Visiting the Nation's Capitol...
- Buyer beware. Housing is expensive in Washington D.C. For our spring break week, hotel prices ranged from around $150-$400 a night, depending on your willingness to stay in outlying areas. When looking at hotels, make sure to note proximity to the city, cost of parking, nearness to the Metro, etc.
- There are more reasonably priced hotels like Courtyard Marriott in Gaithersburg and Rockville in the 'burbs than in the city. Many of the hotels near Shady Grove have free shuttles to the metro station.
- This Trip Advisor feed also offered some good hotel information for families.
- You can sometimes find a better housing deal from Air B&B or VRBO than on the hotel scene. Again, watch the parking cost and proximity to the city.
- Spring Break is NOT the cheapest time to go to D.C. If you have flexibility in schedule, but not in finances, you might want to look at traveling during the off season.
- Camping in a nearby area is also an option, but sites book quickly and you need to plan in advance. Some sites on the Maryland side are Seneca Creek State Park and Little Bennett Campground is a little further north.
There's also camping along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal near Cumberland, Maryland. The campground is called Little Orleans. I don't currently have suggestions for the Virginia side, but if YOU do, please leave them in the comments.
PARKING & TRANSPORTATION
- If you are staying outside the city, you might want to use the Metro. It takes away the stress of driving and can be fairly efficient, especially if you are near a train route rather than a bus route. You can use the Trip Planner feature to find out how much it will cost to get from your hotel to D.C. and back (I think you can get an all day pass for $15 per person).
- There are some parking lots at certain metro stations. But they can fill up on week days.
- Another helpful link-- Metro Q & A. For a large family, you may find it cost-effective to just drive into D.C. from Arlington or Alexandria and park at Union Station where the all day parking rate is just $25. Keep in mind, you still have a lot of walking travel time from Union Station to many sites at the National Mall. The Ronald Reagan Building garage also offers reasonably-priced all day parking ($35 daily, closer to most attractions).
- You can park for free along the tidal basin if you go early enough and don't mind walking.
- If you are parking in town, the Washington D.C. Circulator is a bus system that runs throughout the day to key locations. Tickets are incredibly inexpensive-- $1 per bus ride or you can buy a pass One-Day ($3), 3-Day ($7), Weekly ($11) and Monthly ($40) passes are available for purchase through CommuterDirect.com. Buses are scheduled to run every 10 minutes.
A TRIP TO THE CAPITOL OR WHITE HOUSE
- If you want a tour of the White House to the Capitol during your trip, you must PLAN IN ADVANCE. Tours can be reserved up to 3 months in advance and they book quickly on a first come, first served basis. White House tours must be booked through your member of Congress (FOUND HERE). Check with your local representative or senator or book a Capitol tour using this site. Ask if Congress is in session during your visit-- You might also be able to personally meet your state representatives!
MUSEUMS & ACTIVITIES
Tips from a D.C. resident
(Special thanks to Tina Sledge for her help!)
- Good news! Although we have racked up a large cost in parking, transportation, and housing, we can visit multiple sites in D.C. for FREE!
- Smithsonian Institute museums are great since most are metro accessible and clustered in a reasonably walkable area in the National Mall. Of course, you can also see the monuments close by. Keep in mind the Mall is actually a 2 mile spread between Lincoln Memorial on one end and Capitol on the other so a lot of walking depending on how much you want to cram in. If you don't mind paying and are short on time, the hop on/off buses or D.C. Circulators are options. These can sometimes be crowded though.
- The National Museum of African American History & Culture is the newest and most popular Smithsonian Museum lately but the hype should have died down some since opening. I think they might still be issuing timed entry tix, though.
- The bureau of engraving and printing is neat, especially if you catch the presses actually at work printing money! They are closed holidays and weekends and getting timed-entry tickets is a bit of a chore, though. There's no online reservations so one way to do it is to go to the box office when they open, get tickets and go back at whatever time your tix are for.
- People often don't realize the National Zoo is also part of the Smithsonian network, meaning free admission (your taxes at work!). If going to the zoo and you have time, I would recommend the National Cathedral. (Could possibly metro from the White House area)
- Local Statues & Monuments This list could go on and on. I'll let you explore these on your own time, but the one tip that I hear about monuments is that they are even MORE beautiful when they are lit up at night. Since parking is cheaper in the evenings in D.C., it might be worth heading there the first evening of your trip so that you can get a glimpse of the majesty.
- Also not too far from the mall is the Ford Theater and Peterson House across the street. They have reasonable priced tours you can reserve online ahead of time. Cool history to experience.
- Union Station is great landmark AND a decent option for food since there is a food court downstairs and you can metro over if you are tired of walking. Try Teaism for Asian inspired yumminess. They have kid friendly bento boxes.
- If you aren't already exhausted from all the exercise, walking tours in Georgetown are fun. There is even a chocolate tour available where you taste yummy samples while your guide talks to you about the area.
- If your crew likes air and space, I highly recommend the larger location (Udvar-hazy Center) that is close to Dulles Airport on the Virginia side instead of the one at the Mall. The Shuttle Discovery was moved here a few years ago.
- If you are looking or natural landmark, the Great Falls of the Potomac is a beautiful place to visit. You can also learn about the the lock systems and can see some of them work.
- The list of things to do in Washington, D.C. is practically inexhaustible, so pick your favorites and have fun on your adventure!
OTHER GREAT PLANNING LINKS for D.C.
D.C. with Kids
Attractions that require tickets or timed entry
Have other great Washington D.C. tips?
Share them with us in the comments!
Again, thank you Tina Sledge for your recommendations!