Washington DC Itinerary With Kids

Washington DC has long been a favorite of my wife and I. We’ve visited together twice and absolutely loved the city. Both times that we went we had a full itinerary and knew exactly what we liked and had to see. But now we had little ones with us. Now we were putting together a Washington DC itinerary with kids. We also had to figure out what to see in Washington DC in 3 days. Here’s how it worked out for us.

Day 1 – Arrive in DC at 5:30pm

We arrived in DC via car. Since we live in Cleveland, it’s only about a six hour drive and in the fall, crossing through Pennsylvania can be incredibly scenic. Unfortunately, the leaves hadn’t turned yet so we didn’t get the colors that we were expecting, but it’s still a nice ride.

Lincoln Memorial

Our first stop once we arrived in the nation’s capital was the Lincoln Memorial. This massive monument sits on the far west end of the National Mall. It stands 99 feet tall is 190 feet long and 119 feet wide. It is created in a Greek style surrounded by 36 columns. Approaching the monument from the south gave us a unique perspective. It was really nice to approach from the side of the monument and make our way to the front as the memorial slowly presented itself to us.

Statue of Abraham Lincoln

Before we ascended the steps we ventured down below the memorial. There’s a display there with some interesting information about Abraham Lincoln. As we went up the steps we couldn’t help but notice how enormous the structure is. Its one thing to see it from afar, but completely different to see it up close and personal. The statue of Abraham Lincoln sits in the middle of the open space at the top of the steps.

Engraved in the walls on the sides are his famous speeches, the Emancipation Proclamation and his second inaugural address. The main focus is on the statue of Lincoln, but we enjoyed walking around the space and enjoying the whole area. From the top of the steps is an incredible view. Looking east, you see the Washington Monument, the reflecting pool, the National Mall and the US Capitol Building lined up perfectly.

Watching the sun set on the Lincoln memorial

As much as we liked the interior of the monument, walking around the main platform gave us a nice surprise . We could tell that the sun was setting as we looked out over the National Mall. What we didn’t realize was that the main show was on the north and west ends of the monument. We followed the sunlight west towards the back of the monument and enjoyed the best possible light and sunset.

The sun setting on the Lincoln Memorial

Arriving at the Lincoln Memorial near sunset is highly recommended, not only for the view down the National Mall, but for the amazing light when you walk around the back on the platform facing west.

Changes:

None. The monument is always an amazing place to visit for families and we all really enjoyed it.

Reflecting Pool/National Mall

This pool stretches out just over 2,000 feet from near the base of the Lincoln Memorial and down the National Mall. The pool is 167 feet wide. It’s a great place to go for a picturesque walk as there are walkways on either side. Our kids really liked the ducks that call the pool home. Once you come down from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial you get the incredible image of the Washington Monument reflected in the pool.

Looking out on the National Mall from the Lincoln Memorial steps.

Changes:

We spent so much time at the Lincoln Memorial, we didn’t leave a lot of time for walking around and looking at the Reflecting Pool. You could spend quite a bit of time enjoying the reflecting pool and walking down towards the Washington Monument, which was our original plan. Even as sun fell we could’ve easily taken the walk, but it was really cut short because it was time to look for something to eat.

Combining the Lincoln Memorial with a walk down the Reflecting Pool to the World War II Memorial and including the Washington Monument would work really well. We enjoyed watching the sunset at the Lincoln Memorial so much that we didn’t leave time for the rest of our plans.

Sheraton Tyson Hotel

We stayed at the Sheraton Tyson Hotel in Vienna, VA. I got a pretty good deal on Hotwire so the hotel was selected for us. The hotel was okay and about what you’d expect from a midrange hotel. It did show its age in spots and the parking, although free was a bit odd. Most importantly (for the kids), it had a pool so all was good!

Changes:

Our preference now is to rent Airbnb or Homeaway. Regrettably, we didn’t decide we were going on this trip for sure until just a couple of months before we went. By that time, all of the options that we wanted were gone. If we would’ve confirmed earlier, we definitely would have gone the Airbnb route. I saw a few good options slip past us while we were waiting to decide, so the options were definitely there and in some pretty good neighborhoods. It would have been preferable to stay in the actual city and in a residential neighborhood to better appreciate the feel and atmosphere of the city.

One thing I have learned with Airbnb is that you have to get in early or you’ll get left out. I’ve heard that in some cases, properties will drop their rates dramatically as it gets closer to the expected date you’re going to stay, but I haven’t had any experience trying that.

Day 2

National Air and Space Museum

National Air and Space Museum

This was a favorite from our previous visits so we made sure to include this in our itinerary. There is a lot of cool stuff to see in this museum including some interactive things that the kids really liked. Unfortunately, there was a massive renovation project that covered the majority of the museum. Six of the seven main areas are closed down so our visit didn’t provide the full experience and we had to make do with what was open.

The kids favorite part was the How Things Fly exhibit. It’s an entire room with various interactive displays and things to play with. They could’ve stayed in this part of the museum for the entire time. In fact, that area was packed with kids enjoying the displays and running from one spot to another. The displays of the missiles and planes in the main areas of the museum are always captivating. 

Inside the National Air and Space Museum

Time and Navigation was also another exhibit that was interesting for our family.

Changes:

Unfortunately, due to the extensive renovation we didn’t get the complete experience. Since it’s free I’m still happy that we went, but we probably couldn’t spend time at another museum and saved this for another time.

Parking

Parking is a major issue when visiting Washington DC and it’s best to use public transportation or if you must drive, purchase a spot for an extended period of time. What we did we won’t do again.

We parked at a timed meter spot. The maximum time you could purchase was 2 hours. By the time we walked to the museum and stood in line to enter we had very little time before I had to run out and put money back into the meter. Once I came back I had to stand in the long entrance line again before entering.

The whole thing was a major hassle and easily avoided. I did learn after the fact that you can pay online for metered spots, but I never got to use that service. If you go the metered parking route, it sounds like something worth looking into.

National Mall

We spent some time walking up and down the National Mall admiring the views up to the Capitol and down to the Washington Monument. The wide open space is always a great part of visiting Washington, especially if you do it with ice cream, which we purchased from one of the many food trucks in the area.

Georgetown

M Street in Georgetown

After lunch we headed over to the Georgetown neighborhood. This is a great neighborhood to do some shopping or just to check out. It’s a very scenic and beautiful area of the city that’s part residential and part retail.

Wandering down the side streets and admiring the classic architecture of the homes was a real treat. We made our way to M Street and stopped in a few stores along the way. We then headed south towards the waterfront and made a stop at Georgetown Park which borders the Potomac River. It was the perfect spot to stop and watch the sunset.

The sun setting over the Potomac River.

We stopped at Sprinkles cupcake shop on our way back for a very tasty treat.

Changes:

None. Georgetown has a real cool and exciting vibe that’s fun to experience. You can go during the day or night and it’s a great place to stop through for shopping or just walking around and getting a feel for the city.

Day 3

The White House

Parking was handled better this day as we drove into the city and used a parking garage for the day. From there we walked to the White House. Unfortunately, there was more construction and it blocked the approach to the White House gate. This meant that we had to move to Lafayette Square to get a good look at the White House.

Our family in front of The White House

The kid’s reaction is the same as most people’s reaction to seeing the White House for the first time “it’s smaller than I thought!”.  Still it was nice for them to see the White House and Lafayette Square is a nice little park. The grounds are on a bit of an incline so that helped a bit in getting a view of the White House. It was nice to walk around the little park also. While the white house is the main attraction, the Treasury Building sits just to the east of the white house and is quite interesting also.

From there we walked around the white house to the south lawn to get another view of the building. It’s nowhere near as close as the view is from the north, but it’s definitely a different perspective.

Changes:

When we walked around the White House, I forgot to head west over to see the Eisenhower Executive Office Building instead of going back around past the Treasury Building. The Eisenhower Building is an imposing structure that sits just to the west of the White House. It looks like it would be more at home in Paris.

Smithsonian National Museum of American History

This was a very fascinating museum to visit. We spent the majority of our time in the American Presidency and The First Ladies exhibits. There’s a lot in those two areas that we all enjoyed. The kids were surprisingly very interested in the American Presidency exhibit in particular. Of course there’s plenty of information about the presidents and they couldn’t stop reading and looking and asking questions.

The Gallery of Numismatics was interesting because it’s housed in a replica vault and is all about the history and use of money.

Changes:

None. This museum has a little bit of everything and it’s really hard to be disappointed whenever you visit. If you’re planning a family vacation to Washington DC you have to stop here. Everyone gets to leave happy.

National Portrait Gallery

My daughter looking at the Michelle Obama portrait at the National Portrait Gallery.

This was an unexpected family favorite. We were running low on time, but our mission was to see two particular pieces of art. The Barack Obama and Michelle Obama portraits. Both pieces are striking to see in person and it’s well worth it to make the trip to this museum just to see those two.

What I didn’t expect was for the kids to be so fascinated with this museum. Searching for the Barack Obama portrait, we made our way through the display of the presidents and somehow, they just couldn’t get enough of viewing the portraits of all of the past presidents.

The same thing happened when we made our way up the Michelle Obama portrait. Somehow they just loved not only that portrait but all of the portraits that were in that part of the gallery. It turned out to be more than we expected.

Changes:

I would have reserved far more time for this museum and not treated it as an afterthought. Then again, I never thought that we’d all be so fascinated by a gallery of portraits. I think we easily could have spent three hours here and the kids would have been perfectly fine. When planning a trip to Washington DC with kids make sure you add this to your list.

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Main hall of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Doing a tour or just seeing this venue up close and personal would have been good enough for me. But to actually see a performance here was amazing. The best part is that it was free. This is an excellent option if you want to visit DC on a budget. We were able to take advantage of their Millennium Stage series where every day at 6pm there is a free performance. It’s a great family friendly experience. We got to see a performance from an outstanding band called Combo Lulo. I have to say that was a really cool experience. The venue itself is magnificent with its red carpet, gold fixtures and sky high ceilings. It’s a really grand place to take in a performance. This was my favorite part of our trip.

Changes:

None. This was the perfect way to cap off a great extended weekend in Washington D.C.

3 Days in Washington DC with kids

Our family visit to Washington DC was a lot of fun . It helps that DC is full of great things to do for families. As much fun as we had, we barely scratched the surface and we’re already anticipating another visit to the nation’s capital. When planning a trip for your family, you should definitely consider Washington DC. I’m sure you’ll love it as much as our family did.

There’s so much more to see and do in DC, if you have some favorites, feel free to mention them below in the comments.

Author

  • Jeremiah Pittmon

    Jeremiah Pittmon is a published travel writer and photographer from Cleveland, Ohio. Passionate about exploring the world with his family, he finds inspiration in all types of travel. Through his blog, smilesonarrival.com, and social media channels, he shares captivating experiences and valuable tips for families who love to travel.

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Washington DC Itinerary With Kids
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