I love Washington, DC. I am fortunate to live close enough to do it as a day trip (albeit a long day!) if I want to. But I prefer to stay overnight if we can. There is so much to do and see there. Now having taken my kids down there several times, I thought I would offer some tips if you are planning to go.
Getting to Washington, DC
- Planes-DC is served by two airports. Dulles/Reagan is the closest. BWI is about a 30-45 minute drive outside the city, though there is public transportation available to downtown. As the name implies, it is the Baltimore/Washington airport because it sits about mid-way between both cities.
- Trains-The Amtrak station is right downtown near the Capitol. Public transportation is also available from there to other points of the city. DC also has a very affordable metro system, which is a cross between a train and a subway. I have been on it several times myself, however I have never used it with my special needs child.
- Automobiles-If you can find free on street parking, that is awesome! Most lots, including hotel lots, are VERY expensive. Like $35-$50 a day expensive.
- Walking-This is a very walkable city, especially when you use the Metro. Depending on what travel sites and venues you wish to see, you very likely could leave your car parked the entire trip. But, since it is a lot of walking, keep that in mind if your child has endurance issues. I found every sidewalk to be accessible and every venue we’ve ever visited had a special needs entrance and/or elevator if we needed it.
Best hotels for families in Washington, DC
I have stayed in several hotels in Washington, DC. My #1 pick for families would be the Holiday Inn-Capitol. It is close to everything. They have kid friendly menus in the restaurants. There are hotels (and I’ve stayed at some) that are more upscale than a Holiday Inn, but I found it to be clean, newly renovated and overall the best value. Keep in mind, I prefer to stay in the Capitol Hill area. You might be able to save a few bucks if you stay in other parts of the city or even Arlington, and then take the metro in to town. I believe a day pass for the metro is $7-$10 per person, so a family of four would be around $30-$40. For me, I’d rather pay another $40 onto my room rate and not have to take the Metro. Like any other vacation destination, peak seasons cost much more. In the off season expect to pay $225 and up per night, peak season will be $400 and up per night.
We brought our own breakfast (granola bars, yogurt) to eat in the hotel room and the Holiday Inn had a refrigerator. That same hotel also has some “kids eat free” offers when you buy adult entrees at their restaurants. The pub-type restaurant was more casual and less expensive, however it was much more noisy.They had room service and you could just get a pizza delivered to your room which was another way to save money. DC, to me anyway, is not a restaurant city or one where you go to experience a certain cuisine.
But isn’t everything in Washington, DC free?
Well, yes. But it is misleading. Most of the attractions that are owned/operated by the federal government and the Smithsonian are free. However, outside of that, DC is a very expensive city. Restaurants are very expensive, even for moderate, family restaurants. One time we ate at the restaurant in the Native American Museum and it was crazy expensive, like $40 for my kids and me, just for lunch. One hidden gem is the lunchroom at the top of the Madison Building of the Library of Congress. Nice setting and very affordable, but it has limited hours. Look it up online before you go.
And many of the venues, while free, still require a reservation, especially during peak times. Sure, in the middle of February you can walk right up to the Washington Monument and get tickets to go in. That is not the case in the summer. If you want to visit the White House, you need to contact your Congressman’s office at least 8 weeks in advance and request tickets. If you want to actually use the Library of Congress and do some research, I believe they ask you to reserve two weeks in advance. Arlington National Cemetery has scheduled ceremonies, so if that is important to you, make sure you plan accordingly. If you wish to see the House or Senate in session, contact your House Rep or Senator for gallery passes ahead of time–I would ask several weeks in advance.
But the good part is that you just need a good walking map, a little preparation online before you go….and go!
Is Washington, DC disability friendly?
In a word…yes! I have found it to be extremely accessible and friendly towards those with disabilities. I prefer to go in the off-season so that we are not dealing with crowds and noise and so far that plan has worked. If you go in the middle of the summer, it might be different. But the National Mall and all the monuments and memorials have benches and quiet places to escape to if you need to regroup. I found family restrooms in many different venues, check online before you go. Kevin has a lot of feeding issues and I’ve always been able to find him suitable things to eat, plus I bring things from home for breakfast in our hotel room.
As far as venues, with my son (with special needs) and his big honkin’ stroller (it really is a beast of a thing) we have visited the following with no problems:
- White House south lawn
- Washington Monument
- outdoor memorials
- Air and Space Museum
- Native American Museum
- National Archives
- Capitol and House/Senate gallery
- Library of Congress
- Cannon House building and Russell Senate building
- American History museum
- several area restaurants
Don’t forget to go online and grab the information and printables for the National Park Service Junior Ranger badge. Yes, much of what you want to see is considered a National Park, so they can earn a badge. We got ours. The Capitol Police also give out sticker badges. Have your kids save up their allowance for spending, there are many gift shops with lots of cool things. Because so many of the parks are memorials, or the buildings have a museum-like feel to them, they are not particularly noisy. If you wish to see the things in Arlington and other parts of the city in addition to the Mall/Capitol area, you will have to arrange some type of transportation like a car or the Metro.
Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t also recommend that while you are in DC, you take a few moments from out of a day and visit your Legislators’ offices and tell them what is important to you as far as issues. If you don’t know where to start or are intimidated by that, no worries! We’ve got you covered with the self-study Anyone Can Advocate course. Read up ahead of time and you’ll be fine!
If you have any additional questions or tips, leave a comment.