In November, we were able to take our kids to Washington D.C., but had only 48 short hours to see the sites. We made a whirlwind tour of the city and got to see some amazing and historical places. Here are our suggestions of ten sites to visit in the nation’s capital with your kids. Reservations were required for a few of these locations, but all of these places we visited were FREE.
White House Tour: A few weeks prior to our trip, we contacted the office of our U.S. Representative, Sam Johnson, and were able to get tickets to tour the White House. The tour takes around 45 minutes, and allows you to see some of the famous rooms in the house. It was as much as a treat for the parents as it was for the kids. The White House Visitor Center, located a few blocks away, is a great place to see before or after your tour. They have a very interesting video describing the history of the White House and the various renovations it has been through. Other exhibits we enjoyed were about former First Ladies and the children who lived in the White House. NPS Jr Ranger books for the White House/Presidents Park are available here, and they have a nice area for the kids to work/color/rest.
U.S. Capitol Tour: We were also able to arrange tickets to tour the U.S. Capitol Building through our Congressman. Congress was not in session the day we visited, but the impressive architecture and history of this building and our informative tour guide made the hour-long tour memorable. Because so many tours come through the building at once, you are given headphones to wear which amplify your tour guide’s voice so you don’t miss anything. The details in the rotunda murals were amazing. Once you are in the Capitol building you can walk through an underground tunnel to the Library of Congress. Lunch in the Capitol cafeteria is not free, but it was very convenient.
National Archives: The National Archives displays some of the most important documents in our country’s history. We were able to see originals of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Our kids really enjoyed this since we had toured Independence Hall in Philadelphia four days earlier and stood in the actual room where both these documents were signed. To minimize damage to the documents, cameras are not allowed.
The Air & Space Museum: This museum was incredible, and our kids really wish that we could have stayed longer. They enjoyed seeing the original plane of the Wright Brothers, a plane flown by Amelia Earhart, and many different space craft. Their favorite activity was a hands-on exhibit designed for children to teach the physical science behind flight. If we had not made him leave, Andrew would still be there today marveling at the exhibit that demonstrated lift by making a ball float on a pocket of air.
National Museum of Natural History: The Smithsonian is actually a group of over 19 different museums surrounding the National Mall, but this particular museum holds many of the exhibits made famous by Ben Stiller in “Night at the Museum”. You could spend multiple days here and still not see everything, and it was very enjoyable despite the large crowds. The dinosaurs were a big hit with everyone in the family.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: We have been fortunate on this adventure to attend Mass at some amazing Cathedrals across the country, but this was the crown jewel of churches on our trip. This is the largest Catholic Church in North America. The high ceilings and architecture can accurately be described as breath taking, and the mosaics are unbelievably beautiful and detailed. We took a taxi to the church, but found that taxis do not hang out there looking for fares after Mass, especially at night. We had to wait around 40 minutes before Divine Intervention brought a taxi our way, so plan accordingly.
Lincoln Memorial: The walk up the famous steps of the Lincoln Memorial leads to quite a sight. Sitting on the steps, looking out over the reflecting pool, it is easy imagine what it was like when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” Speech. The words to the Gettysburg Address are carved into one of the walls of the Memorial, and Mom was surprised at how much of the speech she remembered from 5th grade. In the base of the Memorial, there are some excellent exhibits highlighting pioneers and events of the Civil Rights movement as well as President Lincoln’s life and achievements. This is one of the two monuments where you can pickup NPS Jr. Ranger Books for the National Mall and Memorials Park. At the base of the Memorial, you can also try some fun trick photography.
Washington Monument: The Washington Monument is the other location to pickup Jr. Ranger Books, or in our case, review your completed booklet with a Ranger and be sworn in as an official Junior Ranger. Tickets are required to go to the top, but they are free and are available at the Visitor Center near the base. We were fortunate to get the ticket for the next available time slot, and had a minimal wait. The Monument is over 555 feet tall, and the top of the tower has windows on all four sides that make great viewpoints of the city in all directions. This was a definite highlight of our trip.
FDR Memorial: The FDR Memorial is a little of the beaten track, but definitely worth the visit. The memorial is divided into four different sections, each representing one of the four terms President Franklin Delano Roosevelt served and featuring bronze statues illustrating events specific to that four year period. Each section has a different and impressive waterfall feature – Andrew’s favorite part.
Korean War Veteran’s Memorial: This memorial features life-sized statues of Korean War soldiers on patrol, dressed in full combat gear and representing each branch of the armed services. Behind them is a black granite wall on which is etched the faces of actual soldiers who perished. From certain angles, the statues are reflected in the wall, making it appear as though an endless numbers of troops are coming out of the trees which line the area. The atmosphere here was very somber, and we found it to be very moving and thought provoking.
Jefferson Memorial: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is located on the water and features a very impressive rotunda. The kids really enjoyed walking around and through the tall stone columns. Underneath the memorial, the Visitor Center features exhibits on Jefferson’s life and amazingly diverse skills.