Washington DC is one of the few cities in the US I would move to without hesitation. This post is dedicated to DC’s first-time visit: when, why, and how to visit unique places in the US capital.
Why Washington DC is cool to visit: free world-class attractions
When we moved from New Jersey to Seattle, we gained a lot but also lost some of the privileges, like visiting Washington DC now and then. We’ve been five times to the nation’s capital and would definitely visit it again. It’s an iconic, family-friendly, and generally cool place to visit with more than a dozen world-class attractions free of charge.
Washington DC all you need to know before you go
1. Best time to visit: seasons, weather and crowds
We’ve been to Washington DC during spring, fall, and winter but not summer. I wouldn’t recommend summer for anyone who can’t stand hot and muggy weather. I can’t. May is very warm too, with June and July being the hottest months of the year.
In September, you’ll experience fewer crowds, however, it would still feel like summer (in terms of weather). Fall, especially October, is a perfect time to visit Washington DC with spring next to it (this reminds me of the best times to visit San Francisco).
One of our visits was in mid-April, on the way to Florida. This is one of the most popular (and crowded) times of the year in DC, due to the National Cherry Blossoms Festival. We still enjoyed the blooming sakura, the festival, and the warm and sunny weather.
Our winter visits were also good. Fewer crowds, no snow, or temperatures below zero, but due to humidity, it felt a little bit cold. You’d also have to carry all your winter staff with you inside the museums.
2. Washington, DC: don’t forget to book those tours in advance!
A. White House tour
Once you decided to go to Washington DC, submit your request for a tour to the White House. This tour is extremely popular and free of charge. For US residents, reservations can be done through your Member of Congress.
If you have a foreign citizen in your group, contact their Embassy to arrange the tour. If you are late to book a tour, you can stop at the White House Visitor Center to have a glimpse of the facility.
B. US Capitol tour
US Capitol is one of the most recognizable National Historic Landmarks in America and much easier to visit than the White House. Reservations can be done online but make sure to book the tour in advance as well Visitors from around the world are welcome on this tour, which is also free of charge:
C. Visiting Library of Congress
After the tour to the US Capitol building, through the pedestrian underground tunnel, you can proceed to visit the Library of Congress:
Both buildings are spectacular, in and out, very worth visiting. Highly recommend! Our kids were almost 7 y/o and 20 m/o back then. Both handled it pretty well. We spent around 4 hours there, at the Capitol and The Library of Congress.
D. Visiting Washington Monument
Washington Monument is a significant historical landmark and a top-rated attraction in Washington DC. Unfortunately, we never made it to the observation deck. The line to the elevator was so long (every time that we’ve been there) that it did not make sense to wait with the little kids.
Though, the view from the top is fantastic and very worth checking out if you’ve got the time and patience. Check the tickets here.
E. Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Bureau of Engraving and Printing is a unique place to learn about US paper currency and watch how millions of dollars are being printed in front of you. There are only 2 paper currency production facilities in the US: one in Fort Worth, Texas, and one in Washington, DC, so try not to miss this one:
The tour is 40 minutes long, which is a perfect length if you are going with little kids. By the time kids get tired (or you, because strollers aren’t allowed on the tour (as well as cameras)), it’s already over. There is also a money exhibition and uncut currency for purchase in the gift shop.
The tour is also free:
3. Washington DC: Accommodations
Hotels are pretty expensive in Washington, DC, and fill up very quickly. It is much cheaper to stay in Virginia (e.g., Arlington or Alexandria) and drive 15-20 minutes to the city.
4. Moving around the Washington DC
Most of the top attractions in Washington DC are at or around the National Mall. We always parked nearby and explored the city on foot, which is the most popular way of discovering DC. While all the main attractions are relatively close to each other, there is still a lot of walking involved.
Renting bikes and Hop-on Hop-off bus
Although we have never tried it, renting bikes and Hop-on Hop-off bus seems like a good option to move around.
Parking could be a pain. Try to arrive early or book a spot online. Spothero is an app we tried and were happy with.
4. DC first time visit: 11 places we enjoyed the most
There is nothing like arriving in Washington, D.C. for the first time! What I appreciated a lot (being pregnant back then), many must-see places located very close to each other and you are able to see them in a single visit:
- Capitol and the Library of Congress
- United States Botanic Garden
- Air and Space Museum
- U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing
- Washington Monument
- The White House
- Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool
- Lincoln Memorial
- Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
5 Places we missed and would love to visit
- The White House (tour). Free
- National Museum of American Indian. Free
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Free
- Free Tours By Foot. Local, highly experienced DC enthusiasts offers free guided walking tours around the National Mall and the city.
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Free:
Tips and tricks for families with kids visiting Washington, D.C.
These are tips from one who visited DC while pregnant. Twice. 🙂 Then, with a baby, toddler, five and seven y/o
1. Bring a stroller
Even if your child has not been using it for a while. Or a balance bike. There is a lot of walking, just around the National Mall. We had a Strider with us when Artem was almost 5 and had nearly outgrown it. He was gliding around on that bike, got eventually tired, but not exhausted.
2. Don’t forget bike lock!
Don’t forget a bike lock: while all museums let us take our balance bike inside, I think it was rather an exception.
3. Comfortable shoes
4. Snacks and water bottle
Bring snacks and water bottles on a day trip to DC and feed the little ones well before visiting places like the Air and Space Museum, Capitol, etc. They are very strict about food and liquids and you may not smuggle even baby food inside.
5. Pack light
Especially if you don’t have a stroller and will be carrying all the stuff yourselves
Washington DC top sights on the map
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