Are you planning a trip to Washington D.C.?
One of the great things about our nation’s capital is all the free top-notch activities for families. However, there are a few activities that will greatly enhance a trip to D.C., such as Mount Vernon, that do cost money. There is a way to save money on this and other fun activities by bundling admission. It’s 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 that I had been wanting to do for some time, 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
When you buy a Go Washington DC Card, you pay for a specific number of attractions – 3, 4 or 5, – and choose the attractions you most want to do from the list. You have one year from the date of purchase to use the card or return it for a refund. Once you activate the card at your first attraction, you have 30 days to visit your remaining attractions.
If you want only two attractions, or more than five, you have the option to build your own pass for a 20% discount off each activity. 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.
The activities currently included on the Go Washington DC Card are:
- Mount Vernon
- Boat Cruise to Mount Vernon
- Hop-on Hop-off Big Bus Tour
- Big Bus Night Tour
- International Spy Museum
- Madame Tussaud’s D.C.
- National Geographic Museum
- National Building Museum
- Washington Nationals Ballpark Tour
- American Museum of National History music tour
- The Capital Wheel
- Walking Tour
- Bike Rentals
- Washington Monuments Cruise
- National Cathedral Tour
- Smithsonian American Art Adventure Tour
- Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens
- Politics and Pints Capitol Hill Tour
- $15 toward a meal at Buca di Beppo
You can choose your activities as you go with the standard option – no need to select in advance. Just show your Go Washington DC Card (print-at-home or on your smart phone) at admission and you’re in. You can purchase your Go Card online or at participating locations in Washington D.C.
How much will you save?
The Go Washington DC Card website claims that you will save up to 40%. The price for every attraction is different, so actual savings will vary, depending on which attractions you choose.
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 an attraction you’ll enjoy, then Go Card is almost definitely a good deal. Do the math before you buy.
I saw the savings add up when my husband and I visited Washington D.C. last fall. He had a work trip and was going to be in meetings during the day. I bought a Go Card for myself, but not for him. It turned out that he was able to do two of my three Go Card attractions with me – the Newseum and the Big Bus Night Tour.
I paid $54 for my 3-attraction Go Card. He paid regular price at both, which came to $65. The Go Washington DC Card saved me $11, plus the cost of my third activity.
Is it a good option for kids?
The Child Go Card is $20-30 less expensive than the Adult version and works the same way. It is intended for children ages 7-12. Generally, the Go Washington DC Card will be a good deal for anyone over age 7, and even younger children, but not always.
Visit the official websites and do the math before you buy. Kids typically get free or reduced admission and prices vary greatly by age and attraction. Here are two scenarios – one when the Go Washington DC Card would be a good idea for a child and one when it wouldn’t.
- If you choose a Big Bus Tour, Mount Vernon admission and Bike Rentals with your 6-year-old, you’ll pay $55. In that case, the $34 Child Go Card is clearly your best bet.
- If my 13-year-old had been with me for the Big Bus Night Tour, Newseum and National Building Museum on my last D.C. trip, her a la carte cost would have been $51. That’s $3 less than the cost of the Adult Go Card.
You don’t have to choose between all and nothing with Go Card. If some of your family has it and some don’t, admissions staff should be able to sort you out with little trouble.
Which are the best attractions?
Hard to say, because every family’s needs and interests are different. I’ve done about half of the Go Washington DC Card activities over multiple trips to Washington D.C. and each has been well done and worthwhile. I trust that the other options on the list are solid too. You probably won’t go far wrong with any of them.
Here are my thoughts on the Go Washington DC Card I’ve visited. Click the links to read more about these destinations on Tips for Family Trips.
- Mount Vernon is well worth a day if you’ve never seen it. Boat transportation from Old Alexandria and admission to Mount Vernon will count as two separate activities. We have done the boat cruise and it’s really fun, but the schedule isn’t flexible and I would have liked more time at Mount Vernon.
- My husband and I did the Big Bus Night Tour with friends and agreed that it 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 lots of 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.
- I liked the National Building Museum, but it is relatively small, with an excellent play area for young children. Regular admission for adults is only $10. It’s worthwhile, but won’t be the best way for most families to use Go Card.
- The Capital Wheel is a large ferris wheel located in National Harbor, Maryland – across the Potomac from Alexandria and about 10 miles from downtown Washington D.C. We enjoyed it when we were stayed in National Harbor for a convention, but it’s not worth the trip on its own.
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 Washington DC Card are enhancements to otherwise free activities. The monuments cruise, bus tours, bike rental, and Museum of American History music tour are examples. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them, but I always enjoy an experience more when I have all the information before I buy.
Ready to buy?
The easiest way to buy the Go Washington DC Card is on the official website: https://www.smartdestinations.com/washington-dc It has all the information you need to buy and use the best Go Card option for your family.
You can often find discounts on Go Card for Washington D.C. and other cities on Groupon.com. The discount is small, and there may be a little extra hassle in purchasing and activating your Go Card from a third party, but Groupon is reputable and every little bit can add up when you buy for a family. Click the button to check Groupon now.
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 family hotels in Washington D.C. including Kimpton Hotel Madera, Omni Shoreham and Hotel Harrington. They are all conveniently located and within a short walk of a Metro station. Click the blue button to read my full review of Kimpton Hotel Madera. Click the red button to check prices and availability on TripAdvisor for these and other hotels in Washington D.C.