I’ve mentioned before how excited I get about other people’s trips. A few weeks ago I was asked, “What can we do on an 11 hour layover in Paris? Is that enough time to see anything?” “Oh my word, let me get out my spreadsheet and I’ll come up with something for you.” Also, I was recently talking to a mom from our homeschool co-op about her family’s upcoming trip to Washington, DC. Y’all this just gets me excited. I started thinking about how much fun we had as a family while we were there, and so I thought it would be a good time to give you some insight as to what made our trip so memorable.
Everyone, of course, knows that when you go to DC, you should see the Monuments and the Smithsonian Museums, that is absolutely true. (Made even more true because of their amazing price – FREE! Thank you, American taxpayers.) I would like to share with you some less-obvious things that we did to make DC even more magical.
1. Ticketed Tours – There are a few places in Washington, DC that have a restriction on the number of visitors allowed each day. The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing is one of those places. The tour that they offer is astounding – I have never seen so much money in one place – but you have to get tickets the morning of the day you want to tour. This means that you stand in line prior to them handing out tickets at 8 a.m. We arrived on the street to stand in line at 6:30 a.m. (this is huge for me, as I am NOT a morning person), but we got tickets for the second tour of the day.
The kids were impressed with how money is made, and by how nonchalant the people inspecting the money seemed to be. We learned about the paper, the steps of the printing process, and fun facts about how to tell where your money is printed. It was well worth the early morning wake-up call to be able to go on this tour.
2. Congressional Tours/Tickets – There are other tours in Washington, DC that they just don’t hand out tickets for. As soon as you know that a trip to DC is in your future, take the time to contact your local congressman. The offices of these civil servants are equipped to hook you up in our nation’s capitol.
Our congressman not only arranged for a private tour of the Capitol Building itself, he was also able to get us tickets to tour the White House. What an amazing privilege that was! The White House is a public building, owned by the people of the United States. However, it is also a private residence, and access is strictly limited. Nobody can walk up and get a tour of the White House, those tickets have to be acquired in advance.
The kids were blown away, not only by the history that they encountered on our tour, but by the areas of the White House that they recognized from watching news reports. Luke could not get over being in the room that he had seen so many times in public addresses by our president.
Of course, there was no photography allowed inside the White House, but this picture of us right outside the door is pretty amazing.
3. Bike Tours – The first bike tour I ever took was through the streets of Munich, Germany. It was there that I realized just how quick and efficient it was to see a city by bike. Since having children, I am always on the lookout for bike tours in the cities we visit. Not only do the bikes offer a change of pace for the kids who are tired of walking, but also the tour guides are universally enthusiastic about their cities and want to share that with the visitors that come.
We chose a tour from Bike N Roll that took us to all the monuments in one evening. We chose an evening tour because we knew that the temperature would be better for those us of who prefer to stay out of the heat, and because we were excited to see the monuments illuminate as the sun set.
The great thing about bike tours are the accommodations that can be made for children. Luke was a confident bike rider at this point, so he had the freedom of pedaling his own wheels, but Ellie was not proficient yet. For her, we rented a trailer tandem. This gave her the freedom of pedaling (when she felt like it), without the responsibility of steering and navigating the city streets. Balance and thrust were provided by me, and she got to enjoy the bike ride without the stress of being on her own bike.
This particular tour was fantastic. We stopped at all of the monuments on the National Mall, the tour guide gave us some history, and we were able to get off our bikes, explore the monuments, and take pictures before riding off to the next site.
This was the one splurge of our trip to Washington, DC. In a city where the most highly sought tourist attractions are all free, we thought that spending $45/adult and $35/child for a bike tour was a good investment. We would do it again, too. Looking back at how much we were able to cover in one evening with no complaining about sore feet or being tired of walking made the expense truly worthwhile.
4. Special Events – It just so happened that we were at Arlington National Cemetery at the end of the day on a Tuesday. How brilliant for us, because on Tuesday evenings during the summer, the Marine Corps Band just so happens to perform a Sunset Parade in front of the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (better known as the statue of Iwo Jima). There was a shuttle bus provided for visitors to travel the short distance between the cemetery and the memorial, so we hopped on and found a seat on the grass.
If you have a basic itinerary for your trip, be sure to check out the websites of the places you will be visiting. Check the times of guided tours and special events before you leave home. If you know that something unique is happening, you will be able to schedule your time to accommodate that event.
5. Museum Offerings – It is no secret to anyone that knows me that my favorite museum is an art museum. Truly, I love a museum of any kind, but surround me with works of the great masters, and I go weak at the knees. My hope is that I can pass on my love of art to my children. That is why I was so thrilled when I found out that the National Gallery caters to its youngest visitors with their Family Guides.
Family Guides get kids involved at their level by encouraging art scavenger hunts (“Find portraits that show a career”), giving short insights into the type of art that children encounter (“relief sculpture – parts of its design stand out from the background”), and by engaging kids to really think about the things that they are looking at (“imagine yourself in one of these paintings”).
Because the kids were invited to be engaged in the National Gallery, I was allowed to have the time that I wanted looking at the amazing collection amassed in our nation’s capitol.
Be sure to check out the things that are offered by the museums. They want your children to be engaged and excited about the exhibits, so they offer several opportunities to capture their imaginations.
Washington, DC has endless opportunities for families – even more for those who are willing to seek out experiences. Take advantage of the offerings available and help your kids truly discover our nation’s capitol.