There is so much history to explore in Washington but I was concerned there wouldn’t be enough interesting things to do in Washington DC with kids, how wrong was I! There is definitely more to Washington than the White House but strangely enough the kids were pretty interested in seeing that for themselves.
Now I’m not one to get into politics and I’ll keep my opinions to myself regarding Trump and his presidency but I have to admit that it certainly made the kids interested in Washington DC. A place that I thought would be a bit bland for them. All the media surrounding his triumphant win was discussed at school level here in Australia. I didn’t realise that the kids had taken so much of the rhetoric in at the time. They seem to have a strong opinion on Trump and I can tell you now, it hasn’t come from me! It also didn’t come from anyone we met while travelling in the USA, we found people didn’t really express a strong opinion about it like we were expecting.
So enough politics, Washington DC was mid way through our trip, on December 19 we flew from Las Vegas to Chicago with a 45 min lay over, then Chicago to Washington DC. We later travelled via Amtrak train on December 23 to Boston. We had 3 days on the ground in Washington DC with kids and we walked everywhere.
Where to stay in Washington DC
We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Washington, it was located right in the middle of the CBD and walking distance to everything we wanted to see while in town. Walking around Washington DC with kids is a great option as most of the attractions are within a small radius from the CBD. I found the rates on Hotels Combined to be the most competitive and given we were staying there Christmas week, I was very happy with the rate we paid given the location.
Our walking tour of Washington DC with kids
When exploring new cities we love to get google maps out and create our own walking tour. Even though it was very close to Christmas we still had reasonable weather and were able to get out and walk to all the main attractions. Cities like Washington DC are perfect for exploring by foot, the main attractions are pretty central to the CBD and in a compact area.
One evening we were walking back to our hotel from the Capitol Building and we could hear emergency services sirens in the distance. As we were waiting for the lights to change to cross the road, I noticed all the street lights had changed to amber and were flashing. The sirens seemed to be getting closer and we soon realised they were coming our way.
It turned our to be a pretty extensive motorcade with police at the front and rear and 3 black SUV’s in the middle. Caelan was pretty impressed with the automatic weapon sticking out the back window of the police vehicles, we don’t see that stuff at home! We joked about it being Trump returning to the White House for Christmas and continued on our way once it had cleared. The next morning we had the news on TV and it was revealed that Trump had returned to the White House the day before for Christmas so we like to believe we saw Trump and if he was looking out the window he would have seen us crazy Australian’s waving at him!
First up on our walking tour was the White House. I was surprised that we weren’t allowed anywhere near the gates of the White House and had to view it from across the street. The security detail was like nothing I have ever seen before and I was surprised by the lack of tourists there although there was one sole protester.
The White House is the official residence and workplace of the President of the United States, currently President Donald Trump. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. and has been the residence of every U.S. President since 1800.
You are able to have a tour of the White House and they are given on a first come, first served basis. Requests can be submitted up to three months in advance and no less than 21 days in advance. Submit your request as early as possible as a limited number of spaces are available, White House tours are free of charge. Tours are available Tuesday through Thursday from 8:30am to 11:30am and Friday and Saturday until 1:30pm. Australians are required to contact the Australian Embassy in Washington DC to request assistance with booking a tour. It sounds a bit convoluted but if your keen let me know how you go, wish I had known about it earlier as I would have liked to have a look, it would definitely be something memorable to do in Washington DC with kids and a great story for them to tell at school.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
It was quite confronting to see the numbers of lives lost displayed in front of me at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Having already been to Vietnam and experiencing the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Reunification Palace it was totally different experiencing it from the other side.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial consists of a long black granite wall honouring the men and women who served in this controversial war, the wall lists the names of more than 58,000 Americans who gave their lives in service to their country. A staggering amount of lives when you really stop to consider it. The memorial currently consists of three separate parts: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, The Three Soldiers and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.
Located at the western end of the National Mall, the monument was built to honour the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Built in 1920, the monument contains a carved statue of Abraham Lincoln and inscriptions of his second inauguration address and his Gettysburg Address line the north and south walls of the monument. There are 36 columns representing the states of the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death.
The Lincoln Memorial is famous for many significant events in American history including The March on Washington in 1963. This event brought 250,000 people to the area in front of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was given. More recently in 2009, We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial was held, with a crowd of 400,000 people.
Many would also remember the scene from Forrest Gump where Forrest is giving his speech and Jenny runs through the Reflecting Pool calling his name – Forressssstttttttt! The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool was constructed in 1922 and 1923, following the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. Depending on your vantage point, it dramatically reflects the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Mall’s trees and/or the expansive sky.
National World War II Memorial
This Memorial is dedicated to American service men and women who served in World War II. Located at the east end of the Reflecting Pool, it is right in front of the Washington Monument. A fountain is central to the memorial with 56 granite pillars surrounding it. It is a recent addition to the National Mall opening on April 29, 2004 and dedicated to President George W. Bush.
The Freedom Wall, on the west side of the memorial, has 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans who died in the war. In front of the wall lies the message “Here we mark the price of freedom”. It’s very humbling to stand and reflect on the number of lives that have been sacrificed for the price of freedom. I can’t help to wonder what we have learnt from these conflicts and hope that we never see something on this scale again.
The Washington Monument is the tallest obelisk (a tall, four-sided, tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape at the top) in the world. Building commenced in 1848 to commemorate George Washington, the first President of the United States. The Washington Monument is located east of the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial. Whilst building commenced in 1848, the Washington Monument was not completed until 1888.
The centre of the obelisk consists of iron stairs and an elevator, the stairs were open to public until 1976. Surrounding the monument there are 50 American flags to represent each state along with stone benches were you can sit and take in the views.
United States Capitol
United States Capitol which is often referred to as the Capitol Building, home to the United States Congress is located on Capitol Hill at the eastern end of National Mall. Built in 1800, the Capitol is built in a distinctive neoclassical style with a striking white exterior. We were lucky enough to be there during Christmas week and the Capitol grounds were decked out with a huge Christmas tree covered in fairy lights. We visited during the day and the evening to see the Christmas holiday lights. While its a striking view during the day, I think it is more beautiful lit up at night.
United States Capitol Dome was not part of the original building, this was added in 1855 after it was decided that the building was not big enough to accommodate the growing number of legislators arriving from newly admitted states. Another extension commenced in 1959 the east front extension added 102 rooms and was complete in 1960.
The Lincoln Memorial is at the far west end of the National Mall and United States Capitol is located at the far east end, all other memorials and monuments are located between these two points. The United States Capital Visitors Centre is open between 8.30am – 4.30pm. You are able to book tours of the Capitol Building and it is advisable to book these well in advance.
National Museum of Natural History
Reported to be the 4th most visited museum in the world, the National Museum of Natural History, a Smithsonian Institute is located on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and United States Capitol. The museum opened in 1910, its free to visit and is home to over 126 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, cultural artefacts and much to Caelan’s delight human remains and even real mummies!
I was concerned the kids wouldn’t be interested in the museum but golly did I get it wrong! We entered through the rear of the museum and straight into the interactive Q?rious section that encourages children to touch and look at things under a microscope. There are over 6000 different specimens and artifacts visitors are able personally handle and there are specialist staff on hand to answer any questions. We spent at least a couple of hours just in this area looking at different sea animals and plant life through the microscope.
I had planned half a day for this museum, totally missed the mark! We left at 5pm and we could have stayed much longer or even had another day in there. The Hall of Mammals display were amazing as with the Ocean Hall. The Hall of Dinosaurs has fossilized skeletons and cast models, including Tyrannosaurus rex cast facing a Triceratops cast. It really is a very impressive museum and I’m glad the kids loved it.
National Air and Space Museum
Reported to be the 3rd most visited museum in the world, this museum is also a Smithsonian Institute located on the National Mall between Washington Monument and the United States Capitol. Its directly across the National Mall from the National Museum of Natural History. The National Air and Space Museum is a center for research into the history and science of aviation and spaceflight. The National Air and Space Museum opened in 1976 and is also free to enter.
Dedicated to the history of flight and space exploration, the museum is home to many aircraft and space items most of which are hanging from the ceiling of the building. There are 21 galleries that display the world’s largest collection of aviation and space-related artifacts, including an actual moon rock, which visitors are allowed to touch. There is also an IMAX Theater, a public observatory and a planetarium where movies and presentations make flight and space travel come to life.
Strangely, I expected the kids would love this museum given the amount of flights and travel we do as a family but I have to admit sadly that they were not at all interested. I’m not sure whether it was because we had been at the National Museum of National History the day before and they were ‘museumed out’ or the fact that it required a lot of reading plaques. They really did get bored very quickly at this museum. Craig however, was very interested and read nearly every piece of information (if I could insert rolling eyes emoji here I would).
United States Botanic Garden
The United States Botanic Garden is located on the grounds of United States Capitol, it is the oldest Botanic Garden in the United States. To celebrate the Christmas holiday season the United States Botanic Garden has a model train show where pint-sized locomotives travel around and through plant-based re-creations of sights you’ll recognize from around the United States.
It gets very busy and the queue was out the door. We visited on our last night in town about 30 mins prior to closing time. We still had to queue for a while and we were one of the last to leave. Definitely worth a look though if you happen to be in Washington DC with kids at Christmas time.
How do we rate our stay in Washington DC?
We were determined to visit Washington DC and given we were there only 3 days I think we packed a whole heap in to it. I underestimated how long we would spend in the museums and we could definitely return and spend a week just looking at museums. There were things that we missed, I would have loved to visit Arlington National Cemetery but we just didn’t have time.
I highly recommend visiting Washington DC with kids if you want to get away from the usual tourist trail in America. We were lucky that we were there for 6 weeks and were able to cover a lot of ground. I’m glad the kids have learnt a bit about the history of America and not just the theme parks and what they see on the television. In lots of ways I found myself comparing Washington DC to Canberra, they have many similarities. Best of all most of the attractions and museums in Washington DC are free.
I could have stayed in Washington DC a little while longer but we were heading to Boston on 23 December to hopefully catch our first white Christmas which was the reason we were in the USA. We had a great time in Boston and found some amazing things to do in Boston with kids. There is a lot of American history in Boston as well which we happily soaked up.
Have you been to Washington DC with kids? Let me know in the comments if I missed anything I should have seen. I love to hear feedback from my readers.
Sal, Craig & Our3kids