Updated: Jul 13, 2021
I grew up going to DC as my mother had gone to college there, My good friends and God son live there as does my brother, so the city that bares my initials has a big place in my heart.
In this every changing world things change daily. During this covid time, some museums and places are still closed, so please check before you go to see what is open. Here is the website to check what is open and how to reserve timed tickets.
If you are planning a t trip to Washington DC, it’s a lot like Disney World, you will never fit it all in! I have been maybe 20 times to DC and still have not seen it all. Below is information from a trip I took with my six year old son in 2017 and another trip in 2018. With help from my brother who has lived there for 15 years and information from many past trips of my own.
We watched the movies The Night at the Smithsonian (the second movie) and National Treasure (Amazon affiliate) before we went to get in the mood. I carried a normal size backpack with us with waters and snacks along the way. All places allowed this as long as we kept it in the backpack. The White House and Capitol allow no food or drinks iin at all.
There are 2 airports you can fly into. Dulles which is about 20 minutes outside the city and Regan whcich is in Arlington, VA and close to the city. You can take the Metro from Regan into the city, but Dulles you would need transportaion to get into the city. A lot of times Dulles is cheaper to fly in but then you pay for transportaion. We have flown in and out of both many times. Just depends who picks us up or where we are going helps us decide which one to choose. I have flown into one and flown out another.
The Metro is the best way to get around DC. It is a railway that goes all around. I recommend you get a hotel close to a Metro stop. This makes it easy to come back to rest if needed.
Metro stops are conveniently located near most popular places but many times you have to walk roughly 2 blocks to get to the Metro. The Metro is their train/subway system. It is very easy to use. If you want to guess how much money to put on average $2/$3 each way. There is a Senior Card and they get a discounted rate on each trip. You will never lose the money on your card, but if you don’t plan to come back in a while I would not want money on my card to just sit there. You can access your card on line to see your value or when you swipe it to leave a station it will tell you the amount you have left. When you get to a metro stop there are machines to buy the cards or to add value to your card. Then figure out which train you want. They go by color. Look for the last stop in the direction you are going and find that track. They have boards/TV which will tell you how soon till the train comes. There are also apps that tell you the exact same info. When you leave the train at your stop, you will need to swipe your card again, so don’t put it away till you get to your stop. The distance you traveled is how they charge you. It is easy to get on and off with suitcases but many times the elevators are out and escalators have been known to be down.
There are Taxis everywhere and many people use Uber. Have you tried Uber family yet? They are Uber cars with infant and booster seats for the children’s safety. We have not tried it yet, as we found out about it after the trip. https://newsroom.uber.com/the-on-demand-car-seat-option-for-parents-on-the-go/.
There are many hotels aroudn teh DC area and into Virgina. I would suggest a place near the Metro to make it easy for you to come and go if you have no car.
We usually stay with my brother or my friend. We do love staying at the Willard and it is alsmot next door to the White House. It is an upscale hotel and has some great history to it!
Double Decker Tour Buses
Everyone has a different opinion on this in DC. I think I should have listed to my brothers. We have taken the Old Trolly in Savannah and St. Augustine before. We loved them and found them very useful. I found on Groupon a deal for a double decker bus and got a ticket for my son and I. This was not Old Trolly but a different company. I noticed at least 3 companies do these tours . My son loved sitting on the top and seeing all the sights. Until we both got hot and had to sit down below. We would end up waiting for sometimes an hour at each stop, for our bus to come. The Trolly did come a little quicker but it was still a wait. This happened at every stop. I felt we lost a lot of time waiting at each stop for the bus. If you are only there for a short day and want to see it all I would suggest getting on and staying on to see everything. Make a round trip them get off where you want to. Even with Groupon it was $30 a person and the others were about $50 a person so, In my opinion it is money that could be well spent elsewhere. Taxis from one place to another were not that expensive so in hind sight I wish we had just done that, or taken the Metro. Some do have night tours and then it would be cooler and might be worth a ride around.
White House Tour
For tickets I would book these the minute you book your trip as they are already booked out 7 months ahead we heard. For the white house tour you can only bring a wallet and cell phone with you. They do allow things for medical needs such as my mom uses a can to walk.
Requests for the White House tour must be submitted through your Member of Congress in either the House or Senate. We contacted Johnny Isakson’s office and they were wonderful.
They will email you exact times and dates about a week before so you need to be a little flexible. These self-guided tours are generally available in the morning Tuesday through Saturday. Tour hours are extended whenever possible as the White House schedule permits. Tours are scheduled on a first come, first served basis.
You can submit a request up to six months in advance of your visit. The earlier, the better as only a limited number of spaces are available. The White House will notify your Congressional Representative of your tour request status approximately two weeks before the tour date. Spring and summer tours fill up quickly, so make your request early. Want to see the holiday decorations?
You can begin to submit your Christmas tour request in June. All tours are free of charge. Visit https://whitehouse.gov1.info/visit/tour.html for more information. If you take a white house tour they will email you one pass for your party. You will register ahead and have to send in your license numbers for all in the party except for children. You go to a gate 15 minutes before your tour. You then show IDs and they did ask my son his name and birthday and where we are from.
You then go to another guard who will do the same. You then go into a room that scans your body with some x-ray type machine. You just stand there. Then you go in and give yourself a tour and walk around. There is a little gift shop when you first get in there. (There are no bathrooms so make sure you go before you line up at the gate) There are a few rooms on the first floor and then we went up maybe 30 steps to the next floor.
They do have an elevator you go up with security if you are handicap. There was a line for this and took my mom about 20 extra minutes but she did say she got to see the kitchen and a few other areas we did not. Again she is with a guard the whole time. There are then about 5 more rooms to look through and you can take pictures all through out and even with the presidential symbol. You then exit the white house. We took some pictures there and then went to the front which does have a gate. The best pictures were at the park right across the street at the far end. You can get the whole white house in the photo.
Due to Coivd and the events IN January 2021, I am they are not having tours as of now.
For more information on the Capitol visit https://www.visitthecapitol.gov/. We met in our Senators office in the Russell building before the tour began. They were sweet and offered us Coke products and Georgia Peanuts! We left our souvenirs and bags here during the tour. We then had a tour guide who took us underground to a tram, then to the capitol.
It was neat to see the Capitol from underground. She then took us all around and explained what things where. We were there at an exciting time and my son actually got a Picture with the Vice President so you never know what my happen on a tour. They then leave you and you get passes to the house and senate if you want to go in and watch. You cannot take cellphones in and they have a place where you leave them with guards. My son was tired and there was a line so we skipped this part. They also have a gift shop and café in there if you need a snack. Then you go back to the Senators office to get your stuff.
The Mall is the area between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial. There are many museums and points of interest along this area. There is a bus that goes around this area if it is to far to walk or you can always take a taxi/uber/Lyft.
The National Zoo is a great place to visit
The Washington Monument is closed until further notice. It was closed for a fix up before covid hit. Check here for details when it may open.
Most museums are free to everyone. Depending on how much time you have in DC there are 2 ways to approach it. One is to go down one side and come up there other. If you do not have that many days, I suggest you pick which you want to see the most and go from there and try to do them in the order of where they are. Many have you check bags when you enter and many have food trucks outside to grab a bite to eat.
They are on both sides with grass in between to run and play on. About half way down there is a Merry Go Round that is fun to ride on. The Smithsonian Museums are free. Many have entrances in the front and back. Both ways you will have to go through security and they will look in every section of your backpacks. You may carry in bottled water. I used one of our everyday water bottled and at each meal I would fill it with ice and water to keep it cool and not have to buy so many bottled waters. Speaking of which in the summer, each museum seemed to have an ice cream truck conveniently parked outside.
Bathrooms were usually located right after security when you walked in. The art museum and Natural Museum of History I know have great cafeterias. The Air and Space Museum has a McDonald’s inside it. Each Museum had a special coin made and my son loved collecting these at the gift shops They were $1 apiece. We bought the book to keep them in but be careful, his fell out many times. So next time I will keep the book in a big baggie. They also have those penny machines and my son started to get into those too. I would suggest pick the museums your family would like the best and go from there. We did the American History Museum. My son thought it was ok. We met friends who had 5th and 6th grader and they were more into it. He loved the Natural Museum of History with the bug museum in it. We got to touch bugs and see them feed a tarantula. They also have a butterfly part you pay $6 each to go in for 15 mins. He also loved the air and space Museum. We did the American Indian Museum and on one floor they have a children’s area with different stations to do fun activities. He liked this. This is right next to the Air and Space Museum. We went to the Art Museum, as I remember it from my child hood but he was disappointed to learn you look at art and not make it. So I would suggest it only if your child is an art lover. But great place to go eat lunch, but pricy They have a moving sidewalk and a pretty waterfall to look at.
The National Portrait Gallery is where Lincoln had his inauguration party. We went in there to have a snack and they allow children to take off their shoes and ran in the fountains they have. We looked at a few of the portraits and they have one room for kids to do a few hands on activities. We went to the 2nd floor to see the collection of President Portraits.
Air and Space Museum (There is another location near Dulles Airport)
National Gallery of Art - we love eating here for lunch.
United States Botanical Garden United States Holocaust Museum Memorial
National Museum of Natural History
National Museum of American History
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
National Museum of American Indian
National Museum of African American History and Culture Make sure to click this link to get tickets
National Museum of African Art
Smithsonian Institution Information Center in the Castle
US Bureau of Engraving and Printing-You need a timed ticket to get in here
National Archives Museum
Post Office Museum
This was a gret hands on museum and see the histroy of the mail.
Acrtoss the street from the Post Office Museum is Union Station. This is where many bus tours start and you can take a train to NY, Phildelphia or many other places.
The Spy Museum you do pay for and it just relcoated to a new location in 2021. We loved the old one and can't wait to see the new location. If you liek James Bond or good Spy movies, this is the place for you!
Another fun thing my son and I did was to pedal around the Tidal Basin.
with Tidal Basin Paddle Boat Ride. We took the tour bus to the Jefferson Memorial then walked the trail around to the Tidal Bison. They have paddle boats you can rent for 1 hour for $15 or a motorized duck one for $30 (you can paddle in it if you want.) If you do the duck for two people, make sure to ask how to use the motor as the guy was just going to send us on our way and I had to ask how to use it. It was hot in the sun so if you can, get the paddle boat with the cover. The paddle boat seats 4. Don’t be afraid to ask others in other boats to take your picture. We paddled close to them gave them my phone them paddled away so they could get our picture. Those were some of our favorite photos. You can bring your backpacks in the boats. My cameras never got wet, but if you are worried grab a baggie and place it in it. My son barely touched the peddles to paddle and he was 46 inches tall at the time. He could not make it go in a full circle. We only lasted about 40 min.s because the son was so hot.
If you want a great view of the city you can go in Trump Tower and take the eleveator up to the observation deck. They also have a place inside where you can grab a bite to eat.
3101 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016
This is a beatuiful place to visit, but is closed during this Covid time
My brother has a car, so it was very easy to get to Mount Vernon. I heard it is hard to get to via public transportation and did see buses take you there, but I think you hav to switch a few times. Parking is free, but can be a little walk for some people to the house. You can drop off your family at the gate if needed and then go park. Your ticket will give you a time to view the house. You can go after your time but not before. The day we went we had a 2:45 viewing time of the main house. It was crowded and they did not let us in till almost 3:45. So if you get tickets ahead gets an early time knowing you can go in really anytime after it. Please note when you go to the main house, you may not chew gum or take pictures in the real house. I stayed at the place where you get in line for the house and my family went around and I called them when they said we could go in since you couldn’t go by your watch. We did the museums on property and the movies there. I will say, I did think the movies were a little too graphic for my 6 yr old. They act out the war and they make them really look like they are dying, blood coming out mouth. So if you think your child would not like this I suggest you skip them. They were about 20 mins. each.
They have gardens you walk around and walk a 10 min walk to see animals and his tomb. There is lots of walking, but if you are with someone who can’t walk a lot they could just go to the house tout and then meet you back in the main building. There is a café there and a great restaurant. They usually close the restaurant early for private dinner parties, so if you want to eat in the restaurant go for lunch. It can get very hot walking around Mount Vernon so dress accordingly. Behind the main house they do have rocking chairs and you can look at the Potomac River, a great place for family to sit in shade and wait if needed. You can do this at any time during your visit. They have a huge gift shop and nice restaurants in the main building.
Great Falls Maryland Side
11710 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac, MD 20854 (301-767-3714).
This is a great place for nature lovers. It costs $10 to park. We went to a little house near the parking lot, past the public bathrooms to get tickets for the C and O Canal ride. This is a fun ride. Everyone is dressed in colonial day attire and you get on an old fashion looking boat pulled by mules. You go into the interlock and they lock the boat in, fill it with water and then go up to take a 15 min. boat ride. There is a guide on the boat who tells you what is happening as you watch. You then take a 15 min ride back and then go into the interlock and they release the water and this makes the boat go down. The whole trip is about 1 hour.
We then took a very easy walk to the Falls. You walk over a bridge and you see falls and I got excited and my brother informed me those weren’t the falls and he was right, when you keep walking you eventually dead end on the nice trail into them. They are gorgeous. There is a little rock to climb on for the kids (out to the water.) We then walked back towards the parking lot and stopped and had lunch at the snack stand as there really aren’t any restaurants in the area. You put all your trash in a bag they have hanging on a stand and you take your trash with you to dispose of. You can bring your own food with you. Again dress for the weather as you are outside the whole time.
300 Army Navy Drive, Arlington, Drive 703-416-3862