You can stroll past the White House, tour the Capital Building, photograph countless monuments or memorials, visit the National Zoo or pay your respects to our fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.
The best part, many of the finest attractions that Washington DC has to offer are completely FREE!
A great place to begin planning your trip is by contacting your local Senator or Representative. Their office can assist you by arranging special Congressional tours of some of DC’s most renowned locations. These tours include:
The U.S. Capital tours begin the Capital Visitor Center and offer a glimpse of the Crypt of the Capital, the legendary Rotunda, and National Statuary Hall. Galleries passes to the House or Senate are also available when in session.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing tour offers a fascinating step-by-step look at the production of money. You will never look at our currency the same way after viewing millions of dollars being printed during the course of your tour.
A Supreme Court visit will teach you about the judicial process, the history of the building and the architecture of the Courtroom with a 30-minute docent tour. You can also tour the building on your own and take advantage of some of the educational programming available to visitors.
The Library of Congress allows you to view the world’s largest literary collection or take a one of several hour long walking tours of the historic building to learn about the symbolic art and architecture.
You won’t see currency printed at The Treasury Building, but you will see where the Secretary of the Treasury hosts foreign dignitaries, the burglar proof safe and the cash room.
White House tours are only available through Congressional offices and are very hard to procure. However, you can see the next best thing, the White House Visitor Center. As part of the National Park Service, the Visitor Center features many aspects of the White House through its exhibits, including its architecture, furnishings, first families, social events, and relations with the press and world leaders. A thirty-minute video is also shown.
Do you know that with 19 museums the Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex? From the Declaration of Independence, to the flag that inspired our national anthem, to Kermit the Frog, and Dorothy’s ruby red slippers, the Smithsonian offers an amazing collection of some of America’s most prized possessions and well known icons. No matter how vast your family’s interests are, the Smithsonian offers something to appeal to everyone.
If you’re unsure of the museums you’d like to visit, a great first stop is the The Smithsonian Castle, the first Smithsonian building, which offers an overview of each and an interactive map of D.C. Some of the most popular museums for families include:
The National Museum of American History exhibits vary to include furnishings from the Appomattox Courthouse, Julia Child’s Kitchen and the inaugural gowns of the first ladies’.
The National Zoo is home to over 400 species of animals, but perhaps the best known are the Giant Pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. Remarkably, only four zoos in the country are fortunate enough to house this rare variety of panda.
The National Museum of Natural History is famous for the fossil collection which includes the Dinosaur Hall, the Butterfly Pavilion, and the exquisite Hope Diamond.
The National Postal Museum is for anyone who has worked for the postal service or had a stamp collection.
The National Air and Space Museum is a must see for the aircraft, spacecraft or rocket enthusiast! You’ll find 23 galleries and hundreds of displays which include the 1903 Wright flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module! If you love this museum, you may want to take a look at the National Air and Space Udvar-Hazy Center where the really large items of interest are stored. Think rocket engines, the Boeing B-29 Super fortress “Enola Gay and Space Shuttle Enterprise. Visit these two sites and you can boast that you’ve seen the largest collection of aviation and space artifacts in the world!
Not part of the Smithsonian complex, The United States National Holocaust Museum is another Washington DC favorite. Though the museum is phenomenal, due to the graphic nature of the Permanent Exhibit with many somber and disturbing images, the display is not recommended for children under the age of 11. However, younger children will learn about the Holocaust through more age appropriate activities and exhibits such as Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story, an exhibit that chronicles the life of a young Jewish boy.
Not interested in museums? Perhaps you’d like to put on some comfortable walking shoes and set out to explore the many monuments that pay homage to our founding fathers, well loved presidents or honor our fallen heroes?
Iwo Jima Memorial is best known as the United States Marine Corps War Memorial and is dedicated to the marines who gave their lives at the battle of Iwo Jima.
The Jefferson Memorial honor’s the nation’s third president with a 19-foot bronze statue in a dome-shaped rotunda.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial is inscribed with the names of those missing or killed during the Vietnam War. If you have a loved one that is remembered on the wall, you can search the data base for the location of their name and pay your respects during your visit.
The famous Washington Monument* which memorializes our first president offers an amazing view of the city. Unfortunately, it is currently closed due to the earthquake that struck DC earlier this year, though it may be open for visitors by the 2:1 Conference.
The Lincoln Memorial not only holds a larger than life statue of our 16th president, but has also immortalized the words that he is best known for, The Gettysburg Address, by etching them into the wall of the memorial.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial is divided into four outdoor galleries representing each of FDR’s terms in office. At 7 ½ acres, it is also the largest presidential memorial on the National Mall.
Perhaps the best known memorial, recognized as America’s largest burial ground, Arlington National Cemetery is visited by more than 4 million people each year. In the Visitor’s Center you can pick up a map of the memorials, including the final resting place of President John F. Kennedy, and view the schedule for the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
History buffs will love the numerous National Historic Sites in and around the DC area.
This should give you plenty of ideas to get started, and I haven’t even mentioned Union Station Ford’s Theatre, the National Cathedral, or the free shows at the Kennedy Center! Whatever your interests, you’ll discover something in D.C. that will appeal to your family.
A couple tips before you go:
Though the attractions listed here are free, many require timed tickets for entry. The tickets are claimed early in the morning at each location and are on a first-come, first-serve basis. In some instances, tickets can be ordered in advance for a nominal service fee.
This will not only save you the hassle of waiting in line to obtain your ticket, it will also save you the disappointment of waiting only to find the tickets have already been claimed for the day.
If driving in DC doesn’t kill you, finding a parking spot may. Many locations do not offer parking and when available, it is very limited. The metro is a great alternative to driving and is easy to use and navigate thanks to the online trip planner. All-day passes are available and may save you money, depending on what time you decide to venture into the city.
A word of caution: There is so much to see and do in D.C. that it is easy to overdo things. Make sure that you set realistic goals of what you want to see each day and remember that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t see everything in one trip. Believe me, I’ve tried!
Tonya is a loving wife and homeschooling mother of 3 teens. She loves spending time with her family and has been blessed to spend much of the last 6 years on the road with them. Her passion is exploring the US one attraction at a time and writing about her adventures. Tonya shares about her family travels, field trips and educational outings on her blog The Traveling Praters.