Washington DC, the capitol of the USA, home to political wheelings and dealings, journalistic power plays and the stunning setting for House of Cards, not so child friendly so far but rest assured, with a little planning, a family holiday to Washington can be one you’ll remember forever.
We absolutely loved our recent visit, so here’s everything you need to know if you’re planning a trip to Washington DC with kids.
Museums on your family holiday to Washington
You’ll be absolutely spoilt with a wealth of free museums in Washington DC. The Smithsonian Institute runs no less than 11 museums and galleries centrally located on the National Mall, a further 6 further afield and the awesome Smithsonian National Zoo.
Depending on how long you have, you can visit them all or do your research and pick the ones you’re most interested in. The fact that they’re all free means there’s no pressure to stay all day. Although you definitely could. We visited:
The Museum of Natural History
Marvel at the Hope Diamond, say hello to Henry the taxidermied elephant made famous by the Night at the Museum movies, discover everything you ever wanted to know about dinosaurs and conquer your phobias in the bug zoo at this wonderful Natural History Museum. This is one of the best of its kind, read everything we got up to in the museum in my review of the Museum of Natural History.
The Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space
The National Air and Space museum is a surprisingly fun museum. Home to all things relating to air and space travel and everything involved in getting objects off the ground.
We saw a piece of moon rock, the Wright Brothers plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, and learned all about the physics behind flight in the hand on “How things Fly Hall”. The lecturers will teach your kids more in twenty minutes than most full school terms!
This is a very popular museum, arrive early and give yourself plenty of time to explore. Read more about our visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space museum here.
The Hirschhorn Museum of Modern Art
I always try to find a modern Art Gallery everywhere we visit and this has got to be one of my favourites. They have so many wonderful installations and again it’s completely free.
The building itself is a work of art and the sculpture garden is a lovely place to explore and surprisingly quite.
We finished our museum day here and Piper was exhausted so we didn’t stay too long, you probably don’t need as long as the other Smithsonian Museums but really try to pop in to add a little colour to your day.
The walk back to the metro past all the museums is lovely with so much to see along the way. Make sure you spend some time wandering down the National Mall, there are often events happening on the grass, people having picnics, flying kites and loads of food trucks around if you’re peckish.
Smithsonian National Zoo
We loved this zoo, it does such great conservation work and is home to some fabulous animals such as pandas, tigers and has a beautiful elephant enclosure.
Aim to arrive as early as possible to beat the crowds and ensure you see as many animals as possible, many of the hide away as the day gets warmer.
It’s very family friendly with plenty of misting stations and a little splash pool, you can read our full review of the Smithsonian Zoo here
Click here for a full list of other Smithsonian museums
Monuments in Washington DC
Made famous by so many films, this instantly recognisable area is packed when there’s an event on but a lovely peaceful place to think when not. This is where Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream speech” to a quarter of a million people, it’s easy to imagine!
Now this really did feel like we were stepping into an episode of House of Cards, it’s not quite the deserted place for dodgy dealings the series would have you believe!
It is however a lovely place to reflect whilst you read the inscriptions and remember the great work Lincoln did for his country it is a fantastic symbol of unity, strength, and wisdom. The steps can be tough for little legs but I promise the view is worth it if you can get to the top.
We of course had to take this trick shot along with all the other tourists on the steps!
Built to commemorate George Washington, this monument can be seen from most parts of central DC it is the World’s tallest stone structure and dates back to 1848.
Martin Luther King Memorial
Definitely one to visit with the kids to teach them some of the most important American History lessons. We didn’t even take any pics as we were busy thinking and discussing how anyone can impart great change in the world.
The White House
Not really a monument but somewhere worth seeing when you’re in Washington, whatever your political side. We walked to the White House from our The Watergate Hotel in Washington DC where we were staying. It’s a lovely walk past a load of embassies, some gorgeous buildings and through a lovely green open space.
Security is quite tight and you can’t get very close but we still managed a selfie. We were there quite early (thank you jet lag) and there weren’t too many people about but I can imagine it feeling really packed if there is an event or protest on.
You can actually request a tour of the White House 3 months or 21 days at the latest before your visit by either contacting your member of Congress if you’re from the US or by contacting your embassy if you’re from anywhere else. I would love to return in Xmas time to see the National tree lit up, but it was still lovely seeing it like this.
Where to stay in Washington DC
My favourite area in DC has got to be Georgetown, probably the most historic of DCs neighbourhoods with charming cobblestone streets and colourful homes.
We stayed at the iconic Watergate Hotel, home to past political scandal, recently renovated and in a great location, easy to get to all the main attractions and close to the fab Georgetown Waterfront, a lovely area with a real vacation feel.
We loved watching the helicopters fly in over the Potomac River and imagining which power players were inside
Where to eat
Georgetown Waterfront and the Washington Harbour
My very favourite place for dinner in Washington, this a lovely park where you can walk along the Potomac river and choose from one of the many restaurants and bars at the Washington Harbour. Most have outdoor seating and there’s a real “vacation” feel about the place. A family holiday in Washington doesn’t get much better than this!
Of course I chose a dinner of buffalo wings….. when in the US after all!
This is the restaurant in the Watergate hotel where we were staying, it’s a pretty popular restaurant and bar, we enjoyed watching the beautiful people come and go and the food was nice although very expensive as is the norm for a hotel restaurant.
We also had room service one night, always a treat for Piper. For some reason she loves eating in a hotel room! As you can see, the kids portions were huge!
Part of the Watergate complex and a good place for breakfast with a few café style options.
Devon and Blakely
On the day we visited the White House we stopped at a Devon and Blakely for lunch. Really great value and a huge amount of choice. We settled on a very tasty soup and some corn bread – I highly recommend!
Transport in Washington DC
The metro system in Washington DC is fantastic – clean and really easy to navigate.
Its super simple to buy your tickets from one of the many machines at all the stations. Children under 5 travel for free!
We arrived on our family holiday in Washington by mega bus. Which is a great value way to get around the USA if you have plenty of time on your hands.
The buses pull up at the main train station. Making it super easy to get into the city by train or cab.
We flew onwards from The Ronald Reagan National Airport. It’s pretty small and very family friendly. There are tablets to play with in most places and a nice spot for lunch if you have time before you fly. Although there aren’t really many shops.
Summer Family holiday to Washington DC
We visited over summer time and it was hot, hot, hot. As always we crammed quite a lot in to a short space of time. There was some moaning, “I’m too hot” “I’m too tired” and the occasional refusal to go further. Try and make sure you plan in lots of breaks. always carry some cold water and snacks to keep the little ones going.
We walked most places because I like to explore cities by foot. However, if you have little ones, I really recommend the metro system or even taxis. Although the traffic can be pretty brutal, it’s not too expensive and you will save your energy for having fun.
If you enjoy city breaks in the USA with kids then you’re bound to want to visit New York. And I highly recommend you do. One of my favourite family travel bloggers, Passports and Adventures has written a fantastic post about 5 awesome things to do in New York with a toddler make sure you check it out and see if you can combine these two amazing cities into one trip to the States.
Have you been on a family holiday to Washington DC? What are your favourite things to do? Just leave a comment below to let me know if there’s anything else I should add to the list. If you’re planning a trip, feel free to contact me with any questions.
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