Touring Plans for DC

We are going for 3 nights next week and I am working on a 2 1/2 day plan for my family (2 adults + 4 kids ages span 11 to 16). I bought the Unofficial Guide to Washington DC and was surprised there were not any basic 1 or 2 day touring plans I could use. (Len, I have been a subscriber/book buyer using your plans for over 10 years…come on man!).

Anyways, any suggestions here would help or links to make sure we hit the high points. In particular, does anyone recommend the hop-on, hop-off buses as a good way to get around while seeing everything and getting some narrative along the way? Or is it better to travel point-to-point and walk in between?

BTW, the Disney Dish podcast is hands-down the best Disney podcast out there for a seasoned Disney traveler who is looking for latest info plus rich detail, while also being entertained. Love how it strikes an objective balance of not being too negative but also not too Pollyanna / Lou-ish. I look forward to each new edition.

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We live here and often use the Metro to get around. The buses are part of the same system, but I’m less familiar with them. When you arrive, go to the nearest Metro station and buy SmartCards for each person. You can use these to pay for any Metro or bus ride, so it’s nice to have them in hand and loaded with funds.

There is a purchase fee for the card and then you can choose how much money to load onto each card. I would maybe do $10 per card to start, since you won’t be here very long. You use it when you get on the metro (or bus) and then the fare is subtracted when you scan it as you exit. It will tell you how much money is left on your card each time you scan it, so keep an eye on it and add money as needed. Depending on the distances, each ride might be $1-$3.

There is an app for the DC Metro & Bus system, and there’s also lots of information on the website. I use Google Maps on my phone (or computer) to figure out if I should walk or use the Metro to get places. You can change the settings to show public transit as well as the usual stuff. When you ask for step-by-step directions from point A to point B, you can toggle between walking, driving, or public transit. I’m sure there are other ways to navigate. This is just what works for me.

Sometimes there isn’t a metro stop near the place you want to go. We use Uber or taxis quite often too. It’s often cheaper for 3 of us to pay one Uber fare (not during rush hour!) instead of 3 separate metro fares, and we get there faster.

For example, the Lincoln & MLK Memorials are about a mile from a metro stop, so we will use Uber to get there early in the morning on a weekend. Then we walk around the tidal basin while it’s cool, and walk up to the National Mall from there. The Smithsonian museums usually don’t open until 10, so we do one of those once they’re open and then go home using the Metro stop nearest whichever museum we visited.

I hope this helps with the transit part of your question. I might be able to advise a bit on monuments, museums, etc. What are you wanting to see? You could stay a whole month and not see everything!

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What are you planning on doing? If you are going to see the Mall then I would just get a place near there. Metro is certainly a good suggestion. DON’T MISS Udvar -Hazy museum - it is an extension of the Air and Space museum outside of the city. THere is a bus (I think) from the “old” A&S out and back - but also easy to drive to. It is awesome.

Thanks to you both. On the bus transportation, I was actually referring to the tour buses like Grayline where they give an audio tour while you ride around but you can still get off / on at different spots and wait for the next one on the route. We’ve done this before in NYC and it was a pretty good way to get an overview of the city.

In terms of what we want to do, this is the first time there for our kids (11-16) so we are looking for classic tourist stuff. I am thinking see the major monuments along the Mall, see the White House, spend some time in the Smithsonian museums our kids would appreciate, tour the Capitol, and then maybe 3-4 other major sites like National Archives, Ford Theater?, printing/engraving, etc.

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I have been to DC a few times. Once, I stayed at a hotel near Capitol Hill because I was there to see an art exhibit in the National Gallery.

On another trip, I stayed in Arlington because the hotel was a two block walk to the metro.

Also, we contacted our senator’s local office and were told to visit their DC office. A page for the senator gave us a tour of the Capitol building. He also got us tickets for the white house.

I am a walker so walking on the mall isn’t bad. Cluster your visit by what is in the area. The tour bus is a good idea for getting to other places like Arlington Cemetery that is not on the Mall.

I think the tour buses are both cheesy and great at the same time. They usually give a great overview - but you feel so “turisty”. But I would certainly still suggest that.

There are a TON of museums - so don’t feel bad that you won’t see them all - you won’t. I do suggest the Udvar-Hazy. It is about 45 minutes out of the city - and you can spend HOURS there.

Make sure you do take time to do other “less historic” things. There used to be a SPY MUSEUM - private so you have to pay. But it was cool.

I agree - you certainly can walk from one end of the mall to the other - it is LONG though. We are walkers - but we did it in the middle of the summer heat - no bueno. I would skip the ZOO - not great in my opinion - but if you have your heart set on it - do it. Have a great time. Think it is so great to expose kids to history in a fun way.

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I have to add a plug for the Newseum. It has a piece of the Berlin Wall, news coverage of Vietnam and such a powerful display of 9/11 coverage. Be prepared to cry.

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Same with with Holocaust museum. VERY VERY powerful

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I walked the mall in Summer but my visit to the zoo was in January.

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Spy museum still around but it may have moved. All federal museums are free. The Air/Space annex near Dulles is free but you pay to park. Very tough to get into new African-American museum. Used to have hop on hop off tour shuttles. May be gone now


Years ago I head DC is the most inexpensive place to vacation because of the abundance of free olsces.

The train station is a good place to eat because it is similar to going to a food court. Easy to find something for picky eaters.

If I were you: Find an Airbnb on Capitol Hill. It’s on the metro orange line so a quick hop to Smithsonian, and an atmospheric neighborhood in itself.

Look into some alternative tour companies with fun themed walking tours - tours for humanity (google it) is a good one. Going with an interesting tour guide makes the monuments come alive and help your kids understand what they’re seeing.

Getting around - Don’t bother with the tour bus. Between metro, uber/lyft and Capital Bikeshare there are plenty of options.

Ford’s theater, printing/engraving are great experiences. As is the holocaust museum across the street. If your kids are into science and engineering, I second the recommendation of Udvar-Hazy. It’s a pain to get to but very cool.

We went to the SPY museum when it first opened - VERY cool

Metro is very easy and very clean (at least compared to Philadelphia). When I was in college, my dad ran high school day trips for a travel agency. I can’t even count how many times I have been to DC over the years. Just keep in mind you will NOT see everything so don’t try. With the kids the age they are - you know them best - but if they are like ours there is only so much “UP TIME” they can take. So plan for just some fun down time and if the weather is nice - just let them run around on the mall.

The National Cathedral is just STUNNING - regardless of religious background. However - I am sure you will have other things that will be of direct interest to your kids.

Just to add onto this thread - the GAYLORD NATIONAL (Now a Marriott) has an AWESOME winter ice show. Basically TONS of intricate ice carvings and a big ice slide. We went last year and are going again this year. There are packages etc and you get front of the line access to it if you stay at the hotel. So if anyone is looking for something fun to do between November and January - I recommend the Gaylord Nationsl for a night or two.

I did subway in London, Paris, Boston, DC and Philadelphia. I am near Philadelphia and it was alot easier on the other subways.

We are in the western suburbs - I never take regional or the subway in Philly as it is so awful. London, DC are so much easier. Hope to try the Paris one soon!

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We are west as well. It was easier to use the Paris subway and I couldn’t speak French.

We have had a couple of liner meets for Eastern PA. Recently went to Hershey Chocolate World.

I’m out in Exton. Can’t take the regional into Philly as it is so unreliable

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I am in Pottstown and work in Great Valley. I used to go to the Sam’s club in Exton that is now closed. My son has been working at Hickory Park near Marsh Creek for a few weeks. My nephew and family live near where he is working. Today he had to go to the Villanova area.

HA. Too funny. I am actually 2 minutes from Marsh Creek

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