Washington, D.C. is a destination on the travel list of every homeschool family.
We have been wanting to go for several years, but we were waiting for everyone to be of an age to really get a lot out of it. The good news is that you could literally visit the city ten times and not run out of things to see and do. The bad news is — well, what I just said!
We went to Washington, D.C. the day after Christmas for a 5 day-4 night stay and booked our trip on Travelocity for a package deal for hotel and airfare. Thankfully we missed most of the effects of the “government shutdown” with only the National Archive being closed during our stay.
Our family stayed at the J.W. Marriott near the White House, and we were very pleased with the accommodations and with the location, which was very convenient to all the major sites in Washington, D.C.
Here are my top tips for visiting D.C. in the winter with kids:
Take advantage of seasonal deals and attractions.
We were able to score a 3-for-1 deal on our Old Town Trolley ticket so we were able to use it almost the whole time we were there. The nearest stop was just a block from our hotel. The deal also included Arlington National Cemetery so we really got our money’s worth. These deals are for winter only so take advantage.
Hotels and other paid attractions also have other seasonal deals so be sure to look before you spend. The city was not nearly as busy as it would have been in the summer so lines were shorter and the museums were way less crowded.
Do note that places like the National Zoo do have different hours during the winter. Most of the buildings closed at 4 p.m. so we missed out on the panda exhibit. However, they did have their Zoo Lights event so that was a bonus. Just pay attention to open/close times so you don’t miss out.
If you go in November/December, there are many holiday related attractions like the National Christmas Tree and A Christmas Carol performed at Ford’s Theater.
Watch the weather.
We were very blessed with excellent temperatures and only one day of rain. Download a weather app like Accuweather and keep an eye on the sky. There are many things to do that are inside so check ahead and plan your outdoor adventures for the best weather days. We had one rainy day but we spent it at the National Gallery of Art and the Museum of Natural History so no worries!
A lot of places have coat checks or storage lockers so you can discard your coats and enjoy the museum.
Before you plan your trip, check out the average temps in DC by month.
As I mentioned you just can’t see everything in one short trip–especially with little legs. I divided our days into halves with a slot for a morning and afternoon destination. If there was extra time we would add extra things in.
I gave the kids a list of the primary destinations and let them select all the ones they thought were “must see.” Dad and I added ours in too.
Our list included:
- National Air and Space Museum
- Natural History Museum
- National Art Gallery
- National Zoo
- Monuments (as many as possible!)
- U.S. Capitol
- Library of Congress
- Arlington National Cemetary
- International Spy Museum
Because we there in the winter, most of the museums close by 5 or 5:30 and it would be dark. We were usually pretty tired anyway so we would grab food near the hotel and call it a night.
We did eat at Old Ebbitt Grill, the oldest restaurant in town, and toured the National Christmas Tree in front of the White House.
Download These Apps.
Washington was my first experience with Uber, and I was impressed. We took our first one from the airport to the hotel and used it several other times during our stay. It was convenient, fast and interesting. I loved meeting all of our drivers and learned a lot from them.
If you plan to use the Metro system, this app will help you with planning and getting you where you are going. Especially if you stay outside the city center, this app will help you navigate your way to your to-do-list attractions.
What can you do with Smithsonian Mobile?
• Plan your visit with museum hours, locations, floor plans, and more. “Favorite” events and exhibitions to create your own custom tour or scrapbook of your visit.
• Find our other mobile apps and websites and dig deeper into our stories. Tour collection highlights, watch videos, and listen to podcasts.
• Search collections to make connections between museums, history, art and science.
• Use augmented reality (AR), “Smithsonian that Way,” to discover the behind-the-scenes work of the Smithsonian’s museums, research centers, libraries, archives, and affiliates in your neighborhood.
The Go Flight app includes stories, details about artifacts, and an interactive map. You can also create a personalized tour and even share your story with the museum on social media.
The Your Art app focuses on painting and sculptures in the West Building (13-19th c). Explore more than 130 masterpieces with audio commentary. A young art lover’s tour includes details for kids about 50 of the greatest masterpieces. It can also help you locate specific pieces of art you may be searching for.
Before we went, I looked up all the major artists we had studied and figured out which pieces were in the gallery for us to see. The picture above is “Watson and the Shark” by John Singleton Copley. It was a favorite when we studied it a few years ago.
This app is the official National Park Service map to the mall and nearby monuments, a total of 70 sites. It offers a GPS-enabled map, an augmented reality feature to identify sites nearby and walking directions.
You can also follow a recommended tour depending on time or interest including items off the beaten path.
Washington is truly a national treasure. We had a wonderful trip and look forward to returning and seeing even more sites.
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