For many American families, a trip to our nation’s capital ranks near the top of the “travel” bucket list. Packed with lore and patriotism – and numerous free attractions – Washington, D.C., offers an interactive adventure through American history that won’t break the bank.
Here are five tips for planning your family’s ultimate Washington, D.C., vacation:
Make a “must-see” list in advance
Washington is jam-packed with activities, but without unlimited time and energy, there’s no way you can catch it all. Advance planning will help you select and prioritize “must-see” activities for the whole family. Most major attractions are located together in a compact, walkable area. Take note of the hours of each attraction so you don’t end up locked out or in…(remember Night at the Museum?)
Speaking of museums, the Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum and research complex. Make sure at least a few of the 18 museums, galleries and the National Zoo are included on your “must-see” list. Most museums and the zoo are free and open every day of the year except December 25. The National Air and Space Museum is said to be the most popular and kid-friendly branch. Other notable museums include the Spy Museum, Holocaust Memorial Museum, Newseum, and the National Building Museum.
Pack your walking shoes, camera and some extra energy – but not much else.
Most famous monuments can be found along the National Mall, a two-mile area that includes Lincoln Memorial, the U.S. Capitol, the Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument and the National World War II Memorial. To gain entrance to nearly every D.C. attraction, you are required to have bags checked and dispose of food and water through airport-like security. Visit each attraction’s website to see exactly what’s allowed, but less is best.
Worried the kids might get bored trekking from monument to monument? Talk to a park ranger and get them their very own Junior Ranger activity book.
Make reservations and order tickets six months before your trip
Although free, tickets are required for many attractions, like a tour of the U.S. Capitol or a trip to the top of the Washington Monument. These tickets sell out fast, but can be obtained in advance. Likewise, hotels can fill up fast and get pricey depending on the season, so book six months out to make sure you get the best deal possible. The most popular, and expensive times to go are mid-March through mid-June, and mid-September through early November.
A tour of the White House is likely one you don’t want to miss. You’ll need to contact your member of Congress to request the tour, and requests must be submitted at least three weeks in advance and up to six months before your trip, if possible.
Explore all over the city
It’s easy to stick with National Mall activities because of their proximity, but the 68 square miles of the District of Columbia boast numerous other attractions. Enjoy a view of the entire city with a trip to the top of the Washington National Cathedral. In the cathedral’s Pilgrim Observation Gallery, you’ll enjoy an unobstructed 360-degree view of the city while the kids can look for gargoyles and a hidden Darth Vader sculpture.
Visit the Georgetown neighborhood, which evolved out of an 18th century port town. Shop in the many boutiques, admire the beautiful architecture, and take a stroll along the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Georgetown is known as one of D.C.’s best destinations for dining. Also, be sure to satisfy your sweet tooth at the famous Georgetown Cupcakes, the cupcakery featured in the TLC television network series, “DC Cupcakes.”
Welcome advice from friends, family and locals!
You can learn valuable travel tips from family and friends who have visited Washington, D.C. Those who know you well can offer advice on attractions your family will enjoy most. But don’t discredit a local’s advice! An easy Internet search will connect you with many local travel blogs that offer valuable insight into other people’s experiences. These sites also contain insider tips to save time and money.
As with any vacation, be flexible with your plans in the event of anything unexpected, like site closures or bad weather. And remember, you’re on vacation making memories that will last forever! Relax and have fun.