You can see a lot in DC with a big family in three days. With three teens and an adult college student, our family of six was able to cover a lot of ground each day. Here I cover day one, what we planned, what we actually covered, and my recommendations for each stop.
Day One Suggested Washington, DC Itinerary:
- 8-10:30 US Capitol Visitor Center and Tour
- 10:30-12:30 Library of Congress
- 12:30-1:00 Walk to the National Air & Space Museum, go through security
- 1:00-1:30 Eat lunch at McDonald’s
- 1:30-5:30 National Air & Space Museum
The November weather forecast for our first day of exploring DC was a nice sunny day with temps around 50. However, it turned out to be a windy day with gusts up to 25 mph. It was a bone-chilling cold wind, which made us decide to switch our planned itinerary around. Instead of visiting the White House, monument, and memorials; we decided to cover one of our planned museum days to stay warm inside.
National Air and Space Museum
Our first stop of the day was the National Air and Space Museum. We arrived 5 minutes before the 10:00 opening and found a line of about 30 people already queued up.
After an hour, we had only covered a fourth of the museum. That meant for us to cover the whole museum, minus the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater and Einstein Planetarium, it would take us about 4 hours to do. Already my schedule for the day was shot.
The museum had many interesting displays exploring the history of flight and adventures into space, a visit could easily take up a full day. My kids enjoyed the Sea-Air Operations which reminded them of our visit to the USS Midway Museum. Highlights of this museum included the Spirit of St Louis, the 1903 Wright Flyer, and the Apollo 11 Command Module.
I suggest you allow 3 – 4 hours to visit to cover everything. After all, there are 60,000 items on exhibit! Museum hours – 10-5:30. Remember that the museum has two locations, one on the National Mall and one at Steven F. Udvar – Hazy Center in Chantilly.
Located in the museum is a McDonald’s. Yelp gave this location a bad review, but I found the line and service to be fast. The food was good and there was plenty of seating available. The six of us ate for $53.
US Capitol Visitor Center and Tour
We arrived at the visitor center at 2. Two days before, I scheduled a tour for 2:50 using their online reservation system. It was suggested to arrive 30-45 minutes before the tour to get through security and pick up tickets. It took us 35 minutes to get through security. From the line, we could see the Library of Congress and Supreme Court buildings located behind us across the street.
The tour begins in one of two theaters with a 13-minute movie, “Out of Many, One”. The crowd is then directed up the theater steps to waiting tour guides. We had a wonderful tour guide, Walt Todenhoft, who lead us through a 45-minute tour of the Capitol.
First, we toured the Crypt which is a large circular room filled with 40 columns located directly beneath the Rotunda. Then we walked past the Speaker of the US House of Representative’s office and up to the Rotunda. The Rotunda of the Capitol Dome was the best part of the tour. Check out this interactive guide and explanation of images from the Apotheosis.
The next room was the Old Hall of the House, which is where Congress met from 1819-1857. It is now called the National Statuary Hall. At the time, the representatives didn’t have their own offices, their desks were located in this room. Plaques on the floor mark the location of desks of representatives who went on to become president like Lincoln or who had been a president like Adams.
We greatly enjoyed Walt and our tour. We appreciated the headphones that let us hear him no matter where we might be looking, and you’ll be looking all over! We think the headphones greatly reduced the sound of all the tour groups and allowed us to enjoy the tour more.
I originally planned to take the tunnel from the Capitol to the Library of Congress but by the time we finished our tour it was 4:05 and the Library of Congress closed at 4:30. Since we hadn’t toured the museum at the Capitol Visitor Center, we decided to move downstairs to view that. However, we were cut short as the Capitol Visitor Center closes at 4:30.
We decided to tack on the Library of Congress to the beginning of our next museum day since it opens at 8:30 which is 1.5 hours earlier than the Smithsonian museums. If we had time we would take the tunnel back to the Capitol, thereby eliminating standing in line again to get through security at the Capitol.
Allow an hour for the tour, 30-45 minutes for security if visiting first, and an hour to tour the visitor center. To visit the historical areas beyond the Capitol Visitor Center, you must participate in a guided tour. Advanced reservations are strongly recommended. Same-day tours may be available at the Information Desk. You can book a tour through the Office of your Representative or Senators. Tours can also be booked online. Reservations can be made 3 months in advance. Early morning tours fill up fast.
Library of Congress
We ran out of time and had to cut our Capitol Visitor Center visit short and tack on the Library of Congress to the next day. Click to read about our visit on day two of our trip.
Don’t miss the tunnel between the Capitol visitor center and the Library of Congress. The hours are from 8:30-4:30. One hour tours start at 10:30.
Suggested changes to my original plan: Visit the US Capitol first, the doors open at 8:30 and tours start at 8:40, you’ll want to be there early, I suggest 30 minutes or more before the doors open to get through security.
Total distance walked 5.5 miles
You might also like: