is also great.

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answers from New York on

Hyatt by the Capitol. What to see: everything!!!! So much to see, so much for free.

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answers from Boston on

Air & Space is fabulous, so is the zoo, and I think they absolutely should see some of the national monuments - see if you can get a White House tour, and go to Jefferson & Lincoln memorials. Do drive past the major buildings too (Capitol, Washington Monument) and grab some pictures. There are tons of tee shirt vendors within sight of the Capitol so that's probably a good stop for an overpriced souvenir!!

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answers from Santa Fe on

We moved here this last year...I have lots of ideas for you

Smithsonian Museum of National History
National Air and Space Museum (the one on the Mall)
Tour up George Washington Monument. Go online now to see how to get tickets...it sells out fast. If you can't get tickets just go walk around it.
Go see some of the monuments...our kids liked the Jefferson Monument and the Lincoln Monument best.
Friday nights - free music at the National Sculpture Garden from 5-8pm. They sell food and drinks there too so you can just make an evening of it.
The National Treasury - the kids can see money being printed!
The National Building Museum - this one is not free but it has this really fun temporary exhibit called The Beach. Our kids did not want to leave.
The Spy Museum - this one is not free but our kids LOVED it.
Go by the White House...see if you can sign up for a tour beforehand. Or just walk by and look at it.
The Capitol gives tours every 30 minutes. I hear the lines are long. I have not done this yet, but our friend's kids liked it.
Duck Tours - I hear this is fun and it is on our to do list.
National Gallery of Art...go look at the modern art section with your kids because some of it is so fun and go get gelato downstairs. Yum! Give them each a drawing pad and pencil to sit and draw something in the gallery.

My advice - go to each museum arriving as soon as it opens in the morning. Things get crowded fast and then their are lines. We just recently went to The Beach and got there right at 10am. I bought the tickets online the night before. When we left at 1pm there were HUGE lines to get in.

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answers from Washington DC on

I can't suggest a hotel, but things to do include:

Smithsonian Museums, especially Natural History and Air and Space. Air and Space has an annex near Dulles that is worth going to. $12 or so for parking, free admission. They might also like the Spy Museum. The zoo can take all day. Pack a lunch, and start from the bottom of the hill.

There's also Brookside Gardens in Montgomery County (off the Red Line, but you'd want a car) with fun things to see and do, the College Park Aviation Museum, and other things to do in Baltimore.

I agree to go early and eat somewhere other than the museum. Used to be you could eat at the Old Post Office but you can blame Mr. Bad Hair for no longer having that. There's still a food court in the Regan building. Do NOT bring in anything that you wouldn't take in an airport. If one side of the building's line is long, try the other side. With buses, sometimes one side gets backed up when another is fine. Use SmarTrip to get around - cheaper than paper fares. Consider a pass if your travels will be more than the cost of the pass. I used to use 7 day passes when I commuted - because I didn't want to lose my paper card (back when) and it was cheaper for me. WMATA's site will help you determine fares and times. SmarTrip may also be needed for parking at Metro lots.


If you did get tickets to the White House, pay close attention to what you can NOT bring in. NO bags, purses, anything. You'll want to leave everything behind but what you put in your pocket (like your Metro card) and go back for those things after the tour.

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answers from New York on

Make sure you let them climb the tree behind the Washington Monument! It looks and feels petrified and smooth and is just beautiful!!!
Great picture taking place.
There is SO much to see! 4 days you'll get a ton in. I see some one else mentioned The Spy Museum, that's what else I was going to say.

~We stayed in VA just across the way somewhere & rode the light rail in to D.C. .....my family HAS to try out every available Mass transit around for some reason, they dig the trains, LOL! It was easy & perfectly affordable & comfortable. I believe it was The Westin in Reston!?

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answers from Austin on

One thing my kids enjoyed was having a kids' National Park "passport". It's available at eparks.com and at many national parks and monuments, the kids can get their "passport" stamped for free (there is a small charge for the book). It's a nice way to get a little memento without spending tons of money at the gift shops. The website has a list of which national parks and monuments that give the kids their stamps on their book. Usually the stamps are given at the entrance, or the guards' gates, or the office.

When we have been in DC and similar places, instead of going overboard (if money is a concern) at gift shops, we let the kids get their books stamped, and let them get the flattened, embossed, souvenir pennies (cost: 51 cents). We got them penny keepers (available online) to keep the pennies in. We also had fun looking through change for quarters that depicted the state that we were visiting. Then near the end of trips, we allowed them one take-home small gift. Don't forget that things bought at gift shops have to be lugged around for the day. A kids' passport and a penny is easy to take along. You can purchase the passport booklets and the penny binders in advance.

I agree that the Jefferson and Lincoln monuments are worth seeing. Your kids will see them for years to come in commercials, movies, and in photos, and they'll remember being there in real life, and how big and impressive those monuments actually are.

What are your kids' interests? Don't try to do it all, or rush. Think about what your kids enjoy. Try to balance history and current events (government buildings, Vietnam Wall, for example) with fun (the zoo or the Air and Space museum, etc).

If you'll be taking the Metro, this map shows hotels near Metro stations:

Sometimes it's good to balance budget with convenience. For example, you might find a really great hotel price, but the hotel is so far out of the city that you need to spend lots of money on cabs in order to get to the Metro or to go downtown, and you waste lots of time driving in unfamiliar territory, and lots of money on taxis. Paying a little more for a hotel that is right near the Metro means you can easily get around and get back to your room quicker, and it means less walking for tired children!

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answers from Tulsa on

We stayed at the Wyndam Resort at the National Harbor (across the Potomac from downtown D.C.). We loved the area . . . the harbor was beautiful and they had a big screen there where they played movies in the evening. It was a quick drive to everywhere we went.
My favorite part of D.C. was the Holocaust museum but that may be too much for an 8 and 9 year old. My husband took our kids to the Spy Museum but wasn't real thrilled with it. Of course, our kids are older so it may be more fun for younger kids. Plan to spend a whole day walking around the monuments. The different National Museums were very cool as well. If I was going back, I would spend more time in Alexandria (Old Towne) Virginia which is just a short boat ride on the Potomac. So much history and such a quaint place with lots to see.



answers from Washington DC on

We live in the area, so no great ideas about where to stay... but...

The Smithsonian Museums are FREE to enter and a huge part of why you want to visit the city. So if you're here with kids, I'd skip the "extra," private museums that charge for tickets and visit the ones that are unique to- the District. (Also, if your kids decide they're bored, or you don't like it, you can leave without feeling like you've spent an arm and a leg to be there).
Kid Favorites:
-Natural History
-Air and Space

The Botanical Gardens are right next to the Capital, so you can take a tour there (requires waiting in line for a free ticket... go early) then see the gardens.

Also see the Archives if it's not too hot to wait in the line (or if there is no line).

The zoo's okay if you need a day off, but I'd recommend Roosevelt Island instead. It feels like a "local secret" and the kids can run around and hike.

If you want to spend a bit of money the red Hop on Hop off tour buses get you around to the monuments without having to walk every single place. Makes for smiling, rather than cranky kids in pictures when you finally get there. They cost about the same as tickets to one of the pay-for museums or the Baltimore Aquarium.



answers from Las Vegas on

The rooms are pricey, but thankfully there is a lot to see for FREE!

I believe we stayed at the Hyatt by the Capitol and it was beautiful.


answers from Washington DC on

We love to stay in National Harbor - it's right outside of the city, but they offer a free bus in to the city and it's beautiful!

There are tons of FREE things to do. We loved the Hop on and Hop off bus tour, it's a quick way to see a lot of DC. The was museum isn't worth the money. The Duck Tour is fabulous! The Kennedy Center is amazing....as is the Warner Theater - if you have time for a show.



answers from Miami on

They would love the DC Duck Tour - a fun way to orient yourself to DC:) Also, the Spy Museum is awesome and my 9 year old son thinks it is awesome. At this point, getting tickets to the WH is probably not likely but maybe tickets to the Capitol are possible. Also, try getting tickets to climb the Washington Monument - it is reopened now but you have to have advance (albeit free) tickets.

Outside DC, Mount Vernon is fun and I like the Air and Space Museum at Dulles better than the one on the mall (the original). If they enjoy news at all, they may like the Newseum.

There are free concerts almost every night at the Kennedy Center - go to the website to see it. Walk around Old Town Alexandria - if they aren't afraid do an Old Town Ghost Tour!

As close to metro stop as possible is my suggestion for where to stay.

Have fun!



answers from Beaumont on

When I have a situation like this I like tripadvisor.com. Have fun!!



answers from Pittsburgh on

Four days is a lot of time. Be prepared for a LOT of walking. We went with DS for a long weekend last Spring when he was 8. We did the Air & Space Museum, natural history (part of the Smithsonian), the conservatory on the mall, Lincoln, Jefferson and MLK memorials (all fantastic), the WWII memorial (so so), the Korean war memorial (good) and the Vietnam wall (very moving). The Washington memorial was under construction when we were there so we could not go up the needle. We did a little bit of the National Gallery of Art. We also did the zoo - they have pandas. The zoo is very spread out so it is a big time commitment. All the parts of the Smithsonian are free so it was easy to just do as much as we were able and call it a day. There are tons of great restaurants (hard to advise without knowing your food preferences). You want to stay somewhere close to a metro stop - beyond that, not terribly critical.

We didn't cover 1/2 of what there is to do and will be heading back in the fall. We drove and found having a car more of a hassle than not.


answers from Chicago on

We did VBRO in Capitol Hill (literally, behind the Capitol). Walk able to everything and great neighborhood. Also right next to a Metro stop, which is all you need.
Turned out to be cheaper than a hotel. And DC is not cheap.

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