Top Tips for Family Travel to Washington, DC

Washington, DC has been on my family travel bucket list for several years.  I have just been waiting for the right time to bring the kids. For us, that meant when they were old enough to have the stamina for the kind of vacation that required a lot of walking, a lot of brain power and not a lot of down time. We considered a visit to our Nation’s Capital a fun, yet educational adventure. Not a restful and relaxing vacation.

Don’t Stay too Long

This was our first trip to Washington as a family. We have well traveled, 12 and 15-year-old children. Three days was just the right amount of time for us. It was a great age to bring the kids to DC and I wouldn’t have brought them any younger.  They lasted all day without complaints. They appreciated and understood the exhibits — many of which had interactive touch screens or short films. They were patient on the tours and asked lots of intelligent questions of the staff.

Have a Plan

I actually had an itinerary. It has taken me a while, but I have finally become a ‘go with the flow’ traveler. The type to discover our destination as it unfolds when we arrive. Not in DC.  That wasn’t going to work. We needed to know where we were going each day because there was so much to see and much of it required advance tour reservations with our Senator or Congressmen or buying tickets on-line.

Tickets and Tours

As soon as you know you are going to Washington write your Senator or Congressmen to request assistance with a tour of The White House, The Supreme Court, The National Archives or The Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Keep in mind, even with advance notice you might not get into the White House especially during the months of March, April or May.  Tours of the Capitol are now done through the new Capitol Visitor’s Center. We were fortunate enough to be able schedule a visit to see Senator Leahy’s President Pro Tempore’s Office. I’m not going to lie, it was cool.

All of the Smithsonian Museums are free, as are the government buildings.  However, you can make online reservations for the National Archives for $1.50, which I would suggest.  We didn’t and therefore did not go because the wait time in line was over an hour long to get in.

Buying tickets to museums and other tours on-line saves you time, and sometimes money.  One of the best things we did was Monuments By Night Moonlight Tour and by purchasing our tickets ahead of time we saved 10%.

Make Dinner Reservations

There is nothing worse than being tired and hungry at the end of a long day. Your kids are not going to want to search for a place to go or wait 30-60 minutes to be seated. Once I had our agenda set, I choose a restaurant that was conveniently located near our last stop. For example, Matchbox is around the corner from the Spy Museum.

Know Your Lunch Options

Not all the museums on the Mall are known for their cuisine.  Although we didn’t eat there, I was told by multiple sources that the National Museum of the American Indian Café has the best food. I can vouch for lunch at the Newseum. It was excellent as far as museum cafeterias go.  It should be. Wolfgang Puck has his name all over it. There are a ton of choices, kids meals and even a salad bar.

Wear Comfortable Shoes

Forgo fashion. You will be doing a lot of walking no matter how you slice it. Those shoes you swear are “comfortable”, aren’t. Sneakers are your best friend on this trip.

Travel and Transportation

We took the train from Vermont to DC. Yes, it is roughly 13 hours each way. Why do it? Because it costs $450 for a family of four by train instead of $1500 to fly.  Bonus: Travel between Vermont and DC on Amtrak and save 20%!

Here is another cost saving tip. Capital Bikeshare has 2500 bikes parked all over the city.  Many of which are on, or near the Mall.  The first 30 minutes are free. Our feet were mighty tired by day 3 and so we hopped on, did a loop around part of the Mall and rode over to the Old Post Office Pavilion in just 27 minutes. FYI there are no ‘kids bikes’ or helmets and my 12-year-old daughter (4’ 11”) was fine while pedaling but had a hard time stopping as her feet didn’t quite touch the ground.

Choose Your Hotel Wisely

No doubt, Washington, DC has lots of great hotel choices. When deciding where our family would stay, we thought about being near a metro, walking distance to restaurants and kid-friendly amenities. That is why we chose the Kimpton Rouge. We booked a King Room with Bunk Beds.  This 500 sq. foot room is the size of a studio apartment! The curtained off bunk bed nook created 2 separate sleeping areas where the kids even had their own TV and Xbox.

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When traveling, sometimes it is the little things that hotels do that make all the difference in the world. Kimpton does not fall short in the amenity department. Among other things, there are umbrellas and yoga mats in every room.  InTouch Members get free WiFi and $10 to raid the mini-bar. There is coffee each morning and wine each night in the lobby and they have lots of extras for the kids. With eight Kimpton Hotels in Washington, DC, we are sure you will find one to suit your family’s needs.

Did we cover everything? Absolutely not! Will we be back? Most definitely!

Disclosure: While I was invited to the Kimpton Rouge and received a media rate, my review reflects the honest opinion of my experience without outside influence.

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