Washington DC is one of our favorite long-weekend getaways since it’s only about six hours from our house. There are SO MANY different things to do in Washington DC with Kids – and a lot of it is free! – so we never get tired of going! We make it a point to see or do something new when we’re in town, but we always make time for some of our favorites.
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
The largest military cemetery in the US, Arlington National Cemetery, is the final resting place for more than 400,000 service members and their families. As a military family, ANC is very near and dear to our hearts. While many would balk at the idea of taking small children there, we found it to be the perfect opportunity to talk about our country’s history as well as discuss (and practice!) how we show respect for the deceased. ANC conducts roughly 30 funerals on a typical weekday, so it is imperative that you’re quiet and respectful throughout the cemetery. Some areas, like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, require silence which we practiced many times, well in advance.
We’ve explored ANC on foot, making sure to see both the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the JFK Gravesite and eternal flame, but next time we’re there, I plan to do one of the Arlington National Cemetery Tours for a more comprehensive experience. Now that Jacob is buried at Arlington, I foresee many visits in our future.
Consider volunteering with Wreaths Across America if you have the time and are visiting on the third Saturday in December (December 17, 2022, for this year). This fantastic organization ensures that a wreath is placed on each and every gravestone at Arlington and 2500 other military cemeteries around the country. Their mission statement: “REMEMBER our fallen US veterans. HONOR those who serve. TEACH your children the value of freedom.” is near and dear to our family. Volunteers of all ages are welcome and highly needed! Registration, which is required, starts around Veteran’s Day on their website.
Arlington National Cemetary is a beautiful place year-round, but there’s something extra special about it during the holidays. I can only imagine what it looks like with a fresh blanket of snow.
TOUR THE MEMORIALS IN WASHINGTON DC WITH KIDS
Washington DC is FULL of monuments and memorials like the Washington Monument and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. While you can definitely see many of the most popular ones on foot, a guided tour offers far more information and saves your feet! We did the DC at Dusk tour through USA Guided Tours on one of our last visits, and it was phenomenal! Over the course of three hours, we saw many of the highlights of Washington DC on our combination bus/walking tour and learned so much about the local history from our guide.
While not nearly as popular (crowded) as the other memorials, the FDR Memorial is one of my favorites. It’s on the western shore of the Tidal Basin and leads you through FDR’s four terms in office. Twenty-two quotations from during his presidency are engraved in the granite walls of the memorial.
And if you time your visit just right (late March, early April), you’ll be treated to gorgeous, pink cherry blossoms throughout the city. The best place to see them is at the tidal basin near the Jefferson, FDR, and MLK memorials.
FORD’S THEATRE HISTORIC SITE
Ford’s Theatre is an absolutely exceptional stop in Washington DC – I’m honestly not sure why it took so long for us to visit. A small museum goes through Lincoln’s presidency, the Civil War and then culminates with his assassination. Right now, museum tours are self-guided, and advanced $3 timed tickets are required.
We were all shocked to see the size of the gun that John Wilkes Booth used to assassinate President Lincoln. And yes, that’s the actual gun! He picked a small gun because it was easy to conceal, but that meant that he only had one chance to kill Lincoln. Kids can hear stories about history over and over, but sometimes it doesn’t stick until they SEE it. And seeing the gun that assassinated a president is something they’ll remember forever.
After the museum, you can walk into the theatre and see the Presidential Box where Lincoln was sitting when John Wilkes Booth assassinated him. Park rangers are available to answer questions and provide historical information about the theatre. And if you have time, did you know that you can still see live performances at Ford’s Theatre? We saw A Christmas Carol while we were in town, and it was an excellent addition to our holiday trip!
Seeing the US Capitol up close, or even better yet, from the inside, is such a great way to expose kids to the interworkings of our government. Free tours run throughout the day, nearly 365 days a year, and while advance reservations are recommended, same-day passes are often available. However, we recommend contacting the office of your representative or senator because you can usually get a more private, staff-led tour.
SMITHSONIAN MUSEUMS IN WASHINGTON DC WITH KIDS
With 16 museums and the National Zoo in Washington DC (11 of which are on the National Mall), there’s a Smithsonian for everyone! The National Air and Space Museum (pictured) and the National Museum of American History are two of our faves! While we love going back to our favorites, we also try and visit a new (to us!) Smithsonian Museum every time we’re in town.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Nothing screams “Washington DC” quite like seeing the White House! We’ve never been able to coordinate one of our visits with doing a White House tour but it’s definitely on our bucket list. Tour requests need to be submitted through the office of your representative or senators 21-90 days in advance of your trip though right now they’re not currently offered.
THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT
The Washington Monument, part of the US National Park Service, deserves its own place on this list. Like the other monuments and memorials in Washington DC, you can walk up to and around the Washington Monument for free, but the best views are from the top of the 555-foot tower!
Tickets are required to ride the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument. To get tickets, you need to have a Recreation.gov account and head to the Washington Monument ticket page. The $1 tickets are released one day in advance, at 10am Eastern Time. In peak season, these go very quickly, so make sure you’re online right at 10am to make your reservation. If your party is larger than 6, you’ll need multiple Recreation.gov accounts in order to get enough tickets.
The Washington Harbour in Georgetown is a great collection of shops and restaurants nestled along the Potomac waterfront, and from November-March, they have the largest outdoor ice skating rink in Washington DC! They’re open daily although specific hours vary depending on the day so make sure to check ahead of time. Skate rental is available and they have the cutest penguin skate aids for the littlest ones in your group! We had a blast skating around and it was a great change of pace from the usual museums/tours that we do in DC.
RIDE THE METRO IN WASHINGTON DC WITH KIDS
Our kids LOOOOOVE using the metro/subway when we’re on vacation since we don’t have access to one here. In fact, they often comment that it’s their favorite part of our trip and I think they would be perfectly content to spend a day just riding around town and not actually “doing” anything.
There are six lines running through the Washington DC area (including Virginia and Maryland) and 91 different stations. You can check schedules and fares online as well as utilize their trip planner to ensure that you’re taking the most efficient route.
Washington DC is a great family destination for kids of all ages because there is so much to do! We’ve been multiple times with our kids, at just about every age range possible and while we’ve done a lot, we still have SO MUCH to see!!
Have you been to Washington DC before?? What’s your favorite thing to see??