Over Thanksgiving, my family of six visited Washington, DC. It was a fantastic trip for my older crew. DC had been on my bucket list and I highly recommend it to your family. We had three days to cover DC. But there’s so much to see and do, you could easily add 2, 3, or 4 days. Below are my thoughts and tips to help you save money and time in DC. Have more tips? Please comment below.
1. Best Map
Visit Washington.org to request a visitor package be mailed to you. Included is an official visitor’s map that really helps with planning your trip. I taped our map to our pantry doors so we could all study it and decide which attractions we could pair together based on location.
2. Sign up for Tours:
- White House Tour -you’ll need to submit a tour request through your Member of Congress. You’ll want to do this as early as possible – up to 6 months in advance as the tours fill up fast.
- US Capitol Tours can be booked through the office of your Representative or Senator. Tours can also be made online, up to 3 months in advance. Early time slots fill up quick. Same -day tours may be available but reservations are recommended.
- US Department of the Treasury offers one-hour tours on Saturdays. Advance reservations are made through your Congressional offices.
- Library of Congress- Thomas Jefferson building tours are offered Monday through Saturday, six times a day. No advance reservations are needed.
- National Archives – Reserved guided tours are available once daily, Monday through Friday starting at 9:45 a.m.
3. Where to Eat
DC museums have a no food allowed policy. Check out our list of where to eat lunch on the National Mall.
4. Suggested visiting age
I suggest that your crew be 10 and older to thoroughly enjoy this trip. Over our three day visit, we logged over 18 miles. All of the museums have a ton of reading. With older kids, it’s nice to start an exhibition together and agree to meet at the end with everyone going through at their own pace. If your crew is younger, I recommend taking one of the hop-on/off bus tours.
5. Decide what to see
We used The Official Guide to the Smithsonian to help us pick and choose. Remember, you don’t have to cover the whole museum. It’s okay to do a pop-in/pop-out to see just the highlights of a museum. This is especially important if you’re on a tight schedule. Ask everyone what their must-sees are to help build your itinerary.
6. See the Top Attractions
Check out our 3-day DC itinerary for seeing the popular museums and all the memorials.
We decided not to rent a car because of the additional charges (and pain) of parking at the hotel and on the National Mall. DC has a great transportation system but I decided that since we were going to do a lot of walking, I didn’t want to have to walk to a Metro station at the end of the day.
Bus tours, like Hop-on Hop-off Old Town Trolley Tour, are a great way to get around to see the sites. However, I didn’t want to have to wait for a bus or be tied to a bus schedule since we had limited time to see everything.
We decided to use UberXL which offers SUVs that can fit families of 5 and 6. I had a code to save on my first Uber ride and then I received an additional code for other new users which would give them $20 off their first ride and I would then receive a $20 credit.
Looking at my adult/teen children-21, 18,18, I thought it would be a good opportunity for them to learn how to use Uber and save us money at the same time. Haven’t used Uber before? Use my code (theresaj1457ue) to save $20 on your first ride.
8. Use points to cut costs
At the end of the trip, our costs came to less than $2000 thanks to using our Southwest points.
- Flight – We have a Southwest Airlines card (click to get yours and earn 50,000 points) and managed to save enough points since our San Diego trip to fly all six of us to Reagan National Airport from Denver for free. $0
- Residence Inn Arlington Ballston – Spacious suites made a great place to unwind after a long day touring DC. The big, fantastic, free breakfast would have cost us $80 elsewhere. Having room for 8 and a second bathroom was very helpful my teen kiddos. $249/night.
- Dining – We ate lunch at the museums on the National Mall and ordered in each night. We spent $565 total for food Sunday through Thursday including having Thanksgiving dinner at Chili’s at the airport in Columbus, OH on the way back to Denver.
- UberXL – Total for 8 Uber XL rides, 2 trips to/from the airport to the hotel, 6 trips to DC and back to the hotel over 3 days – $77.
- Museums – All Smithsonian museums are free! No cost for US Capitol tour or visiting the Library of Congress. $0
Tips from our Facebook community:
Katie N. : Call ahead for a private tour of the capital building. It is an amazing tour and you get to go to so many places other tourists can’t see. Also call ahead for white house tickets. The air and space museum is the most fun for kids. Lots of hands-on stuff for them there.
Bettina P.: National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian It’s by Dulles Airport and away from all the other Smithsonians, but don’t miss it!! North of DC you have the Goddard Space Museum and the NSA Cryptological Museum, which are not usually on people’s radars, either. For travel, look at the subway lines and find a hotel at the end of one. If you drive, there are more parking garages on the south side of the Mall. There is an inexpensive cafe in the basement of the National Museum of American History, and a McDonald’s in one of the other buildings. The Old Post Office building has a number of regional cuisine stands (and it’s fun to take the elevator to the top)
Precia B.: The monuments are far apart and exhausting. An evening bike tour is a must. They give 10 minutes on your own at each monument with a 2 or 3-minute intro. Learned so much more about each one, I’d never do them any other way now.