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Exploring Washington DC with kids

By Carol Bluestone, Author of Washington, D.C. Guidebook for Kids

Are you considering a family trip to Washington, D.C.? Thereís nothing like your childís first look at the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial. If youíve been here before, you know thereís always something else to explore --- another exhibit, museum, or even some new residents --- the giant pandas at the National Zoo! Plan your days carefully and the fun quotient will be greatly increased. Here are some of my top tips and a sample three day itinerary.


  • Let kids help in planning your itinerary.
  • Donít overlook the smaller museums. Some good ones are the Newseum (for everyone, but the older the kid the better, with a razzle dazzle, hi-tech exploration of the role of media in our lives), the Postal Museum (not just for stamp collectors), and the Washington Dollsí House and Toy Museum.
  • Take snacks and drinks with you; kids tend to get the munchies when refreshment stands are furthest away or lines the longest.
  • Bring along paper/pencil/games to pass the time while waiting on line. Youíll find a wonderful selection at shops at the Mall monuments and Smithsonian Museums.
  • The major tourist attractions look closer than they are. Frequent use of Metro, the Tourmobile, and taxis makes good sense. Leave your car at the hotel; parking spaces are scarce.
  • Instead of the elevator ride to the top of the Washington Monument (which requires timed-entry tickets, and is closed until March), consider the wonderful view from the Tower of the Old Post Office. Not as high, but not as crowded and the view is wonderful.
  • Enjoy a special view of the Jefferson Memorial from a pedal boat in the Tidal Basin.
  • The Capitol is exciting to see, but if your child has not studied much about U.S. history, you may be best limiting your visit to the Rotunda.
  • See the monuments at night when they are lit and feel the majesty of our nationís capital.


Day 1
Start at one of the Smithsonian museums. Check the main desk for a map and any special daily activities. For lunch, most of the museums have cafes or you can take a subway to nearby Union Station where youíll find some interesting shops and restaurants. The National Postal Museum is across the street and youíre also just a five-minute ride (by cab or car) to the Capital Childrenís Museum where you can enjoy an afternoon of hands-on activities guaranteed to delight the under 12 or 13 crowd. Itís a great place for kids to unwind after sightseeing. Plan to spend at least two hours

Day 2
If youíre visiting during the summer or holiday breaks, pick up tickets at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in the morning for same-day timed-entry visits. At non-peak times youíll still need at ticket, but you wonít have much of a wait. The half hour tours are given between 9 and 2 pm (also 5 to 7 pm June-August). Learning about money is a guaranteed crowd pleaser! If your tickets are for later in the morning (or day), use your time to visit the Holocaust Museum, which has a special childrenís exhibit, or the Smithsonian. Both are within reasonable walking distance.

A short ride on the Metro will take you to the National Zoo for lunch with the pandas. Check out the learning centers that offer some interesting kid-friendly activities.

Continue your exploration of D.C. beyond the monument/memorial part of town with Metro and travel north a few stops to Friendship Heights at the D.C./Maryland border and the Washington Dollsí House and Toy Museum. If your family is interested in the world of miniatures and old toys/games, you will savor this wonderful collection. Nearby is an upscale shopping area with Neiman Marcus, Lord and Taylor, Fileneís Basement and lots of shops. If youíre not too tired, consider a movie at Mazza Gallerie and dinner at one of the areaís popular restaurants.

Day 3
No matter what time of day you go, prepare for a wait at the F.B.I. Tours are offered weekdays beginning at 8:45 a.m., but the line starts to form closer to 8:00. Next, head to nearby Fordís Theater and The House Where Lincoln Died where thereís rarely a line and you are free to wander on your own. Youíll also be only a few blocks from a midday meal in Chinatown.

After lunch if you need a break from the city sights, head out to George Washingtonís home at Mt. Vernon to experience 18th century plantation life. Youíll want to take your car for this 16 mile trip south along the Potomac River in Virginia.

FINAL TIP: Kids can tire of sightseeing pretty quickly. Just keep in mind that itís not how many sights you see, but the fun you have just exploring Washington together. The memories of your trip will not be quickly forgotten.

Recommended Books

  • Washington, D.C. Guidebook for Kids

    Carol Bluestone is the author of the Washington, D.C. Guidebook for Kids. Now in its seventh edition (July 2000), the book is designed for kids ages 9 to 14 and is filled with historical info, fun facts, original games and puzzles. The guidebook covers the 57 Washington sights that kids are most likely to enjoy. More information can be found at

    nbsp; © Copyright 2001 C. Bluestone

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