Visiting Washington, DC with Kids

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. My family has been visiting Washington, DC and all the monuments and museums since the kids were babies.

I prefer to stay overnight if we have the time. There is so much to do and see there that you can’t fit it in a day. There are some really cool places to stay with family if you’re visiting Washington, DC.

We LOVE Washington, DC and so do our kids!

Since we are real troopers when it comes to traveling, I thought I’d share my tips for visiting Washington, DC with your family.

Here is my first travel secret for visiting DC.

Stay in a kid-friendly hotel close to attractions.

I have stayed in several hotels in Washington, DC. My #1 pick for families is the Holiday Inn-Capitol. It is close to everything. They have kid-friendly menus in 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.

I prefer to stay in the Capitol Hill or National Mall area. If necessary, we can go back to the room at midday for a break. Or if we have a wardrobe malfunction.

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 into 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 add another $40 to my room rate and not have to take the Metro.

Like any other vacation destination, peak seasons cost much more. In the offseason expect to pay $225 and up per night, peak season will be $400 and up per night.

Brian visited the MLK monument last summer. I love the quote wall! It's a must-see if you're in DC.

We brought our own breakfast (granola bars, yogurt) to eat in the hotel room. 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 noisier.

They have 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.

Having breakfast and pizza in our room works out great for us because we cut costs and get some downtime and quiet time.

The Washington Monument and reflecting pool is nice to see any time of year.

Here is my next travel secret for visiting DC with kids.

Is everything really FREE in Washington, DC?

Yes, sort of. 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.

And many of the venues, while free, still require a reservation, especially during peak times. Especially since the pandemic, many of the attractions have timed entries that get booked out many months in advance.

Here we are at the top of the Washington Monument. Make a reservation!
Yes, we even got Kevin to the top of the Washington Monument!

But the good part is that you just need a good walking map, a little preparation online before you go, and go!

Here’s my tip about restaurants in DC for kids.

Restaurants are expensive, but you can save.

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. I think it was around $50 for me and two toddlers to eat lunch.

One hidden gem is the lunchroom at the top of the Madison Building of the Library of Congress. Nice setting and is very affordable, but it has limited hours.

Look it up online before you go.

Brian at the "I Have a Dream" speech spot at the Lincoln Memorial. Another must-see in DC!

There is also a cafe/restaurant inside the Supreme Court Building which is more affordable than many restaurants

And, there’s another in the basement of the Capitol Building. For any of these options, expect to go through government security to enter.

This is another reason why we stay in a hotel nearby that has a fridge. We can save money by bringing our own stuff and only eat out one meal a day.

DC is very disability friendly.

I have found Washington, DC to be extremely accessible and friendly toward 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 during 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.

The Paddleboats in the basin so you can pedal and see the monuments. A little stressful if you take a non-swimmer, but he enjoyed it.

As far as venues, my son uses a wheelchair and we have visited the following with no problems:

  • White House south lawn
  • Washington Monument (even all the way to the top!)
  • 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

Plan your Trip to DC with your Family

The best tip I can give is to have a game plan, patience and flexibility. Washington, DC is a really fun city for families to visit. But a downpour or other interruption can quickly damper your day.

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 kids can earn a badge. The Capitol Police also give out sticker badges. Make it a point to say hi and wave if you see one!

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 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.

Definitely consider one of the nighttime tours of the Monuments.

For some activities, such as visiting the White House or some things at the Capitol, you must contact your Congressman weeks or even months ahead of time.

Back in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was President, we just woke up early and went and waited in line to get into the White House. Needless to say, times have changed and you must have prior tickets and they do background checks.

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.

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.

Also Read: Visit the White House for the Annual Easter Egg Roll

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