DC is one of the few cities in the US I would move to without hesitation. This post is dedicated to Washington DC first time visit: when, why, and how to visit unique places in the US capital.
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.
- Best Time to Visit
- Must-see Places That Should Be Booked in Advance
- Moving Around the City
- Places We Enjoyed the Most
- Places We Missed and Would Love to V
- Tips and Tricks
Best time to visit Washington DC: 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.
Washington, D.C.: don’t forget to book those tours in advance
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 up to three months in advance (but no later than 21 days) through your Member of Congress.
If you have a foreign citizen in your group, contact their Embassy to arrange the tour. Last time we were in DC we missed this tour again. We wanted to visit with my mom, but it was too late–the Ukrainian Embassy said we should have applied 6 months in advance. If you are late to book a tour, you can stop at the White House Visitor Center to have a glimpse of the facility.
US Capitol is one of the most recognizable National Historic Landmarks in America and much easier to visit then the White House. Reservations can be done online without any hassle, but make sure to book the tour several weeks in advance. Visitors from around the world are welcome on this tour, which is also free of charge.
After the tour to the US Capitol building, through the pedestrian underground tunnel, you can proceed to visit the Library of Congress. If you just want to look around (like us), you don’t need any reservation for your visit:
Both buildings are spectacular, in and out, very worth to visit. 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.
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 for 1-2 hours 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. Same-day tickets are required.
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 free and no reservation is required, but you better show up at the ticket booth right before opening, as tickets get distributed very quickly.
Hotels are pretty expensive in Washington, DC: $200-$300 per night for an average hotel room and they 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. You could also land a decently priced apartment in the city via Airbnb/VRBO. Our last stay in DC was in a Victorian home in Georgetown–a charming historic neighborhood.
Staying in the city for us still meant driving and parking near the National Mall. Walking to public transit and then to attractions (and back) with little kids didn’t sound very convenient to us.
Moving around the City
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.
Although we have never tried it, renting bikes and Hop-on Hop-off bus seems like a good option to move around.
You can also explore the national capital with locals: a highly experienced DC enthusiast offers free guided walking tours around the National Mall and the city. Make a reservation online: Free Tours By Foot. Kids are welcome!
Parking could be a pain. Try to arrive early or book a spot online. Spothero is an app we tried and were happy with.
Washington DC first time visit: 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
Places we missed and would love to visit
- The White House (tour). Free
- National Museum of American Indian. Free
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Free
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. 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.
Bring a stroller. Even if your child has not been using it for a while. Or a balance bike. There is really 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. Don’t forget a bike lock: while all museums let us take our balance bike inside, I think it was rather an exception.
Wear light, comfortable shoes which you have already broken into. Particularly important for kids and pregnant women. Those old trusty sneakers or sandals are the best!
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.
Pack light. Especially if you don’t have a stroller and will be carrying all the stuff yourselves