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5 Tips for Tackling D.C. as a Family

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

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I'm sure you've heard that Washington, D.C. ranks as one of the top cities for family vacations and I wholeheartedly endorse that. However, there are a few tips that can help make your trip more enjoyable! Here's what we learned on our most recent adventure to D.C.:

1. Train before you go

We began walking the neighborhood around our house a few weeks before our trip because we had heard that we would have to do a lot of walking in D.C. But WE HAD NO IDEA how much walking was required to pack in all the sites we wanted to see!

<<Trip Tip>>Forgo style and wear comfortable shoes!! I LOVE the slip-on sneakers made by SOUL Naturalizer. They are super comfy, lightweight and stylish- the perfect combo for travel shoes. Check them out HERE.>>

If you plan to take in the popular sites like the monuments, White House, Capitol, etc. then you will be covering miles worth of city. The best piece of information I can share about D.C. if you've never been is: don't underestimate the size of the National Mall and the distance between monuments. It looks like a short distance between the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, but objects on maps appear closer than they really are! And even taking the metro to get to and from places requires blocks of walking to get your final destination.

2. Take advantage of D.C.'s public transportation

I would highly advise you use public transportation over renting a car in this city, even if you have a big family. Parking is sparse and expensive but with a Smartrip Metro card, you can load enough money to cover several days of rides. And the best part is kids love the experience- my daughter says riding the Metro was one the highlights of the trip for her!

Another great option is to catch a ride on the DC Circulator bus. At $1 per ride, it is a welcome relief to tired feet (and a cheaper option than the pricier tour buses)!

3. Make dinner reservations

If you enjoy eating at sit down restaurants or want to try one of the popular restaurants in D.C., you'd be prudent to plan ahead. We visited in October, NOT peak tourist season, and we had trouble getting into restaurants each night. We prefer dining early which is the only reason we were able to squeeze into a couple! Had I known restaurants were limited (especially if you have kids in tow and need to avoid the fancier options), I would have made dinner reservations along with my other plans!

While there are a plethora of food trucks that flock around the National Mall, these are not always present depending on weather or days of the week. The other option you are left with is eating at one of the museum cafes. There are a couple of good ones, but most are over priced cafeterias. <<Here are two restaurants we ate at and recommend: Carmine's (family style Italian- above) and Ted's Bulletin (quality diner).>>

4. Make reservations for tours

Hopefully, if you've begun planning a trip to D.C., you've discovered that you will need to plan ahead (sometimes months ahead!) in order to make sure you get into certain locations. For example, if you would like to enter the White House, you will need to submit a request through your Member of Congress at least a month ahead before your trip (and with potential slow processing, I would submit about 2 months out!)

The Capitol requires a similar process, IF you want a more behind the scenes tour and see the Chambers, you can contact your local representative or senator's office. Otherwise, book your own 45 minute tour online to make sure you get a chance to see the interior of the impressive Rotunda. It's fine for most kids to participate and they love getting their own headsets!

5. Check calendar of events

I was proud of myself for thinking ahead to check a rally site (such as Eventbrite) before visiting the National Mall, but one thing I neglected to plan ahead for were school field trips! If you are traveling during the school year, you may want to avoid museums and some attractions on Fridays, which are popular field trip days.

We planned our day trip to George Washington's Mount Vernon estate on a Friday and the place was swarming with <hundreds> of kids. Luckily, this estate was huge and we were able to mostly maneuver around the school tours but it would have been nice to at least be mentally prepared for the mass of school kids! I would suggest making a quick call to the place you plan to visit to see if there are field trips on the calendar. (They may even tell you the time so you could plan to hit that place before or after the school groups or on another day!)

<<Trip Tip>> Order your kids their own travel guide book. We bought THIS ONE from the Kids' Guides series for our daughter and it helped her learn so much before and during the trip!

So that's my top five tips for tackling D.C. Have your own tips to share about D.C.? Comment below so we can help future traveling families!


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