I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Washington DC with each of my three girls when they were roughly 10 years old. These vacations were father-daughter getaways (see related post titled “Father – Son/Daughter Getaways“). Below is a collection of the notes I took during those three visits to share with other family members and friends. Double check any information that mentions when/how to get tickets or days/times the site is open. Things easily could have changed over the years.
Sites to Consider Visiting (with my kids’ favorites marked in bold text)
- Bureau of Engraving & Printing
- White House
- Mount Vernon
- US Capitol
- Ford’s Theater
- Smithsonian Institute
- Air and Space Museum
- American History Museum
- National History Museum
- Vietnam Veterans
- Korean War
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Iwo Jima
- World War II
- National Archives
- Washington Monument
- Old Post Office
- Arlington Cemetery
- International Spy Museum
- Union Station
- Supreme Court
- US Holocaust Museum
- Ticket line for tours opens at 9:00am (confirm) at one of the corners of the Capitol complex (confirm). You stand in line to get tickets for a particular tour time that day.
- The line moves pretty fast. If you arrive by 9:00am, you will likely get a tour time that morning.
- Don’t take food or drinks
- Pay attention to the latest rules about cameras. They might be allowed but just not used in certain parts of the Capitol building.
- Tours are only possible via pre-arrangement. Don’t just show up and hope to get tickets.
- Request VIP Pass from your State Representative’s office. Do so 2-3 months in advance but don’t expect a commitment until just a couple of weeks before the trip (maybe for security reasons).
- Get in line at the White House 15-20 minutes before the appointed tour time.
- Make sure you are in the right line. There is a short one and a long one, depending on the type of pass you get.
- Before taking the tour, go to the White House Visitor’s Center close by. There’s a good 20 min educational video. The actual White House tour is self-guided, so the video is very helpful.
Bureau of Engraving & Printing
- Very cool tour. You get to see paper currency being printed.
- Regular tour tickets are given out on the 16th street side (confirm), which is the opposite side from the main entrance
- For the 9:00am tour (which is the first one), you should get in line around 8:20am
- You can also request a VIP Pass from your State Representative’s office. If you get one, you can get in line on the 14th street side for tickets, which is considerably shorter. The tour is the same.
- Obviously not an uplifting site to visit. Fairly powerful and sobering. Make sure your child is mature enough to handle it.
- Must get tickets first for a specific time (confirm)
- If after getting your tickets you have time to kill before your tour, you can walk to the Jefferson Memorial nearby and then walk back. It’s roughly a 1 hour round trip if you spend about 30 minutes at the memorial.
- The line to get in is huge. Show up early before opening time.
- Once you get inside there is another long line (20+ min) to see the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. You only get to stare at each document for about 1 minute before being shuffled along.
- There is a whole set of exhibits upstairs with some cool stuff to see and do
Air & Space Museum
- Very cool visit. The lines to get in the space capsule and other cool exhibits can be 20-30 min each.
- There is an IMAX theater inside and you can get tickets ahead of time online and avoid a very long ticket line.
- Very cool but plan for the total round trip to take a full half-day
- You can get there via metro and bus via the following route (confirm on the Mt Vernon website):
- Take the Yellow Line to Huntington
- Take the Fairfax Connector Bus 101 to Mount Vernon (25 min ride)
- The bus only departs every hour, so get the schedule online and try to make sure you don’t reach the Huntington station 5-10 min after the previous bus departed or you’ll be waiting a while for the next one
- The bus is only $1 each way (confirm) but exact change is required
- A new on-site education center was built in 2005 and is excellent. As part of the experience, spend 30-60 minutes there. Can do this at the end and time the duration of the visit in the center to the return bus schedule.
- The line to see Washington’s house is 30-40 minutes but it’s a great tour. You spend 20-30 minutes in the house. For the other parts of the Mount Vernon property/grounds, you can just walk around on your own.
Old Post Office – it’s a mall inside but pretty cool. Can drop in and grab lunch.
Union Station – there’s retail and restaurants inside (food court on bottom floor). Good place to grab lunch.
The following sites are good to visit on Sunday because other things aren’t open
- Mount Vernon, Arlington Cemetery , Lincoln Memorial, all the war memorials
- Use the metro as much as possible. It even goes to the airport. Put $10-20 on each metro card and recharge as needed.
- Staying at a hotel within walking distance of the National Mall is great for proximity reasons. As an alternative, try to stay near within 2-3 blocks of a metro stop.
- Plan each day in half-day groupings of places to visit. To avoid wasted time between sites, try to stick to a certain geographical vicinity during each half-day. For example, the following sites can easily be grouped:
- Jefferson Memorial, Bureau of Engraving & Printing and the Holocaust Museum
- White House, the Washington Monument, American History Museum, National Aquarium and the Old Post Office
- War Memorials and the Lincoln Memorial
- US Capitol, Supreme Court and Union Station
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