Budget-Friendly Things to Do in Washington, D.C. with Kids
Washington D.C. may be the capital city where all of the political decisions are made, but this city also has fantastic things to see and do that are sure to peak the interest of young and old. From museums, monuments, food and activities for the kids, everyone in the family is sure to enjoy their time in the city and the best thing is, so many sites are FREE. The National Mall is a huge expanse that you can’t walk through in one day, so we visited the area over two days and still didn’t see all there is to see. For an educational and budget-friendly vacation, Washington D.C. is an ideal vacation spot for families. Here are our top choices for things to see and do while in Washington, D.C.
Visit The White House
No visit to Washington DC would be complete without a trip to Pennsylvania Avenue. The area around the White House is busy with a whole lot of tourists, street vendors and even a few protestors that make this a very lively place to be. The iconic building is a sight to behold, even if you can't get very close to the building. The kids loved taking pictures with the White House and the crowds of people in the background. We wanted to book a tour but the tickets are limited and must be booked months in advance. If you are an American citizen, you can submit a request through the office of your member of Congress and it should be requested at least 3 weeks prior to the visit. If you are not an American citizen, you have to make a request with your country's American embassy. Unfortunately we did not get a chance to book a tour in time but it is certainly still worth the visit to explore the area around the White House.
Visit the Lincoln Memorial
The Lincoln Memorial is the most visited monument in the National Mall and when you get there, you can see why. The massive statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting on a chair with a serious expression was completed in 1922 in the Greek Doric temple style to resemble the Parthenon in Athens. As you walk up the steps from the reflecting pool, you feel very tiny when you look up at the beautifully-carved marble statue of Abraham Lincoln sitting in a large chair. The statue is so tall, it can be seen from near and far from the memorial itself. Along the perimeter of the memorial are 36 columns, each representing the 36 states that made up the United States when Lincoln was President.
Along the walls there are inscriptions of Lincoln's most important speeches, carved right into the marble. This was a great learning experience for the kids as well as us, the parents because of the significance of the speeches which relate to the Emancipation Proclamation. Over the years, the Lincoln Memorial has also been a place that represented the continual march to justice and equality by hosting a number of events such as Marian Anderson singing there when she was not allowed to sing at Constitutional Hall because she was black. And of course the most significant event at the memorial was Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a Dream" speech, which was given to a crowd of over 200,000 people. Our kids were in awe at how huge the monument is and were very interested in reading the powerful words inscribed in the walls and study the murals as well.
Visit the Korean War Memorial
The Korean War Memorial is also located in the National Mall, close to the Lincoln memorial and is well worth the visit. It was dedicated on July 27,1995 and is one of the most remarkable memorials we have ever seen. There are 19 life-like statues made out of stainless steel spread along a grassy field in army fatigue and ponchos, in a number of stances as if they are on the battlefield. The memorial honours the 5.8 million soldiers that fought in the war, with over 36,000 losing their lives. As you walk along the memorial, you will see the mural wall which is just as impressive. We were all in awe of the granite wall with all of the pictures etched into the wall. There are over 2400 photos of the war that were provided by the National Archives. There were some war veterans visiting the memorial when we were there, which made the experience even more emotional and a number of visitors would briefly stop by them, many in wheelchairs, and say, 'Thank you for your service.' Along the memorial you'll also find the pool of remembrance in an arch-like shape and at night it is lit up beautifully. We found this memorial very moving and took the opportunity to have a discussion with our kids about brave men and women who make the ultimate sacrifice when defending their country during wartimes.
Visit the National Air and Space Museum - FREE ADMISSION
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is one of the most visited museums in the world. Our kids absolutely loved this museum because of all of the very cool aircrafts that they have on display. The museum has a large collection of aircrafts from World War II, the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, and even a replica of the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek! Exhibits that can be found in the museum include Milestones of Flight, the Space Race, Exploring the Universe and The Wright Brothers. This museum blends the love of airplanes with the intrigue of space travel and is a great learning opportunity for both young and old. We really enjoyed learning about the Space Race that began after WWII between the U.S. and the USSR that started a competition between the two superpowers trying to be the first to land on the moon. There are many cool artifacts to see on display such as the Hubble telescope, interactive stations that allow you to immerse yourself in all things 'space' and hands-on learning experiences that help visitors better understand the laws of gravity. And did I mention that it's FREE to visit? Bonus!
Smithsonian Museum of Natural History - FREE ADMISSION
While you're still in and around the National Mall, a visit to the museum of Natural History is worth it. If your kids are fascinated with volcanoes and how they erupt, if they find the work of anthropologists interesting or if they enjoy butterfly pavilions, this museum will not disappoint. We especially enjoyed the Ancient Egypt exhibit and looking at artifacts that are thousands of years old and imagining how people lived, worked and buried the dead. The fossil hall has over 700 fossils and replicas such as ancient reptiles, dinosaurs and of course a woolly mammoth.
Take a Break and get some food from a Food Truck
We were pleasantly surprised when we were walking along the National Mall and saw a number of food trucks lined up along a couple of streets. Whether you enjoy tacos, burgers, wraps and everything in between, it's easy to get a meal that's affordable and tastes great.
Take a stroll along the banks of the Potomac River
The Potomac river is one of the largest rivers that run along the Atlantic coast and runs through a number of states, including Washington DC. It's a nice place to walk along the banks and take in a little bit of nature in the midst of all the buildings and monuments. Our youngest son enjoyed skipping rocks in the river and finding twigs to play with while we ate our lunch overlooking the river.
Get Around on Two Wheels
DC has a great bikeshare program and when we visited, we took the opportunity to ride around the city. This is a fun and easy way to see many sites without worrying about where to park your car. The most popular pass to purchase is a Day Pass which costs $8 and gives you 45 minutes at a time to ride, then you dock the bike into one of the bike stations and take another one for another 45 minutes, and so on. There are many bike stations around the city so there should be no problem finding a bike station to do this. This is a very inexpensive way to get around the city and you can cover so much more ground than if you are walking.
Visit the National Arboretum
Admission to the arboretum is free and it's a great place to visit for a nice tranquil walk. There are a number of plants, flowers and trees in the garden and they are organized by collections like the Asian collection and Fern Valley. There's also a Bonsai museum onsite which is also free and worth a visit. With over 400 acres, you won't walk through the entire garden in one day, but you'll still experience the beautiful array of plants and flowers like Japanese maple, daffodils, and even azalea blossoms. You'll be sure to take a lot of pics along the way!
Martin Luther King jr. Memorial
One of the most moving monuments we visited was the Martin Luther King jr memorial. This monument is also located in the National Mall and is a must-see when visiting this area. The monument is made out of granite and stands an outstanding 30 feet tall. There are beautiful cherry trees along the perimeter which bloom every year and would a sight to see during cherry blossom time. Along the sides of the monument you will also find famous speeches of Martin Luther King jr. carved into the walls and is a wonderful learning experience for young kids. Our children were in awe of the size of the monument and we made sure to walk along the perimeter and read the speeches and quotes with them.
The National Museum of African American History
Unfortunately we did not get a chance to visit this museum because even though admission is free, you have to book well in advance to get in or you can try to get timed-entry passes on the same day you want to visit, beginning at 8:00am, online. This is the 19th museum within the Smithsonian Institute and it features hundreds of items in the 12 exhibits that has a mission to document and educate the public about African American history and culture.
Our list of things to do in Washington DC is a just a few things that you can check out in this city that is packed with historic monuments, interesting museums, great places to eat, and is very family budget-friendly. There's so much to see, you have to go back again and again!