Mount Vernon; Washington DC; US History road trip for families with kids

Washington D.C. with Kids

There are so many historical sights, fun activities and attractions to choose from in Washington D.C., and most of them are FREE! How can you possibly narrow down what to do in Washington D.C. with kids when you visit?

We’ve visited Washington DC with kids of varying ages, several times, and here are my top picks for a family with 4 days to spend in Washington D.C.. If you only have 3 days in DC, I would skip day 4, and if you have more than 4 days (you lucky duck), check out the Go Washington D.C. Card for even more fun attractions to visit.

.(This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosures for more information.) 

 

Day 1 – The National Mall in Washington DC with kids

The best place to start your visit to Washington D.C. is on the National Mall.  At one end is the U.S. Capitol building, and at the other end is the Washington Mounument. Both sides are lined with various Smithsonian museums. During the summer, there is even a fun carousel and food trucks set up right there on the Mall.

U.S. Capitol

Start in the morning with a tour of the U.S. Capitol. Before you go, contact your congressman and ask them to set up tours for the White House, the capitol, and the Library of Congress. You will be able to see all the awesome things the people on regular public tours don’t get to see.

Try to schedule your tours as far in advance as possible. If that doesn’t work, I suggest reserving tickets online at visitthecapitol.gov. That site has all the instructions and information you’ll need about a Capitol tour. The tours you can reserve there are not as in-depth as the tours your representatives can set up for you, though.

We met an intern at our representatives office and rode an underground train (my little kids’ favorite part!) over to the Capitol for a very complete and thoroughly interesting tour of the Capitol, from the crypts in the basement to the top of the rotunda. It was one of our favorite things to see in Washington DC with kids!

 

 

Washington DC family trip with kids
Opposite the Capitol

The painting on the ceiling of the capitol dome is titled ‘The Apotheosis of George Washington’ which literally means the deification (or becoming a God) of George Washington. Directly beneath the dome was the crypt they built for him, and they planned to have a glass floor at that point; a window into his crypt.

I am so impressed that Washington humbly chose to be interred at Mount Vernon with his family instead of being deified. Because our congressman scheduled our tour of the Capitol, we were fortunate to receive the extended tour and got to visit the crypts in the basement.

 

 

Supreme Court

Library of Congress

If you have avid readers in your group, the Library of Congress should be your next stop.  It is probably our families favorite building in all of Washington D.C.  You will be amazed at its ornate architectural style with murals, paintings, marble halls, columns and steps, carved hardwoods and a stained glass dome.

The docent-led tour is interesting and free. The Young Readers’ Room of the ground floor allows visitors to read without making advance reservations. Be sure to see their Gutenberg Bible!

They also frequently have interesting exhibitions. A few years ago we were fortunate to see one about historical Stradivarius violins that we loved since we are all musicians. The Library of Congress is a fantastic place to visit when you’re in Washington DC with kids!

 

After a morning of tours, your kids will be raring to get outside and run around.  Grab lunch from a food truck on the National Mall, and ride the carousel. There are also cafeterias with excellent food in most of the buildings.

Smithsonian Museums

In the afternoon, explore a few of the Smithsonian museums.  They are all completely free and all so close together and walkable! Every family can find something to interest them. They are definitely a must-see attraction when you’re in Washington DC with kids.

Our kids favorites are the Air and Space Museum (you can ogle the actual space suits worn by the first astronauts to walk on the moon!), the American History Museum (which boasts The Star Spangled Banner,  Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Harry Potter’s Hogwarts robe, and a replica of Julia Child’s kitchen with interactive features) and the Natural History Museum (with dinosaurs galore and the largest diamond in the world).

However, you can’t go wrong with any of the Smithsonian museums so pick a subject that interests your family and start there. You will love the Smithsonians in Washington DC with kids!

Day 2 – Memorials, monuments and more museums in Washington DC with kids

The monuments and memorials are mainly clustered around the mall area, all within easy walking distance. Our kiddos did get pretty tired of walking, so you might want to break the monuments up with something fun.

The Washington Monument is opposite the Capitol building on the mall, and affords a perfect view of the White House, across a large expanse of lawn. Keep walking west, past the WWII memorial and reflecting pool to find the Lincoln memorial.

 

 

Don’t forget to walk down the waterfront sidewalk, around the tidal basin, to find the Jefferson Memorial. It’s my personal favorite because I love the inspiring quotes memorialized inside. Your kids might like to feed the ducks at the tidal basin and run and play on the lawn there.

Our kiddos complained of being tired, but had no problem running and playing once they had the opportunity! It’s a great place to take a little time out when you’re in Washington DC with kids!

 

If your kids are older, you might like to spend your afternoon at the Holocaust museum. It might be confusing or even traumatizing to kids under age 8, but will be deeply beneficial to older kids. Tickets are free, but you must have a ticket to enter the main, permanent exhibit, in order to prevent the Museum from exceeding it’s capacity. Trust me, you want to see the main exhibit — it is very worthwhile.

As you enter the main exhibit, you will receive the ID of a victim of the holocaust, which you then follow through the exhibit as if you were that person, enabling a more personal experience and understanding. Yes, the holocaust is disturbing.

But if our children don’t learn history, they are doomed to repeat it. Be sure to accompany your children closely and discuss the difficult facts with them. There is a special exhibit, Remember the Children: Daniels Story, for younger children, if desired.

Finish your day at the International Spy Museum, which has numerous fun, interactive experiences for kids. There is an admission charge, but we just use the Go Washington D.C. Card for a reduced rate. You will be able to choose the attractions you add to your card — we added the Spy Museum, Mount Vernon (it includes the gristmill and distillery free) and a hop-on, hop-off tour, which saved us about half of what we would have paid for individual admissions.

>>>Save up to 55% OFF All-Inclusive Attraction Passes <<< 

 

Day 3 – George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Every single time we have visited Washington D. C. our favorite day, without a doubt, has been Mount Vernon.  Even the time the hubs and I visited without our kids.

The museum and home tour are incredible, but the farm, animals, and grounds you can wander make Mount Vernon a highlight for kids and adults alike.  While my kids pet baby goats and lambs, I marvel at George Washington’s ingenuity!

Mount Vernon will be a highlight any time you’re in Washington DC with kids!

 

All of the employees dress in period costumes and maintain character as they demonstrate and teach different period trades and household responsibilities. You’ll get to see Washington’s wooden teeth, the keys to the Bastille, the room and bed in which Washington dies, his office, and the final resting places of the family.

I greatly admire that Washington humbly chose to be buried at Mount Vernon instead of in the crypt beneath the capitol dome, which had been prepared for him. It remains empty to this day. The dome was painted with the ‘Apotheosis of George Washington’, which depicts him ascending and becoming a God. Washington rejected deification in favor of his family and home. What a wonderful man!

We still laugh, often, about the fancy 4-seat necessary (outhouse) for ladies, somewhat near the home, with four toilet seats in a semicircle, all in the same, very decorous, room. Talk about a potty party!

And my kids have never stopped talking about the oxen exhibition. They talked about how they trained steers (male cattle) to pull and the exercises they put them through. Interesting fact: Oxen are trained to a certain side, left or right, and can only be used on that side forevermore.

 

Washington DC family trip with kids

 

You should also tour the gristmill and distillery when you visit Mount Vernon. They are located around the corner, and are an extra fee on your ticket, (but free if you purchased the Go Washington D.C. Card ) but are extremely interesting. I love seeing how they use the simple flow of water to turn various gears to run the machinery. The tour guides will encourage your kids to participate in the chores and responsibilities as they learn about colonial life.

 

 

You will not have any problem spending the entire day at Mount Vernon. Your kids might even still cry as you leave. It is that enjoyable and entertaining! They have a decent food court if you don’t want to take your own lunch. We’re cheap, so we usually pack a picnic.

We typically do not have a car when we visit DC, so we take the metro and then a bus transfer to get out to Mt. Vernon. It’s very easy and convenient. I actually think DC’s metro is my favorite in the entire world. It is so easy to understand, clean, convenient, modern and inexpensive.

In fact, my 2-yr old’s favorite part of every day was the metro. It may have been because everyone would offer her treats and play with her, though. We seemed to be and oddity on the metro — a family of 9 with a very pregnant mom — and received a lot of attention.

One day a comedian, Lady Love, performed an impromptu stand-up comedy routine right there on the metro using us as her subjects and hinting at polygamy. I’m not a person who enjoys attention. I was mortified!

 

 

Day 4- Tour the White House and Arlington Cemetery

Take the metro out to Arlington Cemetery. It’s kind of fun to feel the train travel under the river. We only spent about two hours here, briefly touring the cemetery, watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was interesting and fun, and then touring Robert E. Lee’s home, now called Arlington House.

Arlington House sits on a hill overlooking the cemetery. In 1864 the grounds were taken over by the federal government to serve as a burial site for Civil War soldiers. Over the years, the house was also used as a plantation estate and home to 63 slaves, a military headquarters, a community for emancipated slaves and a national cemetery. The preserved historic home is open for public tours daily.

The White House puts on a pretty great tour. You will see Secret Service galore, and they are very appropriately sober, just like in a movie. They are very, very strict and will not let you in without ID. They won’t even accept a photo of an ID. Ask me how I know!

Public tour requests should be submitted through your state’s Congressman. And if you get a ‘no’ from them, try your senator. These free, self-guided tours are generally available Tuesday through Saturday. Requests can be submitted up to three months in advance and no less than 21 days in advance. You are encouraged to submit your request as early as possible as a limited number of spaces are available.

My favorite part of the White House tour was seeing all of the presidential china and ogling the decor.

 

 

 

Top Ways to Save Money in Washington DC with Kids


One of the best things about visiting Washington D.C. is that most of the monuments and museums cost nothing to visit! There is no admission charge for the U.S. Capitol Building, Library of Congress or the Smithsonian Museums or the Holocaust Museum.

The International Spy Museum and George Washington’s Mount Vernon do charge admission, because they are privately operated. Both are SO worth the admission! You can purchase tickets when you arrive, but you can save over 50% if you purchase the Go Washington DC Card instead. You can then download the Go app and you won’t have to stand in line or keep track of anything. They can just scan your phone.

The Go Washington DC card includes 20 attractions or you can buy a pass with just 3, 4 or 5 attractions. Mount Vernon and International Spy Museum are on the pass. For the third attraction, consider a bike rental or hop-on-hop-off bus tour to visit the monuments or a boat tour to Mount Vernon.

You can also save a lot of money by staying at hotel a little ways out of the city. Just make sure your hotel is near a metro station stop. The metro system is so convenient and efficient, and traffic and parking so heinous, that you definitely don’t want a vehicle in the city anyway. You can purchase different metro passes in the airport arrival halls, but for the best deal I recommend researching the metro pass and farecard options before you go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy travels, friends! You will absolutely LOVE visiting Washington D.C. with kids!

 

 

 

Washington DC was just one stop along our American History road trip. See the rest of it with us at the following links:

US History Road Trip: Battlefields, Philadelphia and NYC

17 Riveting Boston historical sites everyone should see

Niagra Falls and Palmyra: Upstate New York

LDS Church History: Kirtland, Nauvoo and Winter Quarters

 

 

 

 

 

Pin this helpful information about Washington DC with kids for later!

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s keep in touch! For more homeschooling inspiration and fun freebies, you can find Orison Orchards on FacebookPinterestInstagram and Twitter, or subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter!

 

Similar Posts

11 Comments

  1. Thanks for such a thorough article! My husband and I were just discussing taking the kids to Washington and wondering if a long weekend is enough time! Thank you!

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      Glad I could help, Karen! I hope your trip to Washington DC is fantastic!

  2. Such an awesome guide to DC! I did so many of these things when I was a kid. I always loved all the history 🙂

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      I agree, Washington D.C. has so many awesome things to see!

  3. Jessica Moore says:

    I LOVED Washington D.C. when I visited in High School and it is on my list of MUST visit places with my kids here in a few years. I didn’t know about the International Spy Museum!

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      Washington DC has so many great things for kids to see and do! Your kiddos will love it!

  4. I love family trips like this! I think sometimes we focus on going to the exotic places, and we skip over some of the more historical places!

  5. I hope to one day visit there with my family too. Looks like you had so much fun!

  6. What a beautiful pictorial of Washington DC. I love DC and the many historical lessons to learn there. My favorite on my last trip was the Holocaust Museum. So profound.

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      Thank you, and I agree about the Holocaust Museum. It is profound!

  7. What a fantastic trip!! And great tips. We’re a few years away from my kids really enjoying the full experience but saving this for later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.