Washington DC With Kids

December 15, 2012 in Inspiration

Washington DC places high on the list of American cities to visit for travelers of all ages. Full of history, culture, art and civics lessons on every street corner, it is a wonderful city to take children to.

Freebies abound in the nation’s capital which help to make it a relatively inexpensive destination for families on a budget. It is amazingly clean and great care has been given to making the museums and monuments accessible to persons of all abilities, which also equates to stroller friendly! The public transportation system is excellent, the museums are world class and there really is something for everyone. Some how, with all the traveling we did when I was a child, my parents overlooked this obvious dot on the map.  I’ve never quite forgiven them for that.  I’m making up for it by taking my kids over and over.  Maybe next time we’ll even let the grandparents tag along!

Where to Stay

Admittedly, lodging is the biggest obstacle to a family visit to Washington DC.  Finding a hotel in the city center can be tricky and is almost always pricey; it’s very important to compare hotel pricing in Washington D.C. What’s a family that needs two rooms to do?  Get creative. By far the best option we’ve found, however, are the suite hotels located in the surrounding cities in Maryland and Virginia that cater to business travelers.  For a song your family can get two rooms with a living area, breakfast included (and occasionally dinner too!)

What to see

Open any guidebook and you’ll be met with a dizzying array of “things to do” in the Washington DC area.  The Smithsonian Museums top the list, naturally, and since they’re free, you can’t beat the price!  When you’ve seen the big ones downtown, or find the crowds too big, why not hop on the train and sneak out to visit our kids’ favorite, the lesser known Udvar-Hazey Museum. Its huge hanger building, affiliated with the Air and Space Museum, houses aircraft from every era of flight from DaVinci to the NASA program. Your kids will love the hands on aspects of the displays, including the ability to climb into the cockpits of many of the beautiful planes.

The National Gallery is high on the list of places to see for most grown-ups, but not always for the kids.  If your kids aren’t yet excited about hours spent in the hushed halls of a high ceilinged art museum, they will be when you turn it into a treasure hunt!  Bird Cage Press sells a set of “Treasure Hunt” cards for the National Gallery (and other major museums) that will send your kids digging through the greatest art of all time to find “their” paintings.  There are lots of ways to play and don’t be surprised if your four year old, like our friend Sophie starts to become quite possessive of the treasures and refuses to leave before she’s found them all!

For a quieter afternoon and a dose of hands-on history try the Postal Museum.  It’s not big, it’s not flashy, but it sure is fun!  Your kids will love exploring the different ways mail has been moved, from balloons, to stage coach, to bicycle.  They can even send a postcard from the museum! For kids growing up in the age of instant e-mail a trip back in time with “snail mail” can be eye opening!

I love the National Mall with kids. I hate the National Mall with kids.  I love it because it’s one of the few places they can run, scream and burn some energy for a while. I hate it because it’s one very long walk and inevitably some child will say, “If this is a mall, why are there so many dead people and no stores?”  It’s hard for young children to appreciate the gravity of the monuments that span the mall or to exhibit the self control necessary to respect the memories of the deceased.  There’s a great book:  The Wall, by Eve Bunting, that helps kids get a handle on the gravity of the National Mall.  It’s a story about a little boy visiting the Vietnam War Memorial with his Dad and it does a beautiful job of bringing the suffering and death down to a child’s level.  Every time we visit, I reread this book to the littlest kids beneath an oak tree within view of the wall.