Are you planning a trip to Washington D.C.?
One of the great things about our nation's capital is all the free activities for families. However, there are a few top-notch activities that will cost you money, such as Mount Vernon.
Want to avoid paying full price? You can save up to 47% on 20+ fun activities with the Go Washington DC Card – formerly known as DC Explorer Pass.
I tried the Go Washington DC Card on my last trip to Washington D.C. I picked three activities and saved more than $20 on admission fees with it. When you multiply those savings by every member of your family, they add up quickly.
Here is how the Go Washington DC Card works, and my tips for getting the most bang for your buck.
How it works
Choose a number of attractions – 3, 4 or 5, – and decide which participating attractions you want to do. Once you activate the card at your first attraction, you have 30 days to visit your remaining attractions. Your Go Card is good for one year and fully refundable.
You can choose your activities as you go – no need to commit up front. Just show your Go Washington DC Card – hard copy or mobile – and you're in.
If you want only two attractions, or more than five, you have the option to build your own pass for 20% off the gate prices. This option includes a few activities that aren't on the standard pass. It may be the better option if you prefer the less-expensive attractions.
How much will you save?
The Go Washington DC Card website claims that you will save up to 47%. The price for every attraction is different, so actual savings will vary.
Several attractions are only about $10-15 each, and if those are your top picks, you could actually lose money with the standard Go Card. Other attractions, like our Big Bus Night Tour cost $39. If that's high on your list, then Go Card is almost definitely a good deal.
I saw the savings add up when my husband and I visited Washington D.C. last fall. I bought a Go Card for myself, but not for him because he had meetings during the day. It turned out that he was able to do two of my three Go Card attractions with me.
I paid $54 for my 3-attraction Go Card. He paid regular price for the Newseum and Big Bus Tour, which came to $65. I saved $11, even before my third activity.
Is it a good option for kids?
The Child Go Card is less expensive than the Adult version and works the same way. It is intended for children ages 7-12. Teens pay adult prices. Go Card will usually be a good deal for kids, but not always.
Do the math before you buy – especially for young children and teens. Youth typically get free or reduced admission without Go Card. Here are two scenarios – one when the Go Washington DC Card is a good idea for a child and one when it isn't.
- If you choose a Big Bus Tour, Mount Vernon and Bike Rentals with your 6-year-old, the regular price is $55. The $34 Child Go Card is clearly your best bet.
- If my 13-year-old had been with me for the Big Bus Tour, Newseum and National Building Museum, her total would have been $51. That's $3 less than the cost of the Adult Go Card.
Which are the best attractions?
I've done about half of the Go Washington DC Card activities over multiple trips to Washington D.C. and each has been worthwhile. I trust that the other options on the list are solid too. The best activities are the ones that you will enjoy most.
Here are the attractions I've visited. Click the links to read my reviews.
- Mount Vernon is well worth a day. Boat transportation from Old Alexandria and admission to Mount Vernon count as two Go Card attractions. We have done the boat cruise and it's fun, but the schedule isn't flexible. I would have liked more time at Mount Vernon.
- The Big Bus Night Tour was one of the highlights of our trip. It's an easy way to see the monuments beautifully lit at night.
- The International Spy Museum is fun for a wide range of ages. It is conveniently located and you can easily spend up to half a day here.
- The Newseum is excellent for adults and school-age children. It's a new museum with lots of interactive exhibits dedicated to the news and the First Amendment.
- The National Geographic Museum has lots of good exhibits for families. They change regularly, so it's never the same twice.
- The National Cathedral is beautiful and peaceful. You can attend a Sunday service for free, but without the benefits of a guided tour. Either way, it's probably better with older kids.
- The National Building Museum, is small, with an excellent play area for young children. Regular admission for adults is only $10. It's worthwhile, but won't maximize your Go Card savings.
- The Capital Wheel is a large ferris wheel located in National Harbor, Maryland. We enjoyed it when we were in National Harbor for a convention.
Remember D.C.'s Free Activities
Washington D.C. has more free activities than most cities. All of the Smithsonian museums, monuments and many of the visitor-friendly government buildings are free. Click the button to see a list of Katie's favorite free activities in Washington D.C.
Several of the activities on the Go Card are enhancements to otherwise free activities. The monuments cruise, bus tours, bike rental, and Museum of American History music tour are examples.
How to Buy
You can often find discounts on Go Card for Washington D.C. and other cities on Groupon.com. The discount is small, and there's a little extra hassle in purchasing your Go Card from a third party. However, every little bit can add up when you buy for a family.
Washington D.C. is one of my family's favorite cities. Between free activities and the Go Washington DC Card, you can easily create a fun-filled and budget-friendly Washington D.C. itinerary.
How else can I help?
Planning to fly? Washington D.C. is serviced by several major airports. Ronald Reagan Washington National (DCA) is closest to the action, but Washington Dulles International (IAD) and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall (BWI) will also get you into the area.
Need transportation? I don't recommend renting a car in Washington D.C. unless you are staying or traveling outside easy reach of a Metro line. It is difficult and expensive to drive and park in Washington D.C. Public transportation, Uber/Lyft and walking have worked well for us.
Need a place to stay? I've stayed at several hotels in Washington D.C. including
- Kimpton Hotel Madera
- Omni Shoreham Hotel
- Hotel Harrington
They are all conveniently located and within a short walk of a Metro station. Click the button below to check prices and availability on TripAdvisor for these and other hotels in Washington D.C.