Visiting Washington, D.C. can be overwhelming with children. There are so many wonderful tourist sites to take in from historical sites, to museums, monuments, and the like. With all of them vying for your attention, it can be hard to come up with a kid-friendly itinerary that isn't going to overwhelm your little ones. Traveling with kids means that attention spans are limited, energy levels are high, and expectations are through the roof.
Here are some sure-fire ways to make sure you get the most out of your family visit to DC.
To ensure these suggestions are iron-clad I asked my 8-year-old daughter Isabella to weigh in on why she loved each of these stops on our visit.
Stay in the Heart of the Action
Keeping travel times from your hotel to all of your destinations short is key when travelling with kids. It means less time sitting in the car to get to where you're going; or makes taxis and the Metro a feasible option. With kids there is also always the possibility of mad rushes back to the hotel mid-day. Required naps; forgotten hats; upset tummies; etc. make it really convenient if your hotel is always within striking distance.
In Washington, D.C., The Melrose Georgetown perfectly fits the bill. Located near Georgetown in the heart of DC it is an easy hop, skip, and a jump from many of the big sites you'll want to hit up on your visit. With Georgetown University and George Washington University nearby the streets are filled with local twenty-somethings and cafes and restaurant choices are a-plenty. The Foggy Bottom Metro station is a convenient 2 blocks away. This boutique hotel is extremely family-friendly with various sized rooms and suites, a 100% smoke-free environment with amenities like dry cleaning service, high-speed wireless internet, pet-friendly, and late check out! Your kids will make friends with all of the cheerful doormen who work at The Melrose Georgetown and greet them each time they pass through the front doors.
Isabella's take: "I liked all the friendly people who work there and our room was really nice. I especially like the bowl of berries with whipped cream you can order up from room service for breakfast!"
This self-guided museum lets you follow the history of crime and punishment. It's excellent for kids of any age range as each room has a multitude of activities to engage kids (and adults). Through medieval torture devices, to career criminals and infamous felons, the interactive museum is an excellent stop for kids who like to run from activity to activity or for those who'd like to work through an actual criminal case. They'll love driving a police car simulator through busy downtown streets or saving hostages in the simulated FBI firing range.
Isabella's take: "It's a lot of fun because you get to go around getting clues and trying to solve crimes. And at the end you get to go to a good gift shop!"
I could honestly spend a week at the National Air And Space Museum and not run out of things to see and do. The museum is a perfect blend of fascinating exhibits and hands-on displays. Want to touch a real moon rock? See a full size demo of the first Wright Brothers' plane? Walk through a replica of the International Space Station? Step into a Boeing 747 cockpit? Take a gander at the Spirit of St. Louis? The Air & Space Museum is a remarkable destination—and I don't think it matters what age you are.
For young kids head straight to the hands-on interactive kids area: How Things Fly. Kids get to learn and play as they are shown the various aspects of air, weight and flight. An incredible collection of pulleys, gadgets, simulators and displays that will let your little ones explore all there is to know about how things fly.
Isabella's take: "There's LOTS of interesting things! Kids would like this place 'cause it's all planes and space. There's also a lot of things you can interact with or go inside. My favourite thing is all the hanging airplanes!"
Like all Smithsonian museums, the zoo has no entry fee. Visit their all-star giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian or check out the bird house during feeding time for a fascinating close-up look at some tropical birds. As a Smithsonian zoo you'll find a lot more hands-on displays and learning opportunities than you might at a traditional zoo. Be sure to check ahead of time for their daily programs which include animal training, feeding demonstrations and keeper talks.
Isabella's take: "I LOVED the pandas and feeding time at the bird house was so fun! I learned lots of cool stuff."
The National Building Museum is a wonderful place for creative and energy filled kids to spend a day. Their focus is on the history of the built environment including architecture, engineering and design. For kids this translates into: fun, fun and more fun! There is a Building Zone for kids aged 2 to 6 where they can build, play and explore or curl up with mom or dad for a book reading. Older kids can get busy in the PLAY WORK BUILD exhibit where they can build and transform building blocks and pieces to their heart's content. It's incredible to watch what they can create with their imaginations.
While there, take in a round of their mini golf exhibit. 18 holes of mini golf each designed by DC area architects and contractors will have your kids teeing off on the most unique courses around.
Isabella's take: "The green course was cooler but the best hole was on the blue course. I'd say if you want cool and hard go green. Easy and fun? Go blue."
You could write a book on the amazing places to eat in DC, and I'll likely devote a blog post specifically to that. However, your kids would not forgive me if I didn't point you to a stop at Ted's Bulletin on Barracks Row. The street is lined with restaurants and patios vying for your attention, but Ted's Bulletin is definitely worth the visit. Decorated in art deco that was rescued from a Pittsburgh train station that was being dismantled, it is quite the dapper place. They're famous for their homemade pop tarts and for good reason. With flavours like toasted coconut brown sugar or blueberry cheese cake, you can see why it's a favourite with foodies of ALL ages!
They serve enormous portions of all-day breakfasts and just about everything is made fresh in-house. On the weekend they serve up cinnamon rolls that are big enough to share with a friend (or two). Generously over-flowing sandwiches like the Reuben and Rachel are also popular menu items. Things don't settle down on their dinner menu with mouth-watering specialties such as buttermilk fried country steak or shrimp, chicken and sausage gumbo.
However, no visit would be complete to Ted's without one of their famous milk shakes. They offer both kid and adult shake menus that keep diners coming back to try them all. I suggest kids try the Peanut Butter, Chocolate and Banana milk shake while Mom and Dad check our the vodka spiked White Russian. Naughtily delicious!
Isabella's take: "I think kids will like that they have grilled cheese and tomato soup but the four cheese mac n' cheese is so yummy!"