As the capital of a nation and a city brimming with history, Washington D.C. is a perfect stop for the family looking for a learning vacation. It’s also a city with so many attractions, it’s hard to narrow down the options and choose the best for your family to visit. After my family’s recent D.C. getaway, I’ve narrowed down the options to the top five places to take kids in D.C.
1. The National Archives
The top of our list has to be the National Archives. The rotunda is massive and dim, and there are guards everywhere. It’s a place that gives everyone entering a sense of awe and respect. There, under the bulletproof glass, you’ll find the founding documents of the U.S.A. From left to right you’ll see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The ink is faded, but the words that were scribed upon the old paper stand the test of time.
2. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Where else can you go to see some of the original flying machines and touch a piece of the Moon in the same building? Awe, wonder, and delight will be words you use to describe your children’s reactions upon entering the Air and Space Museum. They’ll race from room to room, thrilled to see rockets, planes, and jet engines. Our family’s favorite room was the pioneers of air travel upstairs in the center. There we found planes and profiles from some of the biggest names in flight history, like Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.
3. National Museum of American History
“O, Say can you see…” What did the poem that became the anthem really mean to Mr. Key when he wrote it? Who made that huge flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the war of 1812? Discover the answers to those questions and much more information in the Star Spangled Banner wing. You’ll be able to view the iconic flag and study the stories surrounding the flag’s journey from battle to museum. If you have kiddos in your crew that love dress up or fashion, make sure you visit the First Ladies section of the American History Museum. With everything from Mary Todd Lincoln’s day gown to Melania Trump’s Inauguration Dress, your fashionista can walk through the styles of history all in one place. Finally, experience the American struggle for independence and enduring freedom through the War Room. You’ll start several hundred years back in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, then meander through relics and displays from the World Wars. To finish, you’ll have a chance to see a Huey up close and learn more about modern warfare.
4. Arlington National Cemetery
As you enter Arlington, there are signs declaring the place America’s Most Hallowed Ground. It’s an incredibly special place and one that should be on everyone’s D.C. “To Do” list. There’s a feeling of awe and gratitude surrounding you as you walk the roads between acres of white headstones. As you approach the Tomb of the Unknowns a sense of honor and dignity pervades the atmosphere. My children all stood in hushed silence during the Changing of the Guard ceremony, as you could feel the care and honor the guards grant these unidentified warriors. While Arlington is not a fun or exciting site, it’s an incredibly valuable stop on your family’s visit to the nation’s capital.
5. The National Mall
With monuments and iconic buildings that span the entire history of the U.S.A., the National Mall is a sight to behold. It’s also a huge amount of territory to cover, as the distance from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial is over two miles. We found that dividing the Mall into three sections worked very well for our family. Our first night in town we walked through the area after dark and we got a fabulous view of the White House lit up at night. We walked to the Washington Monument from there, and we were able to see all the monuments from a distance. Later in the week, we spent most of the day at a museum and then would walk a different direction on the Mall to see different landmarks and monuments. One day we walked west towards the Lincoln Memorial and visited the war memorials along the way. Another day we started with the Air and Space Museum and visited the Capitol on our way back to the Metro and dinner. The Capitol features tours and a visitor’s center, so make sure to check the hours if you’re using this method.
D.C. was a fabulous adventure for our family. We are already planning our next trip, as there is simply too much to do in one trip with small kiddos. Make a plan for your time in the city, make sure you hit the highlights, and don’t sweat it if you can’t get to everything. No one can, and there’s no reason to feel the pressure to “do it all” in just one D.C. visit. By making sure to visit the highlights with kids on their first visits, you’ll inspire your children to enjoy the national history of the U.S.A.
For more locations filled with great learning adventures for children, see links below:
The National Archives – https://www.archives.gov/museu
Smithsonian National Air and Space – https://airandspace.si.edu/
National Museum of American History – http://americanhistory.si.edu/
Arlington National Cemetery – https://www.arlingtoncemetery.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – https://www.arlingtoncemetery.
The Lincoln Memorial – https://www.nps.gov/linc/index
The National Mall – https://www.nps.gov/nama/index
The U.S. Capitol – https://www.visitthecapitol.go
The Washington Monument – https://www.nps.gov/wamo/index
The White House Visitor Center – https://www.nps.gov/whho/plany