With so many historical sights, activities and attractions to choose from, how do you decide what to do in Washington D.C. with kids? Here are my top picks for a family who has 3 days to spend in Washington D.C.
Day 1 – Washington D.C. with Kids
I think the best place to start a visit to Washington D.C. with kids is on the National Mall. With views of the U.S. Capitol building and the Washington Monument, your family will feel the energy of the nation’s capital. Start in the morning with a U.S. Capitol building tour.
If you are visiting in the spring or summer, I suggest you get timed tickets online. You can also contact the office of your Congressional Representative or Senator for a free private tour. Your representative likely has a form or instructions on his or her official website.
If you have book lovers in your group, the Library of Congress should be your next stop. This often-overlooked building 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!
If you have time, follow the signs to the Young Readers’ Room on the Ground Floor. This is a quiet corner of the library filled with books for children and teens. It’s the only place in the library where you can read without making arrangements in advance
After a morning of tours, your kids will be ready to get outside and run around. Grab lunch from the food court at the U.S. Capitol building 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.
Day 2 – Memorials, Monuments and Museums
On Day 2, plan to 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 Hop-on, Hop-off Tour is included in the Go Washington DC Card.
Your best view of the White House will be as you stand at the base of the Washington Monument. Plan 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 yours online. (Update: The Washington Monument is closed for repairs until 2019.)
Spend the afternoon at the International Spy Museum. This world-class museum will entertain kids of all ages and adults as well. Leave yourself at least a couple of hours to enjoy this museum. Grab lunch or dinner at the Shake Shack next door or Pi Pizzeria a few doors down.
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.
Day 3 – George Washington’s Mount Vernon
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.
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 or the Smithsonian Museums. There is a small fee to make a reservation for the Washington Monument elevator.
The International Spy Museum and George Washington’s Mount Vernon do charge admission. These are privately operated and worthwhile attractions. You can purchase tickets when you arrive, but you can save money by purchasing tickets online in advance or bundling admissions with the Go Washington DC Card.
You can save up to 40% on admissions when you bundle them with Go Card. It includes 20 attractions and you can buy a pass that includes 3, 4 or 5 attractions. Mount Vernon and International Spy Museum are on the pass. For the third attraction, consider a bike rental or hop-on-hop-off bus tour to visit the monuments or a boat tour to Mount Vernon.
How else can we help?
Planning to fly? Washington D.C. is serviced by three 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 there.
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 can be 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? Allison has stayed at Kimpton Hotel Madera, Omni Shoreham and Hotel Harrington, which are all within a short walk or Metro ride from most of these attractions. Click the blue button to read her review of Hotel Madera. Click the button to check rates and read reviews at TripAdvisor.