How to Plan a Trip to Washington, DC With Kids

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Mix education and fun on a trip to Washington, D.C.
Mix education and fun on a trip to Washington, D.C. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

A visit to Washington, D.C., whether for a week or just a few days, offers something for kids of all ages. From the major monuments and historic sites to the chance to see government in action, the city offers an abundance of family-friendly activities. Allow your kids to be a part of the planning process and choose some of the sights and activities for your trip and you’re almost guaranteed to not hear them say “I’m bored” at any point during your visit.

Visit the Destination DC website, the official tourism website of Washington, D.C., and look at the Events Calendar. All the city's upcoming events are listed, something that may help you determine the best time to visit. For example, you may want to avoid visiting with kids if major events such as political marches are scheduled to occur. On the flip side, you may want to plan your trip during a time when a particularly "kid-friendly" event will take place.

Plan transportation. Ronald Reagan-National Airport is closest to the city, but you can also easily access D.C. from Washington-Dulles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Washington, D.C. is also served by Amtrak and most major bus lines. Most hotels in the city offer parking if you choose to drive, but expect to pay a premium for the privilege.

Book a hotel. Washington, D.C. offers an abundance of boutique and chain hotels, some more family-friendly than others. Choose a hotel near a Metro station and the major tourist attractions; in general, hotels in the NW quadrant of the city offer the most central locations. Alternatively, if you have a car, you can find low rates and more space in the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland, but you’ll have more of a commute into the city.

Contact your state senator or representative at least one month in advance if you want to visit the White House. In general, tours are only arranged for groups of 10 or more, but you can request to join a tour.

Reserve a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building, especially if you're visiting at a busy time of year. You can reserve the tour online, or through your state senator or representative. If you only want to visit the Capitol Visitor Center, you don't need to reserve a tour.

Arrange advance admission to the Washington Monument. Tickets to go to the top of the monument run out quickly and long lines form early in the day, so reserving in advance will save you a few headaches.

Review other options with the kids, and choose additional activities according to their age and interest. Children passionate about dinosaurs, for example, will probably enjoy the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, while space cadets will enjoy the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. The National Zoo is another good choice for kids of all ages, and a visit to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is a must-do.

Plan a walking tour of the major monuments and memorials. It's possible, for example, to see the White House, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and more in just a few hours without a car. Acquire a map of the city and plan a tour to hit the highlights.

Tips & Warnings

  • Most of the major attractions in D.C. don't charge admission or require tickets, including all the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, National Gallery of Art and the major monuments.
  • Factor in time for rest to avoid overtired kids and meltdowns.
  • Many of Washington, D.C.'s tourist attractions and monuments have restrictions on what you can carry. Expect to wait in security lines and have your bags searched in most locations. At the White House, you can't bring anything into the building at all, including purses or cameras. Plan accordingly.

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