With so many historical sights, activities and attractions to choose from, how do you decide what to do in Washington DC with kids?
I live in the Washington DC area and have five children. From toddlers to teens, these are some of the places my family enjoys most. They are also our favorite “DC” places to show out-of-town family and friends when they come to visit.
Here are my top picks for spending 3 days in Washington DC.
The National Mall is the best place to start a visit to Washington D.C. It's a large public park with the US Capitol Building on one end and the Lincoln Memorial at the other, with lots of monuments and museums in between. Your family will feel the energy of the nation's capital here.
Schedule a U.S. Capitol Building tour. in the morning. I suggest you get timed tickets online. You can also contact your Congressional Representative or Senator for a free private tour. Your representative should have instructions on his or her official website.
If you have book lovers in your group, the Library of Congress should be your next stop. Get here via a tunnel from the Capitol Building. The often-overlooked Library is perhaps my favorite place in Washington D.C. It is ornately decorated and the docent-led tour is interesting and free. The gift shop is a must for readers!
Get lunch from the food court at the U.S. Capitol building (it's better than you might expect) or a food truck on the National Mall.
In the afternoon, explore a few of the free Smithsonian museums. The most popular museums for kids are the American History Museum, the Air and Space Museum or the Natural History Museum. However, you can't go wrong with any of the Smithsonian museums so pick a subject that interests your family and start there.
- Tips for U.S. Capitol Tours
- Tips for Visiting the Library of Congress with Kids
- What to Expect at the National Air and Space Museum
- 10 FUN things to do in National Harbor with kids
On Day 2, see the memorials and monuments that Washington D.C. is famous for. You can see them on foot, by bicycle or via a Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour. All are good options. The Big Bus Tour is included in the Go Washington DC Pass.
Your best view of the White House will be as you stand at the base of the Washington Monument. Get tickets to ride the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument to capture views of the city. A limited number of tickets are available each day at the base of the monument, or you can reserve them online.
Spend the afternoon at the International Spy Museum. This world-class museum will entertain kids of all ages and adults as well. It is also included in the Go Washington DC Pass.
If the weather is warm and you'd prefer to visit a few more Smithsonian museums, you could spend the morning in the museums on the mall and see the monuments at night. The monuments are less crowded at night, and beautifully lit. Evening is my favorite time to visit the monuments and memorials.
- Review of the Big Bus Night Tour of Washington D.C.
- Tips for Visiting Washington D.C. Monuments at Night
- What to Expect at the International Spy Museum
If I were traveling with kids, I would spend the last day at Mount Vernon. The museum and home tour are incredible, but the working farm, animals, and grounds you can wander make Mount Vernon a highlight for kids. You can spend several hours at Mount Vernon, and they have a food court when you need lunch.
Mount Vernon is also included in the Go Washington DC Pass. If you buy the 3-Choice Explorer option at current prices, you'll save $45 per adult on the Big Bus Tour, International Spy Museum and Mount Vernon.
- Tips for Touring Mount Vernon
- Review of Go Washington DC Pass
- A first-timer's guide to National Zoo in Washington D.C.
Ways to Save
One of the best things about visiting Washington D.C. is that so many of the monuments and museums cost nothing to visit! There is no admission charge for the U.S. Capitol Building, Library of Congress, Smithsonian museums or monuments.
The Big Bus Tour, International Spy Museum and George Washington's Mount Vernon currently charge $20-50 each for an adult. You can save money by purchasing tickets online in advance.
Save up to 47% on admissions when you use the Go Washington DC Pass. Choose 3, 4 or 5 attractions out of 20+ popular options. Big Bus Tours, Mount Vernon and International Spy Museum are on the pass.
Where to Stay
We are locals, so we don't need a hotel. However, Allison has tried several hotels in Washington DC. Here are her top picks and tips:
Hotel Madera – This hotel has family-sized room options in a walkable, residential location, and easy access to Metro. The National Mall is about 2 miles away. The White House is about 1 mile away. She loved the modern vibe and bunk beds for her kids at this hotel.
Hotel Harrington – You cannot get a better location for this price in Washington DC. Hotel Harrington is just a couple of blocks from the National Mall, Smithsonian Museums, National Archives and Ford's Theatre. You'll save time and money on transportation. However, this hotel is old and run down. Read reviews to make sure that it will work for you.
Omni Shoreham Hotel – This historic and elegant hotel is a bit farther from the action, but it still has easy access to Metro in an upscale, walkable neighborhood. Plus, it's within an easy walk of the National Zoo, Rock Creek Park and some great restaurants.
It can be tempting to book a less expensive hotel in the suburbs and take Metro into the city, but transportation costs can add up quickly for a family. Do the math before you book.
If you are driving your own car, check overnight parking rates at your hotel. These fees can be steep in Washington DC.
Read more reviews and check prices for Washington DC hotels at TripAdvisor.com.
I usually drive my own car into Washington DC because it's often cheaper to pay for parking than to pay Metro fares for my family of seven.
I do not recommend renting a car. Driving and parking in Washington DC can be challenging – especially if you're not familiar with the city.
Metro will be the best option for many families. Metro is Washington DC's public transportation. You'll find subway and bus stops near all the popular attractions. Expect to pay $2-5 per person per ride. For more information, visit Metro's official website at www.wmata.com.
Mount Vernon is a little outside Washington DC. Plan your transportation ahead of time. Find tips for getting to Mount Vernon on its official website at https://www.mountvernon.org/plan-your-visit/directions-parking-transportation/
Uber, Lyft and taxis are readily available in Washington DC.
Bicycling is a great way to get around the National Mall. Look for bike share stations all over DC. Bike rental is also an activity option on the Go Washington DC Pass.
No matter how you get around the city, you'll probably walk several miles each day. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes!
Washington D.C. is a fun and educational destination for families. It's impossible to see everything in one trip, but you can hit a lot of the highlights in a long weekend. I hope these tips will help you plan the perfect Washington D.C. trip for your family.